THE MAMMON OF UNRIGHTEOUSNESS
A Sermon by Rev. Ragnar BoyesenPreached in Freeport, Pennsylvania, on October 20, 1985
“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. And I say unto you, Make friends for yourselves of the unrighteous mammon, that when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations” (Luke 16:8, 9).
The parable of the mammon of unrighteousness is one of the most difficult to explain seen from the background of New Testament morals and ideas. On the surface it looks as if the Lord is commending dishonesty, but the reality is His speech to the natural and the spiritual worlds at the same time. If one takes the literal sense alone as true, self-contradictions are inevitable. Did not the Lord Himself say that man should fulfill the law, and that theft was prohibited according to the law of Moses? Had not the Jewish people known this for centuries?
In the natural sense we see a cunning man well-versed in the usages of the world who grasps the opportunity to free himself from financial ruin by unjustly transferring his master’s assets to the debtors. In this way he achieves favor with them. In a critical situation the householder shows that he has foresight, has a quick perception of needs, and exhibits strong self-preservation. When he was disengaged from his service, he had managed to provide for his future needs.
The parallel on the spiritual level is as clear as the meaning of the natural story. Simply stated, it admonishes the man of the church to use prudence and foresight in spiritual things. The question of importance is not whether we amass natural wealth but that we have loved to manage spiritual wealth even though we may have been surrounded by natural wealth. The question of stewardship is the real issue in the parable.
In today’s lesson it is explained that those people who worship self and the world are the same who confirm themselves against Divine Providence. The reason is that they take hold of externals alone, being unwilling to consider the purpose of life in this world. External and worldly people are often envious of others, and do not understand how some people can be better circumstanced than others without this reflecting an unfairness of society. Differences between material conditions of various people they call evil, and do not understand why obviously evil people often are economically better off while God-fearing and duty-loving members of society often are content with less. For the envy of riches becomes stumbling blocks and spiritual obstacles for evil people, while for good people worldly riches become confirmations of spiritual riches, to be used as means because they can further heavenly uses.
Because the Lord uses evil as well as good people in the administration of His creation, therefore He permits evil people to acquire those goods which they lust for when they have confirmed themselves in evil (see DP 250). Evil people may perform uses as fully as good people. They may even burn with a greater fire than do good people, because they see themselves portrayed in what they do. Their own self-love is decisive for what goals they have in life. The higher the self-love, the more unrealistic and sky-storming will be their ambitions, and therefore their goals. When such people do good for society, or for their country, they seek their own glory and fame. Because so few people on earth love use from a love to the Lord, therefore He permits those evil people to serve in the performance in those uses which rightly should have been done by good people. In this way the Lord’s work gets done. He governs these unrighteous servants of mammon through their love of self and the world.
If now the Lord permits the evil to do uses which good men should have performed, and He uses the lusts of these people as controlling means (because the love of the world can be directed outward into the world so that a semblance of order can be maintained there, even if it is done in the name of self), why should the man of the church have to be envious of others, or discredit the Lord’s Providence? Is it not good that the Lord is good? For regenerating people this is good, but for those lodged in evil it is evil, because their desires cannot be satisfied.
The mammon of unrighteousness has a special significance in the spiritual meaning of the New Testament. This mammon stands as a symbol for the knowledges of faith and love acquired by evil people. When the main weight of the parable lies on the spiritual stewardship, we are led to see that evil people are dishonest stewards of spiritual riches. (With the spiritual man, mammon is a means; with the natural man apart from the spiritual, mammon is an end. With the spiritual man, knowledges are means, but with the natural man, knowledges are ends.) When evil people use truths and goods, it is for an egotistical reason. But when regenerating people make friends with the mammon of unrighteousness, this means that the fame and riches of this world will not be a snare for them, but rather a blessing. Evil people set their hearts in riches and fame as an end, and are condemned for it. By this type of “worship” the honorable means called “mammon” (money) becomes the “mammon of unrighteousness,” or put in modern words, dirty money. By this type of perverse worship the merely natural man robs the true riches belonging to the Lord, and claim them to himself, not as a means but an extension of self. The regenerating man, on the other hand, develops a friendly relationship to money when he understands that the riches of the world and the glories here are to be respected as blessings for the performance of uses which the Lord desires done to society. By a rational view of means, a regenerating man does not wrap his heart in natural riches, but rather opens it to spiritual riches. To him the knowledges of the Lord, the Word, the life of charity and eternal life become living means whereby he explores the subjects of his love. The regenerating man seeks heavenly riches among earthly knowledges because he seeks to confirm what he knows of the relationship between the Lord and His children.
