Jesus Support Dishonesty in 'Unjust Steward' Parable?

What is the meaning of the Parable of the Unjust Steward in Luke 16:1-13?

The Parable of the Unjust Steward text can be broken down into two parts: the parable (verses 1–8) and the application (verses 9–13). Luke 16:1 identifies that Jesus is speaking to His disciples, but there is a suggestion that His audience is mixed—disciples and Pharisees. Luke 16:14 states that the Pharisees “heard all these things and ridiculed [Jesus].” We also see in verse 1 that Jesus “also” said to the disciples; the “also” would suggest that this parable is connected to the previous three in Luke 15 and that the audience was a mixed crowd of disciples and Pharisees.

It is important to know to whom Jesus is addressing this parable. The parable is for the benefit of the disciples, but there is also a not-so-subtle critique of the Pharisees, as was evident in Luke 15. Verse 14 is Luke’s commentary on the motivation of the Pharisees, and in verse 15 we see our Lord condemn their motives. And what was the Pharisees’ motivation? They were those who were “lovers of money” and who “justify themselves before men” and who exalted that which was an “abomination before God.”

With that as a backdrop, let’s look at the parable. It’s fairly simple, if somewhat unorthodox, parable from Jesus. The story is simple, but the setting is unusual. In most of Jesus’ parables, the protagonist is either representative of God, Christ, or some other positive character. In this parable the characters are all wicked—the steward and the man whose possessions he manages are both unsavory characters. This should alert us to the fact that Jesus is not exhorting us to emulate the behavior of the characters but is trying to expound on a larger principle.

Now what’s the positive lesson Jesus might draw out of sinful behavior?

Here’s what Jesus says to his disciples in Luke 16:1–8:

There was a rich man who had a manager [like a steward who ran his business], and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions. And he called him and said to him, “What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager [in other words, you’re fired].”

And the manager said to himself, “What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.”

So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, “How much do you owe my master?” He said, “A hundred measures of oil.” He said to him, “Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.” Then he said to another, “And how much do you owe?” He said, “A hundred measures of wheat.” He said to him, “Take your bill, and write eighty.” The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness.

That is the end of parable. So you see the situation. A manager is fired, but before he leaves, he negotiates with the debtors of the owner to sign new contracts so that they owe the owner less than they really do.

They think that’s cool, and the manager hopes that these debtors will feel obliged to him, so that when he’s jobless, they’ll help him out. So, the deceitful manager uses his wits to figure out a way to manipulate money so as to secure his future. That’s the gist.

The steward is being released for apparent mismanagement, not fraud. This explains why he is able to conduct a few more transactions before he is released and why he is not immediately tossed out on the street or executed.

We don’t know how the story really ends — what happens after this encounter. We just know that when the master found out how clever this guy was, he said something like, “Well, that’s clever. That was shrewd.”

In His application of the story in the remaining verses, Jesus begins by saying, “For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light” (Luke 16:8). Jesus is drawing a contrast between the “sons of the world” (i.e., unbelievers) and the “sons of light” (believers).

Unbelievers are wiser in the things of this world than believers are about the things of the world to come. The unjust steward, once he knew he was about to be put out, maneuvered to put others’ debt to himself. He did so by cheating his master (who more than likely was cheating his customers). He made friends of his master’s debtors who would then be obligated to care for him once he lost his job.

Now, I think the point of saying that is what Jesus is saying, “It may be true that you poor, benign Christians don’t know how to be smart in this world’s affairs. That may be true. But guess what? It is utterly insignificant compared to the wisdom I am about to teach you in the next verse about how to use money to secure your future — namely, your ultimate future, your eternal future.”

In other words, “Maybe you aren’t that shrewd when it comes to the stock market, but guess what? Who cares? You’ve got a billion years to enjoy your investment. These folks, they’re going to lose theirs in eighty years.”

What does this have to do with believers being wise about the life to come? Let’s look at verse 9: “And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.”

Jesus is encouraging His followers to be generous with their wealth in this life so that in the life to come their new friends will receive them “into eternal dwellings.” This is similar to Jesus’ teaching on wealth in the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus exhorts His followers to lay up treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:19–21).

The term unrighteous (or worldly) wealth seems to strike readers the wrong way. But Jesus is not saying that believers should gain wealth unrighteously and then be generous with it. “Unrighteous” in reference to wealth can refer to 1) the means in acquiring wealth; 2) the way in which one desires to use the wealth; or 3) the corrupting influence wealth can have that often leads people to commit unrighteous acts. Given the way in which Jesus employs the term, the third explanation seems the most likely. Wealth is not inherently evil, but the love of money can lead to all sorts of sin (1 Timothy 6:10).

So, the principle that Jesus is trying to convey is one of a just steward rather than an unjust one. The unjust steward saw his master’s resources as a means for his own personal enjoyment and advancement. Conversely, Jesus wants His followers to be just, righteous stewards. If we understand the principle that everything we own is a gift from God, then we realize that God is the owner of everything and that we are His stewards. As such, we are to use the Master’s resources to further the Master’s goals. In this specific case, we are to be generous with our wealth and use it for the benefit of others.

In another way round, lets look at it from two angle in that verse to show why this is infinitely more shrewd and infinitely more wise than the shrewdness of the deceitful manager.

The first angle is the word eternal: “that they may receive you into eternal dwellings.” In other words, Jesus is telling these disciples not just to secure their earthly future. That’s all this guy could do: “Hopefully they’ll give me a little help when I’m jobless.”

This is Jesus’s way of saying, “You need help with your joblessness in eternity. I’m telling you how to have a house, a place to live, with joy and satisfaction in fellowship with God’s people forever. That’s the way to use your money. Use your money to secure that.” That’s the first clue — eternal.

Here’s the second angle: the little phrase “when it fails.” In other words, all this so-called shrewdness of the deceitful manager is going to come to nothing. It’s based on wealth that will fail.

When he calls it unrighteous mammon, or unrighteous wealth, he simply means this is part of the unrighteous world in which you live. So he says, “Use money — take hold of it, and use it for eternal, spiritual purposes. Namely, to provide security in eternity.”

What does that mean? How do you do that? How do you use money to secure eternal dwellings with friends?

Eternal Dwellings
The clue is when you look at that phrase, “when it fails.” It triggers us to remember the word fails back in Luke 12:33. Here’s what that says. “Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys.”

So making friends with money means using your money to meet people’s needs. That's the way to lay up treasure in heaven that does not fail, or as Jesus says in Luke 16, “Some of those people will be converted and will go before you into heaven and welcome you there with great joy to join them in eternal dwellings” (my paraphrase).

Here’s the basic point: Don’t worry about being a shrewd investor in this age, where you can provide a future that will only fail. Instead, be a really shrewd investor by investing in people’s lives. Use your resources to do as much good as you can for the glory of God and the eternal good of others — others who will go before you and welcome you home.

Source(s): John Piper and Got Questions
Jesus Support Dishonesty in 'Unjust Steward' Parable? Jesus Support Dishonesty in 'Unjust Steward' Parable? Reviewed by E.A Olatoye on November 16, 2018 Rating: 5

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