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The parable has two sections - Verse 1-9, the wasteful steward & Verse 10 -15, the lovers of money, and could it be that Jesus, by commending the shrewd steward of his wise and appropriate change of heart, is addressing to the second of their insatiable love of money-unfaithfulness with the wealth entrusted (v. 11) and loving it more than God (v.13)?

Text: Luke 16: 1- 15 (ESV)

He also said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions. 2And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’ 3And the manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. 4I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.’ 5So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ 7Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’ 8 The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. 9And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.

10“One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. 11If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? 13No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”

14The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him. 15And he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.

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  • Excellent question!! – Dottard Nov 29 '20 at 19:50
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At risk of stating the blindingly obvious, I will start by saying this steward never existed. He is a character depicted in a parable but who could easily have found many actual counter-parts in real life. The parable used current knowledge of affairs so that the hearers would be helped to grasp the point Jesus was making, which had nothing to do with secular business matters, but with eternal, spiritual truths to do with the kingdom of God. There’s always the danger that we today, in this year of Covid 2021, will think in terms of how things are in our particular society, both secularly and religiously, and so miss spiritual truth.

To deal with the main part of your question and to demonstrate the difficulty, I partially quote from the NIV Study Bible notes on verses 1 to 3 (1987 edition).

“The dishonest manager (v.8) had no scruples against using his position for his own benefit, even if it meant cheating his master. Knowing he would lose his job, the manager planned for his future by discounting the debts owed to his master in order to put the debtors under obligation to himself. Interpreters disagree [my emphasis] as to whether his procedure of discounting was in itself dishonest. Was he giving away what really belonged to his master, or was he forgoing interest payments his master did not have a right to charge? Originally the manager may have overcharged the debtors, a common way of circumventing the Mosaic law that prohibited taking interest from fellow Jews (Dt 23:19). So, to reduce the debts, he may have returned the figures to their initial amounts, which would both satisfy his master and gain the good favour of the debtors. In any event, the point remains the same: he was shrewd enough to use the means at his disposal to plan for his future well-being.”

A differing interpretation is found in a commentary 300 years old, that of Matthew Henry. He takes the view that the steward embezzled his master’s goods, then was too slothful and proud to work honestly after a disgraced discharge, using cunning (shrewdness) to keep himself in the manner to which he had become accustomed. But Henry stresses the spiritual points and application:

“This our Saviour is here pressing to us, by reminding us that we are but stewards of the manifold grace of God, and since we have in divers instances been unfaithful, and have forfeited the favour of our Lord, it is our wisdom to think how we may, some other way, make what we have in the world turn to a good account… We are liable to the same charge [as that made against the steward]… Our discharge from our stewardship at death is just… that when our stewardship is taken from us we must give an account of it to our Lord: After death the judgment.” (p1500)

Now, this is where your main question requires comment, for the shrewdness of the steward was not commended either due to his provision for his future, or any change of heart. Both were utterly selfish things on his part and the Lord would not commend him for either. Note, it was the steward’s master who expressed comparative approval of his cunning steward, albeit his actions were totally selfish. There was no change of heart on the part of the steward. He simply carried out a damage limitation strategy to save his own skin.

And this is where Jesus’ spiritual application is vital to grasp, requiring us to read through to the end of chapter 16, no less. Why? Because during this public discourse, the Pharisees were present, as you point out in your comments, hearing Jesus’ warnings about covetousness in unrighteous wealth indicating unfaithfulness with spiritual wealth. They knew the point Jesus was making, for they loved money. That galled them, so they ridiculed Jesus, as Henry points out:

“As their sin, and the fruit of their covetousness, which was their reigning sin, their own iniquity. Note, many that make a great profession of religion, have much knowledge, and abound in the exercise of devotion, are yet ruined by the love of the world; nor does any thing harden the heart more against the word of Christ. These covetous Pharisees could not bear to have that touched, which was their Delilah, their darling lust; for this they derided him, exemykteri-zon auton – they snuffed up their noses at him, or blew their noses on him.” (page 1501)

Therefore, we must take note that Jesus went on to ‘draw the curtain’ to show that other realm where different states obtain for those who either have the Lord’s favour, or who forfeit it by their love of mammon – the downfall of the rich man in the last part of Luke chapter 16.

Summary: The first part shows no providential care for any but the bad steward – even when found out, he only appeared to benefit others for his own good, not theirs. Nor did he have a change of heart because all that he did was just as selfish and self-centred as before he was caught out.

The second part shows Jesus exposing the love of money, but he did not commend the selfish steward. The steward’s equally money-loving master displayed the truth, “It takes one to know one”. He gave a back-handed compliment but Jesus went on to effectively condemn both characters in the parable.

