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Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
December 10, 2017
Please turn in your Bibles to Luke 16. This morning we come to a passage that is difficult for two reasons. First, it has been often misunderstood because it is wrongly treated as an allegory so that its point is lost. Second, it speaks about a subject that people generally like to avoid – stewardship of finances.
Parables vs. Allegories
The commentaries on this passage reach very diverse conclusions about what it means. The main reason for this is that most of them interpret this as an allegory instead of a parable.
An allegory is a figurative story that uses symbolic fictional characters and their actions to express truths or generalizations about human existence. Because the story is fictional and everything in it represents something else, those interpreting it can easily read into it an interpretation they want instead of what author intended. This is made worse by those that believe that Scripture has some hidden, spiritual meaning beyond what is actually in the text. For them, even if the plain sense of a passage makes sense they still must come up with some other additional sense. That is the opposite of the grammatical, historical method of interpretation that we follow that desires to be true to the author’s intent, so for us, if the plain sense makes sense we make no other sense.
J.C. Ryle references many who interpret this as an allegory to show how fanciful it can get. Many think the rich man refers to God, but the steward is variously thought to be the common man, true penitents, the Pharisees, the Apostle Paul, Pontius Pilate or Judas Iscariot, and there is an equal diversity in suggestions about whom the debtors represent. You can imagine from that the variety of ideas that then arise about the meaning of the steward lowering the amount of the bills and why he is therefore commended. One of the more outlandish ideas given was that the rich man represents the Romans and the steward the publicans and the debtor the Jewish nation. The meaning of the story was then to encourage the publicans who were listening to be kind to the Jewish nation and lower their tax bills and vindicate those that had already done so.
However, this is not an allegory. It is more properly classified as a parable for it is a story told in order to illustrate a particular moral attitude and religious principle. It is important to recognize that parables are stories that may be fictional, but they may also be true accounts of events that have actually happened. I point this out because some people will try to diminish the details of the story saying it is just fiction, but there is a reason Jesus includes the details in the stories. They are not allegorical to something else, but each detail clarifies the meaning and increases the impact of the point the story is illustrating. We saw this in our study 149 Prudent Stewardshipof the three parables in Luke 16 the last couple of weeks.
Each of the stories are events that could have happened. Did Jesus just make up the stories about the shepherd searching for a lost sheep, a woman looking for a lost coin, or a father longing for the return of a lost son? Or were each of these events of which Jesus was personally aware? Parables are true to life even if they are fictional. The details in each of those three parables are also important. The shepherd lost one hundredth of his flock. The woman lost a tenth of her coins. The father has lost half of his children. The joy in each story increased with the value of finding what had been lost. (See: Rejoicing Over the Repentant)
The Parable – Luke 16:1-8
The first detail that needs to be noted about this parable is that it begins, “Now He was saying to the disciples.” It is apparent that the Pharisees and scribes mentioned in Luke 15:1 are still present since they are mentioned in 16:14 as scoffing at what Jesus teaches here. That means that the tax-gatherers and sinners mentioned in Luke 15:1 are also still present. There is a large crowd that is listening to what Jesus is teaching. However, just as the three parables in Luke 15 were specifically directed to the Pharisees and scribes, so this parable is directed to the disciples. The others will hear and what Jesus teaches will have implications for them, but it is primarily a lesson for the disciples. This fact will help in interpreting the passage properly.
Next, notice that Jesus begins the parable stating, “There was a certain rich man who had a steward,” as translated in both the 1977 NASB and the NKJV. Other translations are ambiguous about the rich man, but the Greek text makes a distinction. This indicates that Jesus could well be telling a story about something that He is aware that happened and not just making something up that could have happened. Jesus often pointed out events of real life and taught from them spiritual lessons. Those who are wise learn not only from the events in their own lives but also those that happen to others. Much of the wisdom found in Proverbs and Ecclesiastes is from observation and consideration (Prov. 21:12; Eccl. 1:16; 2:11-12; 7:13-14).
This particular man was wealthy, in fact very wealthy as indicated by the amounts owed to him, and he had a steward. We do not use that English term much anymore and so many translations substitute the word manager, but that seems to be weak to me. The word here (oijkonovmoV / oikonomos) refers to someone who is in charge of running the household. He has much more responsibility and authority than the word manager usually conveys. He is directly responsible to the owner, but acts with full authority of the owner. In this case, the steward has authority over the owner’s possessions and business accounts. This steward is not a slave, though the owner is referred to as “lord” ( kujriovV / kurios), also translated as “master.” He works for the master and is part of the master’s household.
