Explore the Bible Series
Background Passage: Luke 16:1-31
Lesson Passage: Luke 16:1-13
Introduction: In the Parable of the Sower, as recorded in Matthew 13, Jesus referred to “…the deceitfulness of riches.” Those who give their affections to the mistress of riches, find that she is a deceitful cheat. The heart can only accommodate one supreme love. Either the love of Christ or the love of “Mammon” will rule the heart; the two cannot rule as co-monarchs of the soul’s throne. Perhaps no snare catches more men than the love of money. Again and again, the Scriptures warn us of the grave danger. Here we discover the masterful deception of riches because many of us flatter ourselves that these passages do not address us; or, more likely, we may cut the nerve of such texts by rationalizing away their pointed message. Surely the Lord must be addressing, we may reason, some miserly misfit who resembles Ebenezer Scrooge.
How could one begin to calculate the damage done by the love of riches? Men lose their souls over this issue (See vv. 19-31). Furthermore, families and churches can be consumed by the twin predators of materialism and consumerism. Let us give attentive ears to the Master’s teaching on the theme of the danger of the love of money.
I. The Parable of the Unjust Steward (Luke 16:1-13)
Note: I find this a very difficult parable to interpret. The commentators seem to struggle with this passage as well. Obviously, the Lord did not intend that this story promote dishonesty, laziness, or devious business practices. Wise Bible students must interpret this parable with great care.
A. The steward’s misuse of his master’s resources (vv. 1-2): Notice that Jesus redirected this part of his discourse. The previous parables were addressed to the Scribes and Pharisees, but the Lord directs this teaching to his disciples (See v.1). Jesus used a word to describe the steward’s shortcomings that denotes carelessness and irresponsibility, rather than fraud or theft. The context seems to demand this view as well. If the steward had committed a crime, surely the master would have charged him before the authorities. Also, it seems clear that Jesus did not portray this man as a slave. Slaves, of course, would not get “fired” for this kind of malfeasance.
B. The master’s response (v. 2): Someone brought an accusation, against the steward, to the master, and, additional investigation proved the accuser right. The master fired the steward and required of him that the accounts be reconciled. This, of course, placed the steward in a very precarious position.
C. The steward’s shrewdness (vv. 3-7): This unrighteous man did not care about setting the master’s accounts right or making restitution for his mismanagement of resources. Clearly, his conscience gave way to his sense of self-preservation. He did not want to really work (“I cannot dig.”), nor did he want to face the disgrace of begging for his bread; so, he decided to endear himself to his master’s debtors by cutting an unethical deal with each of them. He reduced their indebtedness to the master (altered the promissory agreements between the lender and borrower); thus, he anticipated they might treat him favorably when he lost his job. This man compounded his wrong by striking dishonest deals with his master’s debtors to increase his economic security and advantage.
D. The master’s admiration of the steward’s shrewdness (v. 8): The Scriptures do not record the master’s approval or commendation of the unjust steward; rather, he was impressed with the ingenuity and craftiness of his clever servant. Worldly businessmen may, at some level, actually admire the craftiness of a business rival who gets the best of them. That seems to reflect the circumstance in this passage.
Application: The later part of verse eight crowns the parable with great significance. Jesus commended the unjust steward for his persistence, ingenuity, and resolve, to protect his future (worldly) interests. Often, the Lord observed, the children of light do not demonstrate the kind of resolve that one finds in unethical businessmen. Believers too have future interests and must take advantage of every situation to lay up treasure in heaven. The steward had only temporal comforts in mind, but children of light have an expanded view of what the future holds; therefore, they should give the same diligence to address the future as the unjust steward did.
II. The Lord’s Interpretation of the Parable (Luke 16:9-13): Jesus pointed out several important principles regarding the believer’s understanding of material possessions.
A. (v. 9) Again, this is a difficult verse, but it seems to call the believer to use material wealth as a means of helping others; thus, the beneficent and generous giver will receive blessing in heaven. The word “receive” seems to denote a warm and celebratory welcome for the believer when he reaches heaven.
B. (vv. 10) A man who remains faithful in small things will be found faithful in greater things as well. The “little things” in life count. They count because “little thing” faithfulness reveals the content and disposition of the heart. Conversely, the man who is not found faithful in small things reveals the character his heart as well.
C. (vv.11 and 12) These verses indicate that an unfaithful man, who has squandered the “small things” of life, will not be entrusted with the greater and weightier spiritual riches of God.
Application: The Lord concludes this section with an epitome statement that distills this parable in matchless profundity and simplicity. “No servant can serve two masters…” “Mammon” is an Aramaic term that refers to money. In time, the term was used to denote an evil spirit of false god. Jesus used the word to describe an inordinate lust for wealth. This sin does not afflict the wealthy only; indeed, the poor may covet the wealth of the rich and fall into the worship of “Mammon.”
Conclusion: I trust you will consider the following observations. For three years I preached through the Gospel of Matthew, and that experience profoundly reshaped the way I understand Christian discipleship. In particular, I came to a new understanding of Christ’s demands regard material possessions. Please know that I still have a long way to go in regard to implementing these principles in my life, and I try to exercise patience with those who see things differently. Frankly, I wonder if a person can be a disciple of Jesus Christ, and, at the same time retain the consumerism and materialism that characterizes our society. Perhaps you might use these issues as a springboard for discussion in your Bible classes.
I have been musing lately on the
extremely dangerous cumulative effects of earthly things. One may have good reason, for example, to
want a wife, and he may have one legitimately.
But with a wife comes Peter the Pumpkin Eater’s dilemma- he must find a
place to keep her. And most wives will
not stay on such terms a Peter proposed.
So a wife demands a house; a house, in turn, requires curtains, rugs,
washing machines, et cetera. A house with
these things must soon become a home, and children are the intended
outcome. The needs multiply as they are
met- a car demands a garage; a garage, land; land, a garden; a garden, tools;
and tools need sharpening. Woe, woe to
the man who would live a disentangled life in this century. II Timothy is impossible in the
4. Study simplicity and modesty. The Bible does not call Christians to ascetic austerity, but it does encourage modesty. Also, we should avoid excessive “rule-making” when it comes to discussing these matters (See Proverbs 30:8-9). We need to learn the difference between our needs and our lusts; necessity and luxury; sufficiency and excess.
5. Give generously to those in need and to advance the