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Luke 16:1. And He said also.—This implies that there is a certain, though perhaps not very close, connection between the discourse in this chapter and that which precedes it. The chapter mainly consists of two parables bearing upon the right use of riches in this world with regard to the prospect of another world. This subject was specially appropriate to the two classes of publicans and Pharisees—the one of which amassed ill-gotten gains, and the other of which was covetous (Luke 16:14) To His disciples.—The parable of the Unjust Steward, though of special bearing, perhaps, upon the publicans, was not addressed exclusively to them. A certain rich man.—In the interpretation of the parable the Rich Man can only represent God, who is possessor of all things. A steward.—A man of business, or agent. Such persons were often slaves, but it is evident from Luke 16:3-4 that this man was free. By the steward we are to understand disciples, or every man in Christ’s Church. Accused.—Probably a malicious, but certainly a true, accusation. Had wasted.—Rather, “was wasting” (R.V.).
Luke 16:2. How is it that I hear this of thee?—Or, “What is this that I hear of thee?” (R.V.). Probably the A.V. is to be preferred—i.e., not “What is the nature of this report?” but “What ground is there for the report?—produce books and vouchers.” Thou mayest be.—Rather, “Thou canst be no longer steward” (R.V.). The steward not denying the report, it was impossible to retain him in his office. The dismissal is to be understood of the day of death. I cannot dig.—Rather, “I have not strength to dig” (R.V.). His strength had been enervated by his soft life.
Luke 16:4. I am resolved.—The word in the original implies a sudden plan—an idea that has just dawned upon him. They.—I.e., the debtors. Receive me.—I.e., give me shelter. This is one of the points of comparison on which stress is laid in Luke 16:9.
Luke 16:5. Every one.—Rather, “each one.” Debtors.—It is doubtful in what relation these “debtors” stood to the “lord.” They were either tenants who paid rent in kind, and whose rent was now lowered, or persons who had received advances of food from the Rich Man’s stores, which they had not paid for, and the amounts of which were now fraudulently altered. Probably the latter explanation is the better of the two. The first.—Two specimen cases are given; the varying reduction in the two implies that consideration was paid to the different circumstances of the respective debtors.
Luke 16:6. Bill.—R.V. “bond”; the literal term is “writings.” Quickly.—Evidently a secret and hurried arrangement; the debtors, too, seem to have been dealt with separately and privately.
Luke 16:8. The lord.—Rather, “his lord” (R.V.), and not Christ. Wisely.—I.e., prudently and skilfully. Both the Rich Man and the steward were “children of this world,” and were therefore characteristically inclined to overlook the fraudulent part of the transaction, in view of its cleverness and success. Wiser.—More shrewd. In their generation.—Rather, “for their own generation”—i.e., in their lower sphere; in looking after their own interests. Children of light.—Cf. John 12:36; Ephesians 5:8; 1 Thessalonians 5:5.
Luke 16:9. I say unto you.—“I,” in opposition to “the lord”; “you,” in opposition to “the steward.” Of the mammon.—I.e., “by means of” (R.V.). “Mammon” is an Aramaic word for “wealth”—not for “god of wealth,” as commonly explained. “Mammon of unrighteousness”—i.e., wealth which is so generally regarded as personal property, and squandered accordingly, instead of being considered as a trust committed by God to our charge; unrighteously claimed as one’s own, and unrighteously employed. Make friends.—The imagery is taken from the parable. As the steward procured grateful friends, who received him when dismissed from office, so may we, by charitable deeds, provide friends to welcome us into heaven (to welcome on arrival, not to open heaven to us). When ye fail.—Rather, “when it shall fail”—i.e., mammon. Everlasting habitations.—Rather “the eternal tabernacles” (R.V.)—i.e., as contrasted with the temporary refuge secured by the steward for himself.
Luke 16:10. He that is faithful, etc.—In the spiritual sphere the interests of steward and lord are identical; while in the parable the steward secured his own future welfare by defrauding his master. He was guilty of unfaithfulness; but we may, by showing a foresight like his, and by using what is entrusted to us in deeds of charity, show true faithfulness to our Lord. Our characters are tested in this way, by our taking means for securing our eternal welfare or by our neglecting to do so. The contrast between the “least” (or “a very little,” R.V.) and “much” corresponds to that between “unrighteous mammon” and “true riches” (in Luke 16:11), and between “that which is another man’s” and “that which is your own” (in Luke 16:12).
Luke 16:13. No servant, etc.—“Mammon” and “serving” in this verse show that it is still connected with the preceding section. We are entrusted with the “unrighteous mammon,” but are not to be servants to it. God requires the undivided service of our hearts (cf. James 4:4; Colossians 3:5).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Luke 16:1-13
The Prudent Steward.—There is at first sight a difficulty in the interpretation of this parable; apparently there is a commendation of evil by Christ. We see a bad man held up for Christian imitation. The difficulty passes away when we have learned to distinguish the essential aim of the parable from its ornament or drapery. It is not Christ, but the master, who commended the Unjust Steward. And he did so, not because he had acted honourably, faithfully, gratefully, but because he had acted wisely. He takes the single point of prudence, foresight, forecast. We constantly do this in daily life. We are, perhaps, charmed by a tale of successful robbery; we wonder at its ingenuity, feel even a kind of respect for the man who could so contrive it; but no man who thus relates it is understood to recommend felony. This steward had planned, he had seen difficulties, overcome them, marked out his path, held to it steadily, crowned himself with success. So far he is an example. The way in which he used his power of forecasting may have been bad; but forecast itself is good.
I. Wisdom of this world.—There are three classes of men: those who believe that one thing is needful, and choose the better part, who believe in and live for eternity—these are not mentioned here; those who believe in the world and live for it; and those who believe in eternity, and half live for the world. “What shall I do?” Here is the thoughtful, contriving, sagacious man of the world. In the affairs of this world the man who does not provide for self, soon finds himself thrust aside. It becomes necessary to jostle and struggle in the great crowd if he would thrive. Note the kind of superiority in this character that is commended. There are certain qualities which really do elevate a man in the scale of being. He who pursues a plan steadily is higher than he who lives by the hour. There may be nothing very exalted in his aim, but there is something very marvellous in the enduring, steady, patient pursuit of his object. You see energies of the highest order brought into play. It is not a being of mean powers that the world has beguiled, but a mind far-reaching, vast, throwing immortal powers on things of time. Such is the wisdom of this world, wise in its contriving selfishness, wise in its masterly superiority, wise in its adaptation of means to ends, wise in its entire success. But the success is only in their generation, and their wisdom is only for their generation. If this world be all, it is wise to contrive for it and live for it. But if not, then consider the words, “Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee; then whose shall those things be that thou hast gotten?”
II. The inconsistencies of the children of light.—“The children of this world are wiser,” etc. This is evidently not true of all. There have been men who have given their bodies to be burned for the truth’s sake; men who have freely sacrificed this present world for the next. To say that the wisest of the sons of this world are half as wise as they, were an insult to the sanctifying Spirit. But “children of light” is a wide term. There is a difference between life and light. To have light is to perceive truth and know duty. To have life is to be able to live out truth and to perform duty. Many a man has clear light who has not taken hold of life. So far as a man believes the body nothing in comparison with the soul, the present in comparison with the future; so far as he has felt the power of sin and the sanctifying power of the death of Christ; so far as he comprehends the character of God as exhibited in Jesus Christ;—he is a child of light. The accusation is that in his generation he does not walk so wisely as the child of the world does in his. The children of the world believe that this world is of vast importance. They are consistent with their belief, and live for it. Out of it they manage to extract happiness. In it they contrive to find a home. To be a child of light implies duty as well as privilege. It is not enough to have the light, if we do not “walk in the light.” To hold high principles and live on low ones is Christian inconsistency. If a man say that “it is more blessed to give than to receive,” and is for ever receiving, scarcely ever giving, he is inconsistent. If he profess that to please God is the only thing worth living for, and his plans and aims and contrivances are all to please men, he is wise for the generation of the children of the world; for the generation of the “children of light” he is not wise. The wisdom of the steward consisted in forecasting. He felt that his time was short, and he lost not a moment. The want of Christian wisdom consists in this, that our stewardship is drawing to a close, and no provision is made for an eternal future. “Make to yourself friends.” Goodness done in Christ secures blessedness. A cup of cold water given in the name of Christ shall not lose its reward. Wise acts, holy and unselfish deeds, secure rewards. “Everlasting habitations.” Nothing is eternal but that which is done for God and others. That which is done for self dies. Perhaps it is not wrong, but it perishes. You say it is pleasure; well, enjoy it. But joyous recollection is no longer joy. That which ends in self is mortal; that alone which goes out of self, into God, lasts for ever.—Robertson.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Luke 16:1-13
Luke 16:1-9. The Unjust Steward.
