The Pulpit Commentary

Luke 16:1-31 (Luke 16:1-31)

The Lord ' s teaching on the right use of earthly possessions with regard to the prospect of another world, in the form of the two parables of the unjust steward, and Dives and Lazarus.

- The Pulpit Commentary

Luke 16:10 (Luke 16:10)

He 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 . This and the next three verses are closely connected with the parable of the unjust steward. Our Lord no doubt continued speaking, and these four verses contain a general resume of what may be called his reflections on the important piece of teaching he had just delivered. We have here the broad rule, upon which God will decide the soul's future, laid down. If the man has been faithful in his administration of the comparatively unimportant goods of earth, it is clear that he can be entrusted with the far more important things which belong to the world to come. There is, too, in these words a kind of limitation and explanation of the foregoing parable of the unjust steward. The conduct of that steward, regarded in one point of view, was held to be wise, and we, though in a very different way, were advised to imitate it; yet here we are distinctly told that it is fidelity, not unfaithfulness, which will be eventually re-warded—the just, not the unjust steward.

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Luke 16:1-13 (Luke 16:1-13)

The unjust steward.

Whereas the three preceding parables were spoken to the Pharisees, this is spoken to the disciples. It is not quite certain whether all the parables were uttered at or about the same time; but the use of the word "also" ( Luke 16:1 ) suggests that they were. Anyhow, the saying before us has reference to a different kind of wasting from that of the younger son—a wasting against which the followers of Jesus are solemnly warned. We are called to listen to the Master as he indicates temptations and enforces duties within the special circle of discipleship. This parable is a saying hard to be understood. Many explanations have been given. A very learned commentator, appalled by the difficulties connected with the interpretation, abandoned the attempt, declaring that the solution of the problem is impossible. And truly, if we canvassed all the schemes of exposition which have been proposed, all the inferences which have been founded on clauses, and all the speculations which have been raised, we should find "no end in wandering mazes lost." Let our aim be less ambitious; let us try to get hold of some plain, practical instruction which shall help us to be better disciples of Jesus Christ. The outline of the story is simple. The dramatis personae are not numerous. A wealthy landowner has a steward who, in the management of his estates, possesses a large discretionary power. He is informed that this steward has, not stolen or wrongfully applied, but by neglect or want of skill has squandered, the estate entrusted to him. He is called to account and is dismissed peremptorily. Now comes into view the adroitness of the man. He wishes to have some friends who can do him a good turn when he is out of a situation; and so, before news of his dismissal reaches any, while it is supposed that he has full power, he calls together those who are in arrears of rent or are otherwise indebted to his lord. We can imagine the trembling with which they obey the summons. How bland and smiling is the factor! What kind inquiries as to wife and children and belongings! And then, "By the way, what is the amount of your obligation?" Two specimens are given. One person owes a hundred measures of oil. "Take your pen," says the factor, "score out the hundred, and make it fifty." Another owes a hundred measures of wheat. "Take your pen, write down eighty." All retire charmed, loud in the steward's praise. Had he not secured a warm place in their regard? When told of his downfall, would not they all cry, "Shame!" and speak of him as the tenants' friend, and welcome him to their houses? The point of the lesson which Christ would teach is this—separate the energy from the dishonesty, the foresight from the fraud, and as he, for his own wrong ends, was wise and calculating, so, for your right ends, practise a wisdom like his, though nobler than his: "Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness, that when ye die, or fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations." Now, without puzzling ourselves over the details of the parable, consider the lessons inculcated as to

