THE LIFE OF CHRIST
In our last lesson, we examined three great parables that talked about the worth of those who are lost and how wonderful it is when they are found and brought back home. While our last three parables were spoken to the Pharisees and Scribed, as we begin looking at Luke 16, we find that Jesus is going to tell another parable, but this time it will be to His disciples. However, we will see that the Pharisees listen to this parable as well.
I know we have already covered several parables in our series, but I would take a just a few minutes to talk about parables themselves so that you might gain deeper insight when studying parables on your own. First, I want to mention four ways that Parables are used in the Bible according to Wayne Jackson:
1. They were employed to make spiritual truth clear to those who were sincerely seeking the will of God.
2. Parables sometimes purposely concealed truth from the dishonest, who were eager to abuse it whenever they had access to it.
3. Parabolic narratives were used occasionally as a technique to cause men to assent to the truth before they realized its applicability to them personally.
4. Parables were especially helpful in enabling men to remember great truths easily.
(Wayne Jackson, The Parables In Profile)
Second, I want to share with you what I think are good guidelines to use when digging into a parable and getting the most out of it you can. First, note what McQuilkin says:
1. Begin with the Immediate Context;
2. Identify the Central Point of Emphasis;
3. Identify Irrelevant Details;
4. Identify the Relevant Details;
5. Compare Parallel and Contrasting Passages;
(McQuilkin, pp. 154-161.)
Second, Roy B. Zuck offers the following the suggestions:
1. Note the Story’s Natural Meaning;
2. Determine the Problem, Question, or Situation That Prompted the Parable;
3. Ascertain the Main Truth Being Illustrated by the Parable;
4. Validate the Main Truth of the Parable with Direct Teaching of Scripture;
5. Note the Actual or Intended Response of the Hearers.
(Roy B. Zuck, Basic Bible Interpretation pp. 211-218.)
Much more could be said, but I think these are some good guidelines to follow, and I hope you find them helpful. With this in mind, let’s begin looking at what is considered to be one of the most difficult parables to understand. While I would agree that at first glance, it can be someone confusing, but as we dig into this parable and look at it from the right perspective, perhaps it will not seem as difficult as you might think. I will just read the parable as it is and then we will take the time to break it down.
Luke 16:1 He also said to His disciples: "There was a certain rich man who had a steward, and an accusation was brought to him that this man was wasting his goods. 2 "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.' 3 "Then the steward said within himself, 'What shall I do? For my master is taking the stewardship away from me. I cannot dig; I am ashamed to beg. 4 'I have resolved what to do, that when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses.' 5 "So he called every one of his master's debtors to him, and said to the first, 'How much do you owe my master?' 6 "And he said, 'A hundred measures of oil.' So he said to him, 'Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.' 7 "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.' 8 "So the master commended the unjust steward because he had dealt shrewdly. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light. 9 "And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon, that when you fail, they may receive you into an everlasting home. 10 "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. 11 "Therefore if you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? 12 "And if you have not been faithful in what is another man's, who will give you what is your own? 13 "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."
The first thing I want to do is to retell this parable in a more modern way, which will describe what is happening in this parable. Then we will take a closer look at what Jesus is teaching by the parable.
Our rich man is the owner of a bank and the steward it you. Your job is to make loans to people and to make sure they pay it back. Since your boss has trusted you with his money, he does not really check up on you that much. So, you decide to take advantage of the situation and do the least amount you can. You do not really care who comes in and asks for a loan, you give it to them. Instead of trying to get these people to pay back what they own, you just sit around and do whatever you feel like doing. You think you have it made, but there is a problem. Someone who knows the rich man has seen your laziness and goes and tells him about how bad a worker you are and how you just wasting his money.
Apparently, your boss trusts whoever this person was that told on you because he calls you to his office and basically tells you that he knows what you have been doing by what he has heard, and now he tells you that you are going to have to account for what you have been doing, and he also tells you tells you that you have already lost your job. You can could just imagine how guilty you would have felt as you heard your boss tell you all these things.
You being a lazy kind of person, you realize that losing this job means that you are in trouble because you certainly don’t want to do manual labor, such as digging ditches, and you do not want to become a beggar and have to live off the charity of others. Lazy people can become very creative when it comes to taking care of themselves or even completing a task. In fact, I would suggest to you that if you want to find out the easiest way to do any given job, watch how a lazy person does it because the lazy will figure out the easiest way to accomplish a task.
Since you know you are on the way out, you come up with a brilliant idea of how you can have more opportunities to be able to work for someone else. So, you get busy and go to those you made loans to and give them the opportunity to pay off their loans at discounted rate. One you give a 50% discount, the other a 20% discount and so on. This way, you have done a big favor for these people you made loans to and now they will be more willing to hire you now.