I. The steward dismissed.
II. The steward providing for the future.
III. The steward commended.
IV. The lessons for disciples.—
1. Every one is a steward.
2. Be like this steward in prudence, and use of opportunity.
3. Be unlike him in dishonesty. In this he is a warning.—Taylor.
I. The stewardship of the unjust steward.—
II. Our stewardship.—
1. We are all stewards.
2. We shall have to give account. We must keep our eye on the future.—Watson.
I. Wisdom’s eye.—
1. Looks far forward.
2. Looks also around.
II. Wisdom’s hand.—Is quick to do whatever needs to be done. The wisdom of the steward’s plan would have been folly, if it had not been carried out at once.—Wells.
Special Reference to the Publicans.—Apparently, though not certainly, these parables were spoken that the publicans might distinctly understand how their ill-gotten gains were to be used. They were to be taught that, though their past is forgiven, they have a duty to do with the gains they have made. And they are addressed as men thoroughly versed in all the ways of monied men, wide awake to appreciate hard work, vigilance, enterprise, and promptitude. And the aim of this first parable is to impress on them the necessity of carrying over with them into the kingdom of God the qualities which had made them successful in the kingdom of mammon.—Dods.
The Two Parables in this Chapter.—Note the connection between the two parables in this chapter: the one supplements the other. The idea common to them both is the connection between employment of earthly goods and life beyond the grave. The Unjust Steward represents the man who secures his future lot by a wise use of fleeting wealth; the Rich Man is a representative of those who ruin their future by a neglect of present opportunities of preparing happiness in the world to come.
General Teaching of this Parable.—The sum of this parable is that we should deal humanely and benignantly with our neighbours, that when we come to the tribunal of God the fruit of our liberality may return to us.—Calvin.
The Parable Teaches Two Lessons:
I. The general one a lesson of prudence in the use of temporal possessions with a view to eternal interests.
II. The special one a lesson as to the way of using these possessions which most directly and surely tends to promote our eternal interests—viz., by the practice of kindness towards those who are destitute of this world’s goods.—Bruce.
To Use the World for God.—The parable teaches Christian prudence, Christ exhorting us to use the world and the world’s goods, so to speak, against the world and for God.—Trench.
I. The fault and its punishment (Luke 16:1-2).
II. The sudden resolution (Luke 16:3-4).
III. The execution of the plan (Luke 16:5-7).
IV. The Master’s praise (Luke 16:8).
V. The counsel to disciples as an application of the parable (Luke 16:9).
I. Every human being is simply a trustee.
II. We shall have to answer for our trust.
Luke 16:1. “Accused.”—The accusation may have been prompted by malicious motives, but the sting of it lay in its truth. In like manner it is not so much the malevolence of our great spiritual adversary that we have to fear as the just grounds for accusation which our conduct may afford.
Luke 16:2 “Hear this of thee.”—The steward had abused the trust his master had placed in him, and is called to account. In like manner God has entrusted much to man, and will be strict in requiring from him an account of his stewardship. He is not treated as one who, from the utter corruption of his nature, must inevitably go wrong, but as one who is fully responsible for all his actions.
Luke 16:3. “What shall I do?”—He tacitly admits his guilt, and instantly faces the situation and endeavours to make the best of it. His self-indulgent life has incapacitated him for hard work of an honest kind; his pride forbids him to beg for alms from those who had known his former circumstances of affluence and power.
Luke 16:4. “Receive me.”—Here we come across the great lesson of the parable. The steward, when put out of one home, is anxious to secure another. In like manner the fact that we have to leave our home on earth, when death comes, should make us anxious to provide for ourselves an abiding home in the world to come.
Luke 16:5-7. Beneficence a Passport to Heaven.—The steward acts so as to secure benefits for the debtors, without any pecuniary benefit to himself; and this points the moral of the parable—beneficence is a passport into the eternal habitations.
Luke 16:5. Obligations.
I. The grounds of our obligations.—The gifts of God, the gift of His Son, peace of mind, the society of the good.
II. The discharge of our obligations.—Cherish our blessings, live up to our privileges, scatter our blessings among others.
What we Owe to God.—Man is a debtor to God. He is continually forgetting this. Our indebtedness to God need not paralyse us into a sudden despair. Christ is our ransom for the awful obligation of “ten thousand talents.” But His love should constrain us into His service. There are two things to consider:
1. The cause.
2. The nature of our indebtedness to God.
I. The cause.—Each of us owes an infinite debt to God for creation, redemption, election, and grace. To us, especially, life should be a noble and beautiful thing. But more blessed than the first creation is the second. Another mystery of the Divine love is election—a fact which confronts us everywhere. The sovereign, righteous, loving will of God alone accounts for our privileges. Thank Him, too, for grace—the continual, overshadowing, indwelling, inexhaustible gift of the Holy Spirit.
II. The nature of this debt.—We owe God worship, righteousness, trustfulness, and love. In worship we must render substance, testimony, service. The law of God is to be fulfilled by us in our sanctification. Nothing honours God like trusting Him, or wounds Him like failing to trust Him. This is a service always open to all. Best, and last, and sum of all, we owe God love. Paying this we pay everything, and yet feel that nothing is paid. It is His nature to care for our love. God is not content with loving; He desires to be loved. But it must be a complete love—love of mind, will, and spirit.—Thorold.
Luke 16:6-7. “Write fifty … write fourscore.”—There is nothing of spiritual significance in these amounts. They represent merely the shrewdness with which the steward dealt with each debtor, with sole reference, probably, to the greater or less ability of each to render a grateful return to himself when cast upon the world.—Brown.
Luke 16:8-12. Christian Prudence.
I. Prudence.—Is a shorter form of providence. It has great value in human life. It is needed in our conduct, in relation to our money, in our undertakings, and in our companionships. Christian prudence will show itself in making provision for the future world.
II. Worldly prudence and its teaching.—The prudence of the worldly man is in advance of the spiritual prudence of the religious man, as the aims of the former are all directed to one single end—viz., worldly prosperity. The religious man’s aims are too often divided. Because worldly things are near and visible, they are apt to share the affections which should be wholly centred on “the things which are unseen.”
III. Christian prudence.—Christ not only drew lessons from the dishonest steward, but He proceeded to give us a rule for the wise use of money. Use riches, not as our own, but as the stewards of God. Use them as He directs. We are not to make getting rich our aim. We are not to love riches. We are to use them freely for deeds of charity and mercy. Christ also gives encouragements to prudence. Faithfulness in dealing as God would have us with the “unrighteous mammon” is to be the means of training us for, and proving our fitness for, the true riches. Worldly riches are not “true”; we cannot hold them permanently; they do not satisfy the soul. The knowledge and love of God alone satisfy the soul. These, and all that follows with them, are a sure and lasting possession.—Taylor.
Luke 16:8. The Follies of the Wise.—The world can teach the Church many lessons, and it would be well if the Church lived in the fashion in which men of the world do. There is eulogium here; recognition of splendid qualities, prostituted to low purposes; recognition of wisdom in the adaptation of means to end; and a limitation of the recognition, because it is only “in their generation” that the “children of this world are wiser than the children of light.”
I. Two opposed classes.—Our Lord so orders His words as to suggest a double antithesis, one member of which has to be supplied in each case. He would teach us that the “children of this world” are “children of darkness”; and that the “children of light” are so, just because they are the children of another world than this. Thus He limits His praise, because it is the sons of darkness that, in a certain sense, are wiser than the enlightened ones. And that is what makes the wonder and the inconsistency to which our Lord is pointing. Men whose folly is so dashed and streaked with wisdom, and others whose wisdom is so blurred and spotted with folly, are the extraordinary paradoxes which experience of life presents to us.
II. The limited and relative wisdom of the fools.—The steward would have been a much wiser man if he had been an honester one. But, apart from the moral quality of his action, there was in it what was wise, prudent, and worthy of praise. There was courage, fertility of resource, adaptation of means to end, promptitude in carrying out his plans. Bad the design indeed was, but clever. He was a clever cheat. The lord and the steward belong to the same level of character, and vulpine sagacity, astuteness, and qualities which ensure success in material things, seem to both of them to be of the highest value. The secret of success religiously is precisely the same as the secret of success in ordinary things. Nothing is to be got without working for it, and there is nothing to be got in the Christian life without working for it any more than in any other. The reasons for the contrast are easy to understand. “This world” appeals to sense, “that world” to faith. And so trifles crush out realities.
III. The conclusive folly of the partially wise.—Christ said “in their generation,” and that is all that can be said. Let in the thought of the end, and the position is changed. Two questions—What are you doing it for? And suppose you get it, what then?—reduce all the world’s wisdom to stark, staring insanity. Nothing that cannot pass the barrier of these two questions satisfactorily is other than madness, if it is taken to be the aim of a man’s life. You have to look at the end before you serve out the epithets “wise” and “foolish.” The man who makes anything but God his end and aim is relatively wise and absolutely foolish. Let God be your end. And let there be a correspondence between ends and means.—Maclaren.
Mismanagement of Eternal Interests.—In this verse, Christ, after telling the story of the dishonest steward, speaks on His own behalf. Our Lord adds this comment of His own to the commendation pronounced by the steward’s master.
I. This maxim is literally true.—Worldly people are more quick-sighted than Christians as to worldly interests. The very goodness of the Christian is against him in the business of life. He is unwilling to think evil, and unready to counterwork it. So the world often has its laugh at the Christian.