I. CHRISTIAN RESPONSIBILITY . In the relation of the steward to the rich man we have a foreshadowing of the relation in which we stand to God. "Steward" is the word which indicates this relation. To every one of us is given a charge of goods whose Owner is God. Our own constitution—physical, mental, moral—is a trust; all our endowments—talents, powers of whatsoever kind—are a property of which we are farmers; and he who thinks that he can do as he likes with these, that he can dissipate his substance by intemperance, or alienate his strength from higher ends, is false to his Maker and false to himself. So with regard to all our influence—direct and indirect—it is a power delegated to us by the Almighty, and to be realized under the sense of the account to be rendered to him. Money, relationships, social positions,—all are items of the estate over which we are set. Do we all realize this as we should? Do we not sadly forget this fact of stewardship? Christ speaks of "the mammon of unrighteousness." Here is an explanation which has been given. "The ears of Jesus must have been repeatedly shocked by the kind of rashness by which men speak, without hesitation, of ' my fortune,' ' my land,' ' my house.' He who felt keenly the dependence of man on God perceived that there was in this feeling of property a sort of usurpation, a forgetfulness of the real owner; in hearing such language he seemed to see the tenant changing into the master." Ah! does he not hear such language every day? Is it not in the air? Is it not in our own feeling? Are we not, in many ways, changing the tenant into the master, the steward into the owner? taking the goods, and using them without giving praise to him whose they are? Would that the answer given to the first question in an old Catechism were written into the texture of every life—"Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him for ever."

II. Connected with Christian stewardship is THE TRUTH OF CHRISTIAN ADMINISTRATION . And may it not be said that this is a truth far too little studied and practised? When we hear of depressions of trade, of hard, dull times, we may well reflect on the saying of the Prophet Haggai ( Haggai 1:5 , Haggai 1:6 ), "Consider your ways. Ye have sown much, and bring in little; ye eat, but ye have not enough; ye drink, but ye are not filled with drink; ye clothe you, but there is none warm; and he that earneth wages, earneth wages to put it into a bag with holes." In regard to Christian objects, is there not much to learn from such tact and prudence as the steward's in the parable? Do we not need them much in the conduct of benevolent enterprises? Competition may be healthy; but a competition which, in a limited area, or on mere windmills, spends a force which should be far more diffusive, is not only not healthy, it is a loss and a scandal. Is not this the kind of competition which is too prevalent in ecclesiastical and in charitable spheres? Otherwise must we not confess that, through our want of inventiveness or wisdom in management, our want of skill to turn opportunities to the best advantage, of the sagacity which is exercised in worldly matters, we lay ourselves open to the reproach, "The children of this age are wiser in their generation than the children of light" (verse 8)? Realize that, whether there is much or little, faithfulness is demanded of the steward—such a disposal or investment of all wealth as that the Lord's interests are farthered. To each of us is given the charge, "So allocate the mammon of unrighteousness, the uncertain, unstable wealth which you possess, that it shall not hinder, but help you to the everlasting habitations." How many does that mammon hinder! How few of us so use our money as to advance not only Christ's cause but our own holiness! But should it not be rendered a means of spiritual gain? It is concerning this fidelity to God in the laying out of the perishable riches that Christ hints that they in whom it abounds will not want the friendly welcome when the tent of this tabernacle is dissolved, and the spirit passes into the everlasting habitations.

III. A word as to CHRISTIAN SERVICE . This mammon, which was meant to be an instrument for the accomplishment of our stewardship, is apt to assume the bearing of a master. At first it is the slave, the most obedient, until, by constant trafficking with it and by taking it into the region of our affections, it becomes our love; and when it is the love of a man, the consideration which to him is first, the supreme point of his interest, then it ascends from the kitchen into the parlour, and claims the self as its own. This mammon-rule, mammon-worship, is one of the most distinct features of the day, and few of us know how deep is its mark in our souls. Here is the choice—this mammon, or Christ with the thorn-crowned brow; this mammon, or God himself. One or other we may serve; Christ insists we cannot serve both (verse 13). "That usurping lord has a will so different from God's will, gives commands so opposite to his, that occasion must speedily arise when one or other will have to be slighted, despised, and disobeyed, if the other be regarded, honoured, and served. God, for instance, will command a scattering, when mammon will urge to a further keeping and gathering; God will require spending on others, when mammon or the world will urge a spending on one's own lusts. Therefore, the two Lords having characters so different and giving commands so opposite, it will be impossible to reconcile their services: one must be despised if the other is held to; the only faithfulness to the one is to break with the other; 'ye cannot serve God and mammon.'" "Choose ye this day whom ye will serve. There is to be no playing at religion. A saintly voice has thus interpreted the election: may the "amen' to his words arise from our souls! O God, thou sweetness ineffable, make bitter for me all carnal comfort which draws me away from the love of eternal things, and in evil manner allures me to itself by the view of some present delightsome good. Let me not be overcome, O Lord, by flesh and blood. Let not the world and the brief glory thereof deceive me. Let not the devil and his subtle fraud supplant me. Give me strength to resist, patience to endure, and constancy to persevere. Give me, instead of all the comforts of the world, the most sweet unction of thy Holy Spirit and the love of thy blessed Name."

