The Parable of the Unjust Steward
“And he said also unto his disciples, There was a certain rich man, which had a steward; and the same was accused unto him that he had wasted his goods. And he called him, and said unto him, How is it that I hear this of thee? give an account of thy stewardship; for thou mayest be no longer steward. Then the steward said within himself, What shall I do? for my lord taketh away from me the stewardship: I cannot dig; to beg I am ashamed. I am resolved what to do, that, when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses. So he called every one of his lord’s debtors unto him, and said unto the first, How much owest thou unto my lord? And he said, An hundred measures of oil. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and sit down quickly, and write fifty. Then said he to another, And how much owest thou? And he said, An hundred measures of wheat. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and write fourscore. And the lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely: for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light. And I say unto you, Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations. He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much. If therefore ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? And if ye have not been faithful in that which is another man’s, who shall give you that which is your own? No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” (Luke 16:1-13)
Remember that parables are earthly illustrations of heavenly truths. We do not build our doctrine upon parables. We do not interpret the rest of the Bible in the light of the Lord’s parables. We build our doctrine upon the plain statements of Holy Scripture. And we interpret the parables of our Lord in the light of the whole Volume of Inspiration.
A parable must not be forced beyond its purpose. The purpose of a parable is to illustrate one primary thing. It has one central message. It is not necessary to give every word of the parable a spiritual or doctrinal meaning. In order to understand it, we must look at the parable as a whole, and seek to determine what its primary message is. In this parable the certain rich man represents the Lord our God. The rich man’s steward represents us all. We are all, in a sense, stewards of God. The message taught in this parable is this: — As the stewards of God, you and I are responsible to wisely use what God has put into our hands for His glory and for our own eternal good. This unjust steward was not commended for his injustice, but for his wisdom and great care in using his present circumstances to provide for himself in the future.
Someone has suggested that this world is a house. Heaven is the roof of the house. The stars are its lights. The earth, with its fruits, is a table spread by the Master of the house, who is the great and glorious Lord God. Man is the steward of the house, into whose hands God has given all the goods of His house for a time. It is the steward’s responsibility to use his Master’s goods wisely for the honor of his Master, and according to his Master’s will. In the Day of Judgment we will be called to give an account of our stewardship.
The message of this parable is a subject of indescribable importance. It is deeper than election, more profound than predestination, and more difficult to receive than Divine sovereignty. You and I are stewards under God, responsible to use what He has put into our hands for the good of His people and the glory of His name, according to His will. If we learn nothing else from this parable, I want us to learn this: — Everything (money, material possessions, time, talents, opportunities, family ― everything!) we have in this world belongs to God. We are only the stewards of God’s property for a while. He allows us to use that which is His. But it is our responsibility to use it for His glory and according to His direction.
The Parable Itself
First, we will briefly look at the parable itself (vv. 1-8).
“And he said also unto his disciples, There was a certain rich man, which had a steward; and the same was accused unto him that he had wasted his goods. And he called him, and said unto him, How is it that I hear this of thee? give an account of thy stewardship; for thou mayest be no longer steward. Then the steward said within himself, What shall I do? for my lord taketh away from me the stewardship: I cannot dig; to beg I am ashamed. I am resolved what to do, that, when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses. So he called every one of his lord’s debtors unto him, and said unto the first, How much owest thou unto my lord? And he said, An hundred measures of oil. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and sit down quickly, and write fifty. Then said he to another, And how much owest thou? And he said, An hundred measures of wheat. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and write fourscore. And the lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely: for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light.” (Luke 16:1-8)
Here our Lord holds before us a wicked, self-serving, unjust steward. His master trusted him with the goods of his house. But this man used his office and position to cheat his master and his master’s debtors and served himself. As stated above, this unjust steward represents all men and women. God made man to serve Him with His creation and honor Him. But we have taken that which belongs to God and used it for ourselves. We have all attempted to rob God, both of His dominion and His dignity as God.
It is not accidental that this parable immediately follows the Lord’s story of the elder brother and the parable by which he rebuked the Pharisees and scribes in Luke 15. I am certain that the Pharisees understood both that parable and this one as specifically speaking of them, because they took offense at it (v. 16).
Here are four things that the Lord specifically tells us about this unjust steward…
1. “He wasted his lord’s goods” (v. 1). — This steward embezzled his master’s goods, misapplied them, or through carelessness lost them. And for this he was accused before his master. This is the charge laid against us all. We have taken that which God has given us to use for His glory, His Son, and His people and wasted it upon our own pleasures.
2. Because he had wasted his lord’s goods, this steward was given notice that he would soon be put out of his stewardship (v. 2). — In a little while he would be required to give up his stewardship and give account of himself to his master. Our Lord Jesus Christ spoke these words against the Pharisees; but He spoke them to His disciples. They are written for our learning. What do they teach us?
Soon we will be compelled to give up our stewardship. Our Lord tells us to “work while it is day, for the night cometh when no man can work.” We will not always enjoy the privileges and pleasures that are now ours. Death will soon come. When it does it will deprive us of the abilities and opportunities we now have of serving Christ and His people. And when we are gone another steward will come to take our place. We will soon be forgotten.
