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13. The Unjust Steward

Somebody defined money as, “an article which may be used as a universal passport to everywhere except heaven and as a universal provider of everything except happiness.”3 People think that if they just had more money, life would be better because then they could buy all the things they wanted and that would make them happy. Do you know anybody who doesn’t want to win the Lotto? Do you know anybody that thinks winning $10 million would make them miserable? Luke 16 gives us two parables that deal with money and tells us the proper way to spend it if we have it.

The Passage:
Luke 16:1-13

The Parameters

  • A steward is one who manages another’s wealth. He does not own it, he uses it for the profit of his master. As Christians we are stewards of what God has given us. We do not own it.
  • The audience is the disciples. Therefore, this applies primarily to saved people.
  • The younger son squandered the family inheritance and I think there may be a link to the word squandered in 15:13.
  • This follows the parable of the lost sons where the younger one “wasted” his life and inheritance and the older son “spent” his life slaving for his father. In our parable we will see the importance of “investing” your money.
  • There is a warning to the Pharisees concerning their love of money following this parable in 16:14-17.
  • The parable of the rich man and Lazarus follows with its emphasis on eternity.
  • The danger of squandering money, loving it too much and eternity are the backdrops to the parable.

The Problem

Some people say that the problem is that the steward forgot he was a steward and began using the money as his own. I don’t think that is what the passage is really about. It doesn’t say he was using it for his own. It just says he wasted it. Perhaps one of the ways he wasted the money was by spending it on himself, so the idea might be included in the parable, but that is not the emphasis. If the emphasis is not on using the money for himself, then what is it?

I think the main problem is related to the emphasis on eternity following the parable. The main problem is that the steward did not work with a view to the future. He assumed he would always have that job and was not careful with the stuff entrusted to him. If he’d believed he might be fired for poor performance, I can’t help but think he would have performed better and been more careful with what was entrusted to him.

If you know you are about to lose your job next month or might lose your job next month, you are not going to go out and take out a loan on a new house, go out to eat every night, buy a new set of golf clubs or a big screen TV, or whatever. You are going to spend money only on what you must. You will live with a very real sense of what the future holds for you. If you are being evaluated, you will perform your job diligently so that you receive a good evaluation and don’t get fired. This steward was not thinking about the future until he got his pink slip.

I think the emphasis in our parable is on eternity and using money for eternity.

So, the question is: How can believers be shrewd in dealing with their money?

The Progression

Chronological and logical

    The problem for the present (1-3)

The master heard that the steward was not performing properly and told him he was fired, but before he left, he was to prepare his books for an audit.

We’ve already mentioned that we don’t know how the steward squandered the money. Suffice it to say that he was caught and in trouble.

Verse 3 - The steward said to himself, “What shall I do...” I think it is significant that this steward recognized his problem. He did not try to deny that it was happening, hope it would go away, hope the master would forget, etc. He is now looking to the future and he knows that the future holds trouble. And he doesn’t procrastinate once he hears the bad news. It seems that animals have more sense than humans in this area. They go south or store up food for the winter, but most humans live for the present and don’t worry about the future.

Unsaved people spend their lives denying that God exists, denying that there is a hell, denying their sin problem, etc. If they really believed there was a problem, that they were going to go to hell, I can't help but think that they would do something about it. That is why we sometimes say, “You have to get the unsaved person lost before you can get them saved.” They deny reality and don’t want to worry about the future.

The believers have a different problem. They know there is a heaven and hell. They worried about it enough to get their life insurance. But now they need to recognize that they are going to be held accountable for their stewardship of what God has given them.

The dishonest steward lived like he wouldn’t ever be held accountable. Now he knows he is in trouble, so what does he do?

The plan for the future (4-7)

He prepares for the future. He decides to make some friends. He does this by going to those who owe his master money and giving them big discounts. Then, when he leaves his present employment, perhaps these business acquaintances will hire him.

Notice also that he acted immediately. He did not delay in making preparations for his future. We have a tendency to think that there is plenty of time to get right with God or put off giving what we should to the church. We think things like...”I’ll just finish paying off that loan and then I’ll start giving more ... or ... After I get $5000 in the bank for emergencies then I’ll start giving more ... or ... After we replace the ______ then we can start giving more” If we get into that mode, there will always be something that we think we need NOW and never prepare for later.

The praise for shrewdness (vs. 8)

Some have problems with the praise that is given to the steward because it seems Jesus is praising the steward for being dishonest. First, we can point out that it is the master in the parable and not Jesus doing the praising. Second, if you understand the culture, you know that he wasn’t being dishonest by giving discounts to the master’s debtors.