- The Pulpit Commentary

Luke 16:10 (Luke 16:10)

The wisdom of fidelity.

Between the text and the verse that precedes it there is some interval of thought. There may have occurred a remark made by one of our Lord's apostles: or we may supply the words,—" as to the supreme importance and obligatoriness of fidelity, there is the strongest reason for being faithful at all times and in everything;" for "he that is faithful in that which is least," etc. This utterance of our Lord is seen to be profoundly true, if we consider—

I. THE LAW OF INWARD GROWTH . The Lord of our nature knew that it was "in man" to do any act more readily and easily the second time than the first, the third than the second, and so on continually; that every disposition, faculty, principle, grows by exercise. This is true in the physical, the mental, and also in the spiritual sphere. It applies to acts of submission, of obedience, of courage, of service. One who is faithful to-day will find it a simpler and easier thing to be faithful to-morrow. The boy who faithfully studies at school, scorning to cheat either his teacher or his fellows, will be the apprentice who faithfully masters his business or his profession; and he will be the merchant on whom every one may rely in large transactions in the market; and he will be the minister of state who will be trusted with the conduct of imperial affairs. Fidelity of habit will grow into strong spiritual principle, and will form a large and valuable part of a holy and Christ-like character. "He that is faithful in that which is least will," in the natural order of spiritual things, "be faithful also in much." Of course, the converse of this is equally true.

II. THE PRINCIPLE OF DIVINE REWARD . God blesses uprightness in the very act, for he makes the upright man something the better and the stronger for his act of faithfulness. That is much, but that is not all. He holds out to faithfulness the promise of a reward in the future. This promise is twofold:

1 . It is one of heavenly wealth, or wealth of the highest order. The proprietor of the estate ( Luke 16:1 ) would remove the unfaithful steward altogether; but he would treat faithfulness very differently—he would be prepared to give him something so much better that it might even be called "true riches" ( Luke 16:11 ); nay, he might even go so far as to give him lands, vineyards, which he should not farm for another, but for himself, which he should call "his own" ( Luke 16:12 ). The Divine Husbandman will reward fidelity in his service by granting to his diligent servants "the true riches;" not that about which there is so much of the fictitious, the disappointing, the burdensome, as there is about all earthly good, but that which really gladdens the heart, brightens the path, ennobles the life—that noble heritage which awaits the "faithful unto death" in the heavenly country.

2 . It is inalienable wealth, that will not pass. Here a man points to his estate and says complacently, "This is mine." But it is only his in a secondary sense. He has the legal use of it, to the exclusion of every other while he lives. But it is alienable. Disaster may come and compel him to part with it; death will come and undo the bond which binds it to him. It is only his in a certain limited sense. Of nothing visible and material can we say strictly that it is "our own." But if we are faithful to the end, God will one day endow us with wealth with which we shall not be called to part; of which no revolution will rob us, of which death will not deprive us—the inalienable estate of heavenly honour and blessedness; that will be "our own" for ever.

III. THE GROUND FOR PRAISE AND PATIENCE .

1 . Bless God that he is now righteously endowing and enlarging his faithful ones.

2 . Live in the well-assured hope that the future will disclose a much larger sphere for spiritual integrity.—C.

- The Pulpit Commentary

Luke 16:1-13 (Luke 16:1-13)

Money as a means of grace.

