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The Unjust Steward
The Lord is going to teach His disciples about management, or better, stewardship [“manager” is “steward”, Darby Translation] and thus about the place that every person has before God. It is in line with what He has shown about sonship in the previous chapter. The sonship is a thing that is enjoyed in the house of the Father on earth. The stewardship suggests another side. A son is a steward outside the house on earth.
This teaching connects to the squandering by the youngest son of his father’s possessions. There we have seen the grace of God for someone as the youngest son. In what follows, we see the responsibility of sons on earth. In the previous chapter the Lord speaks to the Pharisees, for He wants to make clear to them why not they, but sinners share in grace. Here the Lord speaks to His disciples.
The rich man is a picture of God. The steward is a picture of each of us because we are all stewards. Also we have all been unfaithful to God in the stewardship of what He has entrusted to us. What the youngest son did, all people did in general, but the Jews did in particular. After all, they have been given the highest privileges and, as a result, greater responsibility. The Jews are more entrusted to them than to anyone else, and they are quite rightly accused of squandering their Master’s goods.
What have they done with what God has entrusted to them? They should have been a light on earth, a guide for the blind, a witness of the true God (Romans 2:17-Proverbs :), but they turned their backs on Him. If God reveals Himself to them in Christ, they are in that state. And now they are about to reject God Himself in the Person of the Messiah, His Son, the clearest gracious manifestation of God. Thus, in all respects, they have let the opportunities pass by and squandered the goods of their Master.
The squandering behavior of the steward comes to the attention of the rich man. He calls the steward and asks him to account for all his actions, after which he will be removed from his position. The steward sees the seriousness of his situation. He does not protest either, acknowledging that his dismissal is due to himself.
In that mind he goes to ask himself. He wonders what to do. Two things that would qualify for him in such a situation both are no option. He cannot dig, that is too heavy for him. He is not used to physical labor. He doesn’t want to beg either because he is ashamed of that. This means that he is at the mercy of the people around him.
The next question is how to make them friends with him. Then a good plan comes to his mind so he can win people for himself, so that they will treat him with compassion when he is dismissed. He wants to assure himself of food and shelter when he has nothing left, by doing deeds of mercy. What he proposes will be the final act of his stewardship. It is a wise act in view of his situation. He summons each one of his master’s debtors individually. He seeks personal contact.
He asks the first who comes, how much he owes his master. The man answers that he still has a hundred measures of oil to pay back. The steward has the authority to reduce that quantity. He also knows the means of the man. Because of the urgency, the man must sit down quickly and may reduce his debt by 50%. The steward remits fifty measures of oil. That will have meant an enormous relief for the debtor and how grateful he will be to the steward.
Then the next one may come. To the question of what he owes his master, the answer is: hundred measures of wheat. The steward allows this man to apply a 20% discount on his debt. He also knows this debtor. He doesn’t just remit the whole debt and not to everyone the same amount. He acts shrewdly.
He deals with his master’s goods with the greatest generosity. That will undoubtedly cost him little or nothing, but that is not the lesson of parable either. The lesson is that the steward acts with an eye to the future to secure shelter and food. The Lord Jesus will explain this.
The steward has used his right to grant debt reduction and has done so with a view to his future. He did act without any consultation with his master. Yet his master praises him for his shrewdness and insight. By dealing with his master’s possessions in this way and doing good to others, he has secured future shelter. With his favors and indulgence he has won over these debtors, that they may take him into their homes, when his stewardship has been taken away from him.
What the unfaithful steward has done is to use the current possession under his control and the current opportunity for the future. Although he was unjust, he was wise. The behavior of the steward is the behavior of someone who lives in the world and by circumstances becomes wise in the stewardship of what has been entrusted to him. He had previously been unjust by squandering his master’s possessions. Now he is dealing with them wisely.
Unfortunately, the Lord must say that the believers, “the sons of light”, are generally not so wise. Those who are certain of a future with the Lord often forget to live with that in mind. “The sons of this age”, the unbelievers, are often more shrewd. They set themselves a goal and do everything in their power to achieve it. They save and deny themselves current benefits to be able to buy whatever they want later. They train and deny themselves all kinds of pleasures to be able to deliver a top performance in the future. They study intensively and do not go out to have a good job in the future.
The Lord connects to the actions of the unjust steward the lesson for His disciples that they will use their money and goods to make friends with them for the future. The Lord calls the money “the unjust mammon“. Mammon’ is an Aramaic word for ‘wealth, money’, and is presented here as a person.
