Today we are on the topic of developing a compassionate heart, one that is concerned about others, primarily the salvation of lost people around us. The command is found in Luke 16:9, to Make Friends (aorist imperative). But, in order to understand Luke 16:1-13, we must go back to Luke 15:1-2.
Passage for Today: Luke 16:1-13 – which is all about stewardship. You will notice this is the parable of the unjust steward. The main question has to do with why the rich man would commend his dishonest manager. A second question has to do with why Jesus cites the actions of the dishonest manager with approval, using him as an example for his disciples. Let’s deal with these in the lesson
Group Question: When have you been let go from a job, or passed over for a job you wanted?
Purpose of the Study: The purpose of this study is to determine our willingness to invest our resources in light of eternity. God wants us to faithfully invest our time and financial resources to reach lost people. The command of Christ in this passage is that we “make friends for yourselves by means of the wealth of unrighteousness.” Obedience to this command requires the faithful stewardship of our money.
Historical Background: To understand the context of chapter 16, we must go back to 15:1-2. Jesus has surrounded himself with tax collectors and sinners. The Pharisees stand on the perimeter, criticizing that Jesus would spend time with lost people. Chapter 15 is a series of three parables directed toward the Pharisees. They teach that lost people matter to God, they deserve an all-out search and when they are found we ought to celebrate.
Luke 16 starts with a parable about “The Unrighteous Steward.” The parable and command is directed toward His disciples but the Pharisees are within hearing range of His teaching. The Pharisees’ reaction to His teaching is found in 16:14 — “Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, were listening to all these things and were scofﬁng at Him.” Jesus then addresses the Pharisees directly in 16:15 — “And He said to them, ‘You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God.'” Jesus accuses them of valuing (esteeming) the wrong things. Lost people matter to God and we ought to invest both time and money to reach them.
The Pharisees could not understand so Jesus then tells a true story of a real after death experience (unlike today these two men didn’t return to report what happened). The Story of the Rich Man and Lazarus is a true story because parables never use proper names. The Pharisees must have gasped as Jesus told the story of a fellow Pharisee that was unnamed but apparently easily identified by Jesus’ detailed description.
The main point of this story is that rich men who don’t come to God on his terms (Luke 16:29-31) and misuse the stewardship of their resources (a reflection of their unbelief) end up in Hell (Luke 16:19,22b,23-28).
Epistles address this theme as well: 1 Corinthians 4:12; Titus 1:7; 1 Peter 4:10
1. What three parables did Jesus tell the Pharisees in Luke 15? The parable of the “Lost Sheep” (Luke 15:1-7); the “Lost Coin” (Luke 15:8-10); and the “Lost Son” (Luke 15:11-32).
2. Why did He tell them these three parables? (Luke 15:12) Jesus taught these three parables to set the religious leaders straight once and for all. It really aggravated these spiritual leaders of the day that this man who claimed to be the “Son of God” would feel so comfortable socializing with riff-raft. The Pharisees (Luke 15:1-2) couldn’t understand how Jesus could eat with, socialize with, hang out with those whose lives were not submitted to God. What bothered Jesus was that these leaders had a list in their minds of who mattered to God and who didn’t. They had it all ﬁgured out that they mattered to God but these irreligious, Gentile, pagan, market place outsiders didn’t matter to God.
This is one of the only times in the teaching ministry of Jesus where He tells three parables back, to back, to back. It was normally Jesus teaching style to confront a problem by the telling of a parable, the explaining of a parable, and then moving along. But this time, it’s as though Jesus is saying “I want to straighten out the confusion in your minds, once and for all. I’m going to tell you not one, not two, but three stories. I’m going to rapid-fire truth into your minds so that you will never again be confused on the issue of who matters to God and who doesn’t.
3. Collectively, what are these three parables teaching? (Luke 15:6,9,24) All three parables teach that lost people matter to God, they deserve an all-out search and when they are found it demands a celebration.
4. In the third parable, whom does the older brother represent? (Luke 15:25-32) The older son represents the Pharisees who were “angry’ (Luke 15:28) because Jesus was spending time with lost people instead of them. They were the religious establishment; if Jesus was going to check in with anybody it should have been them. On an earlier occasion Jesus informed the Pharisees that His mission was targeted to reach the unrighteous and the spiritually sick people of this world. In Luke 5:30 the Pharisees asked Jesus the question: “Why do you eat and drink with the tax collectors and sinners?” Luke 5:31-32 says, “And Jesus answered and said to them, ‘It is not those who are well who need a physician, but those who are sick. 32 I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.'” Jesus’ suggestion was that he didn’t need to spend time with them because they were the healthy and the righteous was sarcasm. They were self-righteous and spiritually dead but couldn’t recognize it.
