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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary
Luke 16

 

 

Verses 1-8

THE MAN WHO ACTED WISELY

‘There was a certain rich man, which had a steward; … And the lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely.’

Luke 16:1-8

This parable draws a lesson from the conduct of a worldly man. Not that we are advised to act as he did—but that as he showed wisdom and decision in his worldly concerns, so should we in spiritual matters.

Consider the story. An accusation was made against a certain steward of having embezzled his master’s property. He was not at once dismissed (Luke 16:4), for that would have been unjust before the accusation was proved, but was ordered to bring in his account, so as to satisfy his master. Just so do we stand in God’s sight. The accusation is made (Romans 5:12; Romans 5:16; Romans 5:18). We are told to be ready for the day of reckoning (Amos 4:12; 2 Corinthians 5:10).

What did the steward do? Three points may be noticed:—

I. He profited by the past.—When the word came to him he saw at once that he was condemned. He does not justify himself (Luke 18:11). He does not go in rashly with the account as it is (Matthew 27:5). No. He was convinced, in reflecting on his situation, that he must alter his ways (1 Peter 4:1-3). He says, ‘What shall I do?’ Such is the cry of conviction (Acts 2:37; Acts 16:30).

II. He overcame the present.—No sooner was he convinced of his difficulty than he set to work to conquer it. ‘I am resolved what to do’ (Joshua 1:7; 1 Kings 18:21; James 1:8). There is no delay (Proverbs 6:5), no hesitation (Hebrews 2:3). He thinks, he decides, he acts (Luke 15:17-20). Look at the case of the first tenant. The steward had clearly been in the habit of receiving from him a hundred measures, of which he appropriated fifty, and sent in fifty to his lord. Now he says to the tenant, You need only pay fifty. This would put the man under obligation to himself, and make the account right for his master. So with the others, and the difficulty was overcome.

III. He provided for the future.—Whichever way matters went, he was right for the future—right for his lord; standing well with the tenants. What was the result? His lord (Luke 16:8) commended him. See the case of St. Paul as illustrating our duty. ‘What wilt Thou have me to do?’ ‘This one thing I do.’ ‘I know Whom I have believed.’ ‘Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness.’

Wisdom and diligence in spiritual things is the lesson to be drawn from this. We must decide and act with reference to our account for God.

—Bishop Rowley Hill.


Verse 2

CALLED TO ACCOUNT

‘Give an account of thy stewardship; for thou mayest be no longer steward.’

Luke 16:2

We call this parable the Parable of the Unjust Steward—i.e. a fraudulent, dishonest steward—and such undoubtedly he did become; but not deliberately dishonest up to the time when his lord called him suddenly to account. He was accused to his lord that he had wasted his goods; not a purposed and continued fraud, but a long-continued faithlessness to his trust. He had forgotten that he was the trustee for his lord’s possessions, and he had lived on neglecting plain duties, until at last the goods began to perish.

The man, then, was guilty of being unfaithful to his trust. And it is this that gives the parable its terrible significance for us.

I. This, then, is the question which each of us has to ask of himself and of his own life: ‘What manner of steward have I been of those things that my Lord has entrusted to me?’ God has given each one of us something to do in His household. Every one of us is, in a larger or smaller degree, a steward of the Lord. Two great gifts of God, at least, are given to every one—Time and Opportunity.

(a) Time—that fleets so swiftly, and so often unheeded, passing by moments and days, and running up to years, bringing life to a close, is God’s great trust to every one of us.

(b) And Opportunity—those moments fraught with blessings and help, or hindrance and evil, to one’s fellow-men, and which may become the means of increasing the Master’s goods or of diminishing them.

II. We have to give an account, sooner or later, to our Lord and Master of how we have used these great gifts, and many another besides; but of these two surely every one of us has to give an account. Think for a moment of the many stewardships we all have from time to time given us; and how these stewardships are terminated—now, at one time, one stewardship, and now, at another time, another.

(a) There is the parent’s stewardship of the child.

(b) The master, the employer, the statesman, the citizen, who fills any place of trust, the parish pastor—all who have any charge, any duties, any power or influence—all these have some great trust of their Lord’s to answer for, and sooner or later there rests upon each the question: ‘Have I been faithful to my stewardship?’

If a man has not kept his Lord’s trust, and has to answer to Him for wasted time and wholly neglected opportunities, how awful must be his account!

