POST OVERVIEW. A Bible study from Luke 16:1-12 that examines the parable of the unrighteous steward and Jesus’ subsequent teaching about the use of money by His disciples.
Jesus spoke often to His disciples on the topic of money because money is such an excellent revealer of the true state of our heart. How you steward your money shows where your real priorities lie and is a good indicator of your maturity as a disciple of Jesus.
THE UNRIGHTEOUS AND MAMMON
In Luke 16:1-12, then, Jesus tells a parable about a rich man and the manager of the rich man’s household to teach us the importance of being faithful with our earthy wealth. Take the time now to read through these twelve verses. The story is easy to understand. A rich man entrusted his possessions to his manager, but the manager squandered the rich man’s resources. Then, when he was caught and fired for his mismanagement, the manager further cheated the rich man so that he would find favor with the man’s debtors.
And then, most astonishing of all, the rich man actually praises the manager who has repeatedly cheated him because he acted “shrewdly.” “Yes, you did cheat me out of a bunch of money and you are thoroughly dishonest and untrustworthy, but you are also resourceful and clever, and I have to admire that.”
Notice that “the sons of this age,” the manager, the debtors, and the rich man himself, do not value honesty or faithfulness, trustworthiness or good stewardship, but instead praise the manager for his dishonest shrewdness.
Thus Jesus establishes the first half of the comparison. This is how the unrighteous view mammon. They are focused on achieving their own advantage and advancing their own best interests with little thought to righteousness. The rich man shows that “the sons of this age” also “give hearty approval” to those who practice unrighteousness. (See Romans 1:32.)
By means of this parable, then, Jesus has shown how the unrighteous behave with regard to money and possessions. They do not acknowledge the Lord as the owner of everything, who graciously gives to His creatures so that they can be His stewards, but instead they selfishly and cleverly cheat one another and try to accumulate the most “mammon.” After all, “he who dies with the most toys (gold, money, stuff) wins,” right?
DOES JESUS CONDONE THE STEWARD’S BEHAVIOR?
As an aside, this parable can trouble Bible students who misunderstand Jesus’ teaching, because they interpret the rich man’s praise of his unrighteous manager as meaning that Jesus Himself is condoning the dishonesty of the cheating steward. Of course, Jesus, who never sinned (2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15), would never condone any unrighteous behavior, but also the explanation given above should also clarify the passage. The parable means to spotlight the despicable way the unrighteous relate to possessions.
Having established the behavior of the unrighteous with respect to money, Jesus is now going to contrast that behavior with the expected behavior of His disciples. The key verses in this regard are 16:8 and 16:9, with 16:8 being a summary of the parable and 16:9 being a command from the Lord (“make friends” is an imperative, thus a command).
THE RIGHTEOUS AND MAMMON
Luke 16:8. As has already been said, Jesus is not praising or condoning the dishonest behavior of the sons of this age. He is saying, however, that the unrighteous are more shrewd (“prudent,” even “wise”) than the sons of light in their use and management of unrighteous mammon, and this should not be. In a sense, this is a rebuke or at least an exhortation to His disciples to be wise, shrewd stewards of their “mammon.” For if the unrighteous are shrewd in their selfish, godless use of money, how much more should the sons of light be wise with what the Lord has entrusted with them. There is nothing inherently noble or godly in the poor stewardship of God’s possessions.
Luke 16:9. Now Jesus translates His veiled exhortation (16:8) into a command. To understand this command, we must unpack the phrase, “by means of the wealth (mammon) of unrighteousness.” Although “our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil. 3:20), we now live in a material world and therefore we need to learn how to be shrewd in our use of the material means at our disposal. Money is one of the most powerful means we have, so we should be wise (shrewd) in how we steward our money for maximum kingdom impact. Thus, the disciple is intent on learning how to more and more effectively us “unrighteous mammon” to empower the kingdom of God.
Eventually your mammon will fail. I think this simply means that no amount of money can buy you one more heartbeat. Eventually you will die and then you will need to give an account of how well you stewarded the Lord’s possessions (Matt. 25:21, 23; Luke 19:15-19). Steward them well now and you will be welcomed into heaven then.
Jesus has given His disciples a command to make friends in heaven by the shrewd use of money (16:9) and now He will give us some instructions about how to do that.
Luke 16:10. It goes against our fallen logic to think that, if I continually squandered and frittered away my modest salary for twenty years, I will also squander my $20 million in lottery winnings. For some reason, we think that my poor stewardship of my money is related to how much I have. If I just had more then I would suddenly learn how to manage money. But that is not the case, as hundreds of lottery winners can attest. It is only slightly more difficult to squander $20 million than it is to squander $50,000. Faithfulness in the wise use of money is independent of amount.
Thus, Jesus gives us a universal principle that is true for all times and all places: “He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much.” The message is clear – If you are a disciple of Jesus, you are to be a faithful steward of the Lord’s resources.
Luke 16:11. Your use of money reveals your true attitude toward many things. This also is a general pattern, that the Lord entrusts you with some of His wealth and then He watches to see what kind of a manager you are. The Lord owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Psalm 50:10) and He is able to dismiss a debt of 10,000 talents (Matt. 18:24-27) without noticing the loss, but nevertheless He tests His disciples with little to determine their faithfulness. And money is His most common test medium. If you are unfaithful with His money, then why should He entrust you with more?
Luke 16:12. If you have ever been a landlord, then you have had an opportunity to learn something about human nature. Virtually all landlords have stories about so-called human beings who rented from them and who did astonishing damage to their property without the least sign of remorse. How could these renters do such a thing? Because the property was not theirs. Rather, it belonged to another, and so they didn’t care how they treated this house which was another’s.
In the same way, as disciples of Jesus, we know that we have been entrusted with that which is another’s. The Lord has entrusted us with His wealth and He calls us to be faithful with it. We are accountable and He will call for a reckoning.
What, then, have we learned from this short parable and exhortation form the Lord Jesus? First, the disciple of Jesus is to be wise and prudent in the use of the Lord’s resources, and particularly of the financial resources the Lord has entrusted to him. There is simply no excuse for the believer to be careless or naïve or indifferent in the use of mammon. Money is a powerful tool here on earth for bringing about Kingdom advances and it is incumbent on the disciple to become skilled in its use.
Next, faithfulness in the managing of money is the goal, not accumulation of the greatest amount. Learn to use the money you have well, and it is likely the Lord will entrust you with more.
Third, be faithful with whatever you have. He who is unfaithful in little is unfaithful in much, and the Lord will not entrust His money to fools.
Also, while having a lot of wealth is not a sin, being entrusted with significant wealth can be a temptation for us to worship the treasure rather than the Giver of the treasure.
Finally, as almost every honest person will admit, it does not take a lot of money to reveal a person’s greed and covetousness. The goal is contentment with whatever God chooses to supply.
SDG rmb 9/30/2022 #578