5. To whom does Jesus direct this parable? (Luke 16:1) It is clearly stated in Luke 16:1 that Jesus was directing this parable to his disciples. The word “also” seems to mean that at this same time, after speaking to the Pharisees (in Luke 15), Jesus proceeds to speak a parable to the disciples (Luke 16:1-13). it’s obvious from Luke 16:14 that the Pharisees hung around to see what He would say to his disciples.
6. When the Pharisees heard this command on stewardship, what did they do and why? (Luke 16:14) Luke 16:15 says, “Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, were listening to all these and were scoffing at Him.” The verb “scoffing” means “to turn out or up the nose at one, to sneer, to scoff.” The Pharisees being “lovers of money” rather than lovers of God precipitated this emotional response when Jesus commanded His disciples to invest their money to reach lost people.
7. What happened to one of the Pharisees’ friends who used his resources for himself alone? (Luke 16:19-31) This question suggests that the rich man who was “joyously living in splendor every day” (Luke 16:19) was a fellow Pharisee. The text seems to imply this when it describes the rich man in the story as dressing like a Pharisee and acting like one. The Pharisees (like this rich man) measured their spirituality by their wealth instead of their compassion for the poor.
They believed that financial prosperity was a sign of God’s blessing on their lives because they were righteous. In reality they were spiritually bankrupt. On more than one occasion Jesus reminded these Pharisees that they didn’t have the love of God in their hearts (John 5:42) or they would have reacted differently when Jesus helped the poor and the afflicted. The rich man in this text (all too familiar a story with a poor beggar named Lazarus laying outside of their friend’s home, dogs licking his sores, to be just a coincidence) died and immediately went to a place of torment (Luke 16:23) and agony (Luke 16:24,25) called Hades. This rich man should have sought God’s mercy (Luke 16:24) while he was alive. It was too late to seek God’s mercy after he died.
8. What is a manager? (Luke 16:1) A “manager” was an individual who had been entrusted with the stewardship of another person’s property: from oikos, (house), and nemo, (to distribute or dispense). So, one who assigns to the members of the household their several duties, and pays to each his wages. The paymaster. He kept the household stores under lock and seal, giving out what was required, and for this purpose received a signet ring from his master.
Vincent writes, “A manager was a trusted servant, usually someone born in the household, who was chief of the management and distribution of household provisions. He provided food for all the other servants, thus managing his master’s resources for the well-being of others. He acted as an agent for his master, with full authority to transact business in the master’s name.”
9. Are managers or stewards held accountable? (Luke 16:2) The verse says, “And he (rich man — owner) called him and said to him (manager),”What is this I hear about you? Give an accounting of your management, for you can no longer be manager.” The owner wanted a complete audit of the books. “Balance the books and show me how you have been running my business or household.” The “rich man” in this story is a picture of God who will hold every believer accountable at the Bema Seat of Christ as a servant & a steward (Romans 14:12; 1 Corinthians 3:10-15; 2 Corinthians 5:10). The rich man in verse 8 is called the “master” (Greek kyrios).
10. Why was the manager losing his job? (Luke 16:1) He had mismanaged the Masters resources. Luke 16:1 says, “…this manager was reported to him as squandering his possessions.” The word “squandering” means “wasted.” Since this man wasn’t arrested or punished for swindling or theft, it appears that the owner didn’t suspect the manager of dishonesty but thought that he had been irresponsible and extravagant.
11. What did this man do before he was removed from his stewardship? (Luke 16:3-7) The text says the manager asked himself, “What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig; I am ashamed to beg” (Luke 16:3). Then the manager realized it wouldn’t be long before his employment would be terminated and he would be homeless. Then he got an idea how to be welcomed to stay with others. The verb “I know” in Luke 16:4 is better translated “I am resolved.” It is a burst of daylight to the puzzled, darkened man: We got it, I see into it now, a sudden solution. Cleverly, he arranged to give large discounts to his master’s debtors, which they would eagerly agree to pay. By reducing their debts to his master, he gained their indebtedness to him. The amounts owed were large; the wheat is said to be equal to the yield of about one hundred acres (Jeremias, Parables of Jesus, pg. 181). They would therefore be obligated to take him into their homes when he was put out of his master’s home.
12. Was the Master praising the manager for his unrighteousness? (Luke 16:4,8a) The master (rich man or owner) commended the unrighteous manager. He wasn’t applauding the man for unjust handling of the funds once he was notified that he was going to be dismissed but he was impressed with how shrewd he was about planning for his future.
