In verse 1, we’re told that Jesus is talking to his disciples, and I think Jesus’ instructions to his disciples also apply to Christians in the 21st Century (although not necessarily in exactly the same way). With parables, it can be difficult to know how far we’re meant to push the analogy, and some people had difficulty accepting that the steward represents disciples and the rich man represents God, given the dishonesty of the steward and the commendation from his master, and I don’t think I changed those people’s minds, but given the instruction in v9, to “make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth” I think we are to follow the steward’s example in several respects. I guess you will have to judge for yourselves whether you think I’ve taken it too far, but first we’ll define stewardship.
a) We are stewards, as opposed to owners.
We do not own our possessions, they are God’s. All our money, time, talents have been given us by God to use for his purposes. I think everyone at BoABC is pretty familiar with that concept, but something I didn’t really notice before I studied this passage is that, because we don’t have our own possessions but are stewards of God’s possessions, any time in the Bible where God tells us to do something with our possessions, or money, or gifts, or time, he’s actually saying “this is how I want you to steward my possessions for me.” I never thought of it quite like that before, but it’s important later on.
a) We are to be shrewd, as opposed to glory-stealers.
This is not so much the point of this passage, but a brief recap of part of the last study. Before we get on to trying to live faithful lives, we need to remember what God created us for. We’ll struggle to live as God wants us to if we don’t understand His ultimate goal for our lives.
In v8, the steward is not commended for doing something great for his master, just for being shrewd. He didn’t earn anyone’s respect by his actions, he just made use of his master’s stuff.
Last time I referred to Ephesians 2, where we’re told about God’s aim to show the immeasurable riches of his grace; He’s not glorified by us doing things for Him; He’s not served by human hands (Acts 17:25). If we ever somehow managed to do something for God that he couldn’t do for himself, that would make us deserving of some glory. We can never do that anyway, because God’s given us everything we have to start with, but even if we could, God’s purpose for our lives is not for us to earn glory for ourselves, we’re to use what He’s given us to show how glorious He is. So as we try to live faithfully, the point is not to show how faithful we are, but to show how gracious he is.
What God does for us far outweighs anything we give up for Him. Matt 13:44 says “the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” The man doesn’t think “I’ve given up so much for this”; he’s so wowed by the value of the treasure that he joyfully gives up everything he had before in order to get his hands on it. To him, giving up all his earthly possessions was a shrewd investment, because the treasure he got in return was much more valuable. We’re not meant to look at that text and think how faithful that man was, he was just shrewd; we’re meant to think “wow, that’s some valuable treasure, the kingdom of heaven must be amazing”. That way the glory goes to God, not man.
For this reason, I’m not personally a big fan of the word “Challenge” in relation to the Christian life, as in “that was a really challenging sermon”, because to me, a challenge focuses on what we do – kind of like the Olympics. The Olympics are not really about the little bits of Gold, Silver & Bronze that they give out. In terms of the value of the gold, the people who win them don’t make a profit on the amount of sacrifice they made. The metal is not worth that much; the medal is really just symbolic, it represents “I worked really hard and made a lot of sacrifices and I’m now officially the best in the world at completing this particular challenge.” But for Christians, the prize we get is so ridiculously far out of proportion to any effort and sacrifices we make that it’s not worth comparing (Rom 8:18). We’re not going to look at our rewards in heaven and think they’re merely symbolic of all the challenges we went through in our Earthly lives, we’ll be so in awe of how gracious God has been to us that the challenges will seem totally insignificant. If you want some gold, you could work really hard and try to win a Gold medal at the Olympics, but it would be more shrewd to just go to a shop and buy some gold. Going to the Olympics is not the shrewd way to get a few grams of gold, but Christianity is a very shrewd investment, and that glorifies God, because no one will look at us and think we’re worthy winners of our reward, they’ll look God and see how immeasurably gracious He is. So I personally prefer the word “motivate”. I hope we’ll be motivated to live faithfully because we’ve got our eyes on the heavenly reward, not on ourselves.
(Sometimes we also use the word challenge when we’re faced with a command that we realise we haven’t been obeying; in those cases I think “convict” is more appropriate.)