When your boss sees what you did and the effort you made to protect yourself, he commends you for your shrewdness. This is basically what the story is about on the surface, and so you should be able to see why some find this somewhat confusing, especially if the rich man in this parable represents God because it would appear on the surface that God will be happy with unjust stewards, who will cheat Him as long as they are crafty in taking care of themselves.
However, we will see that this is not the case at all. There are several different lessons we can learn from this parable. First, I do believe the rich man in this parable represents God and the unjust steward represents these opposing Jews and their poor handling of what God had given them to do. They spent much of their time doing their own thing and trying to build themselves up. They were more like the world than true servants of God. We will see how this relates to as Christians in a minute.
While this parable does not give us every detail of what happened and does not tell us why the rich man could not have just gone back to those people who paid part of their bill and demand the rest, there is a possible answer for this. When a Jew made a loan to another Jew, they were not supposed to charge them interest.
Deuteronomy 23:19 " You shall not charge interest to your brother -- interest on money or food or anything that is lent out at interest.
One way that some Jews could get around this law was to secretly ask their steward to charge interest to those who made the loan, but if anything was ever said about it, the steward would have to take the blame. So, it is possible that when the steward was going around collecting on the loans, he may have been knocking off the interest, which the rich man would not be able to say anything about because he was not supposed to charge interest in the first place. Whatever, the circumstance was, we read this:
8 "So the master commended the unjust steward because he had dealt shrewdly. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light.
Then Jesus makes this statement:
Luke 16:9 "And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon, that when you fail, they may receive you into an everlasting home.
Again, I think you can see why some get confused by this parable because it seems like Jesus is commending the unjust steward and even recommended that we can in some way buy our way into heaven by using unrighteous mammon or we could say money.
If you have studied the Bible at all, you know that this cannot be what Jesus is teaching as it would contradict other clear teachings on this matter. What Jesus is doing here is showing how this unjust steward used everything at his disposal to plan for the future of his well being to make sure he would have the life that he wanted to live. This is what the rich man is commending. He is not commending his dishonest behavior because he is called the unjust steward. He is commending how shrewd or wise, he was for protecting his future. By the way, pointing out one positive aspect about a person certainly does not mean that they are righteous because when you think about about there are atheist who do good deeds from time to time. We certainly know that does not make them a Christian or a person that God is going to allow into heaven.
The rich man points out how worldly people are usually more shrewd when it comes to planning for their future in a worldly way than the sons of light. In other words, sons of light, which certainly includes Christians, are not as diligent as securing their eternal home in heaven as well as these worldly people are at securing their future in the world. This is certainly a general truth and does not apply to every child of God, but is a sad statement in the fact that many worldly people are wiser and work harder at protecting the future, which is limited to their own lives, yet many Christians lag behind the worldly when it comes to living for God and securing their eternity. You would think it would be just the opposite based on what is at stake, but it is not. But what about when Jesus said:
Luke 16:9 "And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon, that when you fail, they may receive you into an everlasting home.
Granted, this verse is a bit vague, and some believe the friends mentioned here represent the Father and Jesus or those you have helped with your resources to become Christians. I would to share with two voices from the past, as they comment on this verse.
"The only friends who can receive us into heaven are the Father and the Son. These are, then, the friends we must secure. During life our means must be so used as to please God and to lay up eternal treasure. If we use it as a trust of the Lord we will secure such a friend. Instead of hoarding we must make heavenly friends." (B. W. Johnson)
"Worldly possession are the Christian's stewardship. If he has been wasting them in self-indulgence, he must take warning from the parable and so employ them in deeds of usefulness and mercy that, when the stewardship is taken from him, he may have obtained for himself a refuge for the future. But how can those whom the Christian had befriended receive him into heaven? The key to the difficulty is found at Mt 25:35-40 where our Lord altogether identifies himself with his poor and unfortunate disciples, and returns on their behalf a heavenly recompense for any kindness which has been shown them on the earth. Only in this secondary and subordinate sense can those whom the Christian has benefited receive him into heaven. Nor does the passage teach that there is any MERIT in almsgiving, since the thing given is already the property of another (Lk 16:12). Almsgiving is only a phase of the fidelity required of a steward, and the reward of a steward is not of merit but of grace. See Lk 17:7-10; Mt 25:21." (J. W. McGarvey)
So, Jesus is using the principle of what is considered commendable by the world, and applying the principle to how we should be using our resources in a righteous way and do what we can to make our election sure and to affect others so that they too will see the great benefit of investing all you have including your very life in God. I also like what Plummer wrote:
If an unrighteous steward was commended by his earthly master for his prudence in providing for his future by a fraudulent use of what had been committed to him, how much more will a righteous servant be commended by his heavenly Master for providing for eternity by a good use of what has been committed to him (Plummer).
Next, Jesus says:
10 "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. 11 "Therefore if you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? 12 "And if you have not been faithful in what is another man's, who will give you what is your own?