13. Where does the parable end? (Luke 16:8) This parable ends in the middle of the verse. Jesus begins to draw a principle from the parable with these words — “for the sons of this age are more…”
14. How does Christ use this parable to contrast believers with unbelievers? (Luke 16:8b) Jesus said, “for the sons of this age are more shrewd in relation to their own kind than the sons of light.” It is more literally translated, “The sons of this age are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light.” This means that ungodly, unregenerate men show more shrewdness or wisdom in providing for their future in this world than true believers show in laying up treasures in heaven. Unbelievers know how to manage their resources to prepare for the future and retirement. lf Christians were just as conscientious about preparing for heaven we would see many more people coming to Christ as we invest our resources in them.
15. What does Jesus command His disciples to do in Luke 16:9? “And I say to you, make friends (aorist imperative) for yourselves by means of the wealth of unrighteousness, so that when it fails, they will receive you into the eternal dwellings.” The aorist imperative “make friends” denotes urgency. In the phrase, “Wealth of unrighteousness,” Christ commands His disciples to use not only their time but also their money to build redemptive friendships.
We should use money and other material things in such a way as to form friendships that potentially could endure throughout eternity. Money can be used to buy Bibles, Christian books, tracts, message tapes, dinners out, tickets to a concert or sporting event, sacrificial gifts that could help our lost friends with pressing needs all this with the goal of reaching a lost friend for Christ.
The unrighteous manager used his master’s money to buy earthly friends; believers are to use their Master’s money in a way that will accrue friends for eternity. The unrighteous manager anticipated being welcomed into the homes (Luke 16:4) of those for whom he had reduced the debt. In a similar manner, those who make an investment to help their lost friends come to Christ will be welcomed into their “dwellings” in heaven. What a reception in heaven that will be for those who make the maximum investment of their lives and possessions down here on earth.
The word “welcome” and “receive” (same Greek word) in Luke 16:4,9 echoes back to a previous occurrence of the word in Luke 15:2. If we receive (“to receive by deliberate and ready reception” Vines) lost people like Jesus did and invest our resources to see them come to Christ, they will receive us into their eternal dwellings in heaven. Note that eventually our money will “fail” us because it cannot be taken to heaven, but our lost friends who trust Christ can be taken and even precede us if they die first.
16. What is unrighteous mammon? (Luke 16:9) Christ did not commend the man’s dishonesty; He specifically called him “unrighteous” or “unjust” (Luke 16:8). He only used him as an illustration to show that even the most wicked sons of this world are shrewd enough to provide for themselves against coming evil. Believers ought to be more shrewd, because they are concerned with eternal matters, not just earthly ones.
17. If we use our resources to reach our unbelieving friends, what can we anticipate when we get to heaven? (Luke 16:9) The following verses show that the steward was not at all commended for his crookedness, but rather for his foresight. He had acted prudently. He looked to the future, and made provision for it. He sacrificed present gain for future reward. In applying this to our own lives, we must be very clear; the future of the child of God is not on this earth but in heaven. Just as the steward took steps to insure that he would have friends during his retirement here below, so the Christian should use his Master’s goods in such a way as to insure a welcoming party when he gets to heaven.
18. How do you know what a person values? (Matthew 6:21) A person invests his time, treasure, and talent into whatever he values. Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
19. According to Jesus, how important is it to be faithful as a steward? (Luke 16:10-13) If we are “faithful in” our stewardship of “a very little thing,” then we will be “faithful” in handling “much” (spiritual treasures). On the other hand, if a man has “not been faithful in the use of unrighteous wealth,” why would God trust him when bigger considerations of eternal value are at stake? The relative unimportance of money is emphasized by the expression “a very little thing.”
20. What are the “true riches” in Luke 16:11? These refer to the souls of men. If God cannot trust us with unrighteous money, which is of a temporal nature, why would he entrust into our care new converts that are of an etemal nature?
21. Can a disciple of Christ love money and God at the same time? (Luke 16:13) No! “You cannot serve God and mammon.” It is utterly impossible to live for things and for God at the same time. If we are mastered by money, we cannot really be serving the Lord. It is a matter of divided loyalty. Motives are mixed. Decisions are not impartial.
- Serendipity Bible for Groups by: Serendipity House, Zondervan Publishing House, 1998
- The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 8 by: Frank E. Gaebelein (General Editor), Zondewan Publishing House, 1984
- Commentary on Luke by: Frederic Louis Godet, Kregel Publications, 1981.