The love of money, the craving for riches, is “a root of all sorts of evil” (1 Timothy 6:9-2 Samuel :). Money is always coveted and misused by the people of the world and also for many believers money has a great attraction. For disciples of the Lord, it is a means to make friends with it. We do this by giving it away. Then we show that our hearts are not attached to it. We show that we see the relativity of it. Money and possessions can escape us just like that (Proverbs 23:4-Deuteronomy :) and if we die, we cannot take anything with us (1 Timothy 6:7).
What goes beyond this is that the way we handle our money determines where we will be in eternity. The Lord Jesus speaks of “the eternal dwellings”, which are the dwellings in heaven. It’s not about being lost if we misuse our money. It’s about the way we deal with our money shows what our lives are focused on. The Christian’s life is focused on the future. If someone who professes to be a Christian lives for here and now and uses everything for himself, he shows that he is not born again. Even if he occasionally gives away something, it is only to reassure his own conscience and not the result of thinking about the future.
The Lord connects to His teaching some important principles. First and foremost, it is about loyalty. Our loyalty is tested in our dealings with “a very little thing “, which are the earthly things, like money and possessions. If someone is faithful in this, he will also be faithful in “much”, these are the many spiritual blessings that a believer has received. Conversely, whoever is unjust in earthly things is unjust in spiritual things.
If we are not faithful in the stewardship of the unrighteous mammon or wealth, the money, we cannot be entrusted with the “true”, that is, the spiritual riches. The money is “that which is another’s”. Everything we have received we have received from God and He asks us to be accountable for it. It is about borrowed goods. If we treat it as if it were our own, we use it wrong. How then will we get what really belongs to us, which is “your own”?
By “your own” the Lord means the spiritual blessings God has in His heart to give to those who give their lives to Him with all that goes with it. Also the spiritual blessings are from God, but He gives them to us forever. He does not lend us the spiritual blessings, but grants them to us. Every man is God’s property with all that he possesses. We get our life and our property on loan. Our handling of the money shows whether we are aware of this.
Then the question is not what we will give to the Lord, but what we may use for ourselves, for everything belongs to the Lord. Whoever is aware of this will receive “the true”, “your own”. In this light, the importance of earthly wealth is completely lost. For those who realize this, it is already gone, for they are in possession of their true riches that cannot escape them.
The Lord concludes His teaching on this subject with the truth that no servant can serve two masters. It simply cannot be done. If he does, the one or the other one falls short. The masters are not equal parties, but each other’s opposites. God and the god of money are opposite each other. Whoever thinks he can serve God and at the same time live the life of a rich fool (Luke 12:16-Proverbs :), indicates that he hates God and loves the money. We either hate God or the money. It is impossible to love a little bit the One and to love a little bit the other.
The Lesson for the Pharisees
The word of the Lord has also entered the ears of the Pharisees, and their conscience has been irritated by it. These people are lovers of money. If you are a lover of money, you do not feel comfortable with the teaching the Lord has just given. The money loving Pharisees have a completely different view on money. They are looking for a lot of money and even misuse certain statutes of God by distorting them so that they themselves benefit (Matthew 15:3-Deuteronomy :). By their distorting of God’s Word they even eat up the houses of the widows (Luke 20:47).
They express their resistance to the Lord’s teaching by scoffing at Him. These people are hardened by their love for money and insensitive to the Lord’s teaching. He exposes their hearts, which He knows. He is God. He sees them perfectly as people who are lovers of money, and who are only righteous in appearance. Everything they do, they do before the eyes of the people to gain prestige among them.
But what is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God. God sees how these people give alms on the corners of the streets to be honored by the people. He also sees what they keep in their pockets and how they secretly increase their treasures. Their lust for the honor of men robs God of the honor to which He is entitled. It also deprives man of the place of blessing and plunges him into destruction instead.
With what the Lord then says about the law, He indicates how false their accusation is that He does not take the law seriously. He refers to the law and the prophets as a period that lasted until John. With the coming of John another period has come, the period when the kingdom of God is proclaimed. The Lord has proclaimed the kingdom as imminent, but He has been rejected and thus the kingdom in its public form has been postponed.
Yet, the kingdom is still proclaimed as a kingdom that can be entered by persons. Instead of a kingdom that is established with power, power is now needed to enter it. To enter the kingdom of God you need the power of faith. Someone who wants to be part of it, gives up his life to God and puts himself under the authority of a rejected King.
Anyone who makes this decision will encounter a great deal of opposition. Whoever enters in the power of faith may share in the blessing that that kingdom already has in it for everyone who is in it. It is the kingdom of the Son of the Father’s love (Colossians 1:13), where everything speaks of the Father’s love for the Son.