II. The text is true as a serious reflection on the ordinary management of a Christian life.—Those who profess to be living for eternity do not act so wisely, with a view to that high and glorious end, as those who scarcely aim at anything beyond time, act with a view to that comparatively low and poor ambition. There are only these two classes of men—the “children of this age” and the “children of light.” The former are characterised by the absence of a definite pursuit and well-grounded hope of an immortal life in heaven. But the latter do not always associate this high aim of life with true wisdom in the choice of means. Worldly men, in accuracy of eye, steadiness of hand, and strength of effort, outstrip Christian men. These latter should copy, as regards spiritual realities, the good method of worldly men whose life-aims are purely secular. It is not enough to have a higher aim than worldly men. How does the Christian live, in view of, and in pursuit of, this higher aim? Is he wise? Is he prudent? Or is he languid, indifferent, slothful? How searching such an utterance of rebuke as Christ speaks here is to all who profess to be “children of light”? The Christian should be inventive, resolute. Too often he is living below his privileges and opportunities. Great exertions should accompany great expectations. It is so in things earthly. Give a man hope, and you give him zeal; make success doubtful, and you destroy endeavour. Let not the hope, the zeal, the diligent endeavour of the worldling, rebuke the sloth, the aimlessness, the languor, of a “child of the light”!—Vaughan.
Spiritual Far-Sightedness Commended.—The Unjust Steward showed, even in his dishonesty, a far-sightedness of prudence which it were well if Christian people, while eschewing the dishonesty, could always exercise in reference to their own higher aims and nobler interests. The conduct of this unscrupulous agent is made to furnish a lesson, not of imitation certainly, but yet not wholly of avoidance, to the disciples of Jesus Christ.—Ibid.
The Qualities Exhibited by The Steward.—The steward exhibits various valuable qualities of character well worthy of imitation—decision, self-collectedness, energy, promptitude, and tact.—Bruce.
“Commended.”—“Men will praise thee when thou doest well to thyself” (Psalms 49:18).
“Wisely.”—This quality of wisdom Christ had already commended to His disciples, in the words, “be ye therefore wise as serpents” (Matthew 10:16).
We May Learn from His History—
I. That dismissal, death, will certainly come to us.
II. That some provision should be made for what is beyond.
The Word Reminds Us—
I. How intricately mixed up with each other are virtues and vices, good and evil, in this human world.—In the character of this steward the virtue of prudence lay intimately associated with gross and deliberate fraud.
II. Of the high religious value of prudence. The need and function of prudence in relation to the life and future of the soul.
Points in which Worldly Men often Surpass Christians.—Worldly men prosecute their schemes
(1) with more ingenuity of contrivance;
(2) with more singleness of aim;
(3) with greater earnestness;
(4) with greater perseverance;—than “the children of light” often display.
Luke 16:9-10. Stewardship for the Lord.—These sentences require careful pondering, in themselves and in their connection.
I. We hold all we have as the redeemed subjects and servants of Christ.—The steward has nothing of his own. We are not our own. Christ, as Mediator, makes us His own property. This is the secret of Christian stewardship. You, and all you have, are restored to yourself; but you hold all for Christ henceforth. Your absolute all is His. Your possessions come under the same law. You must give all for all. He will have no divided stewardship.
II. What are the tokens of good stewardship?—
1. That the entrusted property be improved to the utmost.
2. That it be administered strictly according to the owner’s will.
3. That where His will is not certainly known, wisdom or prudence does the very best. Our Lord says, Be wise for Me as the steward in the parable was for himself. This is of the very essence of our trust, that the Master leaves much to our own tact. He gives us the main outlines of His will, and leaves us to fill up details. In nothing is Christian wisdom more needed than in the right employment of our wealth, be it greater or less. Let the steward feeling be well educated and keen, and there will be no error—at least, no error against Christ.
III. He who habitually remembers his stewardship will be saved from the deadly evil which besets the possession of property, the making it into a god.—Christ makes mammon the possible rival of the Supreme. Undue love of this world’s goods is inconsistent with the single minded fidelity of the steward sentiment. Of the love of wealth, pre-eminently, it may be said that it cannot co-exist with the worship of God. The only safeguard is the habitual remembrance that what we have is not our own. Faithful steward service will alone protect us from becoming idolaters of this world’s good. He who serves not God with His money makes money itself His only god. This warning is not addressed to the rich alone, though specially needful for them. But the warning is to all. Every one has some property, and therefore some stewardship.
IV. To all stewards there is approaching the day of reckoning.—The day of judgment throws its shadow over every life. We are all hasting to the one last audit. Our salvation, indeed, will depend on the presence or absence of our faith in Christ, but the kind of salvation, the measure of it, and the degree of future reward assigned hereafter, will be regulated by the faithfulness of the life in all its boundless variety of works. If we have proved unjust to our Master in this life, He will not trust us in the next.—Pope.
Luke 16:9. Christ’s Teaching on Wealth.
I. Riches are not necessarily to be repudiated.—Our Lord teaches that, rightly used, they may add intensity to the joy of our future condition. Out of the mammon, whose characteristic is injustice and untruth, we may form friendships which will not terminate with life. “I say unto you”—not repudiate your riches, but “make to yourselves friends out of them.”
II. These friends do not purchase or gain for us an entrance.—They simply receive us when we enter. Our names must be graven, not on the hearts of the poor saints, but on the hands of the Redeemer with the very nails of the crucifixion. “Friends.” With money alone you can buy slaves, tools, flatterers. But with money alone we cannot buy a friend. Only he who has a heart can win a heart. Only a heart-winner can be a friend-winner. Riches rightly used may therefore be profitable for our higher interests.—Alexander.
“Make to yourselves friends.”—No thought can be better fitted than that of this parable, on the one hand to overthrow the idea of any kind of merit attached to almsgiving (for what merit can there be in giving of that which is another’s?), and on the other to encourage us to the practice of that excellence which assures us of friends and protectors for so grave a crisis as that of our entrance into the world to come.
“Receive you.”—In the journey of life, as in other journeys, it is a pleasing reflection that we have friends who are thinking of us and who will receive us with joy when our journey is at an end.
Luke 16:10-12. How the Little may be Used to Get the Great.
I. The strange new standard of value which is set up here.—Outward good and inward riches are compared
(1) as to their intrinsic magnitude;
(2) as to their quality;
(3) as to their ownership.
II. The broad principle here laid down as to the highest use of the lower good.
III. The faithfulness which utilises the lowest as a means of possessing more fully the highest.—Earthly possessions administered according to the principle
(1) of stewardship;
(2) of self-sacrifice;
(3) of brotherhood.—Maclaren
Luke 16:10. “He that is faithful.”—Which is as much as if He had said: The use which men make of the goods of this present world, which are comparatively of small value, shows the use they would make of such as are far greater, were the same committed to them, and which belong to the children of God in heaven. If they have used these aright, so would they use those; and if they have abused these, they would abuse those likewise. Faithfulness and injustice are properly applied to the use and abuse of things not our own, but committed to us for the honour and purposes of the owner. For to apply them to our own uses and purposes, and not His, would be a breach of trust, and therefore unfaithful and unjust in a very high degree.’—Palmer.
“Least … much.”
I. This verse suggests that we are in this world merely on, trial, and serving our apprenticeship.
II. That it is our fidelity to the interests entrusted to us that is tried, and not so much whether we have done little or great things.
Faithful in Little, Faithful in Much.
I. True faithfulness knows no distinction between great and small duties.
II. Faithfulness in small duties is even greater than faithfulness in great.
III. Faithfulness in that which is least is the preparation for, and secures our having, a wider sphere in which to obey God.—Maclaren.
Faithfulness.—Put to the mind alone, as if that were all there is of us, the mind might ask doubtfully how it can be true. It looks as if one might be upright in large transactions, and yet careless in trifles; tell the truth commonly, but not always; keep the law of the school under the teacher’s eye, but break it out of sight; meet emergencies handsomely, but in the commonplaces of everyday affairs come short. We have seen such lives. What, then, does Christ mean? He says that faithful men and faithful women are faithful everywhere, under all conditions, in all places alike. “Faithful,” full of faith. This chosen word is the key to the sentence. Faithfulness is not a single virtue, or a separate trait. It runs through the whole character, as blood through the body. The root of it is faith in God, and itself is the root of all excellencies and all moralities. Faithfulness is not a thing of more or less, of seasons or opportunities, of ornament or convenience. Principles never are, and faithfulness is a principle. Duty is universal because God is universal. Duty is unchangeable because God is unchangeable. The “least things” in which each of us is faithful or faithless, are not only the beginnings of what seems great in the eyes of men, they are great already by what they come out of; they are discharges of a life within us; they signify a principle in the working and springs of character; they uncover and they prove the inward frame and habit of soul on which eternal life depends.—Huntington.
Luke 16:11-12. Stewardship for Self.—In this whole section there is a quiet undertone of reference to the true wisdom of life in extracting as much good as possible from all the elements of this world’s evil, especially from what we call its possessions.
