Question: Please explain Luke 16:9.
Answer: Luke 16:9 reads as follows: “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.”
There are several qualifying points in this text, but before we analyze them, let us notice some other similar passages. I Timothy 6:17-19 says, “Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy; That they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate; Laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.” Again in Matthew 25:34-36 Jesus said, “Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.” Again Jesus speaking in Luke 12:33-34 says, “Sell that ye have, and give alms; provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief approacheth, neither moth corrupteth. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” In Matthew 19:21, Jesus said to the rich young man who came to Him seeking the way to obtain eternal life, “If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.”
All of these texts and others are parallel and identical in their message with the text of our question Luke 16:9. They are all teaching the same thing but all of them together broaden the perspective of the thought more than any one of them would alone. All of these passages seem to teach the idea of being saved through our good works, benevolences, and charities. But that could not be true because such an interpretation would clash head-on with many other plain Scriptures pertaining to our obtaining salvation and eternal life. In Titus 3:4-6 we read, “But after the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour.” This passage makes it perfectly clear that it is a distinct work of God through the operation of the Holy Ghost in one’s soul that saves him and not the works of righteousness one does. All the good works, benevolences, and charities spoken of in all the above texts are certainly works of righteousness and pertain to salvation, but that is not what saves one. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” Here is another plain text which makes it plain that one is saved by grace and not by his works. Also II Timothy 1:9 says, “Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began.” There are many other texts similar to these, but according to God’s law every word is established by two or three witnesses, so I feel it unnecessary to multiply Scriptures and take more space on this point.
Now the question naturally arises, “If these Scriptures do not teach salvation by works of righteousness consisting of one’s good deeds, benevolences, and charities, then what do they teach?” They certainly seem to teach this, I agree. As has already been pointed out; they could not teach this without clashing head-on with other plain Scriptures pertaining to obtaining salvation. This the Scriptures never do.
What we need to realize and recognize is that many specific scriptures have a specific objective and emphasize a certain point. Perhaps no one scripture covers all the conditions of salvation. Failing to recognize this, many in the religious world today have missed the mark and established wrong doctrines on certain scriptures. For example: In Acts 16:31 where Paul and Silas were giving instruction to the penitent, broken, contrite jailer inquiring the way to be saved, “…Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.” On a broad scale this scripture has been seized upon to establish a doctrine that all one has to do is believe on the Lord Jesus Christ to be saved. This doctrine overlooks and by-passes the ideas of repentance, restitution, confession of sins, forgiving others who have wronged us and seeking the forgiveness of those we have wronged, brokenness of spirit, contrition of heart, godly sorrow, etc. and just makes it a simple matter of believing on the Lord Jesus Christ. This jailer had already reached this place and his works and attitude proved it. Paul and Silas recognized this and cried out to him exultantly, “Jesus is the one who can save you; believe on Him.” That was all that was left to do in this case. Again in Acts 22:16 when God had sent Ananias to Saul of Tarsus to pray for him that he might receive his sight and be filled with the Holy Ghost, Ananias said to him, “And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.” On this Scripture and other similar ones the doctrine has been founded of being saved by baptism. Let us not overlook the fact that Paul had already repented and humbled his heart in surrender to the Lord and submission to His will and had been fasting and praying for three days and God made this known to Ananias. Now all that remained for him to do was to be baptized and put the seal on it.
Thus it is evident and plain to be seen that no one Scripture sets forth all the conditions of salvation but each has a specific objective and emphasizes a specific point according to its setting and related conditions. We are to view Luke 16:9 and all the parallel texts in this light. Certainly no one will be saved and obtain eternal life just because he did good works and because of his benevolences and charities. It is also certain that no one can be saved without this kind of a spirit and disposition. It is the spirit of Christ without which no one can be saved. Romans 8:9 says, “…Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.” In Matthew 25:41-42 we read, “Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: For I was an hungred and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.” Here is a people being doomed because they had not the spirit of Christ and therefore neglected to help the needy people around them.
Now let us analyze Luke 16:9 specifically. The occasion of this statement is a preceding parable which Jesus had spoken concerning an unjust steward who was going to be dismissed from his stewardship because he had wasted his master’s goods. When this was announced to him, he called in all of his master’s debtors and discounted all their bills with the thought in mind that when he was put out of his master’s house they would receive him into their houses in return for his favor to them. Jesus commended him for looking ahead and making provision for himself in the future, and then proceeds to instruct us to do the same thing. Not to defraud and embezzle as this man did, to be sure, but to look beyond this present world and present time and make provisions for everlasting habitations in the world to come. He also makes it clear that the proper use of our material substance in helping the needy people around us is a part of doing this.
In Matthew 6:20 Jesus instructs us to lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven; and in Matthew 19:21 He tells us how to do this: “…Go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven:…” Again, in Luke 12:33 Jesus said, “Sell that ye have, and give alms; provide yourselves…a treasure in the heavens that faileth not,…” This makes it clear that our good deeds, benevolences, charities, and help to the needy people around us are a part of the process of laying up treasures for ourselves in heaven. When a traveler arrives in a foreign country, he must go to the money exchangers and exchange his money for their currency which is legal tender in that country, so he can spend it there. God has His own currency exchange whereby when we perform our services, almsgiving, charities, and benevolences in the right spirit and in His Name and for His glory, He converts our material substance into spiritual substance which is legal tender in the heavenly country and becomes a treasure laid up in heaven for us.
The “mammon of unrighteousness” in the text is the material substance over which we are stewards, and we are instructed to use it in the manner outlined above. The phrase, “When ye fail,” refers to our death when we quit the walks of life. The last clause in the text, “They may receive you into everlasting habitations,” could not be interpreted literally, and for the following reasons: The friends we make through the help we give with our material substance are not the ones who will receive us into heaven, but Jesus is the Judge and He will receive us when we pass His judgment. Also, we might die and pass on to our eternal home before those we have helped do and they would not be there to receive us. Also, many whom we help may not be saved in the end and consequently would not be there to receive us. It is all emphasizing that this is a part of the over-all process of one working out his own salvation and laying up treasures in heaven and obtaining eternal life.
Let us make no mistake about it. Salvation is not the result of our good works and charities; but these things are the result of our having salvation and part of the fruits of it, and are part of the process of maintaining our salvation and obtaining eternal life.