Call to Worship August 5 2018

Expository Thoughts on the Gospel of Luke
J.C. Ryle Luke 16:1-18
“Let us beware, in the first place — that we do not draw lessons from these verses which they were never meant to teach.

The steward whom our Lord describes, is not set before us as a pattern of morality. He is distinctly called the ‘unjust steward.’ The Lord Jesus never meant to sanction dishonesty, and unfair dealing between man and man. This steward cheated his master, and broke the eighth commandment. His master was struck with his ingenuity and forethought, when he heard of it — and commended him as a shrewd and far-seeing man.

But there is no proof that his master was pleased with his conduct. Above all, there is not a word to show that the man was praised by Christ. In short, in his treatment of his master, the steward is a beacon to be avoided — and not a pattern to be followed.

The caution, now laid down, is very necessary. Commercial dishonesty is unhappily very common in these latter days. Honest dealing between man and man is increasingly rare. Men do things in the way of business — which will not stand the test of the Bible. In ‘making haste to be rich,’ thousands are continually committing actions which are dishonest. (Proverbs 28:20.)

Sharpness and smartness, in bargaining, and buying, and selling, and pushing trade — are often covering over dishonest hearts. The generation of ‘the unjust steward’ is still a very large one. Let us not forget this. Whenever we do to others, what we would not like others to do to us — we may be sure, whatever the world may say — that we are wrong in the sight of Christ.

Let us observe, in the second place — that one principal lesson of the parable before us, is the wisdom of providing against coming evil.

The conduct of the unjust steward, when he received notice to give up his place — was undeniably shrewd and skillful. Dishonest as he was in striking off from the bills of debtors anything that was due to his master — he certainly by so doing, made friends for himself. As wicked as he was — he had an eye to the future. As disgraceful as his measures were — he provided well for himself. He did not sit still in idleness, and see himself reduced to poverty — without a struggle. He schemed, and planned, and contrived, and boldly carried his plans into execution. And the result was that when he lost one home, he secured another.

What a striking contrast between the steward’s conduct about his earthly prospects — and the conduct of most men about their souls! In this general point of view, and in this alone — the steward sets us all an example which we should do well to follow. Like him — we should look far forward to things to come. Like him — we should provide against the day when we shall have to leave our present habitation. We should secure ‘a house in Heaven,’ which may be our home — when we put off our earthly tabernacle of the body. (2 Corinthians 5:1.) Like him — we should use all means to provide everlasting habitations for ourselves.

The parable, in this point of view, is deeply instructive. It may well raise within us great searchings of heart. The diligence of worldly men about the things of time — should put to shame the coldness of professing Christians about the things of eternity. The zeal and pertinacity of men of business in compassing sea and land to get earthly treasures — may well reprove the slackness and indolence of believers about treasures in Heaven.

The words of our Lord are indeed weighty and solemn, ‘The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind — than are the people of the light!’ May these words sink into our hearts and bear fruit in our lives!

Let us notice, lastly, in this passage — the remarkable expressions which our Lord uses about little things, in close connection with the parable of the unjust steward. We read that He said, ‘He who is faithful in that which is least — is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in the least — is unjust also in much.’

Our Lord here teaches us the great importance of strict faithfulness about ‘little things.’ He guards us against supposing that such conduct about money as that of the unjust steward, ought ever to be considered a light and trifling thing among Christians. He would have us know that ‘little things’ are the best test of character — and that unfaithfulness about ‘little things’ is the sign of a bad state of heart.

He did not mean, of course, that honesty about money can justify our souls, or put away sin. But He did mean that dishonesty about money is a sure sign of a heart not being ‘right in the sight of God.’ The man who is not dealing honestly with the gold and silver of this world — can never be one who has true riches in Heaven. ‘If you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property — then who will give you property of your own?’

The doctrine laid down by our Lord in this place, deserves most serious consideration in the present day. An idea appears to prevail in some men’s minds — that true religion may be separated from common honesty; and that soundness about matters of doctrine, may cover over swindling and cheating in matters of practice! Against this wretched idea, our Lord’s words were a plain protest. Against this idea, let us watch and be on our guard. Let us contend earnestly for the glorious doctrines of salvation by grace, and justification by faith. But let us never allow ourselves to suppose that true religion sanctions any trifling with the second table of the law. Let us never forget for a moment — that true faith will always be known by its fruits. We may be very sure that where there is no honesty — there is no saving grace.

These verses teach us, firstly — the uselessness of attempting to serve God with a divided heart. Our Lord Jesus Christ says, ‘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. You cannot serve God and mammon.’

The truth here propounded by our Lord appears, at first sight — too obvious to admit of being disputed. And yet the very attempt which is here declared to be useless, is constantly being made by many in the matter of their souls. Thousands on every side are continually trying to do that very thing which Christ pronounces to be impossible. They are endeavoring to be friends of the world, and friends of God — at the same time.