I. Extracting it for self, and not only for our Master.—There is, indeed, a sense in which self may be entirely suppressed, self as a final end, self as the director of life. But, on the other hand, it is the will of God that the benefit of self shall, as subordinate, never be lost sight of. There is a Christian care for self which is at once the supremest wisdom and the supremest unselfishness. We must think and act in the midst of the dangers of time, and the snares of earthly wealth, for the interests of our immortal souls when time and the wealth of time are ended and gone.
II. For this is the true secret, that we have no self apart from our Master.—We never reach the height of our Lord’s teaching, nor rise to the grandeur of our relation to Him, until we so identify ourselves with Him and His universal cause on earth that we know no difference between His and ours. This is the true evangelical glorification of the steward principle. The more we have of earthly goods the more are our graces tested, and, if we are wise enough to sustain the test, the more confirmed becomes our renunciation of this world, and our preference of heaven. The wisdom of a man who has the dangerous trust of possessions is not only to keep himself from the special peril that besets him, but to turn the danger to good account. That is the lesson of the chapter, and of our whole life.
III. After all, we must go beyond this world for the Saviour’s most impressive illustration of His meaning.—We cannot disconnect the stewardship of time from the issues of eternity. All that we possess is ours for a season, that through our prudent use of it we may advance our own interests for ever. In two ways the Divine Teacher impresses this upon us:
1. We may make to ourselves friends by the mammon of unrighteousness, who shall welcome us to everlasting habitations.
2. By fidelity below in that which is least we may prepare ourselves for larger trusts, and for a jurisdiction hereafter for which the stewardship of time furnishes but a slight analogy. Christ’s emphatic preface, “I say unto you,” introduces the lesson that we must in our better and holier cunning create for ourselves friends by the charitable use of our substance. What the poor worldling in the parable did for the poor self of this generation, you must do for the higher and nobler self of the world to come. But that is not all. Our Lord teaches that our stewardship here may be so administered as to prepare us for larger trust hereafter. The Unjust Steward does not teach us this, save by contrast. He so failed that he could never be trusted again. We are to be trusted hereafter according to the measure of our capacity for trust acquired here. There will be stewardships in the other world, without probation, and without fear of failure, proportioned and accommodated to the character we have acquired here. The general principle of fidelity is to be trained in this life, and this prepares for independence in the coming life.—Pope.
Luke 16:11. “The unrighteous mammon.”—Unrighteous because
(1) it is so often used and enjoyed without any thought of God;
(2) because it is so often acquired in unlawful ways;
(3) because it is the source of manifold temptations (1 Timothy 6:9-10), which make it difficult for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God (chap. Luke 18:24-25).
Luke 16:12. “Another man’s.”—Wealth is here described as belonging to another, because it is not absolutely our own, but may at any moment be recalled, and must at the hour of death be resigned. In opposition to it are those spiritual benefits which are truly “our own,” because, once obtained through faith, they constitute an inalienable property.
God’s Faithful Steward.—The last inference from the most difficult of all Christ’s parables. It is a retrospect from the other side of death, when the earthly life lies all behind, shrunk to a single point and act. “If in that which was another’s ye were not faithful, who shall give you—I appeal to yourselves, to your common-sense, to your first principles of reason and equity—who shall give you that which shall be your own?”
I. “That which is another’s” is the whole of this life’s possession.—Even while we have it, it is another’s. Not only a trust, a stewardship. No idea of personal ownership can for a moment enter into it. It is so precarious in its tenure that we cannot reckon on it for a day; we brought it not into the world, and we cannot take it with us when we leave the world. It is not part of us—it is an adjunct, an accessory, an accident; it may go any day—it must go one day. It is another’s, even while we have it.
II. “That which is your own.”—The sound is pleasant to the ear. The lust of possessing is an instinct of nature. It waits not for the developed covetings of manhood. Even our own souls are not yet our own. They are “our own” only at last, as the prize of the lifelong conflict, the stake of the game in which the man and the man’s enemy are at play. This makes life so serious, so momentous. The risk of not “gaining” as “our own,” our own souls! The soul itself is not yet our own; it depends on the life, the life earthward and heavenward, the life towards man, and the life towards God. To the good steward, when all fails him, and the stewardship of the long past must be accounted for, he shall find himself for the first time as an owner, the soul, the self, the redeemed and sanctified nature, being at last given him for his own. This is the gospel for which we can never be too thankful, of the new ideal of life as Jesus Christ taught, exemplified, and inspires it in His people. Life a trust; all that life has for us, another’s; we ourselves stewards, not owners, required, aroused, and enabled to be faithful! Our Lord appeals to this very lust of possessing. We must wish to possess. Only the fool and the mammon-worshipper can be indifferent to the question, “Who will give you that which is your own?”—Vaughan.
“That which is another man’s … that which is your own.”—The parable of the Unjust Steward is admittedly hard to be understood. No other of our Lord’s parables has called forth so many and such a variety of comments as this. The words of Luke 16:12 supply the key to the mystery of this parable; they are the solution of its difficulties. What are the difficulties of interpretation which the parable presents? How very harsh and unusual appear such words as “And the lord commended the unjust steward.” What sort of a lord could he have been, to do thus? It relieves us to find that it was not our Lord, but the lord of the steward, who commended him for acting wisely, though dishonestly. The fact that he did so simply proves that the master was as bad as the man. They are “children of this world,” governed by the same principles, actuated by the same motives. The lord had suffered by the roguery of his servant, but could not withhold a tribute of admiration at the display of the same qualities which he himself possessed. This explanation removes some of the difficulties, but not all. Our Lord holds up something here as an example for us. What is there shown us in this picture which we may imitate? Not the principles governing the conduct of the Unjust Steward. They were wholly detestable. But the transaction itself is to be imitated, having respect to the relationship between our Master and His stewards. Here we have a man entrusted with the goods of another so using them as to obtain an advantage for himself. Are there any conceivable circumstances in which we might use goods entrusted to us by another for personal profit? Only under one condition, and that condition exists here. If that other person entrusted us with his property, with the express purpose, intent, command, so to use it as to get increase for ourselves, then, and only then, would this be right. While there are similarities between the relations of the lord and the steward in the parable and our Lord and His stewards, there are also differences; for the parable teaches by dissimilarities as well as by similarities. The lord entrusted his goods to the steward that he might trade with them for the master’s benefit, and the steward’s fidelity would consist in so doing. The relation between our Lord and His stewards is the reverse of this. He entrusts us with His goods to be used, not in enriching Him; that is impossible,—no conceivable trafficking of ours can increase His wealth,—but the use is to be for our own profit. “I say unto you”—I who am the Lord of all you possess—“make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness, that when ye fail they may receive you into everlasting habitations.” Faithfulness in that which is least will secure for us that which is much.
I. The further exposition, therefore, of this saying of our Lord’s depends on the interpretation put upon two of its phrases: “That which is another man’s,” and “That which is your own.” What are we to understand by these? No sooner do we begin to think about them than we find a great confusion of ideas. There is a very general reversal of the order of truth in the interpretation of these two phrases. What is “your own”? Most people, when they contemplate their own, fasten at once upon worldly possessions—houses, lands, businesses, accumulations, investments, worldly position, honours in society, dignities achieved. “These are my own,” say they, and in this territory they walk, imagining that here they are supreme. But these are the very things which are not your own. “Where,” say you, “is the man who can successfully question the validity of my title-deeds? Who is he that will challenge my right to these things? They were bequeathed by my ancestors, or they have been gotten by my own industry, or accumulated by my thrift. Surely these are my own!” And yet it is of precisely such things as these that Christ speaks when He uses the phrase “that which is another man’s.” But whose are they? Where is the other who can claim proprietorship in them? There is One whose presence fills eternity, in whose hands our breath is, and whose are all our ways. The Lord of Life and Being has endowed us with being and with all we possess. We ourselves are His. “The silver and the gold are His, and the cattle upon a thousand hills.” If I tell the truth as to all the things I “own,” I shall say, “The Lord Jehovah, all are His.” But you will say, “Oh yes, we admit all that. That is Theology.” Yet there are very few who are influenced by the considerations arising out of this admitted truth. But there are other men in question. It is not possible to acquire any earthly things of which we can say that we have the absolute proprietorship. Other men have claims and rights in them. We are but trustees for the common good. Worldly possessions are not “our own.” Surely to-day men are learning that property has its responsibilities as well as its rights, its obligations as well as its privileges. No man has the right to say, “This is for myself, and myself only.” He holds for his brethren in general. The solution of the social problems which perplex society lies in the recognition of this great Christian doctrine of trusteeship. Because these things are not our own is no reason for seeking, by an equal division of property, to adjust the rival claims of different classes in society. Nothing could be more absurd or unfaithful. Not in absolute proprietorship, nor by arbitrary divisions, nor by attempted communism, but by the doctrine that all we have we hold as trustees for the good of those by whom we are surrounded, shall we fulfil the Divine purpose in committing to our keeping “that which is another man’s.” I almost hear you say again, “Yes, we admit all this.” But how much unfaithful trusteeship there is, nevertheless! To bring the truth home to us we must reflect upon the fact that, in the most literal and absolute sense, these worldly things are not our own—they are “another man’s.” How soon the day will come to all of us when, willingly or reluctantly, we shall be compelled to part with earthly goods! In prospect of that hour we may already ask ourselves, in the words of the prophet, “Where will ye leave your glory?” It must be left. Where can it be left that we shall ever find it again? Then, when we are confronted with the death-summons, whose shall these things be which we have fondly imagined were “our own”? What wonderful ingenuity men display in their testamentary arrangements, in order to declare whose those things shall be. Alas! how futile their endeavours. Not for long in any case—often not even for a short period—can they say whose those things shall be, but into the hands of another, or of others, all must be surrendered. That inevitable “other man”; how he dogs our footsteps in life, ever following on our track!—a few short days or years and he will overtake us. Most certainly these things are not “our own.” They are “another man’s.” Ere long that other man will be examining our papers, operating upon our balance at the bank, and dividing our property—perhaps in the manner we should least desire. What, then, is our own? Is there in this changeful world anything we can so appropriate that it shall become in very deed our own? God, in His infinite goodness and mercy through Jesus Christ our Saviour, has made it possible for us to become possessed of true riches which shall be our heavenly portion, our eternal inheritance. Nothing external is really our own. But the moral qualities we possess, as the result of dealing with earthly things—these are our own: love of justice, mercifulness, truthfulness, humility, benevolence—these are the patrimony of man, made after the image of God, and in His likeness. Inwoven daily into the very texture of our spiritual being are qualities which become a part of ourselves. God sees, not only what we are, but what we may become. He sees the loftiest ideal for every human being, what we might be if the utmost possibilities were reached. This He has willed shall be our own, and has bidden us reach out to and obtain as much of these highest possibilities as we choose. In the formation of character we are acquiring that which shall be ours for ever. Unhappily, many make their own what God never intended should be theirs. The contrary qualities to those I have mentioned—the carnal, the sensual, even the devilish—may become ours. It is possible for men to become untruthful, unjust, unmerciful.
