The disciples always listened spellbound when Jesus spoke to them in parables. Jesus’ parables were for the purpose of relating spiritual truths contained in an earthly story. Some of His parables were easier to grasp the meaning than others. Of the all the parables the Master Teacher taught, the parable of the Unjust Steward no doubt left the disciples scratching their heads as to the truths Jesus was attempting to convey. Since it was first uttered from the divine lips of the Savior, the parable has left students of the Bible with a perplexed look on their faces as to what truths Jesus was seeking to convey. This is without question a difficult parable to interpret. Luke 16:1-13 is where we find this most interesting parable. The parable reads:
And he said also unto the disciples, There was a certain rich man, who had a steward; and the same was accused unto him that he was wasting his goods. 2 And he called him, and said unto him, What is this that I hear of thee? render the account of thy stewardship; for thou canst be no longer steward. 3 And the steward said within himself, What shall I do, seeing that my lord taketh away the stewardship from me? I have not strength to dig; to beg I am ashamed. 4 I am resolved what to do, that, when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses. 5 And calling to him each one of his lord’s debtors, he said to the first, How much owest thou unto my lord? 6 And he said, A hundred measures of oil. And he said unto him, Take thy bond, and sit down quickly and write fifty. 7 Then said he to another, And how much owest thou? And he said, A hundred measures of wheat. He saith unto him, Take thy bond, and write fourscore. 8 And his lord commended the unrighteous steward because he had done wisely: for the sons of this world are for their own generation wiser than the sons of the light. 9 And I say unto you, Make to yourselves friends by means of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when it shall fail, they may receive you into the eternal tabernacles. 10 He that is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much: and he that is unrighteous in a very little is unrighteous also in much. 11 If therefore ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? 12 And if ye have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? 13 No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. (Luke 16:1-13)
In summarizing the parable: A rich man appointed a certain steward to be manager of his estate/business affairs. He was given authority and responsibility to manage all business dealings on behalf of his master. No doubt he was chosen because he was hardworking and appeared to be competent to run the estate. In time, though, it came to the attention of the man that the steward he appointed was not handling his affairs honestly, he was wasting his master’s goods. He calls in the steward and tells him he is going to fire him. The steward is worried if he is fired his income stream will dry up. So cleverly he hatches a scheme. He goes to the debtors who owe his master money and he reduces their bill in order to gain favor with them, in hopes when he is fired one of them might give him a job. Since the steward usually added a “fee” when making out a bill which he would pocket, he probably knocked off the percentage of the bill which would have been his. While the steward may have lost his kick-back, the debtor who received the discount was happy and his master was happy he got his money. While both parties were happy, the steward’s motivation in what he did was completely a selfish one he hoped would benefit him. But for his shrewdness his master commends him for acting so wisely.
Not only did the owner of the estate commend the unrighteous steward, it appears that Jesus commends the steward for his self-motivated shrewdness. Jesus stated, “For the sons of this world are for their own generation wiser than the sons of the light” (v. 8). What in the world did Jesus mean by that statement? From the moral character of Jesus, we know he is not commending his selfishly motivated behavior. What truths in this parable was Jesus trying to convey to his disciples? What truths can we glean from this puzzling parable?
There are at least four valuable truths/principles that emerge from the parable of the Unjust Steward.
(1) The Christian is to seek righteousness with the same intensity the sons of the world seek unrighteousness (v. 8). Commenting on the shrewd actions of the unjust steward Jesus said, “For the sons of this world are for their own generation wiser than the sons of the light.”
It seems to this writer what Jesus is saying is that Christians need to be as dedicated and wise to live a righteous and holy life as the “sons of this world” are in their commitment to scheming and planning how they can selfishly use others, cut corners, and accumulate the “goods” of this world. If the Unjust Steward had been as conscientious to be an honest and trustworthy steward as he was to figuring out how he could beat his master out of money or scheming how he could save his hide, he would not have been in the predicament he found himself. Jesus it seems is teaching we need to give as much attention to matters related to the soul and spiritual matters, as the “sons of this world” give to earthly matters, which in most instances have no lasting or eternal profit. Jesus calls upon His followers to “seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these [other] things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33).
(2) The Christian needs to be wise with money when it comes to spiritual investing (v. 9). Jesus said, “And I say unto you, Make to yourselves friends by means of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when it shall fail, they may receive you into the eternal tabernacles”
Jesus is in no way endorsing the shady and self-motivating business practices of the unjust steward, but He is seeking to teach us to think beyond ourselves in the use of money. We usually think of ourselves first when it comes to money and many of our decisions in regard to “mammon” are self-motivated and only profit ourselves. Jesus was seeking to convey to his disciples that as stewards of God’s “goods” that our money in reality isn’t ours, we are simply managing it for the real owner, the Lord. And while money can be used for unrighteous and self-motivating purposes, it can also be used in God’s service to spread the Good News of Christ, to support worthy purposes and help our fellowman. When the money the Lord has entrusted us to manage is wisely invested in worthy purposes for the Kingdom, the benefits are lasting beyond this life, having eternal rewards.
(3) The Christian is to be a faithful Steward even in the little tasks (v. 10-12). Jesus said, “He that is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much: and he that is unrighteous in a very little is unrighteous also in much. 11 If therefore ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? 12 And if ye have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own?”
We are to be faithful stewards over all to which the Lord has entrusted to us and we are to be faithful in our service no matter how small the task may seem or be. Jesus teaches that our faithfulness in small tasks is the best indicator that we are capable of being entrusted with bigger tasks or assignments. Are we faithful stewards with our time, talents, money, or opportunities to be a witness for Him? Are we faithful stewards in matters that may seem insignificant? But as faithful stewards we are to be attentive to the task we have been entrusted with no matter the “smallness” of it. Too many Christians are seeking to serve in “limelight” positions or “grandiose” events, but if we are not faithful stewards in the small matters we have been entrusted with, then we should never expect the Lord to entrust us with “bigger” assignments.
(4) The Christian can’t serve two masters (v. 13). Jesus concluded the parable by saying, “No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.”
The steward in the parable belonged exclusively to the master, yet he was trying to serve two masters. It didn’t work out. The same principle applies to the Christian. Jesus poses to us the question, “Why do you call me Lord, Lord and do not the things I command you?” (Lk 6:46). If we say he is our Master, then being a Christian is not a part-time commitment. A servant/slave has no extra time to work for another master, he must attend to his master’s business. So it is with our Christian life, no matter the “other” master (in this parable the other master was the wrong use of mammon or money), it will prevent us from one day hearing our Master say, “Well done thy good and faithful servant.” Being a Christian is not a once-in-a-while commitment, but we exclusively belong to Christ and it is impossible to divide our time and energy trying to serve another master. We either belong to our Lord completely or not at all.
This parable when first heard by the disciples, no doubt left them perplexed and discussing among themselves what Jesus was attempting to teach. And yes, many a Christian upon reading this parable have had the same puzzling reaction as the disciples. But upon reflection, we have discovered from the parable of the Unjust Steward there can be gleaned many wonderful truths and principles that exhort us to be faithful stewards for our Lord. So, let us be about our Master’s business.