—Archbishop Magee.

Illustration

‘In spiritual things, the effective use of stewardship is the being permitted to do true work for God. The joy of success, the joy of safety, the happiness of accomplishments, is solemnised, irradiated by the assurance within the soul of its real and vital union with Christ. “Rejoice not,” Jesus said to His disciples, after successful exercise of ministry, “rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven.” And then, just as the faithful use of one earthly post finds its reward in opportunities of a greater and wider field of usefulness, so a true use of the trust of earthly life shall one day have its exceeding reward in the greater opportunities of what Jesus called the true riches, even the fuller service and trust of the Kingdom of Heaven. To one who, in giving account of his stewardship, can show an increase in proportion to the trust bestowed, who, receiving five talents, brings other five talents, or having but two talents yet brings other two talents, Christ will say in the day of the final account of all stewardship, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”’


Verse 4

A GOOD RESOLUTION

‘I am resolved what to do.’

Luke 16:4

The words of the text were put by our Blessed Lord into the lips of a thoroughly worldly man, with whom we come in contact in that well-known parable—the Parable of the Unjust Steward. We want to remember, do we not, that our Lord’s advice to us is just this—as you mingle with the world, as you come in contact with men who are living for the world, who have as their aim securing all that the world can give, caring little or nothing what may happen so long as they secure that, then He would seem to say to us, Do not judge them, do not say hard things, do not forget that they, too, have been redeemed by the Saviour of the world, but try to learn from them a lesson which will help you in your struggle for your Christian freedom, and remember that if you are as true to your aims as they are to theirs, then you will go amongst your fellow-men as saviours of society.

You and I must give an account of our stewardship; we must give an account of the way in which we have lived our life, and used our time, and our money, and our talents.

I. Get time to think.—Anticipate the account which you must give of your stewardship. I do not doubt for one moment that our hearts are stirred by the tender appeal of the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ; but have you let Him enter the great citadel of your will? Have you, too, said: ‘I am resolved what to do’? Have you given up the great gift which God has given to you to Him to keep for you until the day of your account?

II. Begin to act.—Watch the man of the world, see his promptness, see his position. He knows that the victories cannot be won by dreaming; he knows that he must act, and act in the living present. Give up this day, this hour, the sin that doth so easily beset you. Begin to do what in your highest moments you have again and again promised God that you would do. Forgive the enemy, and pray for him, and so make him one of your best friends. Give back in full restitution what you owe to others, and then begin like the wise man of the world—set your house in order, and take pains about your religious life. Do you leave your business to chance? Do you leave your appointments and your arrangements to the moment? You settle your plan; you have a method. You know that it would be fatal to leave such things to chance.

III. In the spiritual life there should be method.—Have we method in those early morning prayers? In the few minutes before we lie down to take our rest at night is the Word of God given any regular, systematic place in the lives that you and I are living, and do we feed our souls on the Bread of Life, and so get sustenance for this long, weary pilgrimage from the cradle to the Cross?

Then, if so, if that be our method, if we have learned our simple lesson which is being taught us every day of our lives in the world, then one last thought I leave you, and it is given you by the man who means to succeed in this life.

IV. Be consistent, persevere, let nothing turn you from the purpose which lies before you. You will be tempted, as we all are, to make those mean compromises with the world, to leave so many things as open questions until the residue of your religion is practically worth nothing. But to delay is fatal.

Rev. Canon Pollock.

Illustration

‘A young man who lived what is called a life of pleasure came home to die at his father’s house, ruined in constitution, sad at heart, until he learned once more the message of the pardon which comes to those who fulfil the conditions on which it is given from our Lord Jesus Christ. And yet from time to time a sadness came over that lad’s face. “Why,” said his father, “are you sad? Surely now you have found the answer to your heart-searching sadness and sorrow.” “Perfectly, father,” he said. “But I am sometimes sad when I remember all that God has now to give me, and I must die, and there is no life left in which to offer up my thanksgiving to God, to live my life for the honour and glory of my Saviour.”’


Verse 8

THE WORLD AND THE CHURCH

‘The children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light.’

Luke 16:8

There are several respects in which the world shames the Church, and in which ‘the children of this world’ prove themselves wiser than ‘the children of light.’

I. There is the clearness of vision with which the worldly man perceives the object of his pursuit.

II. There is the unremitting effort with which, in relation to the attainment of this world’s good, men pursue their object.

