The Parable of The Unjust Steward

By Johnny Stringer

The Parable of the Unjust Steward (Lk. 16:1-8) has presented much difficulty to Bible students, but the lesson of the parable is a valuable one. It is the purpose of this article to summarize the parable as Jesus presented it, and to discuss the meaning of the parable on the basis of Jesus’ comments which followed it.

Summary Of The Parable

Verses 1-3 – the steward’s problem. A steward is one who has been entrusted to manage the affairs or property of another. The steward of this parable had not been diligent and faithful in fulfilling his responsibilities, but had wasted his master’s goods. As a result, he was to lose his position as steward. His problem was how he would be able to survive after his master put him out. He reasoned that he could not do the kind of physical labor that was involved in digging, and he had too much pride to beg. So what would he do?

Verses 4-7 – the steward’s solution. The steward devised a plan by which he would make certain ones feel obligated to him, hence receive him into their houses after he lost his stewardship. Before his master took his stewardship from him, he went to those who owed debts to his master, and he reduced their debts. He told them to cut their bills. His hope was that out of gratitude for this favor, out of a sense of obligation to him, these debtors would take him into their homes when his master put him out (v. 4).

Verse 8a – His lord’s reaction. His lord commended him for his wisdom. He was wise with respect to attaining worldly goals. Some people have difficulty with this verse. They think that the lord mentioned here is Jesus, and wonder why Jesus would commend someone for his dishonest actions. The lord mentioned in this verse however, is not Jesus. The lord discussed in the parable is the steward’s lord, his master (vv. 3, 5). Jesus is our Lord, but Jesus was not the steward’s lord. His lord was the one whose property he managed, the one for whom he worked. The thing his lord commended him for was his shrewdness. Someone may cheat you out of something, and you may be burning up with anger because of it; but you might still give him credit for his shrewdness. Perhaps the steward’s lord was a rather worldly fellow himself, so that he could especially appreciate such wisdom.

Children Of This World Vs. Children Of Light

Having related the parable, Jesus observes, “for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light” (v. 8b). Children of this world are those whose hearts are set primarily on things of this world; they seek earthly things; their interest is in gratification of physical desires and obtaining material wealth. Children of light are those who walk in the light (1 John 1:7), following Christ (John 8:12).

The shrewdness which the steward exercised toward providing for his material welfare is illustrative of the great ingenuity which children of this world exercise in achieving their worldly goals. Jesus’ point is that children of this world exercise greater prudence, ingenuity, and wisdom in the pursuit of their material goals than disciples do in the pursuit of our spiritual goals. Those who are successful in business, politics, or any other field of endeavor did not get that way without using their heads.

To illustrate the shrewdness of men with respect to making money, consider what happened when Elvis died. His body was not cold before men were planning ways of making money off his death. That is why we see the Elvis T-shirts and such things. What many saw as a tragedy, others saw as an opportunity. Such men do not miss any opportunity, but shrewdly exploit every kind of situation.

The lesson for us is that we should set our minds on spiritual endeavors, and exercise the same degree of wisdom in our spiritual pursuits that children of the world do in their material pursuits. If we were to put our minds and hearts into serving God to the extent that children of this world do in their endeavors, there is no telling what we could accomplish.

Using Mammon Of Unrighteousness

Jesus goes on to say, “Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations” (v. 9). The expression “mammon of unrighteousness” is parallel with the expression “unrighteousness mammon” in verse 11. The word “mammon” means riches. “Unrighteous mammon” or “mammon of unrighteousness” is not ill-gotten gain, as some believe. Jesus is simply speaking of money, material wealth. Money was called unrighteous because it is deceitful (Matt. 13:22), and the love if it leads many to unrighteousness (1 Tim. 6:9-10). In verse 11 unrighteous mammon is contrasted against heavenly riches, which are called true, rather than unrighteous.

In verse 9, Jesus is talking about the use we make of money. This is obvious from verses 10-12. Thus, when He says, “Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness,” He means to make friends with or by means of money; He means to use the money so as to make friends who will receive us into everlasting habitations.

Attitudes and Consequences

The aim of this work has been to trace the development of two attitudes toward the Scripture authority in the Restoration Movement: that of the early spirits in Jesus’ admonition in verse 9 relates back to the parable. He is making a comparison between our responsibility and the action of the steward in the parable. Note the comparison. The steward’s goal was earthly habitations (v. 4). His method of obtaining that goal was to use money (helping the debtors financially) so as to make friends who would receive him into their houses. Our goal is not earthly, but heavenly habitations (v. 9). As the steward so used money that he would be received into earthly houses, we are to so use money (mammon of unrighteousness) that we will be received into heavenly habitations.

What about the friends of verse 9? It may be that Jesus is not speaking literally. The steward provided for his reception into earthly houses by making friends (though the use of money). Since Jesus is comparing the steward’s actions with our responsibility, He may simply be using what the steward did (making friends) to stand for our efforts to make provisions for our reception into eternal habitations. If He does have reference to literal friends, perhaps they are heavenly friends – God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, the angels; all of these will receive us into heavenly habitations, welcoming us there will open arms if we are faithful.

The point of verse 9, then, is that we are to use our money in such a way that we can be received into everlasting habitations. Verses 10-12 continue to stress the importance of proper use of what we have. This does not mean that we buy our way into heaven. Nevertheless, it is true that the manner in which one uses his money is an indication of the faith and love that is in his heart. When out of faith, love, and devotion to God, we use our money to do good, we are conducting ourselves in such a manner that we will be received into heavenly habitations. See 1 Tim. 6:17-19; Heb. 13:16; Eph. 4:28; Phil. 4:10-18.

The Primary Point Of The Parable

As the steward exercised wisdom (v. 8) in using money so as to be received into earthly houses, so we are to wisely use our possessions so as to be received into everlasting habitations in heaven.

Truth Magazine XXIV: 30, pp. 487-488
July 31, 1980