The trouble for the steward begins at the end of verse 1, “and this steward was reported to him as squandering his possessions. And 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.” The word reported here (diabavllw / diaball ) is the same root word from which we get our word devil. He is being accused. He is having charges being brought against him. The steward has been squandering his lord’s possessions. This is the same word (diaskorpivzw / diaskorpiz ) as used to describe the prodigal son’s use of his wealth (Luke 15:13). He was spending it foolishly to no purpose. He was wasting it. This also indicates how much authority this steward carried and how much the master had trusted him.
The owner’s confrontation of the steward puts him in a difficult position. He must give an account of his stewardship and he will not be continuing in his position. He is losing his job, but he must first explain what he has done, and from what occurs later, this includes going over the business accounts.
Losing a job is tough, but for him this meant he would also lose his place to live. He was at a dilemma about what he could do. 3 “And the steward said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the stewardship away from me? I am not strong enough to dig; I am ashamed to beg.” By his own assessment he lacked the physical ability to do any kind of unskilled labor of which digging would be the simplest. Though not stated directly, he also does not seem to think that any other skills he might have would be sufficient to get him a job since he believes he would be reduced to begging, and he thought it was beneath his dignity to ask for charity.
He finally comes to an eureka moment and figures out a plan. 4 ‘I know what I shall do, so that when I am removed from the stewardship, they will receive me into their homes.’ 5 “And he summoned each one of his master’s debtors, and he began saying to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 “And he said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ And 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?’ And he said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’”
He plainly states that he believes these actions would result in his master’s debtors becoming favorable to him so that they might provide a place for him. The idea of “home” here (oi[koV / oikos) would be more than just the physical house, but the household in which he would have a place to live and employment of some sort. There are two cultural factors that may explain why he thought reducing these debts would have such positive results for him and also explain his master’s reaction when he finds out what the steward does.
First, MacArthur in his commentary points out that, “reciprocation was an integral part of Jewish society; if someone did a person a favor, that person was obligated to do one for him.” Second, Leon Morris explains in his commentary how businessmen got around the prohibition in the Mosaic law from collecting usury (interest) on loans to fellow Jews (Leviticus 25:36; Deuteronomy 23:19). In short, they reasoned that the prohibition was against exploiting the poor (Exodus 22:25), and not in against sharing in the profits of business transactions. As long as the person had at least a little of the commodity being borrowed, in this case oil and wheat, they were not considered destitute and the bond for repayment was made for more than what was actually loaned. In this case, a bond for 100 baths of oil (about 900 gallons) for the 50 baths (about 450 gallons) actually received, and 100 kors of wheat (about 1,100 bushels) for the 80 kors (about 880 bushels) actually received. These transactions were often carried out by the stewards and supposedly without the owners knowledge to protect him from being accused of breaking the Mosaic law. Obviously these debtors would be very happy about their reduced bill and obligated to the steward. The large amounts indicated these were business transactions of very wealthy households.
These cultural factors also give us some insight into what otherwise might seem to be a very strange reaction by the steward’s master. 8a “And his master praised the unrighteous steward because he had acted shrewdly.” Notice first that the praise is specifically for the steward’s shrewd or prudent actions. This is not praise for him being unrighteous. Since the bonds were changed, the master could not prove he was cheated, and if this is a case of the usury being eliminated, then he is not being cheated. In either case, the steward is praised for acting with understanding and insight into securing his future. Remember that this man was in trouble for squandering his master’s possessions, and the indications are that the charges are true. He makes no defense of himself and his own first response is to figure out what he will do in the future to make a living. He could have continued his current practice and squandered more of what belonged to his master for his own immediate desires, but instead he figured out a way endear himself to others and make them obligated to him for a long term benefit. He was shrewd because instead of seeking immediate gratification he was planning for the future.
This is the reason for Jesus’ comment at the end of verse 8, 8b “for the sons of this age are more shrewd in relation to their own kind than the sons of light.” Again, there is no commendation of this man’s unrighteousness which is the cause of him losing his position as a steward. God is longsuffering and tolerant of people who are unrighteous, but He never praises people for their sin or sinful behavior. Jesus’ purpose in telling the story was to compare the prudence of this worldly man in dealing with other worldly people with the sons of the light, the righteous, in dealing with worldly people. Jesus wants his disciples to learn from this example a lesson in being astute in the use of the things of this world. It is a lesson in stewardship and learning to value things properly with a view to future goals instead of immediate ones.
The Lessons – Luke 16:9-13
Jesus draws three distinct but related lessons for his disciples from this example. The wise use of mammon, the importance of faithfulness, and choosing the right master. It is important to note here again that though the tax-gatherers and sinners as well as the Pharisees and scribes are also listening and could learn and take warning from this as well, Jesus is specifically directing this teaching to His disciples. They are the “you” referenced in verses 9-13.
