For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4



 A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2001 James Melough

16:1.  “And he said unto his disciples, There was a certain rich man, which had a steward; and the same was accused unto him that he had wasted his goods.”

The rich man is God, and the dishonest steward the human race represented first by Adam, and then by each one of us.  As the rich man had entrusted the steward with charge of his estate, so did God entrust man (Adam), not only with the management of his own life, but with the government of the earth also, and man has shown himself to be as untrustworthy as the deceitful steward.  The time and talents that should be used for God’s glory, man has squandered in the gratification of his own lusts.

We who are believers have also been made stewards by God, see 1 Pe 4:10 “As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.”

16:2.  “And he called him, and said unto him, How is it that I hear this of thee? give an account of thy stewardship; for thou mayest be no longer steward.”

Unlike the earthly master, God has no need of another’s report to inform Him of man’s dereliction.  He Who discerns the thoughts and intents of the heart is fully aware of man’s evil doings.  Yet He will call man to give an account of his stewardship, believers rendering that account at the Bema; unbelievers, at the great white throne.  Following the Bema, each believer will receive a reward proportionate to the faithfulness of his stewardship, to be enjoyed in heaven eternally.  Following the great white throne, each unbeliever will receive a measure of punishment proportionate to his sin, that punishment to be endured for ever in the lake of fire.

16:3.  “Then the steward said within himself, What shall I do? for my lord taketh away from me the stewardship: I cannot dig; to beg I am ashamed.”

Faced with the loss of his position, the steward began to make plans for his future, and in this God would teach all men the necessity of planning for the inevitable day when their stewardship will end - when they will go out into eternity, to the bliss of heaven, or the torment of hell.  Nor should we fail to note that the lesson applies to believer and unbeliever alike. The believer’s preparation consists of rendering a willing, wholehearted service that will prove worthy of the Lord’s commendation; the unbeliever’s, in making sure that he obtains God’s gift of eternal life, by confessing himself a sinner, and trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ as his Savior.

His inability to dig is the symbolic warning that men cannot work their way to heaven.  They can’t be saved by good works.  His being ashamed to beg is the symbolic announcement that we don’t have to beg for salvation.  It is God Who is pleading with men to accept His gift of eternal life.

16:4.  “I am resolved what to do, that, when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses.”

In the man’s resolve to prepare for his impending dismissal from the stewardship, we find the proof that almost invariably men are wiser relative to earthly things than they are in regard to those that are spiritual.  The steward took more trouble to secure his acceptance into a house on earth than most do relative to securing themselves a place in heaven.  The sad truth, in fact, is that most give virtually all their time and attention to earthly things, and practically none to the things that are eternal.

16:5.  “So he called every one of his lord’s debtors unto him, and said unto the first, How much owest thou unto my lord?”

The spiritual significance of this is to be understood against the background of what was custom in those days.  The law forbade the lending of money at usury, see Le 25:35-37, but in this as in all things, man’s evil ingenuity circumvented the law by a simple expedient.  The borrower (undoubtedly reluctantly) and the lender (undoubtedly cheerfully) agreed that the loan was really a joint business venture, and that the lender would be paid a percentage of what ever the borrower gained from the use of the loan. Some wealthy men left the management of their estates in the hands of a steward, the decision to make the loan and to set the interest being left to his discretion.  It is generally agreed that the amount deducted here from each bill was the interest that had been charged on the loan.  The steward therefore in remitting the interest accomplished two ends: he bought the goodwill of each debtor, and left his master without recourse, for any attempt of the master attempt to enforce payment of the interest would have exposed him to the charge of breaking the law.  Well indeed might he commend, not the dishonesty, but the sagacity of the steward; and the lesson God would have us learn is that he is a wise man who displays the same wisdom relative to securing the salvation of his soul.

16:6.  “And he said, An hundred measures of oil.  And he said unto him, take thy bill, and sit down quickly, and write fifty.”

Since oil is one of the symbols of the Holy Spirit, the lesson of the remitted interest may be that He is given freely by God to seal and enlighten everyone who trusts in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior, as we read in Isa 55:1, “Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money, come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.  Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labor for that which satisfieth not?  hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness.”

But the borrower was still responsible to repay the fifty measures, and in this we are being taught that there is a price to be paid by those who would benefit from the indwelling Holy Spirit: we must be obedient, and obedience entails giving up the world, for disobedience cuts us off from His enlightenment, power, guidance, and comfort.

16:7.  “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.”

Wheat is one of the symbols of the written Word (which is itself the revelation of the Living Word), so the lesson appears to be that Scripture, which is the spiritual food to nurture spiritual life, is also given freely by God to every believer.

But as with the Holy Spirit, so also with the Scriptures: a price has to be paid if we would understand the written Word, and enjoy its comfort and guidance.  Time must be taken to study it, meditate upon it, and obey it, and again this entails giving up the world.

16:8.  “And the lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely; for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light.”

As noted above, the master’s commendation was obviously not of the steward’s dishonesty, but of his sagacity in planning so shrewdly for his approaching time of need, and in that commendation we learn the lesson that it is true wisdom for men to prepare for their supreme need: fitness to go from time into eternity, from earth to heaven, through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

The truth of the Lord’s observation concerning the wisdom of unbelievers relative to earthly things, and their foolishness   in regard to things eternal, is too obvious to require comment: they will lose their souls, the Lord’s rhetorical question being, “What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” Mk 8:36.

The sad truth, however, is that believers also, for the most part, by their diligence in connection with earthly matters, and their sloth relative to those things which are eternal, diminish the amount of the reward that will be given at the Bema for faithful service rendered on earth.

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.” 

The KJ translation is ambiguous here.  The Lord’s advice is not that we should make friends of those who are unrighteous, but that we should use our money (mammon) wisely, for the spread of the gospel, winning men to the Savior, they becoming our true friends, so that when we “fail” (come to the end of life’s journey), those of them who may have preceded us, will welcome us into our eternal home in heaven.

What folly, then, to be squandering on ourselves, the money with which the Lord has entrusted us as stewards, for the spread of the gospel!  The realization that we must soon render an account of our stewardship should make us think very carefully about how we spend the money which the Lord has committed to our trust.  We should never forget that it is His, not ours, just as we ourselves are not our own, but His, as it is written, “Ye are not your own, for ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s,” 1 Co 6:19-20.

16:10.  “He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much.”

He who is trustworthy in small matters can be trusted with the important, and vice versa.  His reaction to temptation reveals the true state of a man’s heart.  When God tests us in regard to small matters it isn’t to reveal to Him, but to us, the state of our hearts, which He already knows.  He is a very great fool who thus discovers that he is untrustworthy, and yet continues to be dishonest.  How can we expect God to entrust us with anything, if for example, we can’t be trusted to give Him the proper amount of our weekly offering, or if we give to the things of this world time that should be given to worship, prayer, study, meditation, spreading the gospel, ministering to other believers, etc.?

16:11.  “If therefore ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches?”

The lesson is clear.  If we fail to use for Him the money with which He has entrusted us, how can we expect Him to entrust us with anything that would enrich us eternally?

16:12.  “And if ye have not been faithful in that which is another man’s, who shall give you that which is your own?”

If we have been unfaithful with what God has entrusted to our care, how can we expect Him to entrust us with what would be profitable for us eternally?  “... that which is your own” is the reward given by God for faithful service.  How can we expect Him to give us what we have rejected by our failure to serve Him during our earthly lives?

16:13.  “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 (money).”

The two masters are God, and Satan who uses money to entice men to neglect the welfare of their souls. 

The natural man, because he lacks spiritual life, has neither desire nor ability to serve God.  It is very different, however, with the believer: he does have the ability to serve God, and in addition is free to choose whom he will serve, so that when he serves Satan his offense is aggravated by the fact that he has not only deliberately chosen to do so, but by that choice has deliberately refused to serve God.  This puts the believer’s disobedience in a far more serious light than many of us are willing even to consider.  And here a suggestion is offered that may help in making the right decisions relative to our stewardship.  When it comes to using the money with which God has entrusted us we should ask ourselves relative to every expenditure of it, Is what I wish to buy, necessary?  Why do I choose an expensive garment, car, house, etc., when a less expensive one would do just as well?  Will the expenditure of this money glorify the Lord and make me a better servant?

Mammon was the ancient god of money, and it must be realized that money is one of Satan’s most successful tools for keeping sinners from trusting Christ, and for distracting saints from His service.

16:14.  “And the Pharisees also, who were covetous, heard all these things: and they derided him.”

These were the religious leaders of the people, and things have changed but little since then, for their modern day counterparts are as greedy of money as they, and as ready as they to deride those who do seek to obey the Lord.  It is little wonder that with such an example the people are more interested in the things of this world than in what pertains to the kingdom of heaven.  But we’re missing the lesson if this doesn’t lead us to consider whether we ourselves are equally covetous of this world’s goods. Do we, for example, give to a job or business, to family or house, to pleasure, etc., time and energy that would be more spiritually profitable if given to spiritual things that would advance Christ’s kingdom?  It is frequently an eyeopening experience to keep a record for just one week of what we do with our time.

16:15.  “And he said unto them, Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knoweth your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God.”

Their righteousness was outward, to deceive men, but what God saw in their hearts was loathsome, for few things are more disgusting to God and men than hypocrisy.  But again, if what the Lord said of the Pharisees doesn’t lead us to examine our own lives, we have missed the message.

16:16.  “The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it.”

The prophets had foretold the coming of the Messiah, and the setting up of His millennial kingdom following His atoning death and resurrection, and had called upon men to repent so that they might enter that kingdom, but Israel’s continued rejection of the prophets had brought the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities, followed by what have come to be called “the four hundred silent years,” that is, the four centuries before the Lord’s birth, during which time there was no message from God.

But the ministry of John broke that long silence, by declaring again the coming of the Messiah, and by calling upon men to repent and trust in Him so that they might enter the millennial kingdom.  (As has been noted frequently in our studies, Israel could have had the millennial kingdom following the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, followed by the judgments of the seven year Tribulation, which He would have ended by His return in power and glory to inaugurate that kingdom).

The result of John’s preaching was that multitudes believed, repented, and were baptized; but with a few exceptions, the leaders of Israel refused to listen, as their fathers had refused to listen to the earlier prophets.  Nor did the sins of the fathers stop at rejection of the prophets’ message: they killed God’s messengers; and now their sons were about to crown that wickedness by crucifying God’s Son!

“... presseth” is connected with the idea of struggle or violence, and the thought appears to be that those who would enter the kingdom would be they who would overcome all the obstacles that keep men out of it, e.g., the claims of religious systems in which they have been reared; the appeal of the world with its offer of wealth and pleasure; the opposition of family and friends; the mockery and rejection of men; the need to live in separation from the world, and to be witnesses for Christ.

16:17.  “And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail.”

The law here refers, not just to the Mosaic law, but to the whole OT, while tittle refers to such minor things as the dotting of an “i” or the crossing of a “t.”  The truth being declared is that not one small detail of that Word will go unfulfilled.

At first glance it seems as though this has no connection with what has preceded, but it has a connection.  Israel’s crucifixion of the Messiah is clearly foretold in those same Scriptures, as are the results of that atrocity; and the Jewish leaders who professed to be exponents of those Scriptures were therefore, without excuse, for they ought to have known all this.  This generation is missing the lesson, however, if it fails to realize that that same Word will also condemn it for its rejection of Christ, and the attendant eternal results are also declared in it.  Believers too, are without excuse, for the same Word declares also the eternal results that will attend our manner of life here on earth.

16:18.  “Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery.”