Like the dishonest householder, however, we are all of us guilty of spiritual manipulations. We are not able to leave a totally honest account of our lives when the Lord will place us to face our lives in the other world. Much have we squandered; many possibilities for true helpfulness and unselfish action have been lost. Many strong thoughts and practical ideas were never followed through to their practical consequences. In short, the natural man has all too often shown an unwillingness to subordinate itself to the spiritual man in us. But even if the natural man in us is condemned, the Lord loves the possibility of eternal use which He has planted in our inmost soul. When we all leave this earth when we die, we are going to be put in a similar situation as the dishonest householder. After death we will all be separated from the management of our purely natural lives. We have a preview in our lesson this morning: “Then the steward said within himself, What shall I do? For my master is taking the stewardship away from me. I cannot dig; I am ashamed to beg. I have resolved what to do that when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses” (Luke 16:3, 4). We remember how he called the debtors and asked the one who owed 100 measures of oil to write 50 in his bill of debt. The one who owed 100 measures of wheat was asked to write 80. And we read that “… the master commended the unjust steward because he had dealt shrewdly. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light” (Luke 16:8).
In the parable the Lord is the rich man. All that is good and true can come from Him and no other source. The Lord is personally the good and the truth which, when they become life principles in men, are their very riches on this earth and in the eternal world.
In its most general form, the church on earth is the steward of all the Lord’s riches presented in this world. The church must therefore act with prudence in its management of spiritual riches, and not serve its own ends but those of the Lord. To dare to pay the price of spiritual striving to do a higher will than its own is ever the challenge of the church.
The individual man of the church has been given such riches as come to us through environment, inheritance and applications. They are all good gifts which must be managed for the Lord. But unfortunately, we are often like the unjust steward. We dishonestly squander the riches of our Lord. Particularly are spiritual riches squandered when religion is confessed with the mouth yet the individual lifestyle shows that there is a lack of concern for using truths. Even the church as a whole is a squanderer of truth when it teaches derived doctrine as Divine doctrine, and makes itself blind to the evils and bad habits of its people.
Fortunately, we have that overriding spiritual gift which makes us, like the unjust steward, draw back from blatant consequences. When our conscience is awakened from its sleep, we may realize that we genuinely need the help of others. This awakening often causes us to feel that the Lord is coming closer to us, and that evils in us will for that reason make a more vigorous resistance. If we have spiritual courage, and dare to look into the causes of our resistance, we may come to a deeper level of self-examination which truly will show us how we can account for the Lord’s riches in our lives. Those evil spirits who are with us at the time may assuredly try to convince us that everything is lost because we have been asked to render an account. The hells will try to prove that the Lord does no longer think that we are stewards because we have made errors. Yet this can be broken, and our confidence reestablished, if we but remember that we are not only stewards but also debtors.
In the midst of temptation we may cry out: “I am unable to dig.” The temptation is that we believe ourselves incapable of the mental energy to go to the Lord in the Word. To dig, in the internal sense, is to search out the origins, to learn those spiritual principles which all natural life shall serve. We know that we must trust the Lord and ask Him for spiritual help, but it is a real temptation to leave all striving to the Lord, to make Him responsible for our spiritual account. Everything is certainly a gift from the Lord, but He desires that we take these gifts into our accounts to let them work there so that our “household” will prosper.
The unjust steward is incapable of this. He is not capable of begging. What is evil in us knows all too well that it misrepresents truths; therefore, it is unwilling to receive such help which could lead to a heavenly life. What is evil in man feels uncomfortable and unprepared for death, and would rather not think of eternity because it does not know what to do or where to live.
Being pressed by such thoughts, the natural man in us is forced to find a solution. Just as evil spirits are dependent upon the angels of heaven for a balance against deadly hatred toward others, so is the natural man dependent upon the rational man which can draw on the truths in the Word without necessarily using them. The natural man in us can never contain or comprehend many truths which are truly rational such as a regenerating man or an angel can, but the natural in us may at all events be able to see that there is a great need for new truths to come forward even to life.
The householder making the debtors write 50 measures of oil and 80 measures of wheat stands for that love in man that is a product of spiritual love, which is less than a celestial love. In the spiritual man, 50 is a symbol of that which comes from the Lord and which has been strengthened. This is the same as salvation for the natural man when he follows the Lord in the Word. Eighty stands for those temptations which are from a greater degree of difficulty. That the householder could not pay back 100 measures of oil and 100 measures of wheat are symbols for the dependence upon the Lord. Man can never pay back all the riches he receives from the Lord. It belongs to his humility to reflect on this.
