Question: What is the message we can learn from the Parable of the Unjust Steward?
Answer: James E. Talmage explained one lesson we can learn from the Parable of the Unjust Steward: “Be diligent; for the day in which you can use your earthly riches will soon pass. Take a lesson from even the dishonest and the evil; if they are so prudent as to provide for the only future they think of, how much more should you, who believe in an eternal future, provide therefor! If you have not learned wisdom and prudence in the use of ‘unrighteous mammon,’ how can you be trusted with the more enduring riches?” (Jesus the Christ, 464).
1 And he said also unto his disciples, There was a certain rich man, which had a steward (a man in charge of all his business dealings); and the same was accused unto him (someone complained) that he had wasted his goods (was mismanaging the business).
2 And he called him, and said unto him, How is it that I hear this of thee? give an account of thy stewardship (give me a report on how the business is doing); for thou mayest be no longer steward (I may have to fire you).
3 Then the steward said within himself, What shall I do? for my lord taketh away from me the stewardship: I cannot dig (I can’t do manual labor); to beg I am ashamed (I would be embarrassed to be a beggar).
4 I am resolved what to do, that, when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses (I have a plan).
5 So he called every one of his lord’s debtors (people who owed the owner money) unto him, and said unto the first, How much owest thou unto my lord?
6 And he said, An hundred measures of oil. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and sit down quickly, and write fifty.
7 Then said he to another, And how much owest thou? And he said, An hundred measures of wheat. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and write fourscore (eighty).
8 And the lord commended (congratulated) the unjust steward, because he had done wisely: for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light (often people, when doing business, spent more time worrying about money than they do about caring for others and their future security in heaven).
9 And I say unto you, Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail (when your life is over), they may receive you into everlasting habitations.
Note: Elder Talmage suggests that his verse basically means that we should make friends in heaven by using money wisely and honestly, so we may merit heaven. Money is often referred to as “the mammon of unrighteousness.”
10 He that is faithful in that which is least (in small responsibilities) is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust (dishonest) in the least is unjust also in much.
11 If therefore ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon (if you have not been honest in your dealings with people), who will commit to your trust the true riches (how can you be trusted with the true riches of eternity)?
12 And if ye have not been faithful in that which is another man’s (in the daily world of business), who shall give you that which is your own (how do you expect to earn a place in heaven)?
13 No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon (you cannot be righteous and worldly and dishonest at the same time).
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David H. Yard, Jr.:
Earlier I observed that, as I see it, the second great endeavor to which our preparation for eternal life might be reduced is stewardship. Fundamentally, that means that each person is a steward and has a stewardship. The generic meaning of steward is “one who acts as a supervisor or administrator, as of finances and property, for another or others.” Some persons in their pride of self, pride of position, or pride of possessions might resent being thought of as stewards, but nonetheless we are all stewards. If one pauses to consider what he brings into this life with him and what he takes when he leaves, he will be brought to a keen awareness of how temporary his so-called possessions and positions are. Several years ago some wealthy wit declared, “If I can’t take it with me, I’m not going.” But we are all going, and the material things of this world will not go with us.
We are stewards of our lives, the years of mortality we have; stewards of our minds, how we use our intellects; stewards of our talents, what we do with them; stewards of our energy, what we do with it; stewards as husbands or wives, what we make of those relationships; stewards over our families, the influence we exercise upon them; stewards in our occupations, responsible for what we do with our opportunities, responsible for whatever influence we may exercise upon others; and stewards over our so-called possessions, what we do with them and the purposes to which we use them.
In short, our lives constitute vast complexes of stewardships, opportunities to manage a host of affairs. Doubtless the reason Jesus on several occasions spoke of the difficulty of the rich man’s entering the kingdom of heaven is because of the magnitude of his earthly stewardship and his responsibility to use his riches for wise and righteous purposes. But, as I have indicated, it is not only the rich man who is a steward. Every human being is a steward entrusted with what we call his own life and all of the personal, family, social, religious, political, economic, and other relationships in which he finds himself.
Basically, what is our responsibility as stewards? Earlier we discovered that the answer to the question “What is the purpose of life?” or “What is our work?” was found by examining the Lord’s statement concerning his work. Likewise, in this case, in order to determine our responsibility as stewards, let us reverently ask the question “What do gods do?” As we think of Heavenly Father, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost, and what they do, as revealed in the revelations they have given mankind, and as we contemplate our prayers and other communications with them, perhaps there is no better way to summarily describe what they do than to say simply, they bless mankind. However else their work might be itemized, detailed, or listed, fundamentally, their great powers are used to bless mankind.
With the example of our Celestial Sire, our Redeemer, and the Holy Ghost, we are now able to answer the question “What is our responsibility as stewards?” Essentially, as stewards of all the circumstances and things entrusted to us, as previously described, it is our responsibility to so administer, manage, and use these things that we bless the lives of all with whom we associate. Certainly that is the sense of King Benjamin’s declaration “When ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God” (Mosiah 2:17).
We should not confuse serving with exploiting, profiteering, preying upon, taking advantage of, etc. We are to serve one another. The Lord said, “He that is greatest among you shall be your servant” (Matthew 23:11). He also said, “Whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister: And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all” (Mark 10:43–44). Obviously, greatness is equated with service.
In the first 12 verses of Luke 16 is recorded the Lord’s parable about the unjust steward. At the end of the parable the Lord gives counsel and asks two penetrating questions. In the first he counsels mankind to use their worldly wealth (earthly possessions) in such a way while they have it here in mortality that when they no longer have it in the eternal worlds they still will be benefitted by the wise and righteous use they made of it when they did have it. Or, to put it differently, he counseled mankind to use their earthly riches while they have them in such a way that they will pay dividends in the eternal worlds. After this counsel, he then asked this question: “If . . . ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon [worldly wealth], who will commit to your trust the true riches?” (Luke 16:11).
Then he asked the core question: “And if ye have not been faithful in that which is another man’s, who shall give you that which is your own?” (Luke 16:12). That is, if we are not faithful stewards in managing or administering the things that belong to the Lord that are entrusted to us as mortals, surely we should not expect the time to come when the Lord would give us things to be our own. (See D&C 72:3–4 and D&C 104:13.) Therefore, our second endeavor in our preparation for eternal life is to be faithful stewards in managing all of the things entrusted to us as mortals by the Lord.
In this day the Lord has revealed a singular criterion to assist us in our pursuit of the two great endeavors, character and stewardship, in our preparation for eternal life. Of course, the gospel is called by the Lord in modern revelation the “new and everlasting covenant.” In section 45 of the Doctrine and Covenants, he declared, “I have sent mine everlasting covenant into the world, to be a light to the world, and to be a standard for my people” (D&C 45:9).
In that statement the Lord makes a very significant distinction. The gospel is a light to the world, but to those who have made covenants with the Lord it must be a standard. For the covenant people the gospel is more than a light, as important as that is. It is a standard, and a standard is that which we use to measure other things. Therefore, for the covenant people the gospel is the standard by which all other things are measured. The gospel is not measured by other things, but all things are measured by the gospel, the new and everlasting covenant. That is a fundamental criterion in the effort to develop and acquire celestial character and manage and administer all of our affairs as faithful stewards.
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Source: Come, Follow Me–For Individuals and Families, p. 71; The New Testament Made Easier, Part 1, Volume 2, by David J. Ridges, 220-221; Excerpts from “My Age of Preparation,” by David H. Yarn, Jr., August 6, 1996, BYU Devotional.