- Investment Portfolio Exercise Heart for the Harvest Seminar Notebook and Study Guide. By Search Ministries, Inc., 1989
- The Gospel of Luke by: Vlﬁlliam Hedriksen Baker Book House, 1978.
- The Chronological Life of Christ Vol.2 by: Mark E. Moore, College Press Publishing Company, 1997
- The MacArthur Study Bible by: John F. MacArthur, Jr., Word Publishing, 1997.
- Believers Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments by: William MacDonald, Thomas Nelson, 1997
- Word Studies in the New Testament Vol.1 by: Marvi R. Vincent, WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1975
- Word Picture in the New Testament Vol.2 by: A. T. Robertson, Broadman Press, 1930
Copyright 2001, Richard D. Leineweber, Jr.
Additional Commentary: 1
Back to our original questions, why the rich man would commend his dishonest manager? and why did Jesus cite the actions of the dishonest manager with approval, using him as an example for his disciples.
The first question may be answered only when the actual action of the dishonest manager is fully understood. An old interpretation of this parable held that the rich man was impressed with the shrewdness of the manager because the latter, after being served notice of dismissal, dishonestly reduced the bills owed the rich man so as to ingratiate himself with these various clients and business associations. Although the rich man has been cheated yet again by the scoundrel, he is, nevertheless, impressed with his manager’s cleverness. Related to this interpretation is the suggestion that the manager has eliminated the interest part of the bill in conformity to the Old Testament’s law against usury (Deuteronomy 15:7–8; 23:20–21). So, the idea is that the dishonest manager has finally done a proper, biblical thing. This approach to the parable, however, is not satisfying. Why should the master praise the dishonest manager? Would he have anything good to say about someone who had not only wasted his money (Luke 16:1), but then after being fired (Luke 16:2) further cheated him? This seems highly unlikely.
More plausible is the suggestion of Derrett and Fitzmyer, that what the dishonest manager has done is to cancel out the profit that was due him (sort of a commission). By canceling the commissions, the debts were reduced, an action that would no doubt result in future kindness being shown the dishonest manager. So, the rich man has not at all been cheated by this final action of the fired manager. The master is still owed what is due him, while his former employee, by foregoing a few commissions, now has a brighter future. Having understood the parable this way, it is now much easier to understand why Jesus sees in the action of the dishonest manager a worthy example for his disciples. They, like the dishonest manager, should be able to recognize the advantage in giving up a little now so that some day in the future they may receive much more.
The main point in the lesson above is that Jesus (or Luke) is not urging his disciples to acquire wealth dishonestly but to make good use of the resources (particularly financial resources) of this world. Jesus is not recommending compromise and he is certainly not recommending dishonesty, but he is urging his followers not to overlook opportunities and resources that will sustain his people and advance the Christian mission. By using the resources of this world wisely, Christians can be assured that when it is gone they will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. While Jesus’ followers are on earth they should make use of the world’s available resources in order to maintain themselves and the work of the church. When, however, these resources are exhausted and life’s work is finished, the followers of Christ can look forward to entering a home that is eternal, not temporary, a home whose resources will never give out.
A second lesson is drawn from Luke 16:10-12. The principle of Luke 16:10 is that by the way a person handles himself with very little it is evident how such a person handles himself with much. We come to what for Luke is probably the heart of the matter in Luke 16:11. If the followers of Jesus cannot properly handle worldly wealth, then they cannot expect to be trusted with true riches. For us, if Christians cannot manage their money, property, and other possessions properly (such as supporting the poor and the ministry), they cannot expect to be entrusted with the rewards and wealth that last forever (Matthew 6:25–34). Implicitly, one’s stewardship in this life will form the basis for future reward and responsibility in heaven (Matthew 25:14–30). Luke 16:12 adds a new thought to this second lesson: if Jesus’ disciples have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property (like God’s “property”), who (God) will give them property (rewards) of their own?
Luke 16:13 provides a third lesson drawn from this parable. In Matthew this verse occurs in a much fuller context (Matthew 6:24) concerning the need to be loyal to God over against the things of the world. Here in Luke the saying brings out one more truth with respect to wealth that every follower of Jesus should know, a truth that has been presupposed in Luke 16:9–12. Christians owe their total allegiance to God and not to money. This saying prevents us from misunderstanding Luke 16:8–9. Whereas Christians are to put wealth to good purposes, they are not to become enslaved to it. Herein lies a grave danger for many Christians. What often passes for “good stewardship” or “God’s blessing” is really nothing short of greed and materialism.
1 Evans, C. A. (1990). Luke (p. 240). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
[Questions and responses by Richard D. Leineweber, Jr. c. 2000]