III. Think how careful men of the world are to use all their resources for the attainment of their end.

IV. Think how determinedly the children of this world refuse to be deterred from prosecuting their schemes by the temporary failure of their efforts.

V. Is it not true that even the children of light themselves prosecute their worldly affairs in far more vigorous fashion than their religious duties?


Verse 9

MAKE FRIENDS

‘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.’

Luke 16:9

Our Lord wishes us to understand that His religion and service call for just as much zeal, prudence, and tact as the pursuit of earthly gain, for the Christian life must be just as wisely regulated as the worldly, and, as far as forethought, industry, and enthusiasm are concerned, the Church has many a lesson to learn from the Exchange.

There are few spectacles more melancholy than to watch the tactless and apathetic methods by which the average Christian seems to think it likely he can lure to the ranks of righteousness and transform the forces which make for evil into the forces which make for good. The question is one of pure policy. It is the point upon which our Lord fastens for the main lesson He teaches in the parable; ‘Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness.’ It implies two things.

I. We are to be stewards for Christ: that is the relationship in which we are to stand. We must not, therefore, regard anything as apart from, or outside that stewardship, and must treat nobody with a cold indifference as if they lay beyond the range of our Christian influence.

II. Everywhere and out of everything we are to try to make friends—friends first, of all, of ourselves, friends, secondly, of righteousness, and, finally, of God.

III. What is mammon?—Let me offer you a few practical examples of what is meant by the obscure phrase our Lord here employs—obscure to us, but, perhaps, clear to the Jews who heard it. The Syriac word ‘mammon’ seems to have been used as the generic term for money, food, or anything else which is made to minister to evil ends by men of evil minds. But the point to notice is that nothing is evil in itself, but may be made streams of righteousness or wells of unrighteousness. We may turn things at will into friends or foes. Our Lord teaches a strictly scientific principle, the principle which the great Francis Bacon introduced into the natural science of his day. Bacon taught that we ought to conquer nature. How? By making her our friend. Let man, he says, only stop to study and obey the laws of nature and she will show her gratitude by becoming his aid and benefactress. And now this natural principle must be reflected in our dealings with the world moral and spiritual, if, that is to say, we are to win the world to the service of God. Take, for example, the dealings we have with money. It is powerful for good or for evil; it may become the mammon of unrighteousness, or it may become a friend and ally destined to purchase entrance into everlasting habitations. It ceases to be mammon—when? Why, when you cease to use it as such. And so we see the meaning of our Lord’s saying which follows the parable: ‘Ye cannot serve God and mammon.’

Archdeacon H. E. J. Bevan.


Verse 14-15

GODS WAYS AND MEN’S WAYS

‘And the Pharisees also, who were covetous, heard all these things: and they derided Him. And He said unto them, Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knoweth your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God.’

Luke 16:14-15

These two verses can be understood only by reference to the verse which immediately precedes them.

Success and prosperity was the standard that the Pharisees knew that they should be tried by, and to that they appealed without misgiving. They sneered at Jesus Who hinted at the possibility of there being any other, any higher one. And yet there is a higher one. God’s standard was what Jesus was looking to; a very different standard indeed. God looks to the state of the soul.

Now, why are these two standards inconsistent with one another? For that they are, Jesus Himself seems to take for granted. ‘Ye cannot serve God and mammon.’ Consider what success in this world involves.

I. Health and strength.—It implies that a man must have at least an average share of health and strength. Life is a battle. The winner of that battle is the successful man.

II. Intellectual ability.—And not only physical strength and health, but intellectual ability too, is an essential to success in this life. I sometimes look with dismay on those who have to engage in the conflict of life, whose abilities are at all below the average.

III. Unscrupulous in the use of means.—If no man can hope to succeed without health and strength, and without latent and intellectual power, so I am afraid no man can hope for that sort of prosperity which ranks highest among men who is not somewhat unscrupulous in his use of means. It is melancholy to hear men of real honour and principle lament the methods they resort to in the practice of their calling.

Thank God it is not always so, and it need not, and it ought not to be so. Jesus explains how it all comes about. God’s standard is other than men’s. Does God care for all this show and parade, the success that we esteem of such paramount importance. ‘God knoweth the hearts,’ says Jesus. If we consider it, that is and must be a terrible sentence to many a prosperous man who stands eminently justified before men! ‘God knoweth the hearts.’ That must be the one comfort of many a poor, humble Christian man and woman whose life has seemed to be a failure.

