The Unjust Steward
The parable does not commend the unjust dealing of this man who was discharged from his stewardship, but the wisdom that made him use that over which he still had power with an eye to the future. The application of it is—Use the present with the future always in view.
A brief exposition of the parable in its setting may make the meaning clear. Man was placed in charge of things in this world as God’s steward, but be was from the beginning, and still is, an unfaithful steward, for instead of holding all and using all for God’s glory, his chief concern has been to enrich himself and enjoy everything without any reference to God, as though everything he could grasp belonged to himself. This has been his ruin, and he has forfeited everything, his own life also, and is, in consequence of his unfaithfulness, under “notice to quit.” This is true of every man, as Romans 5:12 proves, “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.”
But at this point God steps in in unspeakable grace and, in His Gospel, He says to man, “Though you have forfeited everything on earth by your sin, yet I will give you something infinitely better in heaven. Though you have forfeited your lives, I will give you eternal life; though you have no security of tenure in this earthly house of your tabernacle, I offer you a place in ‘everlasting habitations.’ You cannot justly call any earthly possession your own, but I open to you My eternal treasures in Christ. I offer them to you and I will give you a title to call these true riches your own (vv. 11-12). Everything depends upon how this wonderful offer of God’s grace is treated. Alas, the majority of men refuse God’s offer, like those who with one consent began to make excuse in chapter 14:18-20. They don’t admit that they are only stewards of the things that they mean to enjoy, and that they have forfeited their right to use them they mean to hold them as long as they can as though they were entirely their own, preferring them to that which God offers. Hence, when they are ejected from their stewardships by death, there are no everlasting habitations for them, for they have refused them, and, like the rich man at the end of this chapter, they have their portion in hell. These chapters, the 14th, 15th and 16th, hang together.
But those who act wisely realize that their tenure here is short; like the unjust steward they know that they are to be put out of their stewardship. The man who owns God’s justice in this, will surely cast himself upon the mercy of God as the publican did in chapter 18:13, and will gladly and gratefully accept God’s wonderful offer, and make the future secure. Henceforth the future becomes his chief concern, it governs him. He looks “not at the things that are seen; but at the things that are not seen; for the things that are seen are temporal; but the things that are not seen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:18). When the heart is set upon things above the present is not despised, but the things that belong to it are held at their true value and used, not for self-gratification, but in dependence upon God and for his glory, as any faithful steward would use his master’s goods for his master’s benefit.
It is a parable for disciples, and to them the Lord says, Ye cannot serve God and mammon (v. 13). The man whose heart is set on worldly riches is not serving God, he is sacrificing the future for the present.
J.G.Bellett, commenting on this parable, says,
“The Lord has others to converse with. He has to meet disciples. And accordingly, at the opening of chapter 16 he does meet them. He gives them a word to stir their diligence and encourage their hopes. He tells them to aim high in their expectations, and to lay out their energies to sure and eternal profit. Being disciples, they are to be regarded as having already come back as prodigals, and their business now was to value the hopes which grace had set before them, and to ‘make to themselves friends’ of every talent and opportunity, as knowing that their labour should not be in vain in the Lord.”
Whatever is expended upon others for the Lord’s glory has a value that extends beyond time; whatever is expended on selfish gratifications perishes in the using. Money and the things of this life are called “the mammon of unrighteousness” because the rights of the rightful Owner of all are refused. God says, “The gold and the silver are Mine,” but how much of it is poured out in selfish pleasure, and how little of it is used for His work and glory!