[Luke 16] Stewardship, Clemency, and the Reality of Hell: When is the last time you let a sinner off the hook? Have you ever conveyed the goodness of God to a sinful person? In the story of the unfaithful steward, Jesus calls upon us to reconcile the sin debt of those around us and in so doing commend them to the clemency of God. Should we make them feel condemned first? Not in the instructions Jesus gives in this chapter of Luke. Hell indeed is real, and its consequences eternal, but our mandate is to proclaim the goodness of God to those lost and dying ones, as the only hope that they might be rescued from its fate.

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[Luk 16:1-31 KJV] 1 And he said also 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. 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. 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. 4 I am resolved what to do, that, when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses. 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? 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. 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. 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. 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. 11 If therefore ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true [riches]? 12 And if ye have not been faithful in that which is another man’s, who shall give you that which is your own? 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.

In chapter 16 Jesus begins by speaking of a “certain rich man”. Is this a parable or is did these events actually take place. Because v. 1 refers to a “certain” person, we may conclude that this narrative is linked to factual events. The rich man in the account accuses his steward of unfaithfulness in wasting his Lord’s goods. The application is apparent. Jesus is addressing His own disciples and not the Pharisees, so He is comparing Himself to the certain rich man, and His close followers to the unfaithful steward. What are the goods that we need to be careful about wasting? These are the attributes and graces of redemption. My wife Kitty asked someone once, “are you ever going to do anything different with your salvation than you have up to now?” This is a relevant question for all of us. What have we done with the so great a price that was paid for our salvation? Have we been faithful, or have we wasted what Jesus did for us on the cross? Is it enough to march in place till Jesus comes, or are we actually accountable for our engagement of lost humanity in the pursuit of the kingdom? What does seek the kingdom look like for you? It is important to ask the question because it is the basis of fidelity to God and will be the metric by which we are judged before His throne.

The steward is appalled at His Master’s displeasure and resolving what to do, he calls upon His Lord’s debtor’s and dismisses their debts for pennies on the dollar. Rather than being further displeased, the rich man commends the wisdom of the steward with the observation in v. 8 that the children of the world were wiser in their generation than those who considered themselves enlightened in the kingdom. What did the unfaithful steward do to regain His Lord’s respect? He went out and let those indebted to His Lord off the hook. He forgave the debts of His Master’s borrowers. Isn’t that compromise? In the eyes of religious scrutiny the answer would be yes, but through the lens of Jesus, the friend of publicans and sinners, it is the appropriate course of action. Does that intimidate you? When is the last time you let a sinner off the hook? Aren’t we supposed to hold their feet to the fire, demanding every measure of sacrifice and repentance as we understand it? This passage flies in the face of conventional wisdom about Christian commitment, conversion, and strategies of evangelism, yet it is the clear teaching of scripture. Go out in your day today and speak clemency to those who have not reconciled themselves to Christ. Tell them God loves them no strings attached, even if you think they are deserving of judgment and much more besides. Why would you do such a thing? Because God’s goodness Rom. 2:4 tells us that it is the goodness of God that leads men to repent, or amend their ways. Are there people around you that desperately need to repent? Give them God’s goodness for only God’s goodness will produce in the person the fruits of repentance that God is seeking. Jailhouse repentance, or avoidance conversion is not what God is after. He wants to receive those who realize that He loves them so much and has forgiven them so deeply that their only response is to come to the foot of the cross in gratitude and appreciation for all that has been wrought in their behalf by the shed blood of the Cross.

In the context of the lesson, Jesus defines this strategy of soul winning as the definition of being found faithful (v. 12). If we have not been faithful in that which is another man’s (in this case us, being faithful stewards of the mandates of the gospel) who is going to give us that which is our own? In other words, our attitudes toward sinners and those that are without has a direct impact on answered prayer and the garnering of the blessing of God in our own lives. Again, when is the last time you let a sinner of the hook of religious expectation, believing that the love of God and the goodness of God was far more capable of winning their hearts to Jesus than imposing some heavy burden of false religious expectation?

14 And the Pharisees also, who were covetous, heard all these things: and they derided him. 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. 16 The law and the prophets [were] until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it. 17 And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail. 18 Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from [her] husband committeth adultery. 19 There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: 20 And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, 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. 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; 23 And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. 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. 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. 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. 27 Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father’s house: 28 For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment. 29 Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. 30 And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. 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.

When the Pharisees heard the account of the unfaithful steward they derided Jesus because they were covetousness. They didn’t want to settle the debts of those sinful people around them. They wanted to maintain the separation between the perceived failings of others and their own self-righteousness. There Pharisaism was hard won. They had worked all their lives building up a wall of high opinion that in their perspective made them better and more spiritual than those around them. To forgive sinners, extending the love of God to them as opposed to condemnation and religious expectation, this was a travesty of justice in their eyes. The problem is that they had an us vs. them mentality. They do not understand that in failing to embrace the clemency of God toward others, they had condemned themselves. Jesus illustrates their own sinful abandon by questioning the rampant broken state of their family situations in v. 18. Divorce in this culture was a simple matter of scribbling “I divorce you” on a piece of paper and handing it to their spouse on the way out the door. In highlighting this issue, Jesus was not so much seeking to make comment on the divorce issue, as He was to expose the hypocrisy of those willing to condemn others all the while white washing their own failures and shortcomings.

Jesus then tells another story of a “certain rich man”. Is this a parable, or a fiction or based on actual events? Again, the delineation of a “certain” person suggests to us that this is a real thing. The story is that of a neglected homeless person, and a rich man who abused him, meeting their end in eternity. The rich man lists up his eyes in hell, tormented in endless flame, asking for one drop of water to cool his tongue. Here is a universally neglected truth. Hell, and the teaching of hell is not in vogue in the seeker sensitive church. Living for God is not about a heaven to gain and a hell to shun, but about here and now, salting our lives with a little dashboard Jesus while we go on our way living lives of entrenched self-interest. We read this passage and must question, do we really believe that hell exists, and that people will actually go there? If we do not believe it, then we are forced to question Jesus, and the validity and infallibility of scripture. Theologians, and contemporary teachers, do just that, saying that Jesus didn’t actually teach this, but rather the story is a creation of Luke, seeking to make a point to readers contemporary to him in regard to social justice and economic disparity in ancient Israel. Is this true? Is the gospel account merely a fanciful contrivance of a first century writer, seeking to make a point in this case to Theophulis, a nobleman to whom the letter is written? If so, then we are yet in our sins, and have lost the only compass we have for godly living, the very word of God. Hell is real. People really go there. The suffering depicted is eternal.

The rich man realizing that there is no respite for his sufferings in hell, asks that a messenger from the grave be sent to his brothers, that they might not be sent to this placed of judgment. The request is denied, and the observation is made, that if God’s word is not enough to convict sinners, then they will remain unpersuaded and perish in their sins. Is there any reason why the word of God is so under assault in our culture, and so neglected by Christianity? The call to go “Back to the Bible” is more than a catchy phrase. It is the greatest need of the people of God, if we ever hope to regain or relevance in a lost and dying world, bound for an eternal hell of endless suffering unless the gospel is preached to them, not by others but by we ourselves.


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