Like the unjust steward who drew back from begging, so does the natural man draw back from listening to the voice of the Lord in his conscience, when the Lord asks us, as it were, to pay Him back by bending our minds to charitable thoughts and actions. From the natural man we will never gain confidence in our ability to be saved by working for salvation. Yet by using prudence as a means, we may manage our spiritual household in such a way that what is eternal can be present even in the natural. By this shall we be received into the houses of angels after death.
In this parable we are taught that we are to search for what is heavenly in practical life. Like worldly people can manage their affairs in this world, so shall we, as the Lord’s servants, see to our spiritual interests in the spiritual world. The Lord teaches us to have a determined and well-formed purpose in life. He wants us to regenerate. This is that spiritual aim we are never to lose sight of. We must put all our strength into trying to reach this aim, and while on the road, we must use the world and its friends as our own friends, yet subservient to the Lord. There is nothing in the world which in itself is evil. Only man’s use of the world can be said to be so. When we have been asked to avoid being unjust stewards of the Lord’s goods, then we shall take the knowledges of good and truth and apply them without pessimism, without ill will or loathing, which is the way of the evil man. Like an angel, we shall apply truths in life, and for that reason stay faithful in small as in great tasks.
“He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much, and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much. Therefore if you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in what is another man’s, who will give you what is your own? You cannot serve God and mammon” (Luke 16:9-13). Amen.
Lessons: Genesis 44:1-17, Luke 16:1-13, DP 250
250 The worshiper of himself and of nature confirms himself against the Divine Providence when he sees the impious exalted to honors and to high offices in church and state, also abounding in wealth and living in luxury and magnificence, while he sees the worshipers of God despised and poor. The worshiper of himself and of nature believes dignities and wealth to be the highest and the only happiness that can be granted, thus happiness itself; and if he has any thought of God from a sense of worship instilled in infancy, he calls them Divine blessings; and so long as he is not puffed up by them he thinks that there is a God, and even worships God. But there lies hidden in the worship what he is himself then ignorant of, an aspiration to be raised up by God to still higher dignities, and to still greater wealth; and when he reaches these, his worship tends more and more to outward things, even until it falls away, and at length he despises and denies God; and he does the same if he is cast down from the dignity and opulence on which he has set his heart. What, then, are dignities and wealth to the wicked but stumbling blocks?
But to the good they are not so, because they do not set their hearts on them, but on the uses or the goods in the performance of which dignities and wealth are of service as means. Therefore only he that is a worshiper of himself and nature can confirm himself against Divine Providence because of the advancement of the impious to honors and wealth and to high offices in church and state. Moreover, what is dignity greater or less? And what is opulence greater or less? In itself is it anything but an imaginary something? Is one person more fortunate or happier than another? Does a great man, or even a king or emperor, after a single year, regard the dignity as anything more than something common, which no longer exalts his heart with joy, but may even become worthless to him? Are such by virtue of their dignities in any greater degree of happiness than those who are in less dignity, or even in the least, like farmers and even their servants? These, when all goes well with them and they are content with their lot, may have a greater measure of happiness. What is more restless at heart, more frequently provoked, more violently enraged, than self-love; and this as often as it is not honored according to the pride of its heart, and as often as anything does not succeed according to its wish and whim? What, then, is dignity if it does not pertain to some matter or use, but an idea? And can there be such an idea in any thought except thought about self and the world, which essentially in itself is that the world is everything and the eternal nothing?
Something shall now be said about the Divine Providence, why it permits the impious in heart to be raised to dignities and enriched with possessions. The impious or wicked can perform uses equally with the pious or good, and even with greater zeal, for they have regard to themselves in the uses and to the honors as the uses; therefore, to whatever height the love of self climbs, the lust of performing uses for the sake of its own glory burns in it. With the pious or good there is no such fire, unless unconsciously kindled by some feeling of honor. Thus the Lord governs the impious in heart who are in places of dignity by the glory of their name, and incites them to the performance of uses to the community or country, to the society or city in which they dwell, and to their fellow citizen or neighbor with whom they are associated. This is the Lord’s government, which is called the Divine Providence with such; for the Lord’s kingdom is a kingdom of uses, and where there are but few who perform uses for the sake of uses, He causes the worshipers of self to be raised to the higher offices, in which each one is incited to do good by means of his own love.
… Since, then, there are so few who are loves of God, and so many who are loves of self and the world, and since the latter loves from their fire perform uses more than the loves of God from theirs, how can anyone confirm himself [against the Divine Providence] because the evil are in eminence and opulence more than the good?