The previous chapter was spoken against the pride of the Pharisaic party, who were too exclusive to welcome publicans and sinners to the same feast of privilege as themselves. The parable now before us was spoken against their covetousness. It will be found that, as the graces are to be found and grow together, so do the vices of mankind. The idolatry of wealth goes hand-in-hand with pride. In warning his disciples, however, against the vice, our Lord inculcates positive truth, and brings out in his parables the important fact that money may either be a means of grace to men, or a temptation and a snare. The first parable, about the unjust steward, shows us one who was wise in time in the use of money; the second parable, about the rich man and Lazarus, shows us one who became wise when it was too late and his doom was sealed. The story need be no moral difficulty to us. The all-important point is the deprivation of his stewardship. It was taken from him on the ground of injustice of some kind. In view of his exodus from the stewardship, he prudently makes his lord's debtors his debtors too, by largely reducing their liabilities. Having thus made friends with them all, he awaits his dismissal with confidence, and expects befriendment when out of his situation. It is his prudence, not his motives, that our Lord commends. Now, to our Lord's spiritual eye, this was a beautiful representation of what a soul may do in prospect of dismissal from his earthly stewardship at death. He may take the money he happens to possess, and, feeling that it is not his own absolutely, but God's, and that he is only a steward of it, he can use it liberally, making the troubles of his brethren lighter, so that, having laid them under obligations to him, he can calculate with certainty upon their cordial sympathy in the world beyond the grave. A prudent outlay may make hosts of friends among the immortals beyond; in a word, money may be utilized as a very important means of grace.

I. MAMMON IS A BAD MASTER . ( Luke 16:13 .) We start with this thought as a kind of background to the more comforting teaching which our Lord here emphasizes. The soul that is enslaved by mammon becomes miserable. Is not this implied in the term "miser," which designates the slave of money? The poor slave is kept grinding away, amassing more and more, and yet never getting any benefit from all the lust of gold. Nothing seems more foolish and insane than the race for riches; nothing more ruinous than the snares into which the runners fall. When life's end comes and the accumulated hoard has to be left behind, the condition of the soul is pitiful indeed.

II. ON THE OTHER HAND , MONEY MAY BE MADE A VERY USEFUL SERVANT . ( Luke 16:1-9 .) For nothing is gained by denying that money is a great power. How much it can accomplish! Every department of enterprise regards money as the " one thing needful." So powerful is it, that people by the use of it may become thoroughly hated, as many selfish speculators and covetous people are every day. On the other hand, it may be so wisely laid out as to increase our friends to troops. A judicious use of money can gather friends around us by the thousand. It may serve us by increasing our list of friends.

III. MONEY CAN BE USED BY US TO SERVE GOD . ( Luke 16:10-12 .) This is the gist of Christ's teaching in the parable before us; and we never use money aright until we have got this idea driven home of serving God by it. And to emphasize this, let us notice:

1 . Money is God ' s, and we are never more than stewards of it. This truth underlies the whole parable. The very rich man who has the steward is God. We are all his stewards, faithful or unfaithful, as the case may be, in our use of his money. It is never ours apart from God; it is ours only as his stewards. Other things are held far more surely—for example, education, thoughts, culture. They enter our being and become ours, we have reason to believe, for evermore. But money is only ours for a time—a loan from God to be put out to a proper use.

2 . We are faithful in our stewardship when we give ungrudingly to those who are in real need. God gives us "enough and to spare " for the purpose of laying the needy under obligation. In this way we transmute our money into gratitude. The gratitude of the assisted is better than the money, for it abides and can be enjoyed when money cannot.

3 . God guarantees the gratitude and the reward. Some of the recipients may turn out to be ungrateful, but "he that giveth unto the poor lendeth unto the Lord," and "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." We are, therefore, sure of the highest recognition when for the Lord's sake we help our fellows.

IV. THE TRULY GENEROUS AND LIBERAL SOUL HAS A WELCOME AWAITING HIM IN THE ETERNAL TABERNACLES . ( Luke 16:9 .) The expression, "eternal tabernacles," to adopt the Revised Version, seems to indicate everlasting progress to be realized in the next life. We shall be moving onwards even there to higher and higher attainment. Those we have befriended here will receive us into their eternal tents. There will be recognition and fellowship and its accompanying progress. What a judicious outlay to have all this awaiting us in the world to come! What a means of grace money may thus become] and what a help to glory] Let the so-called unjust steward, then, admonish us to make the most of our capital on earth, that we may have the best heavenly return from it when we have left the money behind us for ever.—R.M.E.

- The Pulpit Commentary