The Shrewd Steward, Jesus’ Parables

This is perhaps one of the most difficult of Jesus’ parables to grasp. As we read it and look for lessons, we must be careful what we apply and how. This isn’t the only time the Lord used an unfaithful servant in a parable, but His usage here is somewhat unique.

The problem is identified in the first few verses:

There was a certain rich man who had a steward, and an accusation was brought to him that this man was wasting his goods. So he called him and said to him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your stewardship, for you can no longer be steward.’ (Luke 16:1-2)

If the accusation were false, he could demonstrate it by a proper accounting. The indication of the text is that he was guilty—he had been stealing from his master. Realizing he would soon lose his job, the steward contemplated what he would do. Manual labour? No, that wasn’t his style. Begging? He was too proud. To secure his future, he would steal even more from his master. Note how conniving he is:

…he called every one of his master’s debtors to him, and said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ and he said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ So 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?’ So he said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ And he said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’ (Luke 16:5-7)

Why did he do this? What benefit would he receive from reducing the amount owing by his master’s debtors? In Luke 16:4, we see the method of his madness. Having done such a “kind” thing for them, he expected that they would feel obliged to return the kindness, perhaps even receiving him into their own home to serve as a steward.

Jesus does not draw our attention to the anger which the master would no doubt have over his steward’s actions. Instead, He focuses on the resourcefulness of the steward. In fact, as He shares the parable, He has the master commending the servant for his shrewd conduct. The Lord is not justifying the steward’s actions, but He does want us to consider the insight and self-preservation the soon to be terminated employee used.

What lesson would Jesus have us learn from this? Notice the observation He makes:

…the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light. (Luke 16:8).

Jesus doesn’t want us to be underhanded in our dealings with employers or anyone else for that matter. But He does want us to note the servant’s focus on his own future. He stands as an example of the craftiness characteristic of those who get ahead in this world. His point is not that worldly people are wiser in the ways of the world than God’s people are, but that the sons of the world exercise more prudence in earthly pursuits than the sons of light exercise in heavenly pursuits. How focused are we on heaven? To what degree are we preparing ourselves for the time of the Lord’s return?

What then would the Lord have us do? He gives advice in the next verse:

…make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon, that when you fall, they may receive you into an everlasting home. (Luke 16:9).

I don’t know about you, but this is one of those verses that I read, and then sit there for a good long time, wondering, what is He saying? The Lord wants us to use “unrighteous mammon,” but not in an unrighteous way. It is very seldom that I refer to dynamic equivalent (paraphrase) versions, but I think the New Living Translation does a decent job rendering this text. It reads:

Here’s the lesson: Use your worldly resources to benefit others and make friends. Then, when your earthly possessions are gone, they will welcome you to an eternal home. (Luke 16:9, NLT)

The unjust steward misused his authority and his master’s debts to secure his financial future. The Lord would have us employ the same diligence, but for good, to prepare ourselves for eternal life. The Lord wants us to serve other people, even as the apostle Paul wrote:

Do not be deceived,  God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith. (Galatians 6:7-10)

Faithfulness is the key as we endeavour to prepare ourselves for eternity. Recall in the parable of the talents, the master gave to each servant according to his ability. The master knew the abilities of each man, and expected each one to maximize his potential. However, he did not require more from them than they were able. However, as one demonstrates competency, he is usually given greater responsibility. If one shows himself to be faithful in minor things, then we should expect that the same will be responsible and faithful when it comes to greater things. This is the very thing that Jesus said in our text. Notice verses 10-12:

He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much, and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much. Therefore if you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in what is another man’s, who will give you what is your own?

Are you faithful or unjust in the little things? Are you self-seeking, or do you look out for the interest of others (Philippians 2:3-4)? Do you read your Bible daily, or is it a burden to do so (Psalm 1:1-3)? Do you spend time in prayer with God, or have you better things to do (1 Thessalonians 5:17)? Are you faithful in assembling with God’s people, or are you seldom there (Acts 2:42, 46)? Do you believe and act according to the word of God, or do you doubt the authenticity of the Scriptures and walk to the beat of your own drum (2 Peter 1:19-21; 2 Timothy 3:16-17)?

Let us put the Lord first in all that we do. May our daily focus be serving Him, not ourselves. Jesus concludes our text, and we will conclude our discussion with a statement that demands our full attention. We must choose, are we going to serve God or are we going to serve something else. Hear the Lord:

No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. (Luke 16:13)

If we will be faithful to the Lord, He will be faithful to His promise to save us from our sins and preserve us in heaven.

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