II. If we thus clearly understand what is “another man’s” and what is “our own,” then the teaching of the text becomes at once apparent. Only by faithfulness in the use of another’s can we become possessed of that which God intended should be ours. By our use of the things of earth we are obtaining the higher things that appertain to our character and destiny. Possessions in themselves base and carnal may be so employed that out of them we shall secure the spiritual and the heavenly. From the “unrighteous mammon” we may extract the “true riches”—from that which is least, that which is much; from the fleeting treasures of this life, the enduring wealth of eternity; from that which is “another man’s,” that which is “our own.” All the relations of our life here become thus invested with a vast importance. We cannot afford to despise the earthly: we cannot neglect its proper use, or fail in righteous dealing with it, but we beggar our real selves. Many scarcely reflect that their daily trafficking with worldly matters—their business, their gains, their losses, their ambitions, and their plans—are leaving indelible traces on their spiritual being. The material things they handle will perish in the using, but the noble qualities—the generosity, the unselfishness, the truthfulness, the mercifulness, the God-likeness—they have acquired in the sphere of worldly duty will abide with them for ever. The great truth thus inculcated has many applications. It is true of every temporal possession, of every earthly relationship, and of all talents, of whatsoever kind, with which we are entrusted. Its immediate and obvious application is to the use of money—and this was the application primarily intended by our Lord. It may be supposed that such a use of this great lesson will at once lead us to a discussion of the duty of Christian giving. We may come to this ultimately, but there are several other aspects of our dealing with that which is “another man’s” to be first considered. The mischief to some men’s characters is done before they come to the claims of charity; it is done in the process of getting and accumulating. They have already acquired a nature so sordid that they are “past feeling.” They cannot give because they have so much, or because they have got it by means dishonourable or destructive of their nobler nature. Years ago, when they were poorer and purer, if they had been told of some of the things they now do and say, they would have been ready to cry, “Is thy servant a dog, that he should do this thing?” Nothing more surely corrodes and destroys the lofty nature that God intends should be our own than ill-gotten gain and the love of hoarding for its own sake. It cannot be too urgently impressed upon us that in our modes of getting money, and plans and purposes in accumulating it, we are moulding our characters. Men who would secure “their own” must sometimes be content to stand by with hands off when other people are eagerly gathering—they must allow some things to go past them, for the price of taking them is the sacrifice of their highest, truest manhood. The truth holds good, not merely in relation to great wealth and large transactions in business; it finds its illustration in all spheres—even the lowliest. The merchant or trader who leaves his counting-house or his shop when the day’s work is done leaves behind that which is “another man’s.” He leaves the interests, the claims, the rights of others which have been within his power, but inevitably he carries away something vastly more important to himself: insensibly, but continuously, he has been acquiring “his own,” and he goes from the manufactory or the warehouse morally a better or baser man. During every hour of the day he has been silently appropriating “his own” whilst handling that which is “another man’s.” And even so the workman, in his common tasks, is fashioning his own character and moulding his inner life. He builds into the unseen parts of an edifice with honesty, with truth and fidelity, and these qualities are at the same time strengthened and built up in his own being. Let there be base and false work at the forge and the loom, and he who has done it may suppose the transaction is ended when the fraud has passed undetected. Not so; the falseness he has perpetrated has become part of himself—he has made that “his own” which he supposed he had inflicted on “another man.” Nor is it merely in the modes of getting money, but in the purposes for which it is retained and used, that men mould their characters and destiny. For there are circumstances in which it is right, and indeed our duty, to retain wealth, that it may be wisely used as a fund for the good of others. God has given some men, not only large capital, but ability and opportunity so to lay it out that they may provide work and wages for others. In such cases the first duty of a capitalist is to take care of his capital. It is not “his own”; it belongs to others, and is entrusted to him that he may employ it for the common weal. We are all of us familiar with the spectacle of the miserable millionaire who has treated the great fund entrusted to him as if it were “his own.” He has employed it in great gambling speculations, that he might have the unhallowed excitements that have ended in a moral and, perhaps, mental and bodily paralysis. Instead of light and love and truth, he has for his own a great curse, extracted from his great capital. There is the opposite picture sometimes to be looked upon—the man who has so wisely and generously used his means that he has blessed thousands, and has himself grown more and more unselfish. He has cultivated the best things in his own spirit and character, whilst he has worked in the use of wealth for the good of others. But it is not given to all of us to find “our own” or lose “our own” in these larger spheres of duty. It is, however, certain that all of us are determining “our own” by the use we make of “another man’s” in the matter of Christian giving. Whether we have less or more of this world’s goods, in our response to the calls of charity we affect for good or evil our dispositions and our characters. And as to financial arrangements, let us look at our support of missionary and kindred institutions in the light of our Lord’s teaching in this parable. The call for money to carry on Christ’s work in distant fields is one of the tests—and one of the best tests—of our wisdom and fidelity in the use of “that which is another man’s.” In no other way can we more surely exchange the carnal things of earth into the currency of the heavenly world. Pounds, shillings, and pence will have no currency there—they will have lost their purchasing and commanding power; but ere we pass hence the treasures of earth may be exchanged for the true riches, the fleeting things of this world for the enduring wealth of eternity. The mammon of unrighteousness may be so used that at length they shall receive us to the everlasting habitations. Let us learn habitually to deal with the things of earth in the light of eternity.—Pope.
Luke 16:13. “No servant.”—In this verse Christ states what the fidelity is, which in this stewardship is required; it is a choosing of God instead of mammon for our lord. For in this world we are in the condition of servants from whom two masters are claiming allegiance. One is God, man’s rightful lord; the other is the unrighteous mammon, which was given to be our servant, to be wielded by us in God’s interests, and itself to be considered by us as something slight, transient, and another’s—but which has, in a sinful world, erected itself into a lord, and now demands allegiance from us, which if we yield, we can be no longer faithful servants and stewards of God. Therefore, these two lords have characters so opposite, it will be impossible to reconcile their service (James 4:4): one must be despised if the other is held to; the only faithfulness to the one is to break with the other, “Ye cannot serve God and mammon.”—Trench.
Luke 16:14-18. In this section, the connection of which with the preceding and following parables is not at first sight apparent, we have evidently the heads of a discourse addressed to the Pharisees. The thread of connection seems to be the following. The Pharisees derided the teaching of Jesus concerning riches, and plumed themselves upon their righteousness. Jesus contrasts merely outward and legal righteousness with that inward righteousness which approves itself to God (Luke 16:15). He declares that the period of outward legal righteousness came to an end with the preaching of John the Baptist; that the kingdom of God is now preached and every one (i.e., publicans and sinners) presseth into it. Yet no reproach was thus cast upon the Law; there was no relaxation of the standard of holiness—nay, in the kingdom of God a strict observance of the rules of conduct was insisted upon. The scaffolding of the legal system was taken away, but the inward principle of the Law is eternal (Luke 16:17). The example given of the indissolubility of the moral law and of the revelation, through Christ, of a stricter morality than that of the Mosaic enactments, is taken from the law of adultery. The paragraph Luke 16:14-18 forms an introduction to the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. The words (Luke 16:15) “that which is highly esteemed among men” are illustrated by the picture of the brilliant and sumptuous life of the Rich Man; the words, “is abomination in the sight of God” correspond to the statement of the terrible chastisement in hell which falls upon him; while the permanent value of the Law (Luke 16:17) is asserted over again by Abraham—“They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them” (Luke 16:30). In contrast, too, with those who press violently into the kingdom of God (Luke 16:16), is the life of the self-indulgent sinner, who is indifferent to everything but his own ease and comfort.
