In Luke 16:9, Jesus says, "I say to you, make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon, that when you fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations." Does Jesus expect His disciples to fail? Is He encouraging us to make friends with the world?
The context of Jesus' statement is important. Luke 15:1-2, the beginning of a long section containing several parables, informs us that Jesus is speaking in the presence of tax collectors and sinners of all kinds, along with hypocritical scribes and Pharisees. Jesus explains to them in the following parables that He was sent to rescue the lost and lead them to repentance.
In chapter 16, Jesus teaches His disciples using the Parable of the Unjust Steward, an illustration designed to teach us about faithfulness to God.
1. Is worldly wisdom necessarily evil? Luke 16:1-8; Proverbs 12:8; 24:3; Ecclesiastes 2:21.
Comment: The manager of an estate, accused of wasting the owner's goods, cunningly reasons through the situation using his worldly wisdom. However, he continues to deal deceitfully with the rich man's estate. By clever thinking, he devises a plan to defraud his master still more and prepare the way for future employment. He turns the owner's debtors into his friends by forgiving up to half their debts. Reluctantly, the master commends the unjust steward for dealing shrewdly in the worldly ways of cleverness, level-headedness, and forethought. The master does not commend him for wasting his estate, for which he fires him.
2. Are the wise called to salvation at this time? Luke 16:8; I Corinthians 1:26-27; 3:19.
Comment: Remember, Jesus addresses this parable to His disciples, so He is giving them advice. "The sons of this world" or time (the unconverted, who have their minds set on the things of this life) are wiser by nature than "the sons of light" (the converted). Paul concedes that God calls few who are wise by nature because their wisdom is foolishness to God. Such "wise" people are too proud to surrender to their Creator, so God calls those who are not as shrewd, who sometimes lack forethought, but are teachable.
3. How do those without wisdom get it? James 1:5-8; 3:13-17; I Corinthians 2:16.
Comment: Since we do not naturally have the wisdom from above—spiritual wisdom—then we must ask God for it in faith. We must be sure that our faith is in accordance with His will, and we must come to Him with the utmost confidence that He will grant it. When we go to God with a request, His answer, whether yes or no, will be for our ultimate good. Our faith is not believing that God will give us what we want regardless of our request, but that His answer will always be the wisest answer for our ultimate good.
4. What does Jesus mean by "unrighteousness mammon"? Luke 16:9; Matthew 10:16; James 4:4.
Comment: Jesus Himself interprets the parable for us. We ought to use spiritual wisdom just as shrewdly as the steward used his secular wisdom. He tells us we should "be wise as serpents and harmless as doves." "Unrighteousness mammon" signifies wealth or money gained by unrighteousness, that is, by sinful ways. Money becomes a power for evil in the hands of sinful people. James warns us not to make friends of those who are worldly and unconverted. We can make friends by means of money that the unconverted covet, thereby helping God to witness to them and eventually convert them.
5. How are we to use this mammon? Matthew 6:19-24; James 2:23; Luke 16:10-13.
Comment: We should use this money to create true friends, by putting our treasure toward preparing for the Kingdom of God. Our hearts should be toward doing the work of the gospel so that others might be converted and become our friends. In the parable, the steward made worldly friends by unrighteous mammon. In a much more permanent and right way, we make true friends by investing in their spiritual education.
In Luke 16:9, Jesus says, "And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon, that when you fail [it fails, ESV], they may receive you into everlasting habitations." He is speaking of death and resurrection. When the money has lost its value, when we no longer have any use for it in this life, unrighteous mammon will fail—at the return of Jesus Christ!
In this life, we should put wealth and money to good use by promoting the Kingdom of God. Since the world covets money, the church must pay the world to use its facilities to make God's truth available. We must have the wisdom of the steward to take the money God has given and put it to use so that it will yield eternal dividends.
Jesus concludes this parable by emphasizing that we should be carefully honest and reliable. Only if we have been faithful in handling the material blessings of this life will God commit to us the eternal treasures that He promises.