Wise Use of Mammon – Luke 16:9
9 “And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by means of the mammon of unrighteousness; that when it fails, they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.”
This is one of those statements that you wish that Jesus has said much more so that there would be no question as to what He meant, but we must remember from what He states in Matthew 13:10-17 that He would be teaching in a manner by which He could reveal truth to His disciples while hiding it from the unrighteous. There is enough in this context to understand what Jesus means, but the unrighteous will come to unrighteous conclusions. One of those wrong conclusions is that Jesus is teaching that you can use money to gain entrance into heaven. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
As I pointed throughout our six week study of our Reformation Heritage, salvation is by God’s grace alone through faith alone in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ alone. The idea that a person could purchase freedom from their sins and buy their way into heaven is what sparked the fire that became the Reformation in the sixteenth century. (See: Sola Scriptura , Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, Solus Christus, Soli Deo Gloria – The Glory of God through Ordinary Lives, Soli Deo Gloria, Pilgrims and Thanksgiving)
We do not use the word “mammon” much anymore. It is an Aramaic word transliterated in the Bible and refers to wealth and riches with a strongly negative connotation. It seems to have a root meaning of “that in which one trusts.” Jesus specifically describes this here as something that is unrighteous. It is not that wealth and riches are unrighteous in and of themselves, otherwise many of the Proverbs would be false. But placing your trust for the future in riches and wealth is unrighteous. As Proverb 11:28 states, “He who trust in his riches will fall, But the righteous will flourish like the green leaf.” Moses warns in Deuteronomy 8:12-14 about the dangers of prosperity turning the hearts of people away from God. Psalm 52:7 warns, “Behold, the man who would not make God his refuge, But trusted in the abundance of his riches And was strong in his evil desire.” Those and other passages would have been familiar to the disciples, and so they would have also understood Jesus’ reference to “when it fails,” for the things of this world will surely become insufficient. They cannot be trusted.
Jesus’ point then becomes simple. Use your worldly goods for what they are good for in making friends. As Proverbs 19:6 states, “Many will seek the favor of a generous man, And every man is a friend to him who gives gifts.” Why do this? Not for the purpose of gaining something from them in this life. While that is prudent and what the unrighteous steward did, Jesus is only using that as an example to point His disciples to something much more important. He wants them to look beyond this life to eternity – so that “they will receive you into the eternal dwellings.” This is not the idea of granting you entrance as if they were gatekeepers, but rather the idea of welcoming, accepting with friendliness. I think you can add in the sense of being joyful at seeing you.
How would that happen? Only if they are in heaven, the location of “eternal dwellings.” Jesus specifically refers to His Father’s house in John 14:2-3 as a place with “many dwellings” where He was preparing a place for His followers. Such a description is never used for Hell which is a place of outer darkness and torment.
How did they get to heaven? The direct statement is that it began with the wealth of this world being used by the righteous to make friends with them. The inference is that they then had the gospel proclaimed to them. They believed it and were saved. That direct application applies to all who are Jesus’ followers.
This does not require you to be rich in order to carry this out, for the disciples were all poor except for possibly Matthew, and he walked away from his wealth (Matthew 9:9). It is actually simply a matter of perspective about what is important and what is not. The value of material wealth is small in God’s eyes and it should be small in your own. Remember, Jesus promised to meet all your physical needs as you seek first His kingdom and righteousness (Matthew 6:33). You only need to pray for your “daily bread” and not provisions for years to come or even a stocked pantry. Certainly it is wise to save and the good man even leaves an inheritance for his children’s children (Proverbs 13:22), but hoarding is not wise (Ecclesiastes 5:13). It is wiser to work so that you have something to share with others (Ephesians 4:28) and follow the principle Jesus lays out here. Use your worldly wealth, whether great or small, to make friends with the unsaved so that you may witness to them and see them saved.
I am sure many pastors would immediately use this to try to coerce money out of the congregation, but pastors and churches should never do that, and more important, that is not the point of this passage. While giving to the church and missions may be part of this, the emphasis here is on you using your worldly riches to make friends with others so that they will welcome you into eternal dwellings. The ministry of evangelism belongs to every Christian and that begins here. You may not be able to street preach and talking to strangers may paralyze you with fear, but everyone is capable of making friends and talking with them about their lives and what they believe and then share the gospel and what you believe. Are you being generous with what you have in order to do that? Do you have a mind that is set on what is of eternal value or just on what is temporal?