Luke 16:14. Covetous.—Rather, “lovers of money” (R.V.). Derided.—The literal meaning of the word is “to turn up the nose at.” Derided the idea; that is, that riches hindered religion.
Luke 16:15. Justify yourselves.—I.e., declare yourselves to be just, or righteous. Highly esteemed.—Rather, “exalted” (R.V.); lit. “lofty.”
Luke 16:16. The law, etc.—Christ here clearly distinguishes between the Old and the New Dispensation. Presseth into it.—Rather, “entereth violently into it” (R.V.) (cf. Matthew 11:12-13). The allusion is to the eagerness with which some classes of the community received the message of the kingdom (cf. Luke 7:29; John 12:19).
Luke 16:17. One tittle.—The word used described the little turns of the strokes by which one letter of the alphabet differs from another somewhat like it.
Luke 16:18. Whosoever putteth away his wife.—The allusion here to the law of divorce is probably a reference to the fact that the Pharisees were lax in their opinions on this point. They allowed divorce for any cause: Christ forbade it, except for the one cause of “fornication.” The expression in this verse might seem to forbid divorce altogether, but in other passages where the matter is dealt with, the one exception is specified (see Matthew 5:32; Matthew 19:9).
Luke 16:19. A certain rich man.—No name given him, while the beggar has a name (Luke 16:20). He is often called Dives (Latin for “rich”). Clothed in purple.—His outer dress of costly Tyrian purple, his inner of fine linen from Egypt. Fared sumptuously.—Or “living in mirth and splendour” (R.V. margin). No charge of gluttony or other sensual vice can be founded on these words. He enjoyed the pleasures of this life which his wealth could purchase, instead of providing friends against the day of death (Luke 16:9). His luxuriousness was of the type described in 1 John 2:16.
Luke 16:20. Lazarus.—A form of Eleazar, which means “God my help.” This name is evidently chosen to indicate the beggar’s piety, upon which, however, the parable lays no stress, as the Rich Man’s sin was neglect of a brother man, and not neglect of a pious brother man. The word translated “beggar” means simply a poor man. Full of sores.—As persons of his class often are—cutaneous disorders, from meagre diet, and neglect.
Luke 16:21. Desiring.—And evidently obtaining his desire: accepting willingly the crumbs, though they were insufficient to satisfy his hunger. The dogs.—The wild, ownerless dogs that roam in the streets of an Eastern city, and act as scavengers. Licked.—In contrast with the inhumanity of men towards the beggar is set the pity of the dogs: they licked his sores as they lick their own.
Luke 16:22. The beggar died.—No mention made of burial, as in the case of the Rich Man: the funeral rites of a pauper attract little attention. Was carried.—I.e., his soul was carried. Abraham’s bosom.—I.e., the happy side of Hades, where the saints were regarded as resting in bliss. The figure is that of a banquet: the beggar is placed in a seat of honour next Abraham. The reclining at table by which the head of one person almost rested on the lap of another, explains “Abraham’s bosom” (cf. John 13:23). And was buried.—Splendid obsequies, in accordance with the rank and wealth he had enjoyed. Taken in connection with what follows, there seems a strain of irony in the mention of the Rich Man’s burial.
Luke 16:23. In hell.—Rather, “in Hades” (R.V.), the baleful side of the world of spirits. There can be no doubt that in the representation of the state of matters in the future world, as given in this parable, Christ uses figurative language, in accommodation to the prevailing Jewish ideas of His time, rather than reveals that world as it is. In torments.—Perhaps we are to understand by this the anticipation of condemnation—the final condemnation being still in the distance.
Luke 16:24. Send Lazarus.—As, having been his inferior on earth, he may be employed still as a servant. The Rich Man is now the suppliant, but is not yet accustomed to the reversal of his lot. Tongue.—Which had been an organ of luxury. Am tormented.—Rather, “am in anguish” (R.V.); the word differing from that in Luke 16:23.
Luke 16:25. Son.—Solemn and calm reply: no mockery of his state, no grief concerning him either. Receivedst.—Or “receivedst to the full.” All thy good things.—“All thou didst account good, came to an end with life.” “Thy good things.” Notice that the corresponding word is not used of Lazarus’ “evil things.” He did not, probably, regard them as evil, but as part of God’s discipline towards him.
Luke 16:26. And beside all this.—I.e., “Even if it were not so, God’s decree has placed thee where thou art, and a great gulf between us, so that it is impossible to grant thy request.” So that they.—Rather, “in order that” none may pass it. Is fixed.—For ever impassable.
Luke 16:27-28. I pray thee, therefore.—His brethren were living carelessly as he had lived. In his solicitude on their account we have a certain change in his disposition—his selfishness gives way: and in this change we would gladly believe there is the germ of a better life. The general tone, however, of the parable forbids much stress being laid on this.
Luke 16:30. Nay, father Abraham.—Not “They will not hear them,” for he could not tell that; but “Leave them not to that uncertain chance; make their repentance sure by sending a messenger from the dead.”
Luke 16:31. If they hear not, etc.—The words of Abraham are stronger than those of the Rich Man—even the lesser work of persuasion, not to speak of the greater of bringing to repentance, could not be wrought by this means. The possibility of sending such a messenger is not denied. There is no impassable gulf between Hades and the world. Lazarus of Bethany (whose name so strangely corresponds to that of the beggar here) crossed it, and so did Christ Himself. The Pharisees did not believe, though confronted with the fact of the resurrection of some from the dead. Christ, after His rising again, did not go to them—the fact is here asserted that they would not have believed, even if He had done so. The reason for such unbelief has its explanation: mere marvels have not necessarily any moral value, and soon pall upon those who witness them.
MAIN HOMILETICS ON THE PARAGRAPH.—Luke 16:14-31
Abused Wealth the Rich Man’s Ruin.—The parable of the Unjust Steward teaches the right use of worldly wealth; and the central point of the miscellaneous sayings in Luke 16:14-18 is the permanence of the Law and the Prophets. Both points reappear in this parable.
I. The earthly contrast of the two lives.—There is a double contrast—the sharp and shocking diversity between the prodigal abundance of the Rich Man’s dress and fare and the squalid misery of the diseased beggar, and the contrast between the end of their lives. With regard to the first it is to be clearly understood that Jesus Christ is not running a-tilt against rich men, as if wealth was wickedness, or a beggar necessarily a saint. But it should be as clearly noted that He is declaring the essential wickedness and inhumanity which dog the possession of wealth, as a constant danger; namely, the use of it for selfish purposes, so as to preserve in all its sharpness the contrast between its possessor and the poor. The Rich Man’s duty to Lazarus was not discharged by letting him have the leavings of his feasts, as he seems to have done. Rich men may do small charities and yet be guilty of such use of their wealth as will sink them to ruin. The name Lazarus (Eleazar, “God is help”) suggests the thought of the poor man’s devoutness, though in the parable the fact of his piety is not dwelt upon. Not because Lazarus was pious, but because he was poor and leprous, was it the Rich Man’s business to help him. Christ’s teaching about wealth is not communistic or socialistic. He recognises fully the right of individual possession, but He emphatically asserts that possession is stewardship, and that we hold money, as we do everything, in trust for those who lack and need it. Lazarus dies first, worn out by privation and disease. Perhaps, if he had been carried indoors from the gate, he would have lasted longer. What a change for him! The one moment lying in the fierce sunshine, so motionless and helpless that the dogs came about him as if he were dead, and he had no strength to drive them away; and then he is carried by angels into Abraham’s bosom. He has no funeral, as the other has. The Rich Man dies, and, of course, has a splendid interment, with all the proper pomp and circumstance. His wealth can get him a fine funeral, of which he knows nothing; and that is all that it can do.
II. The contrast of the two lives in Hades.—Our Lord paints that unseen state in colours taken from the ordinary Jewish conceptions. “Abraham’s bosom,” the bearing of the soul by angels, the dialogues between the dead, were all familiar rabbinical ideas; so that it is difficult to say how far we have here representations of fact. The main idea seems to be that of the reversal, in Hades, of the earthly condition. Lazarus is now in the place of joy and abundance; the Rich Man is now the beggar lying at the gate. He who would give nothing of his abundance, but was deaf to the groans and blind to the misery at his gate, has now to feel the pangs of need and to crave a drop of water to cool his tongue. The solemn answer put into the lips of Abraham expresses the impossibility, from the very nature of that state, of granting the desired alleviation. It is a state of retribution, the outgrowth and necessary issue of the earthly life, and so cannot be otherwise than it is. “Remember.” The past will stand clear before the selfish man and be a torment—he is tortured by the very desires he has nourished and by the stings of conscience and memory. “Thy good things.” He who makes the world his good is necessarily wretched when he is swept out of it by the whirlwind of death, and sees, when too late, what a blunder his estimate of its good was. On the other hand, the pious beggar received things that were “evil” in reality, but yet were not the things which he regarded as truly evil; and because he, on his part, placed his good higher than the world, therefore evil wrought for good to him. The lesson of this parable is the converse of that of the Unjust Steward; namely, that the selfish use of wealth is fatal, and brings bitter retribution in another life. The second ground for the refusal of the request is the existence of the “great gulf” which forbids passage from either side. Doctrinal statements can scarcely be founded on the parable, yet we see that there is no hint of repentance in the Rich’s Man’s cry, and that the implication of the whole is that his character was set. True, the state of Hades is not a final state; but it is also true that the narrative gives no reason for holding that the character of its inhabitants is anything but permanent.
