The unjust steward parable, Part 2
Sep 26, 2014
At the completion of the parable itself, Luke 16:10-13 begins the lesson itself that is to be learned from that parable.
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.
Most of us need to raise our standard of behavior, because we tend to allow ourselves the luxury of committing small sins which, we hope, will escape God’s notice. I first noticed this about 25 years ago and began to apply it to my own life. I suspect that others may need some upgrades in their own lives as well.
Most of us are not rich enough to be great sinners, but if we are to be entrusted with great things later, we must be faithful with what we have today. On a prophetic scale, these parables speak of Israel and Judah and, by extension, the birthright and the scepter. If we have asked God for spiritual authority (the scepter), we ought to use righteously what we have today. If we have asked God to be one of the manifested sons of God (the birthright), we ought to use righteously what we have today.
Although grace is free, authority and sonship are not. These require faithfulness in using what we now have, for this is how we develop the way of life necessary for greater authority and the benefits of sonship.
Faithful Use of Mammon
Luke 16:11 continues,
11 If therefore you have not been faithful in the use of unrighteous mammon, who will entrust the true riches to you?
By “unrighteous mammon,” Jesus means earthly goods or wealth. In the parable, the unjust steward misused his master’s earthly goods (“mammon of unrighteousness”). When we are entrusted with such goods, we must use them according to the mind of the master. Any time we utilize another person’s money or goods strictly for our own benefit, we declare ourselves unfit for greater responsibility.
This does not mean that we should not spend money on ourselves that God has given us. Perhaps the standard of measure we ought to use is whether our actions require secrecy or not. When Adam and Eve sinned, they hid themselves from God (Genesis 3:8). In the parable of the unjust steward, it is plain that he had hidden his actions from his master, because the time came when someone reported his actions to the master.
There is, of course, a righteous secrecy, for Jesus said in Matthew 6:3, 4,
3 But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will repay you.
The unjust steward, however, used his master’s goods for his own advantage, knowing that his master would disapprove if he should discover what he was doing. This is what the religious leaders were doing in the temple. They were oppressing the people and using their positions of leadership to increase their own power and wealth in the guise of increasing the Kingdom of God. The parable of the vineyard in Matthew 21 shows that they were usurping the vineyard (Kingdom) for their own use, and that they would soon be brought into account. The Kingdom would soon be taken from them and would be “given to a nation producing the fruit of it” (Matthew 21:43).
It is plainly stated here that the caretakers of the vineyard were to be replaced, whereas in the case of the unjust steward the parable ends by questioning what the master ought to do with him.
Luke 16:12 continues,
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?
An employee is responsible to handle the goods of others wisely and according to the will of the employer. If he does so, he is paid or rewarded with money or goods that he can call his own. In other words, his authority over the goods of others is limited by the will of the owner, but that which he himself has earned through labor, he may spend as he wishes.
On a higher level of sonship, Paul says in Galatians 4:1 that while we are yet minors, we are no different from servants. We were begotten as sons through our Passover experience (when we were justified by faith in the blood of the Lamb), and we learn to be faithful sons during our journey through Pentecost. If we are faithful in the use of divine authority and sonship, these things will be given to us as a reward. Why? Because we prove that we can handle such responsibility and not misuse it. When the law is fully written on our hearts through experience and testing, God knows that He can trust us with the scepter and the birthright.
Trying to Serve Two Masters
Luke 16:13 concludes the main lesson of the parable, saying,
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 question here is not whether we may possess earthly goods while still serving God. The problem comes when we try to “serve” both God and mammon. If we are ruled by greed, we will not truly serve God. Greed is what causes us to misuse what God has given us. If we consider ourselves to be stewards (or managers) of God’s estate, then we will never usurp authority and use what is God’s as if it were our own.
While this discussion is given in terms of material goods, it is really about the use of authority. King Saul was given authority over God’s vineyard many years earlier, but he did not rule as a steward. He thought of himself as the king having sovereignty, rather than as a steward of the throne of Christ. In usurping the throne, he oppressed and bankrupted many people. Many of these fled into the wilderness along with David.
Saul no longer served God. He served the god of greed. The Bible has many examples of such character. But David was a man after God’s own heart, because he understood that the throne was not his own. He was responsible before God “to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly” with God (Micah 6:8). He was not free to do as he pleased. Even kings must serve God, that is, Christ who is the King of Kings (Revelation 19:16).
The Scoffers’ Objection
Luke 16:14 says,
14 Now the Pharisees who were lovers of money, were listening to all these things, and they were scoffing at Him.
The parable of the unjust steward was told to Jesus’ disciples (Luke 16:1), but it was in a public setting where the Pharisees could hear. Luke tells us that they were philargyros, or “lovers of money.” In other words, they served mammon rather than God. Hence, they could not be expected to agree with Jesus parable or its explanation. No doubt they understood that it was directed at them.
Jesus then speaks directly to those Pharisees in Luke 16:15-17.
15 And He said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable [bdelygma] in the sight of God.
The Greek word bdelygma is the equivalent of the Hebrew word shiqquwts, which is often translated “abomination.” The root word is shaqats, “to detest, consider impure, account as filthy.” It is used in the law to describe unclean food (Leviticus 20:25), but also of dung, dead bodies, and homosexual relations (Leviticus 20:13). It is also used of idols and idolatry (Jeremiah 16:18; Ezekiel 16:36).
