Vol. XI — No. 32 August 9, 1970
And 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. And 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. Then 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. I am resolved what to do, that, when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses. So he called every one of his lord’s debtors unto him, and said unto the first, How much owest thou unto my lord? And he said, An hundred measures of oil. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and sit down quickly, and write fifty. Then 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. And 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. And I say unto you, Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations. 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. If therefore ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? And if ye have not been faithful in that which is another man’s, who shall give you that which is your own? No 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.
In Christ Jesus, who would have us be shrewd in money matters, Fellow Redeemed:
Perhaps no parable has been manhandled more by Bible interpreters or exegetes than this parable, as they struggle to find its meaning. One difficulty has been cutting the Lord’s interpretation off at verse 9, as in the Gospel reading for this Sunday, rather than following through with His interpretation and application to verse 13. The chief point for the correct understanding of the parable is to realize that the “wisdom” that the rich man praises in his unjust steward is to be applied in a reverse manner to the children of the Kingdom. This the Lord indicates directly in verse 9, but also by contrasting the “unjust steward” with “he that is faithful.”
A certain rich man had a steward or a manager, as we would say. The rich man seems to have been in the wholesale commodity business. His manager was dishonest. He had been defrauding his boss. Someone squealed on him, and his boss ordered him to turn over his books. The unjust steward had to think about his future, and think quickly. He wasn’t physically able to do manual labor. He was too proud to beg or go on relief. He decided what to do. He called in all the debtors of his boss and had each one sign new papers with a reduced debt to his boss. What he did was dishonest, but it was shrewd. He involved each of the debtors of his boss in the dishonesty, for each had to sign the reduced debt. Thereby he put each debtor of his boss under obligation to himself so that they would be obliged to take him in and tide him over until he could reestablish himself again.
The rich man, the boss of the unjust steward, “commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely,” Even though he had been cheated by his steward, yet he recognized how shrewdly the steward had handled the situation. Our King James translation uses the word “wise,” which has overtones of moral goodness. The word is really too nice for the unjust steward. Other translations speak of him as being “prudent,” “shrewd,” “astute.” One extremely earthy translation, “The Cotton Patch Version,” translates as follows: “And the boss gave the crooked manager credit for pulling a slick trick.” That’s the sense of it. We prefer to use the word “shrewd” to describe the ability of the unjust steward.
Now how did Jesus evaluate the “wisdom” or “shrewdness” of the unjust steward? He said that the “children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light.” Christians are dumb in material, financial, business, money matters as compared with the men of this world. Jesus urged us to follow the example of the shrewd unjust steward—not for earthly, material benefits, but for spiritual, heavenly gain. We can express the exhortation of the parable in this way:
Jesus speaks of “unrighteous mammon” and of “true riches.” What does He mean by these expressions? Unrighteous mammon is a term that covers all the material things of this world—money and all that money can buy. It is called “unrighteous,” not because money or material things are in themselves unrighteous or evil, but because the accummulating of these things so often is connected with unrighteousness and the possession of these material things so often makes the possessors or owners unrighteous. In contrast “true riches” are those treasures that moth and rust can’t corrupt and thieves can’t steal. These are all the riches that are to be found in Christ Jesus—forgiveness, peace, joy, hope, and finally the blessedness of heaven.
We are to be shrewd in our money matters. One facet of shrewdness is to understand the value of things. There was a time when streetcar stock was really bluechip stock. The story is told of a wealthy man who died leaving his heirs huge blocks of such streetcar or public transportation stock. He didn’t want his heirs to squander the wealth he had left or trade the streetcar stock for something else, so he made a provision in his will that under no circumstances could the stock be sold. You know what happened—streetcar companies went bankrupt and their stock became worthless. Fortunes were lost. This man was shrewd in accumulating a fortune, but he was stupid in failing to realize that changing times make once valuable assets completely worthless. A person who is shrewd in money matters realizes that values shift from day to day—that one type of investment has tax benefits, that another is a hedge against inflation, that technology may make an old investment worthless, and so on. Be shrewd in your money matters, in working with your budget, in making investments, in purchasing real estate, and so on and on. But above all be shrewd in realizing the relative worthlessness of all material values over against “true riches,” for what is a man profited if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul? Regardless of all the advertising propaganda your life and mine does not find its value in the amount of things that we possess. A fine home, a new automobile and boat, the financial ability to go on extended vacations, security against sickness, accident, and old age do not make a full life. We are rich, and our lives are full and complete and satisfying only in the degree that we have learned to know Jesus as our Savior and have come under His rule in our lives. Be shrewd in your money matters! You’re a fool if you think that anything or all that you have is of greater value than the single blessing of divine forgiveness of your sins.