The Importance of Faithfulness – Luke 16:10-12
Jesus then takes this lesson to the next level with a lesson on the importance of faithfulness and how the use of your worldly wealth reveals that in you. 10 “He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much. 11 “If therefore you have not been faithful in the use of unrighteous mammon, who will entrust the true riches to you? 12 “And if you have not been faithful in the use of that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own?”
Jesus repeats the premise of this lesson multiple times and in multiple ways in order to emphasize it and then apply it to the use of worldly riches for eternal purposes. The simple premise is this. Whatever you do with things on a very small scale is what you will also do on a very large scale. This is true whether that is in being faithful to God or in being unrighteous. Faithfulness is a character trait and so is unrighteousness. Your use of your worldly wealth reveals your character whether you are faithful or unrighteous.
Jesus makes this same point in the parables of the talents in Matthew 25 and Luke 19 . While each of these parables vary in the details, the premise is still the same. Those who demonstrated that they were faithful with what they were given were entrusted with even more. Those that proved to be unfaithful with even the little they were given had even that taken away from them. Trust is built upon the demonstration of faithfulness which in turn results in that which is of greater importance being entrusted to the individual. The opposite is also true. Failure in faithfulness over little things destroys trust so that even less or nothing will be entrusted to you. The mammon of unrighteousness, worldly riches, is of little actual value, but faithfulness in those very small things enables you to receive the true riches.
Jesus does not specifically identify these “true riches,” but the principle is both generally true in human experience and specifically true in God’s granting to you that which is of eternal importance. In other words, people will limit the value of what they will entrust to you until you demonstrate you are faithful. This principle is easily seen in business as an employee rises through the ranks in a company. It is also part of the dating and courting process as each one learns whether their intended is faithful and can be trusted with their heart and life. God puts people through tests of faithfulness before He entrusts what is more valuable. In keeping with this principle it should be noted that church leaders are required to be able to manage their finances and their own household to prove they can manage the church of God (1 Timothy 3; Titus 1). If you do not prove yourself to be faithful in what is relatively little, how can you be trusted with what is much more valuable, God’s church.
Singularity of Masters – Luke 16:13
Jesus concludes with a warning He has given before. (See: Who is Your Master) There must be singularity of masters. 13 “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will hold to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”
The principle is axiomatic. Anyone who has ever been in a position where there are two sources of authority trying to tell him what to do understand this principle. You simply cannot obey both when they are giving opposite directions. Jesus makes it plain that you will either serve God or the things of this world. You cannot serve both because the world is an opposite and competing value system to what God commands. As Paul says in Galatians 5:16-17, if you walk by the Spirit you cannot carry out the desires of the flesh for they are in opposition to each other. If you love God, you will cling to Him and be concerned about His interests in which case the things of this world will become increasingly disgusting to you to the point that you hate and despise them for you recognize their evil. It is equally true in the opposite direction. Those who love the world and the things in it; the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, will hate God and despise His commandments because they expose and restrict those evil desires. We see the evidence of that all around us as our society turns from God to their own lusts. They demand Christians tolerate their evil, but they do not tolerate us and their hatred of us just becomes more open and extreme. They love their sin, so they hate the true God and anyone associated with Him.
Though the parable may seem strange and misleading to those who do not read it carefully, the lessons it teaches are fairly simple.
The unrighteous steward was praised for being shrewd because he changed his practices and used his position to further his long term goals instead of satisfying his short term desires. Christians should be even more prudent by using the wealth of this world which has no eternal value in order to pursue those things that have true eternal value. Use your material riches to make friends with non-Christians so that you can evangelize them. It is a matter of prudent stewardship. You don’t own it anyway. You are only borrowing it for the few years of your life on this earth. Use the things of this world with the eternal future in mind instead of the immediate present.
Related to this, understand that your practices of stewardship also reveals your character. The greater your faithfulness in using the stuff of this world which has little value, the more God will entrust to you that which has true and eternal value. However, if you prove to be unfaithful, then He will not entrust to you what has true value until you change and do prove to be faithful.
Though many self professing Christians want to walk a line between godliness and worldliness, that is impossible. You are either going to increase in your love for God and become more repulsed by the world, or you will love the world and increasingly reject God. Those who think they can do both have a false concept of God and more than likely do not know the Jesus of the Bible. The truth is usually revealed when you point out the Scriptures that identify their favorite desires as sinful. Those that love God will eventually change and will thank you. Those that love the world will reject you.
What does your stewardship demonstrate? Who is your master?
