Jesus’ parable of the unjust steward and unrighteous wealth, found in Luke 16:1-13, is certainly one of the most difficult to understand. The story involves a wealthy man, a deceitful manager, and white-collar crime. Jesus ends the parable by calling His followers to “make friends for [themselves] by means of unrighteous wealth.” (Luke 16:9) At first this parable seems confusing and scandalous, but it actually paints a clear picture of how Jesus expects Christians to use their wealth.
The Dishonest Manager
The parable begins by detailing the unfortunate situation of a manager who oversaw a rich man’s estate. Word came to the rich man that the manager was wasting his possessions. The rich man beckons the manager having made the decision to fire him: “What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.” (Luke 16:2)
The manager is understandably panicked. His whole livelihood depends on this employment and he feels that he has nowhere to go. He was too weak to dig (manual labor) and too proud to beg, so he made up his mind to go the route of a white-collar criminal: fraud.
The manager quickly went to work adjusting his former master’s accounting books. He summoned debtor after debtor, greatly reducing the amount that they owed his master. To the man who owed one hundred measures of oil, the manager said, “Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.” (Luke 16:6) To the man who owed a hundred measures of wheat? “Take your bill, and write eighty.” (Luke 16:7) His goal in the deception? To make friends so that he had a place to stay after his master fired him.
Eventually, word of the manager’s deception comes to the rich man. His response? Rather than being upset at him, the master “commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness.” (Luke 16:8)
The manager had no friends, no home, and no livelihood apart from his master, so he used any means he had control over to secure friends and favors. Does Jesus want us to do the same?
Commended for his Shrewdness
We must first understand Jesus’ purpose in telling parables in order to understand how we should act. We should avoid analyzing every detail of the story for a deeper meaning since Jesus clearly doesn’t approve of the manager’s fraud. Rather, Jesus told this parable to make a specific point.
Jesus is not condoning the accumulation of wealth by any illegal or immoral means – the rest of the Bible makes this very clear. The manager isn’t commended for his dishonesty, but for his shrewdness: “The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.” (Luke 16:8, emphasis added) This parable shows us that even the most wicked of people are shrewd enough to use money in order to provide for themselves.
Making Friends with Unrighteous Wealth
Fortunately, Jesus makes it clear how this applies to His followers in 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.” The phrase “unrighteous wealth” can give many Christians pause. Does that refer to money that was attained through illicit means?
The qualifying word “unrighteous” simply indicates that it is earthly, or part of this world. Jesus is giving direction as to what He wants His followers to do with their earthly wealth: whether that be money, possessions, or any other resource. Jesus calls His followers to use their earthly wealth in order to make friends in heaven (“eternal dwellings”).
The dishonest manager, in a state of panic, used his master’s money in order to gain temporary security.
In the same way, Jesus calls us to use our earthly wealth in a way that will accrue friends for eternity.
Finances, God’s Way
This is what sets Christians apart in the world of finance – all wealth is a means to an end, rather than an end itself. God wants us to use every resource we have in order to accrue friends for eternity – by investing in the gospel that brings sinners to salvation. But this parable also helps us see that this mandate doesn’t mean we should tithe 100% of any income we receive – Jesus wants us to be shrewd and wise as we invest in eternity.
Purchasing a house, investing for retirement, and growing wealth can be a means for Christians to secure friends in eternity, IF, those material items are viewed as such – means, not the end.
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This report is a publication of Demand Wealth. Information presented is believed to be factual and up-to-date, but we do not guarantee its accuracy and it should not be regarded as a complete analysis of the subjects discussed. All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the author as of the date of publication and are subject to change.