Be shrewd in your money matters!
The unjust steward was shrewd in using his access to the books of his boss to put the debtors of his boss under personal obligation to himself. By reducing their debts and by involving them in that dishonesty he put them under obligation to receive him into their homes when he was fired from his job.
Jesus applied the shrewdness of the unjust steward in a reverse manner to all children of light. “And I say unto you, Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations.” Even as the unjust steward used his business shrewdness to gain friends who were under obligation to take him in, so we are to use shrewdness in money matters to gain for ourselves friends who will receive us into the everlasting habitations. What was the Lord talking about? Are we to buy our way into heaven? Is there some way that we can bribe our heavenly Father and our Savior, the friends who will receive us into heaven one day, so that we can be sure that the door will be open? Certainly not! The Lord is not here teaching that salvation is by works instead of by grace through faith in Himself. Through faith in Christ Jesus we do here and now possess eternal life. It’s the Lord’s gift to us. No one can earn or merit or pay for something that has been given to him. We already now, as we sit here believing on the Lord Jesus Christ as our only Savior from sin and our only hope for eternal salvation, do possess heaven. We are here and now heirs of eternal life.
But how does anyone know that you or I are believers? What evidence of our faith will there be on the last day? Here is where we should be shrewd— shrewd in our money matters. The world considers that person shrewd in money matters who can accumulate money, afford the comforts and luxuries of life, provide for his old age, and leave a sizeable estate for his heirs. The Lord also calls this shrewdness. He urges us to use the same shrewdness in using our money, our abilities, our material possessions to show forth the evidence of our faith. I keep on telling my own children that they should use their God-given talents in school, that they should acquire skills that will give them a good earning power in life—not to live it up, not to accumulate the things of this world, not to provide for their security as though God were dead—but to be able to serve the Lord better with their native talents, their acquired skills, and their earning power. This is the shrewdness that the Lord urges upon us. Be shrewd in your money matters—so that you can give more for the Lord’s work, so that you can give evidence of your faith by your love, so that you can use your talents and skills and expertise and experience in serving the Lord and so manifesting forth your faith. This is the shrewdness that we need to develop in ourselves and urge upon our children.
Be shrewd in your money matters! Evidence of such shrewdness is that we—
The unjust steward is contrasted by the Lord with those who are faithful. It’s an axiom of human experience that “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.” If you can’t trust a person in a little matter, who would think of entrusting an important matter to him? This general truth Jesus applies to us: “If ye therefore have not been faithful in the unrighteousness mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches?” That which we own—down to the money in our wallets today and in our checking accounts—has been entrusted to us by our Lord. We don’t own what we have absolutely. We’re just stewards. Now if we aren’t faithful in these everyday money matters, how can we expect that the Lord will commit to our care spiritual riches? Jesus presented the same thought from a different angle: “And if ye have not been faithful in that which is another man’s, who shall give you that which is your own?” Here the unrighteous mammon, all our material possessions, are considered as belonging to someone else. That’s quite an insight into material possessions, looking at them from the viewpoint of the moment of death. Then they become someone else’s. Now if we can’t be faithful in these things, which will one day belong to someone else, “who shall give you that which is your own?” Those are the spiritual blessings which are ours by faith and which we keep right through death into eternal life.
What the world considers of utmost importance the Lord considers relatively worthless, but what the world considers utterly worthless-divine forgiveness, peace with God, the certainty of eternal life—that the Lord considers of greatest importance. We children of the light live in this world. We need money to pay for our groceries, to meet our utility bills, home payments, insurance premiums and so on and on. We also need spiritual treasures to remain children of the light. The danger that we daily face is trying to split our loyalty between “mammon” and God. The shrewd child of God, who is shrewd in his money affairs, will realize that he cannot split his loyalty between God and mammon. God must always come first and never second to “mammon” considerations, even the basic ones such as food, clothing, shelter, security in old age.
Jesus says, “No 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.” This is common human experience. A slave couldn’t have two masters. Today we would say a man can’t have two bosses. Sooner or later he will have to make a decision as to which one he loves and which one he hates. Applying this truth Jesus said, “Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” Many children of light over the centuries have gone shipwreck in regard to their faith because they have attempted the impossible—trying to serve “mammon” things and God at the same time. Shrewdness in money matters demands a basic decisions that has to be remade daily—that each and every mammon decision must remain secondary to our serving the Lord. God grant us grace to make that decision daily. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.