Jesus Says Use Boss’s Money to Make Friends?

by Brad Harmon on February 1, 2010 in Stewardship

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The parable of the unjust steward in Luke 16:1-13 may be one of the most difficult parables told by Jesus Christ.  I doubt that many Christians have ever heard a sermon preached on this passage.  Why?  Because it appears that Christ is giving tacit approval for the unjust servant to defraud his master after being given his pink slip.  Let’s just jump into the parable and you’ll see what I mean. 

The Unjust Steward Gets the Pink Slip

The parable starts out with the unjust steward being fired by his master after being accused of being wasteful with the master’s money.

1And he said also unto his disciples, There was a certain rich man, which had a steward; and the same was accused unto him that he had wasted his goods. 2And 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.

The steward does not defend himself because he either has no defense or isn’t really given an opportunity to defend himself.

3Then the steward said within himself, What shall I do? for my lord taketh away from me the stewardship: I cannot dig; to beg I am ashamed.

Given the number of pink slips handed out over the past two years it is easy to relate to his thoughts.  It’s a rough time to be out of work – especially if you have no skills for the jobs that are in demand.  It’s natural to start to worry in this situation.

The Unjust Steward Decides to Create His Own Parachute

The unjust steward decides that he is going to create his own social welfare safety net as part of his final duties.  Be honest, this is tempting – isn’t it?

4I am resolved what to do, that, when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses. 5So he called every one of his lord’s debtors unto him, and said unto the first, How much owest thou unto my lord? 6And he said, An hundred measures of oil. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and sit down quickly, and write fifty. 7Then 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.

Did he just do what it looks like he did?  Did he just give some unauthorized discounts to make some friends that may want to help him out later?

His Lord Commends the Steward AND so Did Christ

Surely his master is not going to look kindly on this matter.  You’d think, but he actually commends the steward for it.  What is going on here?

8And the lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely: for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light. 9And I say unto you, Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations.

Say what?  Did I miss something, or did Jesus just tell His disciples to do the same thing?  It looks like Jesus is saying it’s okay to use your boss’s money to buy friends.

Jesus Warns Us to Be Faithful With Little

Jesus then appears to take an about face and warns us about being faithful with little.

10He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much. 11If therefore ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? 12And if ye have not been faithful in that which is another man’s, who shall give you that which is your own?

Confused?  This doesn’t seem to jive very well with what He said above, does it?  There has to be some other interpretation.

Let’s Take Another Look

There seems to be three plausible ways to look at what the unjust steward did.

  • First, he did what it appears that he did and the master was impressed at how shrewdly the steward provided for himself on the way out.  I have a hard time buying this one.
  • Second, the steward had overcharged these people and was just setting the records straight for his master as an attempt to gain both his and the other’s good will.
  • Third, the amount slashed was the steward’s commission.  By giving up his commission now he earned the good will of his master and the others.

What Was the Point of This Parable?

It seems to me that the third explanation is the most plausible as it accounts for both the master’s commendation and for Jesus telling his disciples to follow the steward’s example.

The wisdom comes in the signing over of your worldly possessions now for the hope of the eternal rewards later.  It’s a call for us to be generous with our worldly possessions using them to make eternal friendships.  Too many Christians miss the smart play here.

13No 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.

The unjust steward was wise enough to know that giving away what he had was the only real move to make.  If he had kept it, he’d have had nothing when it was gone.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

MikeHolmes February 1, 2010 at 5:37 pm

There's a Scripture that popped up in my head when I read this: "He that withholds corn, the people shall curse him: but blessing shall be upon the head of him that sells it." (Proverbs 11:26)

The way I read it is this: when you have something of value to give to people, and you don't give it, it's almost like a curse on. The Wesley commentary says, "With – holdeth corn – In a time of scarcity. Selleth – Upon reasonable terms." So if you have something of value IT IS YOUR DUTY to get it to people…of course, on "reasonable terms." Whatever we give away we gain more of. Whatever we hoard we lose.

