Wednesday, January 05, 2011

The Unrighteous Steward (Let's call it done for now, but, with a whole lot more to be said)

I have heard this passage used in several different interesting ways.

Luke 16:1

1 Now He was also saying to the disciples, "There was a rich man who had a manager, and this manager was reported to him as squandering his possessions. 2 "And he called him and said to him, 'What is this I hear about you? Give an accounting of your management, for you can no longer be manager.' 3 "The manager said to himself, 'What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig ; I am ashamed to beg. 4 'I know what I shall do, so that when I am removed from the management people will welcome me into their homes.' 5 "And he summoned each one of his master's debtors, and he began saying to the first, 'How much do you owe my master ?' 6 "And he said, 'A hundred measures of oil.' And he said to him, 'Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.' 7 "Then he said to another, 'And how much do you owe ?' And he said, 'A hundred measures of wheat.' He said to him, 'Take your bill, and write eighty.' 8 "And his master praised the unrighteous manager because he had acted shrewdly ; for the sons of this age are more shrewd in relation to their own kind than the sons of light. 9 "And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by means of the wealth of unrighteousness, so that when it fails, they will receive you into the eternal dwellings. 10 "He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much ; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much. 11 "Therefore if you have not been faithful in the use of unrighteous wealth, who will entrust the true riches to you? 12 "And if you have not been faithful in the use of that which is another's, who will give you that which is your own?

Of course, for those of you who prefer God's word rendered in the 400 year old (Pre)Middle English poetic literary style used in the King James Version, then you have the interesting word, Mammon, used in this passage.
Mammon, on one hand, is a term derived from the Christian Bible used to describe material wealth or greed. The word itself is a transliteration from the Hebrew word "mammon", which means "money.
Mammon means money. In these passages -- that is in the KJV -- mammon has the connotation of money based wealth.

I've heard a number of pastors render the Parable of the Unrighteous Steward as being less than ideal behavior that we somehow nonetheless should model.

In fact, I've never heard it rendered any other way.

Which is unfortunate.

This, to me, is the core lesson:

9 This I say to you, make friends for yourselves by means of the wealth of unrighteousness, so that when it fails, they will receive you into eternal dwellings.

It may as well be a curse.

Making friends through unrighteousness will get you a place, along with your new friends, in their eternal dwellings. You don't want to be in those eternal dwellings. You've made friends with the world; not with God. You've squandered God's goods and now have tried to reverse your fortunes by making friends with the world through unrighteousness. Now, you've got a big problem. You are an unrighteous steward.

I've seen pastors portray this passage in two ways; one, as a legitimate example of a sort of biblical shrewdness; and two, as all money/wealth (mammon) being unrighteous, and us as being out in the world just doing the best we can in spite of it.

The later is wrong because the Lord "has pleasure in the prosperity of His servant". He doesn't begrudge financial wealth, at times he is complimentary of it, but He does always put His own value on it. That value is
temporary. Even often times merely carnal; nonetheless, "Jerusalem was inhabited and in prosperity". He told Jerusalem that if they obey and serve him, they shall spend their days in prosperity, and their years in pleasures. Financial and spiritual; each sphere according to it's need. He does not begrudge wealth or prosperity. He does, however, warn us of it's distracting, defiling nature; which, in turn, is impossible to overstate.

Let's go back to the Steward. When called to give an account to his master for his performance he was found to have squandered his master's goods and was going to be fired.

After the Steward concluding he was to weak by himself to labor, and too proud to beg, he resorted, basically, to stealing by which to make friends and buy his way into their good graces. In fact, all the way into their eternal dwelling places.

The master praised him -- for acting shrewdly like the sons of the age, not like the sons of light. Let's ask exactly what kind of praise that is? It's the kind of praise you don't want to here coming from the Father of light. It is judgment.

Our master, tells us that He is opposed to the proud, gives grace to the humble. He tells us that friendship with the world is hostility toward Him. That whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy to Himself.

There is a clear distinction in each verse between the unrighteous actions of the Steward and the alternate correct actions.

That is, to be, not unrighteous, but faithful, both in the very little and in the very much. If you are unrighteous in some of the small, then how can you be faithful in the big? And therefore how can you be entrusted with any of it?

If you are going to opt for the wealth of unrighteousness, then who is going to trust you with true riches?

If you cannot be trusted in the use of that which is others, then, who will give you something as your own?

Here is a nice reminder about exactly what is what . . .
1 John 2:16 -

For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life is not from the Father, but it is from the world.

Finally, Paul, after being said to have been breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord; and being guaranteed rich financial gain and esteem, instead, gladly makes tents for the rest of his life, enduring the constant stonings and beatings and imprisonments, just to be able to now serve the Lord, and write the most powerful and earth shaking letters to the world about the fullness and the breathtaking beauty of the Spirit left within Him there by God; the Spirit of His Son Jesus , who's crucifixion Paul would no doubt have been in hearty agreement with. God on earth, crucified, who had soon visited Paul with a divine stewardship for him, to pass along to others, that Paul now wishes us all to comprehend and experience and take hold of . . . .

" For this reason I, Paul, . . . if indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God's grace . . . , as I wrote before in brief. . . to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel, of which I was made a minister, according to the gift of God's grace which was given to me according to the working of His power. . . to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, . . . for this reason I bow my knees before the Father, . . . that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith ; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God…Amen.

It's a "stewardship", in the arms of an unfathomable love by the Creator of the universe, which we are freely invited to comprehend, who, would like to have His love reciprocated; and all of which, delivers to us the amazing gift of an undeserved inner strength, and a joy, that does not come to us by means of the "wealth of unrighteousness", after all, the wages of the wealth of unrighteousness is darkness, sorrow and death, but which comes instead from 'the wealth of righteousness' that is abundantly supplied to us through the Spirit of God, working in us.

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