Parable of the Unjust Steward

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The Parable of the Unjust Manager

Luke 16:1-15

This parable and its sequel are among the most important statements that Jesus ever made on the subject of wealth and financial stewardship.[1] They, therefore, deserve to be carefully studied.

The Context of the Parable

Luke chapters 14 and 15 are both chapters dealing with dinners and discipleship.[2] The dinner in chapter 14 was hosted by a ruler of the Pharisees (apparently a believer[3]) and the teaching that was given was fundamental to DISCIPLESHIP.[4] Chapter 14 concerns positive things related to discipleship whereas chapter 15 relates to the negative.[5] Chapter 16 connects with the preceding story of the Prodigal Son[6] who had “wasted” [7] his wealth with prodigal living. Jesus, therefore, was dealing with a question that would naturally arise about the inheritance the Prodigal had squandered.[8] Thus this parable and its context relate to Christian growth and discipleship.[9]

The Parable Itself (verses 1-8a)

The steward in this parable was a manager of a household or an estate.[10] In fact, this word is used throughout the New Testament to refer to believers in the Lord Jesus Christ.[11] That is, we all are managers of what God has given us in Christ. The rich man (master), of course, represents God or Christ.[12] The Bible makes it clear that each of us will give an account of our stewardship at the Judgment-Seat of Christ.[13] But the steward in this parable was able to pull off a monumental scam by falsely balancing his master’s books and ultimately benefiting himself.[14] And, in fact, he earned his master’s commendation for his shrewdness.[15]

Jesus’ Application (vs 8b-15)

Jesus then comments to His disciples that “the sons of this world are more shrewd in relation to their own kind than the sons of light”.[16] In other words, the unbelieving world is wiser in its use of wealth for its own objectives than believers are for their objectives. And then Jesus gives the corrective: “And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon, that when you fail [go bankrupt] they may welcome you into the eternal dwellings”.[17] The Aramaic word mammon meant wealth or property. “unrighteous” refers to the fact that unrighteous people use it for unrighteous purposes. But believers can use this world’s wealth for eternal advantage. “Make friends for yourselves” implies that NOW we should use our money to benefit the body of Christ.[18] Further, Jesus strongly implies that such giving will be rewarded.[19] For in the age to come there will be genuine wealth[20] and inheritance[21]. Whether or not we attain such “wealth” will depend on our Lord’s evaluation of what He has entrusted to us.[22] To serve or love money is to forfeit eternal wealth.[23] Thus the stakes are both high and eternal. Believer, how will the Lord evaluate your use of His money?


[1] Jesus had much to say on the subject of money. For example, the words rich, riches, treasure, mammon= wealth are found 44 times in the Gospels and poor is found 24 times [in the Greek text].

[2] Chapter 16 is given to the essentially the same audience as chapter 15 (cf. 16:1, 14). The teaching of chapter 15 (and of chapter 16) is not aimed at the Pharisees, but at the tax collectors and sinners (many of whom undoubtedly had believed already in Him and were looking for more teaching).

[3] See Luke 14:14. Note also that the verbs in verses 12, 14 are singular.

[4] This included preference of mercy over legalism [vs. 1-6], teaching concerning humility [vs. 7-12], unconditional generosity [vs. 13-14], teaching concerning rewards and that we are not to allow our earthly affairs to prevent us from attending this supper [vs. 15-24]. Also the teaching to the crowds is related to discipleship [vs. 25-35]. Here Jesus is teaching that one should be prepared to devote all of his resources toward the cause of discipleship and that love for Jesus should come above all other relationships. Salt represents the spiritual qualities that are a part of discipleship.

[5] Chapter 15 is introduced by Luke 14:34 – salt that has “lost its flavor”; that is, believers that have gotten away from the Lord. Chapter 15 presents God’s attitude toward such people. They need to repent and become “salty” again.

[6] Luke 15:11-32.

[7] The same Greek word διασκορπίζω = waste, squander is used in both Luke 15:13 and 16:1. Luke 16 actually deals with two accounts [one a parable (Luke 16:1-15) and the other perhaps actual (Luke 16:19-31)] concerning the earthly use of money and its eternal consequences. [Lazarus was reclining at a table where Abraham also was eating – indicating honor and privilege which he had previously lacked at the rich man’s table.]

[8] Though he had repented and been restored to fellowship.

[9] NOT eternal salvation. Note vs. 1: “He also said to His disciples”.