I like your third theory about him slashing his commission–that does seem the most plausible. What's the purpose of the commission if you're gonna be out of work…might as well use it to make friends! 🙂

Reply

Brad Harmon February 1, 2010 at 5:48 pm

I like it. Here, let me fire back a commentary of my own. 😉

The last part of Matthew Henry's commentary on this passage says …

The true riches signify spiritual blessings; and if a man spends upon himself, or hoards up what God has trusted to him, as to outward things, what evidence can he have, that he is an heir of God through Christ? The riches of this world are deceitful and uncertain. Let us be convinced that those are truly rich, and very rich, who are rich in faith, and rich toward God, rich in Christ, in the promises; let us then lay up our treasure in heaven, and expect our portion from thence.

We can hoard the riches of this world, but once they're gone – then what? It's like the steward and his commissions – he had no way to help himself after the commissions ran out.

Reply

Brad Harmon February 1, 2010 at 5:48 pm

I like it. Here, let me fire back a commentary of my own. 😉

The last part of Matthew Henry's commentary on this passage says …

The true riches signify spiritual blessings; and if a man spends upon himself, or hoards up what God has trusted to him, as to outward things, what evidence can he have, that he is an heir of God through Christ? The riches of this world are deceitful and uncertain. Let us be convinced that those are truly rich, and very rich, who are rich in faith, and rich toward God, rich in Christ, in the promises; let us then lay up our treasure in heaven, and expect our portion from thence.

We can hoard the riches of this world, but once they're gone – then what? It's like the steward and his commissions – he had no way to help himself after the commissions ran out.

Reply

MikeHolmes February 1, 2010 at 5:53 pm

Well since we firing at each other…let me fire back a quote from Les Brown: " The greatest gift that anyone could leave is to die empty." 🙂

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F. L. Anderson February 1, 2010 at 6:10 pm

Great post. Let me refer you to a similar post entitled, Crisis Births Creativity http://flanderson.blogspot.com/2010/01/crisis-bir

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Brad Harmon February 1, 2010 at 6:43 pm

Interesting post. There are some who propose that the first option is the best, and that Jesus was only commenting on his shrewdness in the situation. I think that Jesus clearly is suggesting that there is a lot of wisdom that we can gain from watching the wisdom of shrewd entrepreneurs. You make some great points in your post about this steward's shrewdness.

In the end, I can't get over the master being so impressed that he commends the steward for ripping him off or Jesus using this behavior as his example. Even with the third option, your points about the steward's shrewdness are still notable.

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Brad Harmon February 1, 2010 at 5:58 pm

I love it! It reminds me of Paul talking about being poured out. We hear the phrase "leave it all on the field" to fire up football teams, but imagine what this world would be like if Christians left it all on the mission field. Great thoughts.

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Kiesha February 6, 2010 at 11:46 pm

I haven't read a blog post that made me this hard, so it's taking me longer than usual to digest this one. I think I've been mulling this very issue over and it's God way of trying to get the message through my thick skull. Am I stretching or is this also saying that I should serve others even when I won't get paid, but in a manner as if I were going to? That it's better to help them and have nothing of my own than to worry about what I can make out of the deal?
Yeah, I'm probably going in the wrong direction.
My recent post No matter what, just keep moving forward

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Brad Harmon February 23, 2010 at 2:44 pm

Hey Keisha. This is one of those passages that is usually avoided because it can mean many things to many people. I wonder if the steward's motives were that noble? For that matter, I wonder how pure our own motives will ever be this side of heaven?

If you look at how Christ talks about the Kingdom of Heaven you will see that it is a very rewarding frame of reference. I think the focus He is trying to make us see is to quit thinking about the rewards here and to start using our resources here for greater rewards in heaven.

Maybe it is just the when and where of what we get out of the deal that he is trying to make us think about?

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Ollie January 30, 2012 at 12:42 pm

Just because you didn’t like the parable does not mean that you can change it. You can’t add new details that give it a new meaning. You aren’t being true to scripture.

Jesus was telling us how unimportant the masters wealth was because it was /earthly/ wealth. The steward understood that, and when the master saw what he’d done he also saw how wise the discounts were. He earned real love in exchange for petty material things.

You are going to read things in the bible that clash with your world view. You have to understand that dissonance is not because God is untrue. His word is absolutely true. You can’t invent convenient details that change the meaning of the story. You have to accept that the bible is going to contradict your world view from time to time, otherwise you are not following God, you are just justifying your own actions using a false god.

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