“You cannot serve God and mammon.” Lk 16:13
I’ve recently been meditating on the parable of the unjust steward in Lk 16:1-13. If you remember, when the master found out his steward was wasting his goods, he told him to get things in order because he was losing his job. The steward was immediately thrown into a panic about what to do. He decided he would cheat his master further by cutting the debts owed him by some of his master’s debtors. The purpose of this act was so that the debtors would then welcome the unjust steward into their homes when his master kicked him out.
A point of confusion for some is that the master commended the unjust steward in Lk 16:8 because the steward had acted shrewdly. Are we then to assume the steward had done a good thing? Absolutely not! He had been dishonest for his own gain. Is that good in God’s eyes? Of course not, but Jesus points out at the end of v. 8 that the master of the steward revealed that “the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light.” In other words, the steward was pretty smart in the world’s eyes. Sure, he had to lie and cheat a little, but the world doesn’t have a problem with that as long as they make a dollar or two in the process. Sadly, I’ve met a few who claim the name of Christ that believe the same way!
Next, Jesus said in v. 9, “And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon, that when you fail, they may receive you into an everlasting home.” As believers, with our hearts set on an eternity with Christ, it’s easy to assume that “an everlasting home” is heaven, but don’t forget–hell can just as easily be described in that fashion! The unjust steward had done exactly what v. 9 says. He made friends of his master’s debtors by unrighteous riches (not the true riches that God gives), and when that steward and his money failed, these debtors welcomed him into their homes. They had sold their souls together, agreeing with one another in the sin of cheating the master. Rom 1:32 says the wicked know their ungodly deeds are worthy of God’s judgment, but they not “only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.” They will enter their eternal home together.
Regardless of your view of the parable, Christ is very clear as to its point. He explains the lesson His was teaching immediately after telling the story in v. 10-13:
He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much. Therefore if you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in what is another man’s, who will give you what is your own? No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.
The steward had not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon–namely the lesser riches of the world–and so was not worthy of the true, eternal riches of God. The children of the kingdom set their affections on things above, not on the things of this earth, because they want Christ above all else (Col 3:1-2). The children of the world think godliness is a useful tool only to get gain while the righteous understand that godliness itself with contentment–that is truly knowing God–is great gain! (1 Ti 6:5-6) Here’s the bottom line. You can’t have a heart for earthly riches AND for God. That’s one too many masters. If you serve mammon, you, like the unjust steward, will make relationships that only benefit you. You’re at the center of it all. Those that serve God make relationships because they want to honor Him. That means they put others, not themselves, first because that is the pattern of Christ who “made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant…” (Ph 2:7)