III. The sufficient warnings by Law and Prophets.—The rich man’s second petition has often been treated as a sign that his selfishness was melting, and that so he was on the road to a better mind. But the natural instinct of family is not in itself more than selfishness in another form; and his request implies that he thinks the fault of his being where he is, lies not at his door, but is due to imperfect warnings. That does not sound like repentance. “If I had had a message from the grave, I would have repented.” So many of us think that it is God’s fault, not ours, that we yield to temptation. But the real ground of our sinful, godless lives is not a deficiency of light and warning, but inward aversion. Every man has far more knowledge of good than he uses. It is not for lack either of warning or conviction that men are lost. They do not need enlightenment, but, as Christ significantly puts it here, “persuasion.” The Pharisees, whom Christ is pointing at here, were giving signal proof of the power of neglecting miraculous evidence, even while, like the Rich Man, they were calling out for it from Jesus. This latter portion of the parable is directed against them, and completes the reference of the whole to the preceding part of the chapter. The first part echoes the lesson of the Unjust Steward: this repeats the assertion of the permanent validity of Law and Prophets. But though directed presumably against the Pharisees, both have their lesson for us. We have knowledge and motive enough to walk in the paths of godliness. If we do not give heed to what we have, it would be vain to send even messengers from the dead to us. What is lacking in us, if we do not yield to the light, is not more light, but eyes to see, and a heart to love it.—Maclaren.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Luke 16:14-31
Luke 16:14. “Derided Him.”—The Pharisees listened to these counsels concerning wealth with a scorn and contempt which expressed themselves openly. The Saviour and most of His followers were poor, and rich men are very apt to despise what they consider the cheap Quixotism of the views of pious men concerning the best use of riches, when those men are themselves poor.
No doubt the Pharisees found confirmation of their belief that the love of riches was compatible with the love of God in the fact that the Law spoke of riches as a mark of the Divine blessing.
Luke 16:15. The Judgment of Men and the Judgment of God.
I. Men see but the outside, and are easily deceived: God sees the heart, and cannot be deceived.
II. Man judges by one standard, God by another.—Rank, wealth, ability, learning, attract the admiration of men, while only moral and spiritual elevation of character wins the approval of God.
Luke 16:16. Until John and Since.
I. The ministry of the Baptist, short as it was in its duration, slight apparently in its consequences, is made the turning point of the dispensations. The spiritual history of the world was cleft in twain by that brief mission.
II. Our Lord regards that mission as already part of the past—almost of the far past. Time moves quietly when God is making history; one day is sometimes as a thousand years, no less truly than the converse.
III. There is a strength in the expression “presseth” which makes it less the statement of a fact than the utterance of a triumphant anticipation.—This is that tone of prophetic jubilation which breaks in so often upon sadder themes of discourse as the Saviour marches toward Jerusalem and Calvary.—Vaughan.
The Virtue of Violence.—“Presseth violently.” Violence is here for once made a virtue. In the life of the kingdom there are some characteristics fitly expressed by these strong words.
I. The life of the kingdom is, in part, a life of renunciations.—It has to make sacrifices, to make war on sins, vehemently to determine not to miss the heaven where only righteousness dwells with God.
II. The life of the kingdom is not an easy one, in what it demands of the reason. Not that Christ would commend haste or rashness in belief, or expect any man to believe first and then inquire. But even in believing there is a timidity which is not prudence, and a vehemence which is not presumption. The gospel is a life, the entrance upon a new idea and plan of existence; and, this being so, it is folly to make the question of faith or no faith a matter of caprice or accident. Therefore the man is to be commended who will brook no delay and no diversion in the settlement of the question of questions: how, in what allegiance, he is to live.
III. The life of the kingdom is a life of two chief activities.—Godward and manward. Devotion and work. Vehemence in prayer is not an incongruous term to apply to devotion. Force, zeal, earnestness too, are necessary to the perfection of the Christian character. Positive activity manward. For lack of this most men swim with the stream, and their spiritual life tends to decay. How much nobler the life of the man who “presses” into the kingdom!—Ibid.
Luke 16:16-18. The New Era.—
1. There is a change in the Divine method: the Law and the Prophets prepared men for the kingdom of God, but now the kingdom has come; the mercy of God to the sinful is revealed, and all are summoned to take advantage of it.
2. There is a general movement in human society; multitudes of the outcast and despised are pressing into the kingdom.
3. Yet the holiness of God which the Law proclaims remains for ever the same; the glad tidings of forgiveness do not imply a diminution of the Divine requirements.
4. On the contrary, under the gospel a severer and more spiritual standard of morality is set up: the sanctity of the marriage-tie, for example, is greater under Christianity than it had been in Jewish society.
Luke 16:19-31. Contrasted Destinies.
I. A series of solemn dramatic contrasts to startle the Pharisees out of their complacent selfishness.—
1. The contrast between Dives and Lazarus in life.
2. The contrast is resumed beyond the grave.
3. A contrast of character underlies the picture.
II. Passage from the dramatic to the didactic stage of the parable.—
1. The destinies of a lost soul are appealed in vain to the court of natural affection.
2. The contrasts of the hereafter are maintained by the inexorable necessities of the Divine government.
3. The permanence of the contrasted destinies beyond the grave is certified by the permanence of human character.
4. These final contrasts hereafter rest upon a common probation in this life.—Selby.
Dives and Lazarus.
I. Dives was lacking in the necessary grace of holy charity.—His ignorance of Lazarus was culpable. A man ought to know the sorrows of those who are in his path.
II. The other world-picture reverses their positions.—Two great principles prevent Dives’ misery from being mitigated.
1. God’s compensating justice.
2. God’s sovereign arrangement that in another world there should be the exact contrast of this.
III. Good desires may spring up too late in the heart.
IV. Every living man has provided for him, within his present grasp, all that is necessary for his own salvation.
V. The manner in which the Bible is to be savingly used.—Vaughan.
An Unfaithful Steward’s Doom.—The Pharisees scoffed at our Lord’s “visionary” account of property: this parable is His reply. The intense and natural curiosity of men about the future life has led them to pass over the tremendous moral and practical lessons of the parable, in their endeavour to discover what it reveals concerning the fate of the impenitent. But what is it that our Lord meant the parable to teach? The Rich Man thought that his wealth was his own, to do with as he liked. It never occurred to him that it all belonged to God. How did he incur such a terrible doom in the spirit-world? An awful and hopeless doom! By his flagrant breach of trust in not using his wealth for the relief of those whose sufferings touched the Divine heart, and to whom he should have been the minister of Divine pity. To God this was intolerable. The “flame” is the fiery displeasure which God feels at his selfishness.—Dale.
A Warning to the Selfish.
I. The covetous rich.—Condemned by Christ.
1. By direct reproof.
2. By illustrative parable.
II. The covetous rich and the godly poor.—
1. Contrasted in worldly condition.
2. Contrasted in the hour of death.
3. Contrasted in the unseen world.
III. Lessons of the story.—
1. Certain destruction awaits the worldly.
2. Peace and joy await those whose treasure is in heaven.
3. Repentance must be in this life: there is none beyond.—Taylor.
Here and Hereafter.—The story of two men.
I. In this world.—
1. The Rich Man.
2. The poor man.
II. In the next world.—
1. In Abraham’s bosom.
2. In hell.—Watson.
Outline of the Parable.
I. The earthly condition of the two men (Luke 16:19-22).
1. The Rich Man’s mode of life (Luke 16:19).
2. The poor man’s mode of life (Luke 16:20-21).
3. The death of the former (Luke 16:22 a).
4. That of the latter.
II. The condition of both in the world beyond the grave (Luke 16:23-31).
1. The torment of the Rich Man, and his request (Luke 16:23-24).
2. The reply of Abraham (Luke 16:25-26).
3. The Rich Man’s second request (Luke 16:27-28).
4. Abraham’s second reply (Luke 16:29-31).
The parable teaches—
1. The uncertainty and transitoriness of earthly blessings.
2. The responsibility of rich men, not only for what they do, but for what they do not do with their wealth.
3. The supremacy of the law of God as a guide to eternal life.—Speaker’s Commentary.
Selfishness and Its Doom.—
1. The Rich Man’s selfishness.
2. His indifference to the misery of his fellows.
3. His dreadful doom.
I. The earthly scene.—The condition and manner of life of the two men; their characters and dispositions, as yet unrevealed.