Rev. Canon Jessopp.


Verse 19-20

LIVING AND DYING

‘There was a certain rich man.… And there was a certain beggar.’

Luke 16:19-20

This is a solemn parable. It gives us a peep into the unseen world. It tells of a poor man who went to heaven, and of a rich man who went to hell. We must not suppose that he went to hell because he was rich, or that Lazarus went to heaven because he was poor. ‘The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the people that forget God’; but riches are a great snare to keep our hearts to earth and from God (Hosea 12:8; Deuteronomy 8:13-14; Proverbs 30:8-9; Mark 10:22-23). Do not envy people because they have wealth (1 Timothy 6:9-11).

Just consider this rich man living and dying:—

I. On earth (Luke 16:19). He was beautifully dressed, and fared sumptuously. What harm was there in this? He did nothing by fraud, nor did he live to excess (Matthew 19:20; Luke 18:11). What, then, was his fault? He only thought of himself (Zechariah 7:6; 2 Timothy 3:2). Only of his body, not of his soul (Job 27:8; Matthew 16:26). As he did not think of his own soul, neither did he of others (Proverbs 24:11-12; Romans 15:1-3; Philippians 2:4; Philippians 2:21). He cared less for the poor than for the animals of his pleasure (Luke 16:20-21; James 2:15-16). What was his end? ‘He died and was buried’ (Job 21:23; Ecclesiastes 2:16; compare Psalms 49:16-20). Such was his life.

II. In hell (Luke 16:23).—He is perfectly conscious. He knows who and where he is—Lazarus—and the circumstances of his father’s house (Luke 16:28). He is changed in condition, not in heart; no longer in luxury, but torment (chap. Luke 12:20). He calls to Abraham, not to God (Psalms 10:4; John 8:39; John 8:44). As he is unchanged to God, so to his fellow-men. He still looks down on Lazarus—‘send Lazarus’ (Luke 16:24). He sees the blessed ‘afar off,’ and is separated from them (Psalms 138:6; Jeremiah 23:23). How different it might have been (Ephesians 2:13)! He does not desire heaven, but only that he may suffer less (Luke 16:24; Luke 19:42). He would insinuate that he was not sufficiently warned; but Abraham reminds him of the sufficiency of Scripture (Luke 16:27-31; John 5:39).

III. What lessons should we take away with us?

(a) Not to live for self (1 Corinthians 6:19-20; Galatians 2:19-20).

(b) That heaven and hell are real things (Psalms 9:17; Matthew 25:46).

(c) That the Bible is our only sure guide now with regard to both (Deuteronomy 30:15-19; Luke 16:31). You know the old couplet,

Live well, and die never;

Die well and live ever.

Bishop Rowley Hill.

Illustrations

(1) ‘It is not necessary to be rich ere we can commit Dives’ sin, for all are rich in the eyes of God and all are in danger of Dives’ fall. A faith which shows itself in love, a diligent determination to consecrate our whole life to our most merciful and loving God, this alone will make us accepted in the Beloved at last. Men praise us, flatter us in this life, nay, they may honour us as we pass to the grave, but all this will but increase our misery if we have missed the mark, and behind the veil are in that outer misery which every selfish man is surely and hopelessly preparing for himself.’

(2) ‘Alas! I have walked through life too heedless where I trod,

Nay, helping to trample my fellow-worm and fill the burial sod,

Forgetting that even the sparrow falls not unmarked of God.

The wounds I might have healed, the human sorrow and smart!

And yet it never was in my soul to play so ill a part,

But evil is done for want of thought as well as for want of heart.’

(SECOND OUTLINE)

DIVES AND LAZARUS

There is much to learn from this parable.

I. The gravity of sins of omission.—People often think lightly of these; but omission of doing good when it comes in our way, is very differently estimated in the Scriptures. Such sins involve a loss of grace and a loss of glory, and may involve sufferings, as in the case of the rich man in another world.

II. God’s care of the poor sufferer—he was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom. Here we have a glimpse of the spiritual world. Those pure and blessed beings, the inhabitants of heaven, seem to have a care for the poor and suffering, against whom man may shut up his bowels of compassion.

III. The responsibility of having wealth or the responsibility money brings with it, whether much or little. A man, it has been said, ‘may bury his talent in the earth or in the consols, but he will have to give an account to the uttermost farthing.’

