This is continued from the last Bible Study I did on Luke 16. I didn’t bother with the alliterated title this time.
I don’t think you need to read part 1 for the following to make sense; I kind of re-cap the main points here anyway, and I think I probably did a better job this time, but in case you would like to read it anyway, it’s here.
You probably will need to read Luke 16:1-13 though.
Last time I covered 3 points: we are stewards of God’ possessions (they’re not ours to keep), we’re to be shrewd investors of God’s possessions (preparing for the time when we won’t have those possessions anymore, i.e. when we die), and we’re to invest in other people by giving possessions away (looked at passages like Luke 6:35 where Jesus told his disciples to “lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great”).
I ran out of time to finish my 4th point, that we’re to be single-minded in our devotion to God; we’ll get to that this time, but first…
I think everyone’s happy that in this parable, Jesus was saying that we should be prepared for when the time comes for us to leave this life, to make sure that when we die, we’ll have a place prepared for us in heaven. But I think there was some uncertainty about whether there’s really anything to learn from this parable about us stewarding God’s possessions by giving them away, because if we start to think of the steward as representing us and the rich man as God, wouldn’t that mean God was commending the dishonest actions of the steward in the parable?
Where My Bereans At?
I think the points I made about stewardship of God’s possessions by giving them away are supported by other parts of scripture, so I’m not too worried about trying to prove that what I said last time is true, but if I’m going to do Bible Studies, I want to be careful to stick to exploring what the text we’re looking at actually says, I don’t want to be making points that aren’t there.
So I’ve spent some more time considering what I think this text says, and to be honest we might end up having to agree to disagree on it, but I’ll briefly recap what I think, and share a couple of commentator’s views. Then I’ve spent some time looking into the concept of a righteous God commending a dishonest steward, and whether that makes any sense in relation to what we read about God in other parts of the Bible, so I’ve got a few observations to make on that.
Now I think you’d all agree that our theology should be shaped by God’s Word, rather than starting with what we think God is like and interpreting His Word, twisting it and skipping over bits we don’t like so that it fits into our pre-existing ideas, so let’s put what we think we already know about God to one side for a moment and just see if we can work out what this text says about Him.
When I read this passage, in verses 1-8 I see a parable, and I think ok, this is a story with some sort of lesson to be learnt from it, but it’s not necessarily going to be obvious what that lesson is. (In Mark 4:11-12 Jesus says that he tells parables with the deliberate intention that some people won’t understand.) I then notice that starting from the second half of v8, Jesus explains what he meant by the parable, which is helpful. In v8 Jesus indicates that it’s a parable about shrewdness, and in v9, we see Jesus telling his disciples to use their earthly wealth to make friends who will then be able to receive them into eternal dwellings when they die.
Having just read a parable about a steward making friends by giving away his master’s stuff, when I read verse 9, and see Jesus tells his disciples to use earthly wealth to make friends for eternity, it certainly seems to me like Jesus is saying that in this respect the steward was a good example to follow.
We’ll look in a minute at whether this is compatible with what we read about God in other parts of scripture, but at this point I’ll give a quick overview of what some commentators say, to confirm or deny whether I’ve understood this passage correctly, because I don’t know how to read Greek, and there may be things in the text that experienced Bible Scholars see but that I’ve missed. Was I right last time to talk about us being stewards of God’s possessions and God wanting us to give them away to other people, or did I get completely the wrong end of the stick?
Well J.C. Ryle doesn’t share my view on this passage at all. He insists this is a parable about being shrewd in preparing for “coming evil” and nothing else. I thought verse 9 was key to understanding this passage, but Ryle apparently disagrees; he has nothing to say about it.
Next up is David Murray. He’s not really a commentator on this passage, but he knows a bit more about preparing Bible Studies and Sermons than I do; in fact, he’s written a book about it, called How Sermons Work. In his chapter on selecting a text, he describes several different types of text, one of which is a ‘Conclusion Text’: “This might be one phrase or one sentence that gives the moral of a whole parable or the summary of the whole passage.” And it just so happens that the verse he chose as an example of one of these conclusion texts is Luke 16:9, so I’m not alone in thinking verse 9 is important, but Murray doesn’t go on to interpret the passage, so it’s possible he completely disagrees with what I’ve done with verse 9.
Bringing out the big gun: John Calvin does seem to agree with my understanding of this passage. He says: “The leading object of this parable is, to show that we ought to deal kindly and generously with our neighbours; that, when we come to the judgement seat of God, we may reap the fruit of our liberality.”
((Someone helpfully pointed out that the Pharisees’ reaction to the parable in v14 also seems to support this interpretation as being Jesus’ intended meaning. They were lovers of money, so were not impressed by Jesus saying that the way to lay up treasure in heaven is to give earthly wealth away.))