II. The Rich Man’s selfishness implied by his neglect of his poor neighbour.
III. The scene beyond the grave.—The altered circumstances of the two: the permanent character of the new conditions; relief of present misery, and a warning to those still on earth refused.
This World and The Next.
I. For mankind, after this life is done, another world remains, consisting of two opposite spheres or conditions—one of holiness and happiness, the other of sin and misery.
II. There is a way from this present life to the place of future misery, and also a way to the place of future blessedness.
III. There is no way over from one of these future states to the other.
IV. Our Lord would constrain us to make the needful transition now.—Arnot.
The parable emphasises the facts—
(1) that one may enjoy a high standing in the sight of men and be reprobate before God;
(2) that an unloving temper is essentially base; and
(3) that a terrible penalty is inflicted on those who misuse the world’s goods.
A Trilogy.—The parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man is the sublimest delineation of this side and of that side of the grave in its astounding antitheses. What is the trilogy of a Dante, in which He sings of hell, purgatory, and heaven, compared with the trilogy of this parable, which places with few but significant strokes the great whole of Earth, Gehenna, and Paradise, at once before our eyes.—Van Oosterzee.
Luke 16:19. “A certain rich man.”—Jesus said not, a calumniator; He said not, an oppressor of the poor; He said not, a robber of other men’s goods, nor a receiver of such, nor a false accuser; He said not, a spoiler of orphans, a persecutor of widows;—none of these. But what did he say? “There was a certain rich man.” And what was his crime? A lazar lying at his gate, and lying unrelieved.—Augustine.
Abuse of Riches.—Riches may be abused
(1) not only by positive misuse, but also
(2) by the careless and thoughtless use of them. These two lessons are taught respectively by the preceding and by the present parable.
Luke 16:20. “Named Lazarus.”—Seems he not to you to have been reading from that book where He found the name of the poor man written, but found not the name of the rich; for that book is the book of life.—Augustine.
Luke 16:21. “The dogs came.”—The kindness of the brute brings out in deep relief the inhumanity of man.
The nakedness and hunger of Lazarus are contrasted with the rich clothing and sumptuous banquets of the Rich Man.
Luke 16:22. “The beggar died.”—The beggar died first, being taken from his sufferings; the other was given longer space for repentance.
“Carried by angels.”—Here is one who in his life had not a single friend; and now suddenly not one, but many angels wait upon him.—Luther.
The Beggar’s Escort.—
I. Angelic ministry.—Surplusage of angelic service. Not one angel, but two or more, an indication of the glad and bright willingness with which the humble task of duty was done. A gracious and honouring superfluity of helpfulness.
II. The differentiation of Divine and human estimates.—The angels were doing God’s bidding. The plurality of this deputed bodyguard means, not only service, but honour. A message to us not to stand on our dignity and self-respect, but to honour Christ’s lowly ones. The scornful rabbis would have declined to accompany a beggar’s funeral. The angels gladly escort his liberated spirit to the abodes of the blessed, for he was a true “son of Abraham.” Would you feel honoured if asked to attend a pauper’s funeral, or to help to lay the deal-encased body in the grave? Or would you judge only by the outward appearance, and show yourself at the rich man’s burial? The angels “see not as man seeth,” and count it an honour to be the bodyguard of a beggar, and the ministrants of his spirit.—Grosart.
“Abraham’s bosom.”—To correct the notion that wealth, as such, excludes from happiness hereafter; or that poverty, as such, ensures fruition of that happiness, it is sufficient to observe that the beggar Lazarus is carried by angels into the bosom of the rich man Abraham, who made a right use of the riches of this world.
A Sudden Change for The Better.—In an instant Lazarus finds in the heavenly world the sympathy and help which had been denied him on earth.
“And was buried.”—There is a sublime irony, a stain upon all earthly glory, in this mention of his burial, connected as it is with what is immediately to follow. The world, loving its own, follows him, no doubt, with its pomp and pride, till it could not follow any farther. There was not wanting the long procession of the funeral solemnities through the streets of Jerusalem, the crowd of hired mourners, the spices and ointment, very precious, wrapping the body; nor yet the costly sepulchre, on which the genial virtues of the departed were recorded. This splendid carrying of the forsaken tenement of clay to the grave is for him what the carrying into Abraham’s bosom was for Lazarus; it is his equivalent, which, however, profits him little where he now is. For death has been for him an awakening from his flattering dream of ease and self-enjoyment upon the stern and terrible realities of eternity. He has sought to save his life, and has lost it. The play in which he acted the rich man is ended, and, as he went off the stage, he was stripped of all the trappings with which he had been furnished that he might sustain his part. There remains only the fact that he has played it badly, and will therefore have no praise, but uttermost rebuke, from Him who allotted to him this character to sustain.—Trench.
Luke 16:23. “In hell.”—The Rich Man is thus represented as awakening from the momentary unconsciousness of death to full consciousness; and the first object he discerns is Lazarus, whom he had seen lying in wretchedness at his gate, reposing in the seat of honour beside Abraham.
Luke 16:24. “Father Abraham.”—This is the only example in Scripture of the invocation of saints, and does not afford much encouragement for the practice.
Luke 16:25-26. The Request Denied.—The request is denied for two weighty reasons:
1. It is unreasonable.
2. It is impossible to grant it.
Luke 16:25. Memory in Another World.—
I. Memory will be so widened as to take in the whole life.
II. Memory in a future state will probably be so rapid as to embrace all the past life at once.
III. It will be a constant remembrance.
IV. Memory will be associated with a perfectly accurate knowledge, and a perfectly sensitive conscience as to the criminality of the past.—Maclaren.
Different Modes of Divine Procedure.—God deals with men in different ways: on some He seeks to awaken gratitude by bestowing upon them many gifts; others He leads through suffering to humility and pious resignation in spirit. And in accordance with the results produced is the retribution in the future world: the ungrateful find themselves in poverty and misery; the meek are healed of their wounds, and exalted to felicity.
Luke 16:26. “Beside all this.”—Not only would there be a moral impropriety in granting the request, but the decree of God had made it impossible to grant it. An unfathomable gulf which could not be spanned separated between the Rich Man and the company of the blessed.
Luke 16:27-28. “Send him to my father’s house.”—The request of the Rich Man is incompatible with the interpretation of the parable, which regards it as condemning riches, and not merely the abuse of riches. The five brethren are in danger of coming to the place of torment because of their unbelief and impenitence, and not because of their being wealthy.
Luke 16:28. “Lest they also.”—We cannot escape the conclusion that in the Rich Man’s words there is a certain reproach against God and the Old-Testament economy, for his not having received sufficient warning. The reproach is rolled back by Abraham’s reply: “They are sufficiently warned: the fault is theirs if they, too, go to the place of torment.”
The Five Brethren.—The effect which might possibly have been produced upon the five brethren of Dives, by Lazarus “going to them from the dead” has been described as follows: “He stands and knocks at the door of their mansion, and at length enters in his grave-shroud. His glazed eyeballs and hollow cheeks declare him a tenant of the narrow house. In deep, sepulchral tones he says, “I have come from the night of the grave, and I know of death, and of hell, and of heaven, and it’s all true.” But the eldest brother is a Pharisee. He is a self-righteous man. He fasts and he prays. He pays tithes of all he possesses. He is not as other men are—the message cannot be for him. The second brother is a Sadducee. He believes neither in angel nor in spirit. He is the type of the sceptic of the present day—when death comes, it is utter annihilation. He explains away the appearance of Lazarus as an optical illusion. The third is a merchant—buying, and selling, and getting gain. He is an avaricious man; but his brother left him no legacy in his will, and he cannot now believe that he cares for his soul in eternity, when he cared so little for his body on earth. The fourth is a fashionable man, a man of æsthetic taste and culture; he loses himself in the beauties of nature, of art, of literature. The sight of Lazarus in his mansion was an offence to him. What had this beggar got to do here. The message could not be for him. The fifth was a delicate, pale-faced youth; the least thing put his poor heart in a flutter. He could bear no excitement, and, as he beheld the form of Lazarus in his grave-clothes, he swooned away; and when he recovered, the apparition was gone.—Robertson.
Luke 16:29. “Hear them.”—There are two kinds of hearing.
I. That which is confined to outward acquaintance with the Law and the Prophets, and acceptance of their teaching Divine truth.
II. That which is manifested in obedience to the will of God revealed in His Word. The Scriptures were read in the synagogues, and were carefully studied by the Rabbis, so that no Jew could fail to “hear “in the one sense of the word. There needed to be added to intellectual knowledge a love of holiness, and practice of it in daily life.
Luke 16:30. “Nay, … but if one went.”—As the works of the blessed dead follow them, so follow this man his ignorance of the way of salvation, his neglect and practical contempt of the extant Word, his self-will and self-vindication, his pertinacious demand of signs and wonders from the mighty hand of God.—Stier.
Luke 16:31. “If they hear not,” etc.—
I. The ordinary means of salvation which we enjoy are amply sufficient.
II. If the ordinary means of grace fail to convert us, no extraordinary—that is, miraculous—means are to be expected.
III. When the ordinary means fail to convert men, miracles, though they were wrought, would fail also.—Foote
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Luke 16". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16