The third part is the one you do not include in your consideration of your question, but which is the most important part – the rich man and poor Lazarus dying and finding themselves in different ‘parts’ of the spirit realm (prior to the day of resurrection and judgment). This was squarely aimed at the money-loving Pharisees (and to all who are lured astray by material wealth), sons of this world. But sons of light must be far more judicious in their use of God’s grace and all that is entrusted to them, than worldly people are with mere material things. Wealth is never righteous, hence it is called “unrighteous wealth” and it will utterly fail. What then for professed believers in Christ who frittered their time and material goods in daily living without caring far more for growing in spiritual grace and being charitable and gracious, out of a sincere heart, to others?

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Luke 16:8 tells us that the "manager of unrighteousness" is commended for his "Shrewdness"; and further, that the "children of this age are more shrewd than the children of the light".

Thus, the operative word here is "shrewd", from φρονίμως (phronimós the adverb) and φρόνιμος (phronimos the adjective). [Note the very slight difference in spelling of omega vs omicron.] Both come from the root word (verb) φρονέω meaning to think carefully, prudently and/or cunningly.

For φρόνιμος (phronimos) BDAG defines this words as:

pertaining to understanding associated with insight and wisdom, sensible, thoughtful, prudent, wise, eg, Matt 7:24, 10:16, 13:33, 24:45, 25:2, 4, 8, 9, Luke 12:42, 16:8, Rom 11:25, 12;16, 1 Cor 4;10, 10:15, 2 Cor 11;19.

Thus, the quality and personal trait of being wise/prudent, sensible, etc, is highly commended and encouraged in the "children of the light', ie, Christians. Jesus here is giving a mild reproof to His followers who are often a bit simplistic and dull - Jesus encourages us to be wise and smart. A good example of this is Dan 6:4, 5, plus the exemplary conduct of Joseph. See especially Matt 10:16 (using the same word)

Behold, I am sending you out like sheep among wolves; therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.

In Luke 16:8, Jesus is NOT encouraging His followers to imitate the dishonest conduct of the embezzling manager, but to be cunning, wise and clever in their dealings with others consistent with the ethics and morality of the Kingdom of heaven.

In commenting on Luke 16:8 the Pulpit commentary observes:

Verse 8. - And the lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely. This, again, is a detail which has little bearing on the main teaching. It is a graphic and sarcastic eulogy which a good-humoured man of the world would pronounce upon a brilliant and skilful, although unprincipled, action, and it completes the story as a story. It seems evident that the intentions of the steward in regard to the debtors were carried out, and that they were really indebted to him for the release of a part of their indebtedness, and that the owner of the property did not dispute the arrangement entered into by his steward when in office. For the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light. This was a melancholy and sorrowful reflection. It seems to say, "I have been painting, indeed, from the life. See, the children of this world, men and women whose ends and aims are bounded by the horizon of this world, who only live for this life, how much more painstaking and skilful are they in their working for the perishable things of this world than are the children of light in their noble toiling after the things of the life to come. The former appear even more in earnest in their search after what they desire than do the latter. There is underlying the Lord's deep and sorrowful reflection here, a mournful regret over one feature that is, alas! characteristic of well-nigh all religious life - the unkindness which religious professors so often show to one another. One great division of Christianity despises, almost hates, the other; sect detests sect; a very slight difference in religious opinion bars the way to all friendship, often to even kindly feeling. With truth Godet remarks here "that the children of this world use every means for their own interest to strengthen the bonds which unite them to their contemporaries of the same stamp, but, on the other hand, the children of light neglect this natural measure of prudence; they forget to use God's goods to form bonds of love to the contemporaries who might one day give them a full recompense, when they themselves shall want everything, and these shall have abundance."

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Lk. 16: 8 - Was the steward commended for the act of wise provident care of his future or the change of heart from “wasting” to the benevolent acts?

The steward on realizing that his master was going to dismiss him from the management of his financial affairs, calls the debtors, and reduces the amount owed to the master. By reducing the amounts owed, the steward tries to make friends with those who may do him favor after he loses his job.

Although what the steward has done means a loss to his master, the master is impressed with his shrewdness (practical wisdom) and commends him, even though he is unrighteous

Verse 8. The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. Then Jesus adds: "For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.

(Sons of the light=God's servants)

Certainly, Jesus does not approve the steward’s methods, nor is he encouraging crafty business dealings. What, then, is his point? He urges the disciples:

Verse 9 "And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings."

The lesson here is that God's servants "the sons of light" must be farsighted and use practical wisdom in the use of their material assets,they must be kind and generous in its use, having in mind to be welcomed in eternal dwelling places. Zacchaeus becomes an example of this in Luke’s Gospel (19:1-10).

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke+19%3A1-10&version=NASB;NET

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He was commended for both. The latter led to the former.

Christ was being sarcastic when he made that statement. He was referring to an unfaithful apostle in which case has given up the faith, or has sinned, or doesn't bear fruit.

The passage is a cross reference of Luke 19:12-27.

Luke 16:9 And I say unto you, Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations. "friends of the mammon of unrighteousness" is Satan. "mammon of unrighteousness" is the riches (kingdom) of Satan. "everlasting habitations" is hell.

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