The contents of the fifteenth chapter of Lukes Gospel are well known. Many who understand little of the Scriptures are familiar with the expression "prodigal son". The parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son have been the subject of not a few gospel addresses. There is a beautiful balance between the first two, teaching that God delivers the sinner, and the third, teaching the need of repentance on the part of the prodigal.
The chapter division may give the impression that the parable of the unjust steward placed at the beginning of the next chapter is a new subject, unconnected with what has gone before. A closer look, however, shows this not so. The parable of the prodigal is concerned with repentance, and that which follows is concerned with responsibility. It should be noted that the teaching of ch.15 was directed to "all the publicans and sinners" (15.1), whereas at the beginning of ch.16 we read, "And he said also unto his disciples" (v.1).
A rich man had a steward who was responsible for the management of his estates and businesses. But there had been an accusation against the steward. The accusation was not necessarily that he had been guilty of theft but of mismanagement, of squandering resources resulting in loss for his master. He had been called to give an account of his stewardship and, if guilty, he would be dismissed.
Note is now taken of the astuteness of the steward. He is obviously aware that he will be dismissed and therefore sets out to prepare for his impending removal from office. He has no intention of engaging in menial toil. He plans to make an arrangement with his masters debtors. One who owes the master an account for one hundred measures of oil will have that account discharged if he pays for fifty; another defaulter, in debt for one hundred measures of wheat, will have his indebtedness settled if he pays for eighty. By this "arrangement" the steward has placed an obligation on his masters debtors to look after him financially after his dismissal. The favour he has given them will be reciprocated.
When hearing of this, his lord, not the Lord Jesus, commends the steward because of his shrewd dealings in taking care of his future. He respected his actions as he had shown that self-centred, unprincipled approach which the world admires. The astute business mind of his master recognised the worldly wisdom of the actions of the steward.
The Lord now brings to bear the lesson for His own. Unbelievers prepare for what may lie ahead. Pensions, insurance policies, health care plans, investments and savings schemes are all marshalled to prepare for a "care free" tomorrow. This they do against a background of uncertainty and anxiety about the future.
But what about believers preparing for their tomorrow? Wisdom recognises the need to be wise in preparing for old age, but there is a future to which attention must be given. Unbelievers plan for what they hope will be a pleasant retirement, believers prepare for what they know will be a glorious eternity.
The words of the Lord Jesus must be taken into account: "Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness" (v.9), that is of your money and material resources. Use them in a way that is for your spiritual benefit. They may be little but they can still be effective. Make sure that you gain the approval of the Lord. Use them to good effect; handle them as a Christian should for tomorrow; invest as much as is possible in that which is spiritual. There will come a day when money will fail, that is, as we pass into the presence of the Lord it will no longer be of any value. But there will be those who await you! They will "receive you into everlasting habitations" (v.9) - those who were saved as a result of tracts that you purchased; those whose difficulties had been alleviated by your magnanimity, and their pathway eased by your generosity. You served the Lord, seeking to be a wise steward of that which the Lord had committed into your care. You will see how valuable your giving had been. What a welcome that will be! What a revelation of the value of godly stewardship!