Luke 16:1–13. The Parable of the Bad Steward.
Key Notes: Use your money to gain friends in Heaven.
Luke 14:25–35 teaches us that Jesus must be more important to us than anything else if we are to be His disciples. Luke 15 tells that God is seeking us. We are not in the pursuit of salvation alone, if at all. Luke 16 goes on to the question of what part disciples may play in salvation of others.
Lk.16:1–13 is a parable Jesus told his disciples about a steward who was rumored to have mismanaged an estate and was about to be fired. It appears that the landlord was usually somewhere else. When he heard the bad news, the steward reviewed his desperate situation: he was not suited for manual labor and could not bear to be a beggar. He resolved to make use of his position to provide for his own future. He moved fast. He did not steal; he called in the master's debtors and offered them cut rates on their loans. He did not put the balance in his own pocket, but put the debtors in obligation to him. He reasoned that the debtors would later reward him with room and board. And his master (not Jesus) commended him for his shrewdness. He had successfully "feathered his nest."
One commentator suggests that the servant was following Jewish law which forbade charging interest to other Jews and therefore doing his master a favor by preventing him from breaking the Law.
What did Moses say about lending money? Twice the Law forbids demanding interest from the poor. (Ex.22:25; Lev.25:36). Later references command that no interest be charged to a brother (Hebrew) but permit charging a foreigner. (Deut.23:19; Neh.5:7). Other notes refer to usury as generally sinful. (Psa.15:5, Ezek.18:8,13,17). It is thought that Jews of NT times would lend commodities such as grains or oil, rather than money, in order to escape the letter of the law.
However, a simple reading of the text describes a shrewd manager who put a lot of people in his debt with the hope that later he would get a pay-back.
16:9 is a difficult verse:
"Make friends for yourself..." That much is easy to understand.
"By means of unrighteous mammon..." Unrighteous money? "Filthy lucre" is a modern term. Perhaps all that we earn is tainted in some way-- by being in a company that advertises untruthfully, or competes unfairly, or cheats on its taxes.
"So that when it fails... "Is it the money that will fail or we that will fail? The text favors "it"—the money--although another Greek text says "you". In either case, there is an end, something fails.
"They will receive you into everlasting habitation..." Everlasting means eternal, habitation means home; Everlasting habitation must mean Heaven. "They will receive you" refers back to the friends you have made.
When we get to Heaven, friends should be there to greet us. What friends? Among others, those we have made by wise investment of money, friends in Heaven who became believers through our financial resources. Jesus is saying that we should spend our money to win people to the Kingdom so that we will have, like the unjust steward, "feathered our nest". We understand that He is not referring to bribery, but to prudent use of money in evangelism, relief efforts, and other acts of kindness that win people to the Kingdom. We might have a portfolio that supports not only the local church, but also home missions, overseas missions, child and student evangelism, relief work and support of important publications, perhaps even a Christian college or seminary.
The parable raises a persistent question:
How could Jesus commend a bad steward? He didn't. The owner commended him. Jesus used the story to illustrate a point. Jesus also used the story of the unjust judge (18:2) who gave justice out of irritation and fatigue to teach us that God will more readily see justice given to us.
In this short section, Jesus gives us five other teachings.
*"The sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light."
Christians often behave naively to their own hurt. We think we don't need to run our business meetings by "Roberts Rules of Order"; that is worldly and legalistic. We think ordinary rules of good business (avoiding nepotism, doing regular audits, reports, balanced budgets, insurance) are unnecessary for Christians. We are unconcerned about legalities like checks and balances and due process. We think scientific medicine must be wrong because science is often wrong and so we go to herbalists, naturopaths and acupuncturists.
•"He who is faithful in a very little is faithful in much". Missionary candidates are often assigned menial chores such as house cleaning and painting to prove their faithfulness in small things before they are allowed to minister to the lost overseas.
•"He who is dishonest in very little is dishonest also in much." Lest anyone believe that Jesus commends the dishonest steward, He clarifies. In American politics some people believe that the private morality of a president has nothing to do with his public performance. Perhaps we have learned this lesson.
•"If you are not faithful in that which is another's, who will entrust to you the true riches?" Think of the true riches as God's word, and "that which is another's" as the property, the real estate we are stewards of.
Anecdote. In our fellowship, a man, in spite of personal problems, was elected a deacon, and then given the job of treasurer of the church. He began to be convicted about tithing, and not only began to tithe, but also developed a class to teach others about stewardship and tithing. Then he was given a major responsibility of teaching Scripture to a large group. He was faithful with his own money and then was entrusted with the true riches.
•"You cannot serve God and mammon (money)." Jesus did not say "You cannot have God and mammon." The question is our objective, the direction of our life, that which occupies the forefront of our thinking. Two things cannot occupy the same space.
The answer to the question of how believers can contribute to the salvation of people is answered simply in this lesson: they contribute money to the ministry of evangelism so that converts will greet them in Heaven.
Do Christians support the Lord's work?
•The answer is that 3.3% of gross income, a third of a tithe is given by the average evangelical church member. Do we serve God or money? With Christians as a group, it is money 2:1.
•We praise God with all our voices, but 80% of the singers in the congregation do not praise God with their money or otherwise contribute to the needs of the ministry.
•"Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing Me in tithes and offerings." (Mal.3:8). We protest that we are not under law but under grace. Therefore we may do less and give less under God's grace than we would under Law? Seriously.