BIBLE STUDY: What is the meaning of the Parable of the Unjust Steward (Luke 16:1-13)?

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Answer: The Parable of the Unjust
Steward can be found in Luke 16:1–13.
The text can be broken down into two
parts: the parable (verses 1–8) and the
application (verses 9–13). Luke 16:1
identifies that Jesus is speaking to His
disciples, but there is a suggestion that
His audience is mixed—disciples and
Pharisees. Luke 16:14 states that the
Pharisees “heard all these things and
ridiculed [Jesus].” We also see in verse 1
that Jesus “also” said to the disciples; the
“also” would suggest that this parable is
connected to the previous three in Luke
15 and that the audience was a mixed
crowd of disciples and Pharisees.
It is important to know to whom Jesus is
addressing this parable. The parable is
for the benefit of the disciples, but there
is also a not-so-subtle critique of the
Pharisees, as was evident in Luke 15.
Verse 14 is Luke’s commentary on the
motivation of the Pharisees, and in verse
15 we see our Lord condemn their
motives. And what was the Pharisees’
motivation? They were those who were
“lovers of money” and who “justify
themselves before men” and who
exalted that which was an “abomination
before God.”
With that as a backdrop, let’s look at the
parable. It’s a fairly simple, if somewhat
unorthodox, parable from Jesus. The
story is simple, but the setting is unusual.
In most of Jesus’ parables, the
protagonist is either representative of
God, Christ, or some other positive
character. In this parable the characters
are all wicked—the steward and the
man whose possessions he manages are
both unsavory characters. This should
alert us to the fact that Jesus is not
exhorting us to emulate the behavior of
the characters but is trying to expound
on a larger principle.
The parable begins with a rich man
calling his steward before him to inform
him that he will be relieving him of his
duties for mismanaging his master’s
resources. A steward is a person who
manages the resources of another. The
steward had authority over all of the
master’s resources and could transact
business in his name. This requires the
utmost level of trust in the steward. Now,
it may not be apparent at this point in
the parable (but is made more evident
later on), but the master is probably not
aware of steward’s dishonesty. The
steward is being released for apparent
mismanagement, not fraud. This explains
why he is able to conduct a few more
transactions before he is released and
why he is not immediately tossed out on
the street or executed.
The steward, realizing that he will soon
be without a job, makes some shrewd
deals behind his master’s back by
reducing the debt owed by several of the
master’s debtors in exchange for shelter
when he is eventually put out. When the
master becomes aware of what the
wicked servant had done, he commends
him for his “shrewdness.”
In His application of the story in the
remaining verses, Jesus begins by
saying, “For the sons of this world are
more shrewd in dealing with their own
generation than the sons of light” ( Luke
16:8). Jesus is drawing a contrast
between the “sons of the world” (i.e.,
unbelievers) and the “sons of
light” (believers). Unbelievers are wiser
in the things of this world than believers
are about the things of the world to
come. The unjust steward, once he knew
he was about to be put out, maneuvered
to put others’ debt to himself. He did so
by cheating his master (who more than
likely was cheating his customers). He
made friends of his master’s debtors
who would then be obligated to care for
him once he lost his job.
What does this have to do with believers
being wise about the life to come? Let’s
look at verse 9: “And I tell you, make
friends for yourselves by means of
unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails
they may receive you into the eternal
dwellings.” Jesus is encouraging His
followers to be generous with their
wealth in this life so that in the life to
come their new friends will receive them
“into eternal dwellings.” This is similar to
Jesus’ teaching on wealth in the Sermon
on the Mount where Jesus exhorts His
followers to lay up treasures in heaven
( Matthew 6:19–21).
The term unrighteous (or worldly)
wealth seems to strike readers the
wrong way. But Jesus is not saying that
believers should gain wealth
unrighteously and then be generous
with it. “Unrighteous” in reference to
wealth can refer to 1) the means in
acquiring wealth; 2) the way in which
one desires to use the wealth; or 3) the
corrupting influence wealth can have
that often leads people to commit
unrighteous acts. Given the way in which
Jesus employs the term, the third
explanation seems the most likely.
Wealth is not inherently evil, but the love
of money can lead to all sorts of sin ( 1
Timothy 6:10).
So, the principle that Jesus is trying to
convey is one of a just steward rather
than an unjust one. The unjust steward
saw his master’s resources as a means
for his own personal enjoyment and
advancement. Conversely, Jesus wants
His followers to be just, righteous
stewards. If we understand the principle
that everything we own is a gift from
God, then we realize that God is the
owner of everything and that we are His
stewards. As such, we are to use the
Master’s resources to further the
Master’s goals. In this specific case, we
are to be generous with our wealth and
use it for the benefit of others.
Jesus then goes on to expand in verses
10–13 the principle given in verse 9. If
one is faithful in “little” (i.e.,
“unrighteous” wealth), then one will be
faithful in much. Similarly, if one is
dishonest in little, he will also be
dishonest in much. If we can’t be faithful
with earthly wealth, which isn’t even
ours to begin with, then how can we be
entrusted with “true riches”? The “true
riches” here is referring to stewardship
and responsibility in God’s kingdom
along with all the accompanying
heavenly rewards.
The climax of Jesus’ application is verse
13: “No servant can serve two masters,
for either he will hate the one and love
the other, or he will be devoted to the
one and despise the other. You cannot
serve God and money” (see also Matthew
6:24). If God is our Master, then our
wealth will be at His disposal. In other
words, the faithful and just steward
whose Master is God will employ that
wealth in building up the kingdom of
God.

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One thought on “BIBLE STUDY: What is the meaning of the Parable of the Unjust Steward (Luke 16:1-13)?

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