Luke 16:9 states: “I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.” Does this verse contradict the rest of the Bible? Is Christ telling us that we should use wealth to make friends for ourselves so that we can be in God’s Kingdom? If that is what He is truly saying, it surely would contradict other things that He taught concerning money and wealth.
I’ve read several articles, blogs, and commentaries about this verse and many writers suggest that Christ is telling His followers to “win souls for the kingdom” by using money to take care of people’s physical needs. They believe that in this verse, Christ is telling us to be charitable. By doing so the recipients would be converted and be in the Kingdom where they would welcome you there “into eternal dwellings.” This interpretation seems to fit a little closer to the other teachings of Jesus. Unfortunately, upon closer examination it appears that they are reading too much into what Christ says and not being honest with His simple statement.
To understand this verse we must first put it into the proper context. It is actually the end of a parable that Christ was telling His disciples. The Pharisees had been misusing the tithe-money they received from the people and the parable addressed this corruption in an interesting way. We know the verse is related to these religious leaders because of their response in verse 14: “The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus.”
Christ begins the parable by introducing a dishonest manager who was working for a rich man. The rich man accuses him of wasting his possessions. Seeing that he is about to be fired from his job, the dishonest manager formulates a plan for his survival. “The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg—I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses'” (Luke 16:3-4).
The dishonest manager goes to all the people who owe his boss money and makes deals with them. He offers one debtor a debt settlement for fifty percent of what is owed and to another he offers to settle for eighty percent. With these deals he is swindling his boss so that he may have a place to sleep and eat after he loses his job. His motivations are clearly selfish.
We read in verse 8 the rich man’s reaction: “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.” Some people take this statement as an endorsement by Jesus that Christians need to act more shrewdly like the people of the world. However, by what He tells the Pharisees, this is not what He is saying: “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God” (Luke 16:15 NKJV). Just because the rich man commends the manager’s actions does not mean he justifies them. This parable is condemning these worldly activities that paralleled many practiced by the Pharisees. The “people of light” should not act like the dishonest manager.
Christ now ends the parable with the controversial verse 9. I believe the NKJV translation makes the meaning a little clearer: “And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon, that when you fail, they may receive you into an everlasting home.” This is Jesus punctuating the meaning of this parable by using hyperbole. He is in effect saying that if you are going to be dishonest like the manager and then fail, you’d better buy yourself some friends so you will have a place to stay. Some people get hung up over the “everlasting home” part of the verse. They believe it possibly represents the Kingdom of God. However, this interpretation is not supported by the context of the parable nor the explanation that He gives of it in the next few verses. A better conclusion is that it is simply an exaggerated use of language to make a point.
In the explanation of this parable Christ shows us how to truly approach monetary responsibilities in this life. “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?” (Luke 16:10-11). Here Jesus tells us that we need to be trustworthy in the things that we are given in this life. The dishonest manager was not trustworthy and is an example of behavior to avoid. In our jobs and dealings in this world concerning money, we should not try to be shrewd and dishonest; instead, we should be trustworthy. Jesus convicts the Pharisees because they were dishonest in how they dealt with the money they received from the people. That is why this parable made them so angry.
There are no contradictions in Christ’s teachings about money. As “people of the light” we should be known for our integrity. All our financial dealings should glorify Christ so that we may one day manage the “true riches” in His Kingdom.