The fact that the kingdom is introducing a new order of affairs does not mean that the law no longer has any meaning. Everything that is written in the law, including the prophets, will be fulfilled down to the smallest detail. None of it remains unfulfilled. Even more easily heaven and earth would pass by than the smallest part of God’s Word would lose its meaning.
To illustrate the truth of His words about the law, the Lord refers to the institution of marriage and the deviation from it. He points to the law, as God in the deepest essence intended it for His kingdom, and points as an example to the inviolability of marriage.
There is no clearer example that shows the Pharisees that they themselves manipulate the law, which also makes it clear how foolish it is to accuse Him of not taking the law seriously. The Jews had made it easy for someone who wanted to divorce his wife and then it was equally easy to marry another. They called upon Moses who had written that you could divorce your wife if only a certificate of divorce was given. The Lord says that this opportunity has been given in view of the hardness of their hearts (Matthew 19:7-Ruth :).
He Himself brings forward God’s original meaning of the law and refers to what God said in the beginning. In light of the true meaning of the law, entering into a second marriage means committing adultery, for the first marriage will continue for God as long as man and woman live (Romans 7:3). A marriage is annulled only by death (Romans 7:2). The same goes for someone who marries a woman who has been divorced from a husband. He may not marry her, because she is married as long as her husband lives.
A Rich and a Poor Man on Earth
In this history, the Lord reveals a glimpse of the veil that lies over the hereafter. It is not a parable. In no parable does He mention names of persons. He does so here. He mentions the name of Lazarus and also that of Abraham, who to Him is a living one (Luke 20:37-Zechariah :). He speaks in omniscience of a situation He knows.
First He presents the situation on earth. There was a rich man. This man was doing very well and he enjoyed it very much. His clothing looked beautiful, like a prince. That’s how he behaved. For this man, life on earth was one great feast that he enjoyed every day to the fullest. He had everything that can be bought with money.
The name of the man is not mentioned. He did not do well with his money, opposite to what the unrighteous steward did in the previous section, but used everything for himself. In doing so, he denied himself access to “the eternal dwellings”. Not that anyone can buy heaven, but he can show by his way of dealing with his earthly possessions what he lives for. It is not a question of a godless, debauched life, but a question of the orientation of life. There is no indication whatsoever that he was turned to God, for he had no eye for his poor neighbor lying at his front door. He did not love his neighbor as himself.
The contrast with the poor man lying at his gate, Lazarus, was great. This man looked hideous. He had nothing to eat and no medicine for his sores. He cast longing glances at the wealth of the rich man’s table. If only he would have had what fell from the table to the ground, he could eat himself full. No, the dogs were better off than he was. They could saturate themselves with what fell from the rich man’s table (Matthew 15:27). The dogs did come to lick his sores and gave him some relief from the pain.
The rich possessed everything except God. Poor Lazarus had nothing except God. This is evident from the meaning of his name. Lazarus – the Greek version of the Hebrew name ‘Eleazar’ – means ‘God is my help’. There is nothing else to show that he was in connection with God. His whole position on earth seems to contradict this. It seems rather the other way around. In Israel, the position on earth was the proof of God’s favor or of God’s displeasure. The rich man must have been in God’s favor in a special way and Lazarus must have had displeased God in a special way. The Lord Jesus shows us that things are not like that, but that it is about the eternal dwellings.
The Reversed Roles After Death
Life on earth, however beautiful, is finite. The moment of death comes irrevocably. Then it turns out that the contrast between the rich and the poor is much greater than it was on earth. The poor dies. For him this means a transition from misery on earth to a wonderful place. The angels take him up and carry him into the bosom of Abraham (Hebrews 1:14), a place of pure blessing and joy and pleasure. This must have sounded very remarkable in the ears of the Pharisees.
The rich also dies. Then the enormous contrast is revealed. He dies and is buried. There are no angels, and even less there is the bosom of Abraham, the place that every Jew coveted. As soon as he has closed his eyes on earth, he opens them in Hades and immediately experiences the pains of that place. Except that, he sees “far away”, that is, seen from the place where he is, Abraham, and Lazarus in his bosom. It is one of the torments of hell to see the place of blessing from that place, which is far from the blessing, and to remember that one could have been there and also to be aware that one could never get there. That is the worm that does not die, the eternal remorse.
The rich is fully aware of his situation of pain. He does not think of his sins, but of his misery. He also does not ask to be freed from it. In hell, there is no change of mind. He who did not desire God on earth, and did not love Him, does not desire God in hell either, nor does he love Him there. There is no one in hell who begs God to be saved from it. The only thing the rich man is looking for is a little bit of cooling for his tongue, which could soften the pains a bit.