Jesus is teaching us that it is all about quality and not quantity. We certainly see this with the parable about the talents in Matthew 25. The 5 talent man and the 2 talent man both were rewarded for the faithfulness even though one had more responsibility than the other. We certainly see this in the church as well.. Some have a bigger role, such as the elders, and we have others that take on other responsibilities. As Paul taught, every person has a function and a role in the church, but the point is to do your best at whatever role of function you do and you will receive your reward, which is heaven.
Of course, Jesus also provides the contrast about how those who are unjust in a little, would also be unjust in much. If one is being unjust, whether a little or a lot, it will get you the same result, which is eternity in hell.
Jesus says if you cannot be trusted with the unrighteous mammon, then how in the world can be trusted with the true riches of heaven? You will notice that we keep seeing the term ‘unrighteous mammon’. Now we know that money by itself is not unrighteous and even the rich can use their funds in a good way, but it probably being called this connection with the parable and the fact that the money does cause many to do unrighteous things.
Verse 12 reminds us that any riches we obtain, they do not really belong to us in the first place because God made us and everything we have possible. So, this is why all Christians are stewards of what God has given to us and we need to do our best to handle those things God has blessed us with in such a way to bring Him glory and honor. Finally, Jesus makes the contrast plain about where our loyalties should be.
13 "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."
We could be like the unjust steward and serve ourselves and make it as far as we can in this world, but that is a choice that will keep you out of heaven. As Jesus is teaching us in the parable, we should have the same zeal and desire to make sure that heaven will be our home by using our resources wisely so that our Master will be pleased with us and will say,
Matthew 25:23 'Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.'
I also like how Wayne Jackson summarizes what we learn from this parable. He wrote:
1. Man has been charged with the responsibility of being a steward over God’s property.
2. There is wisdom in preparing for the future.
3. The Christian should invest his money in heavenly treasures.
4. God expects us to prove our stewardship.
5. Good stewardship is a matter of quality, not quantity.
6. Our loyalties cannot be divided and acceptable to the Lord.
Luke 16:14 Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, also heard all these things, and they derided Him. 15 And He said to them, "You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God.
If you will remember, Jesus was teaching our parable to His disciples, but the Pharisees were listening in, and they did not like what Jesus had to say, so they derided him.
The word derided means strictly turn one's nose up at someone; hence ridicule, sneer at, scoff at (Friberg)
Have you ever noticed how some will do this today as well when you try and teach them truth? They will say things like, “you think you are so much better than me” or “you people think you know everything and are the only ones going to heaven.” Well, you know what. It does not matter how much one mocks or turns their nose up, it will not change the truth. These Pharisees had no problem justifying their love for money before men because many would rather have earthly riches instead of heavenly riches. Or at least that is what they think. Again, we can try and justify all day long some of the sinful things people like to get involved in and say something like, “Well, everyone else is doing, so how could it be wrong?” But know this, there is no fooling God because He knows your heart. It does not matter if every single person on this planet said a certain sin was ok, God is not going to change His mind about that being a sin. So, let’s be careful that we do not get caught up with what society says is righteous because only God has the authority to tell us what is right and what is wrong. As Jesus said, those things that the worldly esteem highly are almost always going to be an abomination to the Him.
Next, Jesus says:
Luke 16:16 "The law and the prophets were until John. Since that time the kingdom of God has been preached, and everyone is pressing into it. 17 "And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one tittle of the law to fail.
John the Baptist was the prophet who was the forerunner of Christ. Of course, John was dead at this time, but Jesus is telling these Pharisees that the old covenant was ending and new covenant would begin soon. It had a purpose, and that purpose was to bring us to Christ. Not one jot or tittle of the law would be removed or changed until Jesus died on the cross, thus fulfilling the Law. It is a shame that the Pharisees were so prideful and would not let go the Law of Moses and their traditions even though they and their forefathers longed for this time in history to occur. It is funny how that works sometimes, the very thing that you want the most, you reject when it is right in front of your face. Finally, Jesus makes one more point the Pharisees will not like nor do a lot people today.
Luke 16:18 "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced from her husband commits adultery.
The Pharisees had been used to being able to divorce their wives for just about any reason, but under the new covenant, Jesus would put back in place the marriage law that in place from the beginning, which is one man and one woman for life. Now Luke’s account does not give us the full teaching because it does not give the one exception that Jesus says will allow a person to divorce another and remarry without it being considered adultery, which is because of sexual immorality as can be seen in:
Matthew 19:9 "And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery."
Many try to twist these verses to mean something else and some will go so far and say that nothing in 4 accounts of the gospel apply to us, so verses like these do not apply to us. I can understand why some have a real problem with Jesus’ teaching here, but it is what it is no matter how much people want to change it. Is it hard teaching? Yes, it is, but if we love the Lord and follow His commands, we will accept what He says about marriage, divorce and remarriage.
I hope you have found this lesson helpful and I hope that everyone of us will always be the steward we can be for the Lord and do our best to keep His commandments even when it hurts.