Their consciences are so far enlightened — that they feel they must have some religion. But their affections are so chained down to earthly things — that they never come up to the mark of being true Christians. And hence they live in a state of constant discomfort. They have too much religion to be happy in the world — and they have too much of the world in their hearts to be happy in their religion. In short, they waste their time in laboring to do that which cannot be done. They are striving to serve both God and mammon!

He who desires to be a happy Christian, will do well to ponder our Lord’s sayings in these verses. There is perhaps no point on which the experience of all God’s saints is more uniform than this, that decision is the secret of comfort in Christ’s service. It is the half-hearted Christian who brings up an evil report of the good land.

The more thoroughly we give ourselves to Christ — the more sensibly shall we feel within, ‘the peace of God which surpasses all understanding.’ (Philippians 4:7.) The more entirely we live, not to ourselves, but to Him who died for us — the more powerfully shall we realize what it is to have ‘joy and peace in believing.’ (Romans 15:13.)

If it is worthwhile to serve Christ at all — then let us serve Him with all our heart, and soul, and mind and strength. Life, eternal life, after all — is the matter at stake, no less than happiness. If we cannot make up our minds to give up everything for Christ’s sake — then we must not expect Christ to own us at the last day. He will have all our hearts — or none. ‘Whoever will be a friend of the world — is the enemy of God.’ (James 4:4) The end of undecided and half-hearted Christians — will be to be cast out forever!

These verses teach us, secondly — how widely different is the estimate set on things by man, from that which is set on things by God. Our Lord Jesus Christ declares this in a severe rebuke which he addresses to the covetous Pharisees who derided Him. He says, ‘You are those who justify yourselves before men. But God knows your hearts — for that which is highly esteemed among men, is an abomination in the sight of God.’

The truth of this solemn saying appears on every side of us. We have only to look round the world and mark the things on which most men set their affections, in order to see it proved in a hundred ways.

Riches, and honors, and rank, and pleasure — are the chief objects for which the greater part of mankind are living. Yet these are the very things which God declares to be ‘vanity’ — and of the love of which, He warns us to beware!

Praying, and Bible-reading, and holy living, and repentance, and faith, and grace, and communion with God — are things for which few care at all. Yet these are the very things which God in His Word is ever urging on our attention!

The disagreement is glaring, painful, and appalling. What God calls good — that man calls evil! What God calls evil — that man calls good!

Whose words, after all, are true? Whose estimate is correct? Whose judgment will stand at the last day? By whose standard will all be tried — before they receive their eternal sentence? Before whose judgment bar will the current opinions of the world be tested and weighed at last?

These are the only questions which ought to influence our conduct — and to these questions, the Bible returns a plain answer. The counsel of the Lord — it alone shall stand forever. The Word of Christ — it alone shall judge man at the last day. By that Word, let us live. By that Word, let us measure everything, and every person in this evil world.

It matters nothing what man thinks. ‘What says the Lord?’ It matters nothing what it is fashionable or customary to think. ‘Let God be true — and every man a liar.’ (Romans 3:4.) The more entirely we are of one mind with God — the better we are prepared for the judgment day.

To love what God loves, to hate what God hates, and to approve what God approves — is the highest style of Christianity. The moment we find ourselves honoring anything which in the sight of God is lightly esteemed — we may be sure there is something wrong in our souls.

These verses teach us, lastly — the dignity and sanctity of the law of God. Our Lord Jesus Christ declares that ‘it is easier for Heaven and earth to pass away — than for the least stroke of the law to fail.’

The honor of God’s holy law was frequently defended by Christ during the time of His ministry on earth. Sometimes we find Him defending it against man-made additions — as in the case of the fourth commandment. Sometimes we find Him defending it against those who would lower the standard of its requirements, and allow it to be transgressed — as in the case of the law of marriage. But never do we find Him speaking of the law in any terms but those of respect. He always ‘magnified the law, and made it honorable.’ (Isaiah 43:21.)

Its ‘ceremonial’ part was a type of His own gospel — and was to be fulfilled to the last letter. Its ‘moral’ part was a revelation of God’s eternal mind — and was to be perpetually binding on Christians.

The honor of God’s holy law needs continually defending in the present day. On few subjects does ignorance prevail so widely among professing Christians. Some appear to think that Christians have nothing to do with the law — that its moral and ceremonial parts were both of only temporary obligation — and that the daily sacrifice and the ten commandments were both alike put aside by the gospel.

Some on the other hand, think that the law is still binding on us, and that we are to be saved by obedience to it, but that its requirements are lowered by the gospel, and can be met by our imperfect obedience.

Both these views are erroneous and unscriptural. Against both, let us be on our guard.

Let us settle it in our minds that ‘the law is good — if man uses it lawfully.’ (1 Timothy 1:8.) It is intended to show us God’s holiness — and our sinfulness; to convince us of sin — and to lead us to Christ; to show us how to live after we have come to Christ — and to teach us what to follow and what to avoid. He who so uses the law, will find it a true friend to his soul. The established Christian will always say, ‘I delight in the law of God after the inward man.’ (Romans 7:22.)”