Our discharge from our stewardship is a matter of justice. We must die because we have sinned. We have wasted our Lord’s goods. Therefore, we have forfeited our stewardship. When the Lord takes it from us, we have no grounds for complaint.
When our stewardship is taken from us, we must give account of it to our Lord (Hebrews 9:27; 2 Corinthians 5:10-11). Having been warned of these things, if we were wise, we would make preparation for that great day. He is a wise man who says to himself continually, “Prepare to meet thy God.” Soon we must stand before God to give account of our stewardship.
3. As soon as this unjust steward realized that his stewardship was to be taken from him, he began to make preparations for the appointed day (vv. 3-7). — He used the time and opportunities he had to prepare for that appointed day when his stewardship would be taken away. We would be wise to think upon that day. We have been warned. Soon God will take us out of this world. Soon we will stand before God in judgment. We are fools if we do not prepare for that day.
He realized that he had no ability to earn his livelihood and that he was too proud to beg. — “Then the steward said within himself, What shall I do? for my lord taketh away from me the stewardship: I cannot dig; to beg I am ashamed” (v. 3). He could not dig because he would not dig. He was not willing to lower himself to what he looked upon as menial labor. He was not too proud to steal. But he was too proud to work! He was too lazy to work and too proud to beg. Both work and humility were contrary to his nature.
Spiritually, you and I are in the same position he was in.We cannot, by the works of our hands, save our souls. We have neither the will nor the ability to obey God’s law. — “By the works of the law there shall no flesh be justified.” “Man is not justified by the works of the law.” Salvation is by grace. It cannot be earned or won by works. Salvation is the free gift of God’s free grace in Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9). But there is another problem – We are all too proud by nature to beg for mercy. We are too proud to come to God like the publican upon the footing of free grace through a Substitute (Luke 18:13). We are too proud to seek grace through the merits of another.
Though he was too lazy to work and too proud to beg, this unjust steward determined that he would make friends of his lord’s debtors, so that when he was turned out of his master’s house he might be received into theirs. This unjust steward was a treacherous, dishonest man. But he was brilliant in one thing. He used the opportunity he had to prepare for his future welfare.
“I am resolved what to do, that, when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses. So he called every one of his lord’s debtors unto him, and said unto the first, How much owest thou unto my lord? And he said, An hundred measures of oil. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and sit down quickly, and write fifty. Then said he to another, And how much owest thou? And he said, An hundred measures of wheat. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and write fourscore.” (Luke 16:4-7)
4. In verse 8 the Lord Jesus tells us that the unjust steward’s master commended his behavior. — “And the lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely: for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light.”
This is a strange commendation. His lord did not commend him because he had done the things he had done, but because he had wisely provided for himself. Dishonest as he was, by lessening the bills of his master’s debtors he made for himself friends. Wicked as he was in his deeds, he had an eye to the future. Disgraceful as his actions were, he provided well for himself. He did not sit still in idleness and wait to be reduced to poverty. He schemed, planned, contrived, and found a way to secure a future home for himself.
Therefore, the Lord Jesus said, “The children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light.” Do you see the contrast? This man, with regard to earthly things, was diligent. He wisely looked to and provided for the future. This is commendable even in insects and animals (Proverbs 6:6-9; 30:24-28). But, as John Trapp observed, “The worldling’s wisdom serves him (as the ostrich’s wings) to make him outrun others upon earth, and in earthly things; but helps him never a wit toward heaven.”
Without question, the Book of Proverbs is a book of inspired wisdom drawn from earthly maxims. But the maxims, as given by Solomon, under divine inspiration are not about carnal matters. They are about spiritual matters. Solomon is not telling us how to lay up treasures upon the earth. That would be a direct contradiction to our Lord’s word in Matthew 6. Solomon’ purpose is to tell us show the necessity of laying up treasure in heaven.
Yet, how foolish we are to neglect our souls! In this regard the unjust steward sets before us an example we would be wise to follow. Like him, we should look to the future (2 Corinthians 4:18). We would be wise to make provision for that day when we shall have to leave our present habitation and secure for ourselves, by faith in Christ, “an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” We should use every means at our disposal to secure our everlasting welfare.
J. C. Ryle wrote, “The diligence of worldly men about the things of time should put to shame the coldness of professing Christians about the things of eternity.” They improve their opportunities. We waste ours. They redeem their time. We squander ours. They seize the moment to increase their riches. We live as if we expect to live here forever, as though there were no eternal riches in glory.
Second, I want us to understand the exhortation our Lord Jesus gives us in verse 9. The parable ends in verse 8. Verses 9-13 are words of instruction to you and me, by which our Savior pointedly applies the parable to us. — “And I say unto you, Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations” (v. 9).
This is the meaning of our Lord’s words in this verse — Make to yourselves friends with your money and earthly goods, so that when you die, you may enter into everlasting habitations. Use your earthly goods, as stewards under God, with an eye to the future. Use your riches in this world in such a way that they shall be friends to you and not a witness against you in the Day of Judgment.