Ven. Chancellor Hutchings.

Illustration

‘This man was “rich,” a description brief, but sufficient, like a keynote to a musical composition—he was a man, as we should say, of large means. That in itself might be no sin. I am not forgetting St. Jerome’s rather severe remark, that a “rich man is either unjust himself,” or “the heir of injustice.” There have not been wanting those who have attributed his terrible end to the fact that he had large property; but that is, to our mind, to miss the point. St. Augustine has shown the untenability of such an assumption by reminding the author of it, that Lazarus was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom, and that Abraham was a man of very considerable landed property. We have in this, as in so many cases, to separate the abuse from the use; but having said this, we will go on and notice the dangers which accompany wealth. Another early writer points out the perils in the getting, in the possession, and in the using of riches; and these are respectively, undue eagerness, outstripping the bounds of honesty; vanity, in the possession; and carnal sins, in the expenditure.’


Verse 30-31

VAIN HOPES

‘And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.’

Luke 16:30-31

We may profitably consider what this means in its application to our own life. Such a warning is evidently meant to remind us that the mystery of sin in human life is not to be got rid of by any such reliance on vague hopes.

I. This mystery of sin in the heart and life, misleading, weakening, dragging us down, means in fact the subtle, poisonous, creeping power which evil inclinations exercise over a weak and depraved will. Are we, then, to trust to some sudden visitation from above, for which we make no preparation, to break down or overthrow a power of this kind? On the contrary, the words of this parable stand here to declare to us that it is nothing less than perversity and folly in any man to go on either defiling his nature, or degrading it, or even neglecting to strengthen and support it, under this delusion that some day the breath of heaven will sweep it clean or give it new vigour.

II. Instead of vaguely trusting to the hope of what some future call or help or happy visitation may do for us, let us obey the Divine injunction, which, when rightly understood, is very pressing, urging us, as we hope to see good days, to be very jealous of our present life and its tendencies; let us do this, standing always firm and immovable in the things that are pure and of good report.

III. At present we know that the way of Christ is still open before us, and that He calls us with a voice which never grows weary; but we feel equally that the future is dark, if we waste or misuse the present, and we do not know how long the heavenward path may be as open, or as easy, as it is to-day. For the question is not a question of God’s untiring patience or the never-failing love of Christ. The question is rather, whether it is not folly to expect that God will send upon us some other more powerful regenerating and strengthening influence, if we are now neglecting all this care and love and patient striving on our behalf.

Bishop Percival.

(SECOND OUTLINE)

THE TESTIMONY OF SCRIPTURE

To gather clearly the force of these words, you must carry in your minds that ‘Moses and the Prophets’ comprised the whole Bible, as it then existed, for the canon of the New Testament was not then formed. It is the same as if he had said, ‘If they do not believe the Bible, neither would they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.’

And now, what is the argument?

I. It is the great general truth that every man has provided for him, and within his grasp, all that is necessary for his salvation. It is certain that we are all of us often disposed to speculate, and to indulge fancies, and even to judge, and practically to blame, God in this matter. We think, ‘If God had but dealt with me as I have seen Him deal with other persons, how much more religious I should have been than I am now!’ Many are actually waiting at this moment for some such thing as that.

II. Does not the Spirit draw you now?—Is not the truth that you now know, larger than the truth that you obey? and, therefore, is not it all that you, at this moment, could bear? Are you not painfully conscious that if you would but act out the convictions given you, you would soon become a better man? Are not you perfectly aware that every good gift we have would increase, if only we exercised it? It is a very ignorant and foolish thought which those have who think that outward circumstances can do much for the soul of man! The worst circumstances cannot really hinder you, and the best cannot truly improve you! There is nothing but grace—sovereign, omnipotent grace, that can ever touch a man’s heart. A miracle, without grace, can do nothing, and grace, without a miracle, can do everything.

III. What are the means by which grace acts?—And the answer is ‘The Bible.’ ‘If they hear not Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.’ Do not doubt, but earnestly believe, that each time you peruse the Bible, God has some new special message which He is speaking to your soul. Let this be the attitude of your open, eager, waiting mind, ‘Speak, Lord, for Thy servant heareth.’ In this way you will ‘hear Moses and the Prophets,’ yet not them, but Him who sent them.

—Rev. James Vaughan.

 


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Bibliography Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Luke 16:4". Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cpc/luke-16.html. 1876.

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