Hence, Jesus was telling the Pharisees that greed was an idol in their heart and was detestable in the sight of God. One can only imagine their reaction to this. The implications of this were enormous, because of the law in Leviticus 7:21,
21 And when anyone touches anything unclean, whether human uncleanness, or an unclean animal, or any unclean detestable [sheqets] thing, and eats of the flesh of the sacrifice of peace offerings which belong to the Lord, that person shall be cut off from his people.
The Pharisees had been eating unclean spiritual food, which had rendered them unclean. This was illustrated in Ezekiel 4 as eating food cooked with dung—an abomination. Dung represents heart idolatry, such as greed. Hence, the Pharisees had touched an abomination and were disqualified in the sight of God from offering sacrifices in the temple. Presumably, these Pharisees were also priests who ate of the sacrifice of peace offerings. The divine judgment was “that person shall be cut off from his people.”
This correlates with the firing of the unjust steward in the parable.
Luke 16:16 continues,
16 The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John; since then the gospel of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it. 17 But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one stroke of a letter of the Law to fail.
The context shows that Jesus was still addressing the Pharisees on account of their scoffing. Their heart idolatry was evidenced not only by their greed but also by their attempt to force their way into the Kingdom of God by violence. The religious leaders were being fired from their position as steward and caretaker of the vineyard, but they refused to go quietly. Instead, they decided to force their will upon God.
This would soon take place when they crucified the rightful Heir of the throne in order to “seize his inheritance” (Matthew 21:38), even as they had already killed the prophets before Him. This accusation goes beyond the parable of the unjust steward, who limits his actions to mere theft and misappropriation of money.
These verses are found also in Matthew 11:12, 13, where the context is in Jesus’ discussion about John the Baptist and his imprisonment. Hence, the violence and force employed by the religious leaders is comparable to that which was seen in Herod’s treatment of John. It is the violence of opposition to the gospel of the Kingdom, which would continue for many years when they persecuted the Church.
But in spite of this opposition, the law and the prophets will be fulfilled. Jesus’ view of the law is the correct one, and so the Scriptures will be fulfilled according to His New Covenant understanding. The law will not fail to prophesy accurately.
Luke then adds one final example of injustice allowed by the religious leaders. Luke 16:18 says,
18 Everyone who divorces [apoluo, “separates from, puts away”] his wife and marries another commits adultery; and he who marries one who is divorced [apoluo] from a husband commits adultery.
This verse would seem terribly out of place, if we did not understand the context where Jesus was giving examples of injustice being committed or allowed by the religious leaders of the day. Even so, this passage is mistranslated and misunderstood, and is really a short summary of what Jesus discussed elsewhere in more detail.
First, it should be noted that the Greek word for “divorce” is not apoluo but apostasion (Matthew 5:31). The word apoluo denotes a separation, and neither Jesus or Luke had meant to say that it was a sin to give his wife a certificate of divorce. After all, Jesus had just said that the law would not fail. How could He then say that the law regarding divorce had been put away?
But the fact that the word apoluo is used, rather than apostasion, says much about this. The law commanded that if a man wants to separate from his wife, he must give her a bill of divorce. He could not simply send her out of the house without giving her a written divorce that gave her the right to be remarried (Deuteronomy 24:1-4, KJV).
The NASB translators had little understanding of this law, and so they mistranslated apoluo as “divorce.”
Other passages where Jesus taught on this topic are found in Matthew 5:31, 32 and Matthew 19:8, 9. As I explained more fully in my book, The Bible Says: Divorce and Remarriage is NOT Adultery, it was a sin to put away one’s wife without a bill of divorce. If a man married a woman who had been put away without a bill of divorce, then he committed adultery, because she was still married lawfully to the husband who had sent her out of the house. This was a great injustice to the woman, and Jesus’ teaching made it clear that if this happened, the husband in question was causing her to commit adultery. In other words, he was more liable than she was in the sight of God.
The clear implication in both Matthew 5:32 and again in Luke 16:18 is that the topic was about putting away one’s wife without a bill of divorce. This is the only way to understand these passages without putting away the law. The actual justification for divorce is not discussed here, for even Deuteronomy 24:1 includes no such discussion.
In Matthew 19:8 Jesus tells us that a divorce law was necessary “because of your hardness of heart,” although it was God’s intention from the beginning that husbands and wives should remain in unity throughout their life time. The reality of life is that men and women are not perfect, neither are they always led by the Spirit. Often just one partner is able to hear God’s voice, while the other has no such interest. Such situations often lead to terrible marriages, and so, because of the hardness of men’s hearts, it was necessary, for the sake of justice, to permit divorce.
Hence, divorce was meant to be the divine judgment for sin, not an excuse to be promiscuous. Yet the religious men of the day understood the law of divorce in ways that gave them an advantage and which caused injustice to be perpetrated upon women.
The divorce laws were so lenient as to allow divorce for virtually any whim of the husband. Further, if they wished to engage in prostitution, they could arrange to do a temporary marriage for a day in order to legalize their prostitution. In Matthew 19:4-6 Jesus upheld the mind and heart of God about marriage, showing that it was never the intent of God to allow such practice.
The original revelation of marriage, which Jesus quoted from Genesis 1:27 and 2:24, was a pattern of New Covenant marriage. It was the ideal pattern for us today. For a fuller discussion of this, see my book, Old and New Covenant Marriage.
This is the second part of a mini-series titled "The unjust steward parable." To view all parts, click the link below.
This is part of the eighty-fifth part of a series titled "Studies in the Book of Luke." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones