|Vol. 13 No. 1 January 2011||
The Parable of the Unjust Steward
Louis Rushmore, Editor
Someone poses a question regarding Luke 16:8-9, finding it incomprehensible without attempting to reword the text in such a way as to remove Jesus Christ from the appearance of commending dishonest acquisition of and disposition of money. Looking to the context of the passage and as well as discerning that the words employed comprise figurative language of a parable will satisfactorily and correctly remove possible misunderstanding of the verses as representing our Lord of approving of sinful activity.
Luke 16:1-13 records our Lord’s Parable of the Unjust Steward. In this parable, the Christ addressed responsibilities and accountability in the kingdom of God. The word “steward” in the parable refers to someone who is entrusted with and who is responsible for the possessions and wealth of another. In that sense, each of us is a steward of possessions and wealth that belongs to God (Luke 12:42). Everything and our very souls belong to God (Psalms 24:1; 50:10-11; Ezekiel 18:4); we are merely stewards of those things with which we may be blessed. Christians are stewards of a number of things, including: material wealth, abilities, time, the Gospel and our souls. Parents, for instance, are also stewards of the precious souls of their children.
Obviously, the steward in the parable was an unrighteous steward, but the illustration that employed an unrighteous steward does not commend unrighteousness by Christians. In the parable, the lord of the steward—not our Lord Jesus Christ—commended the unrighteous steward. Rather, Jesus Christ commended the wisdom and determination demonstrated by the unjust steward to accomplish his purpose as comparable to the wisdom and determination needed by the children of God to prepare adequately for going to heaven when this life is over. “Jesus did not commend the steward for cheating his master, but for making good use of his opportunity. The people of this world are much better at seeing opportunities and profiting from them than are the children of God (Eph 5:15-17)” (Wiersbe’s).
Similarly, in the Parable of the Unjust Judge, where God is compared to the unjust judge in the parable, the purpose of that parable was not to malign Almighty God, but rather to teach persistency in prayer. One must examine the context of the respective parables (or any other Scripture under consideration) and make the declared or stated application intended for it; one must be careful not to make every detail in a parable mean something (i.e. beyond the intended application), but be content with the intended purpose or stated teaching of the parable.
Like the parable of the Unjust Judge, where the judge represents God, this parable on the surface may appear counterproductive to Christian principles. This parable can be easily misconstrued to praise the unlawful and sinful activity rather than the diligence and urgency with which the steward acted. Not the evil that was done in the parable, but the diligence and enthusiasm are urged upon the children of God. “In our Lord’s application of the parable to His disciples, He told them to learn a lesson from the prudence and foresight often exercised by successful men of the world” (Lockyer 291). “We who are children of God (children of light) do not use as much wisdom in obtaining what we desire (a home in heaven) as children of this world use in getting what they want (the things of this life). They use far more wisdom in the physical realm than we do in the spiritual” (Hale 113).
The “mammon of unrighteousness” of Luke 16:9 means “belonging to unrighteousness” (Vincent’s Word Studies) and simply refers to material wealth in the vein in which it was introduced in the illustration of the parable. “…the Lord calls it ‘The mammon of unrighteousness,’ because it is daily made use of by the wicked” (Luther).
A casual reading of verse nine appears to present an implausible instruction by Jesus Christ. In fact, though, God’s faithful children are called upon to properly utilize these resources in preparation for anticipated heavenly habitations. Luke 16:10-12 continue to prod disciples of Christ to practice good stewardship with respect to earthly resources in preparation for eternal habitations, for which every child of God longs. “Christ thus admonishes the disciples to use their material means to accomplish good that they might reap eternal benefits” (Jackson 77). Verse 13 succinctly contrasts two life’s goals, which stand at poles apart with no middle ground. The only legitimate use of material blessings with which we have been entrusted pertains to a use that yields, through preparation made, a home in heaven with God.
Immediately following the parable of the Unjust Steward, the Pharisees chided Jesus for the parable. Our Lord knew, though, the motives for which they reacted as they did, which knowing before, enabled Jesus to address their needs, even as he spoke primarily to his disciples. “And the Pharisees also, who were covetous, heard all these things: and they derided him” (Luke 16:14). “The basic design of the narrative is to warn against the love of money with special emphasis on using one’s material things in preparation for eternity” (Jackson 76). With this parable, Jesus teaches that, “[m]en of the world often act with more forethought with respect to worldly affairs than the children of God do with respect to spiritual affairs” (Roy 71).
“The application of the parable seems to be threefold: *We are God’s stewards, using the wealth he has given but really owning nothing. * Someday God will check our bookkeeping! *In light of this, we are to use wisely the resources he has entrusted to us” (Willmington). “The wise way to lay up treasure in heaven is to use one's money for God here on earth. That will give a cash account there of joyful welcome, not of purchased entrance” (Robertson’s). “There is a right use of money and a wrong use; Jesus teaches the right use of money. He here teaches that his disciples should make such a use of their possessions as to secure heavenly treasures…” (Boles). “…the parable lays special stress on making the proper spiritual preparations prerequisite to being received into heaven” (Coffman). Christians need to lay up for themselves treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:19-21), and some of that preparation involves the proper use of material wealth.
Boles, H. Leo. A Commentary on the Gospel According to Luke. Nashville: Gospel Advocate, 1991. CD-ROM. Austin: Wordsearch, 2005.
Coffman, James Burton. James Burton Coffman Bible Study Library. Abilene: ACU P.
Hale, Virgil. “The Unrighteous Steward.” The Parables of Our Savior. Indianapolis: Garfield Heights church of Christ, 1983.
Jackson, Wayne, The Parables in Profile, Stockton, CA, Wayne Jackson, c. 1978.
Lockyer, Herbert, All the Parables of the Bible, Grand Rapids, Zondervan Publishing House, c. 1963.
Luther: Selected Sermons. CD-ROM. Seattle: Biblesoft, 2006.
Robertson’s Word Pictures in the New Testament. CD-ROM. Seattle: Biblesoft, 2006.
Roy, W. Gaddys, Sermon Outlines on the Parables of Jesus, Anniston, AL, W. Gaddys Roy, 1974.
Vincent’s Word Studies in the New Testament. CD-ROM. Seattle: Biblesoft, 2006.
Wiersbe’s Expository Outlines on the New Testament. CD-ROM. Colorado Springs: Chariot Victor Publishing, 1992.
Willmington, Harold L. Willmington’s Bible Handbook. CD-ROM. Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, 1997.