How was he shrewd? Why was this not dishonest? Israelites were not to charge interest to their fellow citizens (Ex 22:25; Lev 25:36, Deut 15:8, 23:19). But they were charging interest. They did it by lending a person $80 but making them sign an IOU for $100. From Josephus we know that olive oil was a very volatile commodity and they charged 100% interest. The interest rate on wheat was 25%. That matches the figures Jesus used. Therefore, all the steward did was drop off the interest. He was shrewd because the master couldn’t turn him in for anything illegal, because he wasn’t supposed to charge interest in the first place. The master still fired him, but he certainly did the debtors a favor.

I’ve heard that this kind of stuff still happens today in Israel. In Israel it is illegal to milk a cow on the Sabbath unless you only do it for the cows benefit. How do you know if it is for the cows benefit? The elders have determined that you can do it for the cows benefit by milking her and letting the milk fall onto the rocks. So, they made a law that you must milk a cow on the rocks on the Sabbath. Shrewd Israelites sterilize rocks, put them in the bottom of the bucket and milk the cow on the rocks. There are always ways to get around the law if you want to. They should have left the principle or spirit of the law in place rather than define a specific action as fulfilling the principle.

We do the same thing when we make a rule that you can’t drink any alcohol. The Biblical principle is that we keep the Holy Spirit in control and not get drunk and be controlled by the alcohol. So we don’t drink but substitute alcohol with something else.

Verse 8 - How are sons of this age more shrewd? Many people do plan for their earthly retirement. But most Christians are not planning for their heavenly retirement.

vs. 9 Jesus says, use your money to make heavenly friends. This is the point of the parable.

The Point

Christians ought to be shrewd in their stewardships and use earthly finances to make heavenly friends.

Do you realize that when your stewardship is finished here on earth, you will have to leave everything behind and go to a place where the only thing you can send ahead are people.

The Relationship of the Parable to the Kingdom Program of God

We derive our understanding of the relationship of the parable to the Kingdom of God from verses 10f.

In the kingdom, rewards and responsibilities will be given to those who demonstrated a faithfulness in their earthly entrustments. If you squandered your resources while on earth, you will not be given much responsibility in the kingdom.

We should invest our money in evangelistic purposes so that when we go from here to eternity, we will have friends there to welcome us.

The Particulars

vs. 11-12 - There are lots of people who have no respect for the property of their landlords and tear up the house. There are government project houses in which people live for free or next to free and they do the same thing. I've heard people say that the solution to this is to actually give them the houses and once they are their own, then they will take care of them. What does this parable say about that?

The Principles

  • The money of this world should be used as a ministry for the next. Temporary fortune should be invested to secure eternal friends. You can’t take it with you. The only thing that you can take with you is people. (vs. 9)
  • Money management is not a little issue. It is loaded with implications. Money is the sight glass (on the coffee pot) of our lives. Let me see your checkbook and I’ll tell you your priorities.
  • Faithfulness in stewardship will be rewarded with true ownership.
  • The worship of God and gold is mutually exclusive. Why is it mutually exclusive? If gold is your god, then your major motivation will be to get it for yourself. If God is your god, then your major motivation will be to give it.

This is a great parable about stewardship.

There is a story about a man crawling across the desert and he comes to a rusty old pump with a little glass jug of water with a lid on it and a piece of leather parchment. He grabs the jar of water and just before he drinks it, he reads the parchment which says, “Stop! Don’t drink this. Use the water in the jar to wet the leather gasket on the pump. Then you can pump as much water as you like for drinking. Then fill the jar up and leave it with this note for the next traveler.

That is a good illustration of how we often want to use our money for instant gratification but wise use of our money will reap far greater rewards.

I think the parable of the unfaithful steward is subtle, but significant. Some say that the servant was cutting out his commissions when he reduced the debts. That might be true. The master probably got most of the interest being charged, but I’m sure some of it went to the steward. Therefore, when the servant cut his commission out of the transactions, there was nothing in it for him in the short term. Everything went to the master. Perhaps we could make the application or analogy that we give our money to missionary or charitable causes, we might not see any benefits now, but it can reap rewards later.

What was the response of the Pharisees to this parable? They were laughing at Jesus. And Jesus condemns them for only worrying about the present and what men think rather than the future and what God thinks. This sets us up for the next parable.

3 quoted from Wiersbe, Be Courageous, p. 35.

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