Sermon Notes – 12/10/2017
Prudent Stewardship – Luke 16:1-13
Parables vs. Allegories
An allegory is a figurative story using ________fictional characters & their actions to express general truths
Treating the Scriptures as allegorical allows ___________searching for hidden meanings that are not there
Allegorical interpretation of this parable results in ______meanings – _______________________________
A parable is a true to life story that ______________a particular moral attitude or religious principle
Jesus’ parables are stories of ____________ that could have and may have happened
The Parable – Luke 16:1-8
This parable is told to the _____________, though the crowd is still present and also listening
Jesus often used stories of _________life events to teach spiritual lessons
This is a particular rich man who had a ___________- a hired man he has put in charge of his household
The steward is in trouble because he has been accused of ______________his master’s possessions
The steward will lose his position, but first must give an ___________of what he has done – show the books
The steward’s dilemma is that he will also lose his place to _____, is too weak to labor and too proud to beg
vs. 4-7 – he comes up with a _________will provide a new situation where he could live
Reducing the debts creates an _______________on the debtors toward him
Reducing the debts could have been just the elimination of the _________(interest) associated with the loan
These __________factors may explain why the master praises the unrighteous steward instead of jailing him
The praise is for his _________actions in finding a way to plan for his future, not his unrighteous behavior
Jesus uses the story to prod his disciples to be ____________in dealing with worldly people
The Lessons – Luke 16:9-13
Jesus gives related lessons for His ____________, but the Pharisees, scribes and sinners are also listening
Wise Use of Mammon – Luke 16:9
Jesus’ statement can be confusing, but He taught in parables to both reveal and __________(Matt. 13:10-17)
Salvation is by God’s grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone & cannot be ______________
Mammon refers to wealth and riches with a ________connotation and is related to “that in which one trusts”
Worldly goods should be used for making ____________- Proverbs 19:6 – for eternal purposes
Being received into the eternal dwellings is being ____________ into heaven – John 14:2-3
Using worldly ___________to make friends in order to evangelism them and see people saved is prudent
This principle applies to rich and poor alike, for God ______the needs of His people (Matt. 6:33; Eph. 4:28)
Giving to churches & missions can be included, but the lesson is about you _____________making friends
The Importance of Faithfulness – Luke 16:10-12
Whatever you do with things on a very small scale is what you will ________ do on a very large scale
Faithfulness is a ___________ trait and so is unrighteousness
Trust is built on the demonstration of ______________ which in turns results in greater trust
God puts people through __________of faithfulness before He entrusts what is more valuable – true riches
Singularity of Masters – Luke 16:13
Those who love God will hate what is sinful, and those who love sin will hate what is ____________
The unrighteous steward was praised for his __________in changing his practice and planning for his future
Christians should be prudent in using worldly __________ for accomplishing eternal purposes
Your practices of stewardship reveal your ____________ – either faithful or unrighteous
You __________walk a line between godliness and worldliness for one will increase and the other decrease
Those who think they can walk that line have a ______idea of God and their reaction to sin reveals the truth
What does your stewardship demonstrate? Who is your ______________ ?
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help. Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Count how many times “stewardship” is referenced. 2) Discuss with your parents the meaning of stewardship and what your desires about money reveal about you.
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others. What is the difference between an allegory and a parable? Why is it wrong to interpret Scriptures as allegory (except for passages which specifically state they are allegory – Galatians 4:24)? Why is it difficult to distinguish a fictional parable from an actual real life event? What indicators can help with that distinction? What is the importance of details in an allegory? What is the importance of details in a parable? What is a steward? What is the relationship of this steward to his master? What responsibilities does he have? Why is he in trouble and being dismissed? Why is he so troubled about his future? Why does he believe his plan to reduce the loan repayments to his master’s will cause others to receive him into their homes? Is his reduction of the loan amounts unrighteous? Why or why not? Why does his master praise the unrighteous steward for his shrewdness? What is the meaning of Jesus’ statement in verse 8 that the children of this age are more shrewd in relation to their own kind than the sons of light? To whom is Jesus telling this parable? Why is that important in its interpretation? What is unrighteous mammon? Why does Jesus want his disciples to use that to make friends? What are some ways that could be accomplished? How would that demonstrate prudence? How we know the “eternal dwellings” refers to heaven? Why would these people who became friends be in heaven? Why does this principle apply to both the rich and the poor? What does it mean to be faithful? How does the use of unrighteous mammon demonstrate either faithfulness or unrighteousness? Why does faithfulness in small things lead to being entrusted with true riches? What are true riches? Why can’t a person serve both God and mammon? Why would love of one cause hatred for the other? Why is there such increasing intolerance of Christians by unbelievers (who demand tolerance of their sins)? What does your stewardship of what God has entrusted to you reveal about your character? Who is your master?
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