[10] Steward translates the Greek word οἰκονόμος oikonomos. A steward is NOT an owner, but a manager. Though our talents and possessions,, from a human point of view, belong to us (Cf. Acts 5:4) they ultimately are derived from and belong to GOD (1 Cor. 4:7, Haggai 2:8, Ps. 24:1, 1 Chron 29:10-12 etc.). “To ‘waste the goods of God’ means, after having taken out of our revenue what is demanded for our maintenance, instead of consecrating the remainder to the service of God and of His cause, squandering it on our pleasure, or hoarding it up for ourselves.” (Godet)

[11] Cf. 1 Pet. 4:10, 1 Cor. 4:1,2; Titus 1:7.

[12] Cf. Haggai 2:8, Ps. 24:1, 50:10-12, 1 Chron. 29:10-12, Phil. 4:19, 1 Tim. 6:17, Eph. 3:8 etc.

[13] Matt. 16:27, Rev. 22:12, Rom. 14:10-12, 2 Cor. 5:10, Heb. 4:13, 1 Cor. 4:5 etc. Verse 2 of this parable is an illusion to the fact that at some point our stewardship will be terminated and we must give an account.

[14] The extent of the debt reduction in modern terms is quite large. 100 baths of oil (vs. 6) would be worth about $25,000 today and 100 kors of wheat (vs. 7) would be worth about $3500. The little “secret” between the steward and his master’s debtors would both balance the books and make him “welcome” in their houses. [The Greek word for “welcomeδέχομαι  dechomai is used in Luke 16:3, 9 and also a form of it in Luke 15:2.]

[15] Understanding and insight. Vs. 8. The master in the parable was probably not aware of the steward’s scheming. Generally speaking, the unrighteous steward was both lazy and proud (vs. 3).

[16] Vs. 8b.  “sons of light” is used to describe believers in John 12:36, Eph. 5:8, 1 Thess. 5:5.

[17] Vs. 9.

[18] Vs. 9. In other words, people in the body of Christ can benefit today by our wise use of money – and later will “welcome” us while living in eternity. Examples of that kind of use of money are found in  Acts 2:44-45, 4:32-35, 2 Cor. 8:1-5, Phil. 4:10-20. Though, in this life, our contributions may be unknown [or in “secret” (Matt. 6:1-4)], at the Judgment-Seat of Christ all secrets will be revealed (Luke 8:17, 12:2, 1 Cor. 4:5) and then multitudes in eternity will know of our sacrificial giving for their benefit. Many other Scriptures underscore this perspective [e.g. Gal. 6:6-10, 1 Tim. 6:17-19].

[19] Vs. 10-12.

[20] Vs. 11. Of course, rewards will vary according to God’s evaluation (Matt. 10:40-42, 16:16:27, 1 Cor. 4:5, 3:12-15), but their value will be both genuine (“treasures”) and eternal [Cf. Luke 12:33, 18:22, 12:21, 19:17. Matt. 6:19-21, Rev. 2:7, 10, 17, 26 etc.]. Paul elaborates on this concept in 2 Cor. 9:6-15. God is able to continue to supply money for our further sacrificial giving (2 Cor. 9:8, Phil. 4:19) and our reward will be in proportion to our sacrifice (2 Cor. 9:6, Luke 21:1-4).

[21] That is, something belonging to ourselves (Vs. 12). Such treasure (as mentioned in verse 11) will belong to the one rewarded [note the phrases “for yourselves” and “give to you” in the verses mentioned in the footnote above]. Further, some [but not all] believers will be given permanent authority in the coming kingdom of Christ based on their faithfulness to their earthy stewardship [Cf. Luke 12:32-34, 19:20-26; Matt. 19:27-28,  25:20-30, Rev. 2:26-27, 3:21 etc.].

[22] “The point of the parable (1-8) is wisdom, which the sons of light often lack (vs. 8) and should remedy by means of vs. 9. But a failure to act wisely becomes a failure to act faithfully (vs. 10ff). There is no premium on ignorance. If I am a steward of God’s blessings and don’t seek the wisdom to use them well – that is not being faithful. After all, what I have is not mine but Another’s (vs. 12). ‘To do it my way’ doesn’t take my role as a steward seriously. I can wind up squandering my Lord’s goods just like the unrighteous steward did (vs. 1) – good intentions and all.” (Zane Hodges)

[23] Vs. 13-15. Cf. Luke 12:16-21, 1 Tim. 6:6-10. The Pharisees were a prime example of those who had NO eternal wealth (vs. 14-15 and Luke 12:21). Luke 11:41-42 says that we should give tithes “of what is inside” – that is, give generously of those inner qualities such as love, compassion, justice, mercy etc.

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