Lest any mistake what I am saying, or what our Lord is teaching in this verse, let this be perfectly understood. — No man can purchase an eternal inheritance in heaven with money, any more than he can earn it by his works. Our only grounds of acceptance with God, is the precious blood of Christ (1 Peter 1:18-21). Your earthly riches cannot get you into heaven, no matter what you do with them. But your earthly riches can keep you out of heaven (Matthew 13:22; Luke 18:22-24). It is our responsibility not to serve our earthly possessions, but rather to use our earthly possessions to serve our God, His people, and His gospel. All that we have belongs to God and is to be used for God. We are nothing but stewards. A steward takes in with one hand and distributes with the other according to his master’s will (Matthew 6:19-21, 33). We were not put here to amass wealth, but to use what God puts in our hands for the glory of Christ and the good of His people.
The doctrine our Lord teaches us by this parable is unmistakable. — The proper use of our earthly goods, from the proper motives, will be for our eternal benefit. It is an evidence of God’s grace in us, which shall befriend our souls forever. God the Holy Spirit has given us three inspired commentaries on our Lord’s exhortation in Luke 16:9.
“Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days.” (Ecclesiastes 11:1)
“Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting. And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.” (Galatians 6:7-10)
“Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy; That they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate; Laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.” (1 Timothy 6:17-19)
“And I say unto you, Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations.” (Luke 16:9)
Faithful, or Unfaithful?
Third, our Lord gives us the basis of this exhortation and enforces it in verses 10-12. If we do not make good use of God’s temporal gifts of providence, we need not expect Him to bestow upon us the true riches of spiritual and everlasting grace and glory. — “He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much” (v. 10).
The riches of this world are called that which is least. Men think riches are great, significant, and all-important. Our Lord calls riches that which is least, the very least of all God’s gifts to man. The spiritual riches, the riches of grace and glory are much, infinitely, immeasurably much. These are “the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Ephesians 3:8) and “God’s riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).
Matthew Henry said, “God withholds His grace from covetous worldly people more than we are aware of.” And our Lord said virtually the same thing in Luke 18:25.
“If therefore ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches?” (. 11) — The riches of this world are deceitful and uncertain. They are “the unrighteous mammon.” Spiritual riches are “true riches”. I wonder if we really believe that. Those who are rich in faith are truly rich. Those who are rich in grace are infinitely rich. Those who are rich towards God are permanently rich. Those who are rich in Christ are perfectly rich and rich in all things (1 Corinthians 3:21). In Christ all providential things are ours, all temporal things are ours, all gracious things are ours, all spiritual things are ours, and all eternal things are ours.
“And if ye have not been faithful in that which is another man's, who shall give you that which is your own?” (v. 12) — The riches of this world are another man’s. They all belong to God. We are only stewards of them, who use them for a very little while. Then, we must leave them to another. Spiritual, eternal riches are our own. They are that good part which shall not be taken away from us, neither in this world nor in the world to come. That which God has imputed to me is mine forever. That which he imparts to my soul can never be separated from me. It is my very own forever. Christ’s righteousness is our righteousness (Jeremiah 33:16). His reward is our reward (Colossians 1:12). His inheritance is our inheritance (Romans 8:17). And His glory is our glory(John 17:20).
In these verses, our Lord plainly shows us the importance of faithfulness in little things. He is showing us that little things are the truest tests of character. A man who will steal a dime will rob a bank, if he thinks he can get by with it. A woman who will gossip about you would murder you, if she could. A person who is not faithful in little things is really unfaithful in all things. And he certainly is not an heir of heavenly things. Yet, it must be understood that faithfulness is not measured by acts but by lives. David failed greatly in some areas; but he was a faithful steward in God’s house.
Our Lord’s Lesson
Fourth, our Savior sets before us a lesson we must learn. — “No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon” (v. 13). As Matthew Henry rightly observed, “We have no other way to prove ourselves the servants of God than by giving up ourselves so entirely to His service as to make mammon, that is, all our worldly gain, serviceable to us in His service.”
If we love the world and seek to hold on to the things of the world, we will hate God and despise His grace. Our worship of, service to, and faith in God will be made to be subservient to our worldly interests. We will use the things of God to serve the world.
If we love God and seek to hold on to Him, serving His kingdom and His glory, His Son and His Gospel, then we will hate the world and despise all that it offers. That simply means, when the world comes into competition with God, we throw the world away and hold our God and Savior (Luke 14:25-33). We make our business and worldly interests subservient to the worship of, obedience to, and service for our God. We make the things of the world to be neither more nor less than instruments with which we serve the Lord our God.
“Ye cannot serve God and mammon!” So I say to you as Joshua did to Israel of old, — “How long halt ye between two opinions?…Choose you this day whom ye will serve.” As for me and my house, I have made up my mind, “We will serve the Lord!”
“And when he had called the people unto him with his disciples also, he said unto them, Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it. For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Mark 8:34-37)
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