At first glance it is difficult to see what relationship this has to the fact that many of the common people were crowding into the kingdom of God through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, but a more careful look reveals an essential truth.  The wife in Scripture represents the expression of a man’s spiritual life: the godly wife portraying the expression of true spiritual life; the ungodly, the expression of what passes with the natural man for spiritual life.  The putting away of the wife therefore represents rejection of the spiritual life offered as God’s priceless gift to every repentant sinner, and the marrying of another portrays the folly of seeking justification by any means other than faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, e.g., through moral reformation, church membership, religious works, philanthropy, etc. 

The lesson being taught in God’s forbidding a man to marry a divorced woman is that salvation is a thing of unsullied purity, as represented by a virgin.  It is unique in that it cannot be received from another, e.g., a child can’t be saved by the faith of a believing parent; nor an unbelieving husband by the faith of his wife.

16:19.  “There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day:”

It is reasonably certain that the Lord had the scribes and Pharisees in mind when He spoke of the rich man, but this doesn’t alter the fact that the application is to all who live for the things of this world, and neglect the things that belong to the kingdom of God.

The purple speaks of royalty, and therefore of rule, while the fine linen speaks of righteousness; and the sumptuous fare, of abundance of this world’s goods, so that the picture is of one who possesses wealth and power, and who has an outward from of righteousness, but no right relationship with God.  Such were the Jewish leaders, and so are many in the religious world today.

16:20.  “And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at this gate, full of sores,”

Because the beggar is named, many believe that this is not a parable, but actual fact.  If therefore the rich man represents the Jewish leaders, then Lazarus, meaning God is helper, seems to represent the publicans and sinners whom the scribes and Pharisees despised, but who obeyed the gospel and crowded into the kingdom.  His being full of sores announces symbolically that he represents those who made no claim to righteousness, but repentantly acknowledged themselves to be sinners who needed a Savior.  He represents all who are willing to make the same acknowledgment, and display the same repentant spirit.

16:21.  “And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.”

This continues to portray the outcasts of Israel who desired to have what the leaders considered of no value: pardon for their sins.  The self-righteous leaders, believing themselves to be in no need of God’s pardon, despised the Savior and His sin-atoning blood.

Inasmuch as the Gentiles were commonly referred to as dogs, the reference here may be to the fact that the Gentiles had more compassion for these outcasts than did the Jewish leaders.

16:22.  “And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried;”

Irrespective of state, all must die (except that generation of believers who will be raptured from the earth at the Lord’s coming for His Church); but what transformation death brought to those two!  The former beggar went to paradise; the former rich man, to hell.  And so is it with all men.  At death believers enter heaven; unbelievers, hell.

The beggar’s being carried “into Abraham’s bosom” conveys the idea of his reclining beside Abraham at the heavenly feast where every believer will dine with Christ.

It is interesting to note that burial isn’t mentioned in connection with Lazarus, though assuredly he also was buried, and in this omission God would emphasize how little power death has over the believer.  It can only cause his body to sleep until the resurrection of life.  A corpse is buried; a sleeping person, just covered until he awakes.

16:23.  “And in hell he lifted up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.”

It is to be noted that prior to the Lord’s resurrection, hell (Gr., Hades; Heb., Sheol) was in the heart of the earth (Eph 4:9), and consisted of a place of torment, which was separated from paradise by a great impassable gulf.  Hell now consists only of the place of torment, for at His resurrection the Lord took with Him the souls in the paradise section (Eph 4:8), that place of bliss since then being located in heaven. 

Hell is to be distinguished from the lake of fire in that only the souls of unbelievers go to hell, while their bodies lie in the grave, to await the resurrection of damnation (Jn 5:29), which will be followed by the judgment of the great white throne, from which the unbeliever - body, soul, and spirit - will be cast into the eternal torment of the lake of fire (Re 20:11-15).  Hell too, is a place of flame and torment, see verse 24, and Mk 9:43-48.

What remorse must have gripped the rich man as he remembered all the times on earth when he had “fared sumptuously,” sharing with the beggar at his gate only the left over scraps that were being thrown to the dogs!  Now he himself is infinitely and eternally worse off than Lazarus had ever been during the few years of his earthly life.

16:24.  “And he cried, and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.”

There is nothing to indicate that while on earth he had ever thought of needing mercy - or, for that matter, of showing mercy - but the truth is that he was as much in need of it then as in his present torment, and this is true of all men.  Furthermore, it was on earth that mercy was available, but having left earth, he had passed for ever beyond hope of mercy, as does every man after death.  It is by his own choice made on earth that a man enjoys mercy, or suffers torment eternally.  Change of state is impossible in eternity. 

As to the reality of hell, those who deny it make Christ a liar, and His death unnecessary; and the same is true of those who attempt to minimize the reality of the torment to be suffered for ever by all who die without having been born again through faith in His death and resurrection.  It is interesting, in fact, that those who deny the reality of hell, but maintain the reality of heaven, ignore the biblical references to the lake of fire, and never offer any explanation as to where those unfit for heaven will be eternally.

His addressing Abraham as father, and Abraham’s calling him son, reminds us that while he may have been able to claim physical descent from Abraham, he was not of the line of faith descended through Isaac, as it is written, “For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel: neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, in Isaac shall they seed be called.  That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed,” Ro 9:6-8.

16:25.  “But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented.”

As the rich man was told to remember, so will all who find themselves in that awful place of torment.  And what will they remember?  Their indifference to, or mockery of the gospel, their contempt of those who tried to warn them, their eager pursuit of wealth and pleasure, will certainly be among their bitter memories.  They who on earth had no time to think about their souls, will have all eternity to bewail their folly, first in the torment of hell, and eternally in the torment of the lake of fire.

How different it will be with those who were willing to be mocked for their testimony in the gospel, who were willing to forego the pursuit of wealth and pleasure, so that they might devote themselves to the service of their Savior!  Like Lazarus, they will be comforted for what they were willing to endure on earth for His sake, and in addition will enjoy the pleasures and wealth of heaven for ever.

16:26.  “And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence.”

That great gulf separating the place of torment and the place of bliss (both of them located in hell prior to Christ’s resurrection) couldn’t be crossed , and with paradise now in heaven the distance separating the two is even greater.  Man on earth chooses his eternal dwelling place.  There is no choice after death.  The myth of purgatory is not to be found in Scripture.

16:27.  “Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father’s house:”

16:28.  “For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment.”

He who on earth had apparently given little or no thought to spiritual things, in a lost eternity had no other concern, and so is it with the multitudes in hell.  Now too late, they are all believers! 

Since five is the number of responsibility, his having five brothers reminds us that it was his responsibility to think about his own soul and theirs also, while he was on earth.  We have similar responsibility to warn unsaved relatives, friends, coworkers, neighbors - all, in fact, with whom we have any opportunity to communicate.  Tomorrow there may be no opportunity to warn anyone and declare the good news of the Gospel.

It continues to be emphasized that hell is a place of dreadful torment, and that knowledge ought to impel every believer to greater diligence in proclaiming the Gospel.

16:29.  “Abraham said unto him, They have Moses and the prophets: let them hear them.”

Moses was the term used by the Jews when referring to the Pentateuch (the first five books of the OT), so what Abraham was saying was that the five brethren, in common with all men, ought to give heed to what is written in Scripture, for it is there that men are warned repeatedly, and exhorted to save themselves from hell by believing in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior.

16:30.  “And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent.”

16:31.  “And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.”

There is no other way to be saved than by believing the Scriptures; and the truth of Abraham’s statement that they wouldn’t repent even if one rose from the dead, is declared in the fact that the Jews, not once, but three times, had been presented with just such a miracle as the rich man was suggesting, for the Lord had raised at least three people from the dead, one of whom was also named Lazarus, but the response of the Jewish leaders was to seek to kill the Lord and the resurrected Lazarus, see Jn 12:9-10.  And even after He Himself had risen from the dead, they refused to believe, and instead sought to kill those who were witnesses of His resurrection, Ac 5:33; yet belief in His resurrection is an essential part of saving faith, as it is written, “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved” (Ro 10:9).

[Luke 17]


     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
© 2000-2005 James Melough