Based on a series of sermons preached in PCC Prayer Meetings in 2021
“There was a certain rich man, which had a steward; and the same was accused unto him that he had wasted his goods. 2 And he called him, and said unto him, How is it that I hear this of thee? give an account of thy stewardship; for thou mayest be no longer steward. …”Luke 16:1-13
The Lord’s Parable of the Unjust Steward is often regarded as one of the most difficult to interpret.
A certain rich man was renting out his farmland to some tenants. In those days, the tenants did not pay money for their rent. Instead, they paid with a portion of their harvest.
Now, this rich man has a steward or a manager to look after his parcels of land. It was a common practice in those days. Stewards had a lot of power. They decided who to rent to and the amount to charge. And rental was usually based on the productivity of the land, the weather condition that year, and so on. So it was common for good stewards to adjust rental rates yearly. The stewards, of course, must manage the rental in the best interest of their employers.
But here in the Lord’s parable, the steward is managing poorly, and people are beginning to talk about his poor decisions. When word gets to the master, he calls the steward up and tells him he will be dismissed.
The steward is perplexed. What am I going to do? “I cannot dig; to beg I am ashamed.” And so he begins to strategise. Finally, he says, “I got it!” “I am resolved what to do, that, when I am put out of the stewardship, [I will have friends who will] receive me into their houses [and so my future would be secure]” (v. 4).
He calls up his master’s debtors or tenants and reduces their debts one by one.
“Unto the first, How much owest thou unto my lord? 6 And he said, An hundred measures of oil. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and sit down quickly, and write fifty. 7 Then said he to another, And how much owest thou? And he said, An hundred measures of wheat. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and write fourscore” (v. 5-7).
It is a brilliant plan. You must understand that ordinarily, the steward has the right to do so since the accounts are in his charge. And so the changes are legal, though they are dishonest because he is serving his own interest rather than his master’s interest. And so, he could be dismissed for what he is doing, but he is about to be dismissed anyway.
Well, amazingly, the employer of the steward, instead of reacting angrily, commends him for acting wisely. He is undoubtedly not commending him for his crookedness and dishonesty. But he commends his shrewdness, wisdom, foresightedness, craftiness and wit. He is a dishonest crook, and the master can no longer trust him, but he is resourceful and far-sighted.
How do we interpret this parable? Well, there is very little to interpret in this parable. This is an illustrative parable to teach us three important lessons.
1. We Must Be Resourceful like the Steward
We read in v. 8, “And the lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely.” Now, we must note that the ‘lord’ here is not the Lord Jesus, but the owner of the land parcels. Up to this point, the Lord Jesus was describing what the owner and his stewards did.
But in the middle of verse 8, the Lord begins his commentary and application. He says: “for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light.” Who are the “children of light”? Some commentators suggest that the Lord could possibly have the Essenes in mind. The Essenes were an exclusive Jewish sect that tended to isolate themselves from the world rather than seeking to be a witness to the world.
If so, the Lord is saying: “As Christians, you must be resourceful like the children of this world in the use of your wealth and opportunities for the advancement of the kingdom of God. Do not be like the children of light or the Essenes who fail to use their wealth and opportunities to advance the kingdom of God.”
Think of all the devices that the world uses to sell its products. The people in the world are constantly using their heads. They are always thinking of how to make their products more popular.
What about Christians? We do not have a product to sell, but we do have a Saviour to proclaim. We must not adopt the marketing strategy of the world as done by the mega-churches. These schemes often make a mockery of Christianity and erase the distinction between the church and the world. But that does not mean that Christians should not be shrewd and resourceful.
This shrewdness or wisdom is something that Christians can learn. We must learn to be “wise as serpents, and harmless as doves” (Mt 10:16).
Let us there consider all the choices that we make in this life. Do we make them for the advancement of God’s kingdom, or do we make them out of health and wealth interests? The Lord says: “Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations” (v. 9). In other words, use your wealth and opportunities in life to trade for heavenly treasures!
We need to rethink our choices. Do they hinder or help our witness and service for Christ? Are we trading our wealth and opportunities for heavenly treasures? Are we doing so honestly and faithfully?
2. We Must Manage Our Material Resources Faithfully
Notice how the Lord does not give blanket approval to the unjust steward. He commends him for his resourcefulness, but warns us against imitating his unfaithfulness (v. 10-12). “If therefore ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches?” He asks (v. 11).
You see, what the steward did was legal. But was he faithful? No. Although he had the legal right to reduce the rental of his employer’s tenant, he was supposed to do all things for the benefit of his employer. By reducing the rentals for His own benefit, He was not being faithful in the use of his powers and resources.
We ought to be faithful in everything entrusted to our care. We ought to be faithful when little is entrusted to our care, or we cannot expect anyone to trust us with more. In the same way, we must be faithful in managing the worldly wealth entrusted to our care, or we cannot expect to be entrusted with spiritual wealth.
How do we apply this caveat? Well, we must apply it by seeking to be honest and above board according to what is expected of us in society and in the eyes of God. We must have a conscience void of offence before God and man. This is why we have audits as a church. This is also why we do not simply break the laws of the land when we disagree with the government on their Covid restrictions. We have to think carefully. We must comply as much as possible even as we seek to advance God’s kingdom resourcefully.
But what happens when there is a conflict of interest?
3. We Cannot Serve Two Masters
The Lord says:
“No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon” (v. 13).
Notice how the Lord is still using the metaphor of the steward and the master, but he is no longer referring to the parable, but expanding the applications.
Simply stated, He is saying that every decision we make must have a primary goal. Your primary goal is either to serve mammon or to serve God. You cannot have both goals at once. If you are serving mammon, you are bound to hate God because you will loathe being restricted from your objectives: can’t trade on the Sabbath, can’t use questionable tactics, etc. On the other hand, if you are serving God, you will not be a slave to money-making or stifled by temporal worries about your earthly life and health.
Obviously, as Christians, we must seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness. As Christians, whatever we do, we must do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not to men. We must, in other words, serve the Lord first. If we live according to this principle, then we will know the blessings of the Lord and need not worry about tomorrow.
These are the lessons which the Lord would have us learn from the Parable of the Unjust Steward. One parable: three applications. Are you wise in the use of your resources for eternity’s sake? Are you faithful in managing what God has assigned to you, whether it be time or material wealth? Are you single-minded in your desire to serve God? May the Lord grant us help to learn the good, eschew the evil and ground ourselves firmly in the principles taught in this parable. May we honour Christ with our decisions both individually and as a church! Amen.