He asks Abraham to send Lazarus to him with some water at the top of his finger. On earth he did not look after Lazarus. He would not have thought of asking a favor from someone like Lazarus. The thought alone would have been disgusting. Now he begs for a favor from Lazarus! Egoism brings a person to deeds he would not have thought of in other circumstances. In the hereafter, earthly reality is seen in its true light.
Abraham answers the rich man that his request is not granted. Hell is the place of wants and desires of men for the least that they had on earth, but which will never be fulfilled. The answer shows that the roles, compared to the situation on earth, have been reversed completely. Abraham calls him “child”, reminding him of the privilege he had on earth to belong to the chosen people of God.
Abraham reminds him of his life, how he had received the good in it. The rich, who is now the poor, sees his richly filled tables and his life of celebrations before him again. Abraham also reminds him of Lazarus who received evil there. The man also sees Lazarus lying at his gate with dogs around him licking his sores. He did not look after him. Everything the rich man has denied to Lazarus, Lazarus now receives. And everything the rich in his egoism had no eye or heart for, he receives now.
Moreover, we should not think that the rich receives the pains as punishment for his richness. He has not entered the place of pain because of his wealth, but because of his egoism, for living only for himself. He was a steward who devoured the possessions of his Lord and did not care about “the eternal dwellings”. He has never gone to God with his sins, he has never confessed his selfishness. He never acknowledged that all the riches he “received” – so Abraham says – in his life came from God. Everything was his own. All the others, like Lazarus, could watch, but they got nothing from it.
Just as the rich man does not receive the punishment only because he was rich, thus Lazarus also receives the comfort in the hereafter not only because he was poor and rejected on earth. As said, Lazarus means ‘God is my help’. In his life on earth he has shown the meaning of his name. Lazarus did not revolt against God because of his fate. It could easily have happened, but he continued to rely on God. He had nothing but God on earth, and He has nothing else in glory.
Abraham speaks of comfort for Lazarus, not of blessing, although it is all blessing there. Comfort is a provision for someone who has suffered a lot and who now receives relief and a way out. The suffering is over for Lazarus and he now enjoys the opposite. By the way, it is clear from what both the rich and Lazarus consciously experience that the doctrine of soul sleep is a false doctrine.
Abraham goes on to point out that it is impossible to change location in the hereafter. He speaks of a great chasm between the place of pain and the place of comfort and blessing. The doctrine of purgatory – an intermediate state of purification in the hereafter, after which someone still enters heaven – is a gross deception. Purgatory is a roman-catholic, devilish invention. It is impossible to make a change in the place one is in after death (Ecclesiastes 11:3).
Repentance Only Through the Word of God
Then we hear something from the man that he never showed on earth: caretaking for other people. If Lazarus can’t come to him, let him go to his family to warn them. Lazarus must earnestly testify to his brothers, so that they will escape the terrible thing that is his part. This request cannot be granted either. Hell is the place of unanswered prayers. There is a lot of begging in hell, but there will never come anything from hell that means blessing to the earth. The time to beg is over, it is too late. Begging is part of life on earth, not in hell.
Abraham refers to Moses and the prophets. His brothers are not without witnesses. They can read God’s Word, as he could have done in his life on earth. While the Lord cites the words of Abraham from the hereafter, the Pharisees are standing by, who fight with the law and do not listen to it. It is an indication for them to really go and listen to Moses and the prophets, because then they will escape that terrible place.
The man thinks he knows better and wants to convince Abraham that they will repent if anyone of the dead goes to them. Abraham repeats that the only thing that can convince someone of his sins is the Word of God. The biggest wonder doesn’t bring someone to repentance.
Shortly after the Lord tells this story, a man also called Lazarus stands up from the dead indeed when He calls him. Many brothers of the rich man have come to see the one who is raised (John 12:9). With what result? That they may come to faith? No. On the contrary, instead of repenting, at least the ruler, yes, even the chief priests, deliberate that they should also kill the risen Lazarus as well as Him Who by the power of His resurrection raised their deadly hatred against Himself (John 12:10-1 Kings :). There is no question of them allowing themselves to be convinced and listening to Moses and the prophets.
So it is when the Lord has died and risen. Then they bribe the soldiers who stood on watch at the grave. Those soldiers must spread the lie about His resurrection that He was not risen, but that His disciples stole His body (Matthew 28:11-Ezra :). The only light for an ignorant, the only testimony that brings eternal life to the dead sinner, is the Word of God if it is accepted in faith.
Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Luke 16". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany