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Bible Commentaries

L. M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible

Luke 16

 

 

Verses 1-31

A PARABLE AS TO THE USE OF THE MASTER'S GOODS

(vs.1-13)

Now the Lord turned to address His disciples. For though it is pure grace that saves and finds deep delight in the repentance of a sinner, yet God's wise government is not ignored in the case of one wasting His goods, as the prodigal had done. The steward (one employed to care for his master's goods) in this chapter had proven unfaithful. The goods (the unrighteous mammon -- v.11) are earthly possessions entrusted to the hands of the steward, that is, to all mankind. Sad to say, all of Adam's race has been guilty of wasting our Master's goods. For who would dare to say that he had used all his material possessions honestly for God? Pharisees are no less guilty of this than are prodigals. "The unrighteous mammon" refers to all material possessions including money.

The steward was called to give an account, and was given notice that he has forfeited his stewardship. Just so, because of Adam's sin he was sentenced to death, "and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned" (Romans 5:12). We have forfeited all title to any place on earth. In the case of each individual, the actual putting out of the stewardship is at death; meanwhile we are still in possession of our Master's goods. How shall we use them? Would the restored prodigal not have serious thoughts as to how he ought to use his father's goods after he had been shown such kindness?

The steward pondered what was his wisest course, not with the object of pleasing his master, but to care for his own interests. Having no other promise of employment, he was clever enough to devise a plan that would benefit himself and please his master. Being evidently in the place of a credit manager, the steward used his wits effectively in providing for his future. He called his employer's debtors and offered to them the kindness of reducing their debts if they would simply write a check out for the reduced amount. In this way he collected what might have remained outstanding bad debts, so his employer was benefited by it. His motives were not those of love for his employer, nor for his debtors either, but entirely selfish, for he counted on the debtors showing him kindness in return when he was discharged. The man was plainly an "unjust steward" since he used his master's goods with his own benefit in view, but his master commended him because he realized some present gain from what might have been otherwise uncollectible.

Thus, unjust men of the world are far-sighted enough to use what they have with a view of benefiting in the future on earth. In their own generation they are wiser than the children of light (v.8). The children of light know they are to be put out of this world entirely, and have accepted God's decree as to this. But do we use our possession with eternity in view? Sadly, we easily forget that all we have has been entrusted to us by God only for a brief time. We should therefore use "the mammon of unrighteousness" to "make friends." This term, "mammon of unrighteousness" is used because our earthly possessions are too commonly used in an unrighteous and selfish way, not that our possessions are unrighteous in themselves.

Notice that the steward used these things in showing kindness to others. God can commend this, though certainly He cannot commend motives of selfishness. Are we using in an honestly unselfish way that with which God has entrusted us for our brief time on earth? It is only our wisdom to do so in view of "an everlasting home" (v.9). How much better to have friends for eternity than those who can benefit us on earth! "When you fail" (v.9) refers to when we die, as is indicated also in our being "put out of the stewardship" (v.4).

Those things of "least" importance, our earthly possessions, test us as to whether we are faithful. If we are faithful that in using these things, then it is a safe conclusion that we will be faithful in our use of much more. If one has not proven faithful in these passing things, then who would trust him with the true riches, that is, infinitely higher spiritual blessings?

Or, put in another way, if we have not proven faithful in using another's goods, can we expect to be given that which is our own? "Another's goods" are those which God has allowed us to use on earth for the time being, but we cannot call them our own, for we only have them in trust. But "all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ" are given to the believer today: they are his own because he will keep them for eternity. This is in contrast to what we have only for a time on earth.

This lesson is summed up pointedly in verse 13. There is no true service to two masters at the same time. The world serves mammon, material things: the believer is a servant of God. Let the lines be clearly drawn: the believer is not wise if he tries to serve both masters. It will not work. Pharisees made a show of serving God, while all the time being mere servants of mammon. They were not believers at all.

SELF-EXPOSURE OF THE PHARISEES

(vs.14-18)

The Pharisees could not conceal their irritation at the Lord's words, and thus they derided Him. This exposed their covetousness -- their greed for the mammon of unrighteousness -- and He spoke directly to them as being those who, desiring men's approval, did not consider that God knew their hearts, and their deceit would be exposed (v.15). What men esteem highly is often an abomination in the sight of God. Our great God discerns every motive of every heart.

The law had promised earthly blessings on condition of obedience, and the Pharisees were clinging desperately to the desire for those blessings without obedience. Now the dispensation was changing. John the Baptist was the last of the prophets under law. Now the kingdom of God was preached, and for one to enter it, he had to force his way in the face of opposition from the scribes and Pharisees (see. J.N.D. translation). This kingdom did not promise present wealth for its subjects. In fact, "blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:3).

Yet this was not because the law had failed: it had not, but man under it had proven a total failure. The law is the word of God: not one iota of it can fail, though all temporal things (heaven and earth) pass away.

The Lord added verse 18 because the Pharisees took advantage of what the law had said, to allow divorce for virtually any cause. Deuteronomy 24:1 had required a man, if putting away his wife, to give her a bill of divorcement (Matthew 19:3-9). But the Lord calls divorce and remarriage adultery (though Matthew 19:9 gives the one exception); and if one were to marry a woman divorced from her husband, he committed adultery. This is evidently a case where the first husband had not remarried, for adultery is the violation of the marriage bond. The world shows no regard for God's thoughts as to marriage and divorce, but a believer should be most careful to honor God in marriage, with the firm intention of proving consistently faithful. Then the only permission he can find for divorce in Scripture is if his spouse is guilty of fornication. If one is divorced by his spouse, then let him make sure from Scripture that his circumstances allow him to marry again.

THE RICH MAN AND LAZARUS

(vs.19-31)

All these matters in the previous verses have to do with the fact that what men esteem highly is often abomination in God's sight. This is emphasized by the record of Lazarus and the rich man. The rich man, clothed in purple (that is, living as a king) and fine linen (the assuming of at least outward moral righteousness, as did the Pharisees), partook of the finest food every day. Such luxury in Israel was considered a sign of God's approval: but how far this is from the truth! The poor man, Lazarus, was laid at the rich man's gate, full of sores. His condition ought to have awakened sympathy and concern. But even his desire to have only the crumbs from the rich man's table was evidently ignored. The dogs had more sympathy for him than did the man of wealth. (Is there not a hint here that Gentile "dogs" had more heart than did the self-righteous Pharisees?)

However, what a reversal at death! "The rich man died and was buried." The poor man, Lazarus, died also. The rich man's name is not told us: it was not worth remembering. Whether Lazarus had a burial or not is of no importance, for, as to his spirit and soul, he was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom. This tells us that his faith had been in the living God, for he is "blessed with faithful Abraham" (Galatians 3:9). Jews considered this their natural title, but the rich man found he had no such title at all, as many Jews will find to their regret. The rich man may have had a beautiful, imposing funeral, but it made no difference to his condition of torment after death.

The rich man's body was in a grave, but he lifted up his eyes in "hades," which speaks of the condition of his soul and spirit as separated from his body. Hades is an unseen state, and does not refer to a place, just as death refers to a state, not a place (as is popularly believed). But there was a great distance between him and Abraham. Each was in a place, but the place of the rich man was a place of torment, and that of Lazarus a place of blessing. The rich man pled for mercy, but too late! He asked only that Lazarus might be sent to merely dip his finger in water and cool his tongue, for the heat of the judgment he must bear was tormenting. Did he remember that he had shown no mercy to Lazarus in his lifetime?

Abraham reminded him that in his lifetime he had had his good things and Lazarus evil things. He had lived only for this life. How fatal a mistake! Now Lazarus was comforted and he was tormented. The body had no part in this, for it is the intermediate state between death and resurrection that is involved here -- the time the body is in the grave. But there was conscious comfort for the spirit and soul of one, conscious torment for the other.

Abraham solemnly reminded the rich man of his past and that of Lazarus, and adds beside this that at death a great gulf has been fixed between the saved and the lost, so it is impossible for any cross over from one side to the other. All the prayers for the dead that man's "religion" can devise are useless. At death there is no doubt as to a man's final destiny: it has been decided.

Then the tormented man prayed for his five brothers who were still living, desiring that Lazarus might return from death to testify to them, that they might be saved from so dreadful an end. Abraham answered that they had Moses and the prophets, that is, the Old Testament Scriptures: let them believe what God had written for their benefit. The formerly rich man objects that this was really not sufficient: they needed the evidence of such a miracle as one returning from death, to convince them to repent.

The answer to this is most solemn and decisive. No miracle, however great, will persuade one to repent if he has chosen to ignore the clear Word of God. The Old Testament bears abundant testimony to warn men of the folly of pursuing a self -- centered, independent course. To ignore this is a bold insult to their Creator. If the moral power of the Word of God accomplishes no moral result in them, then physical miracles also will produce no moral result.

A little later another Lazarus did come back from the dead (John 11:43-44)! Did men believe? No, they determined to put Lazarus to death again (John 12:10-11)

 


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Bibliography Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Luke 16:4". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/lmg/luke-16.html. 1897-1910.

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