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What did Jesus mean about making friends by worldly wealth in Luke 16:9?

Luke 16:9 records Jesus speaking: "And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings." At first glance, this verse, taken on its own, may make it seem as though Jesus is advocating for us to gain friends through unrighteous or worldly wealth, but that certainly seems contrary to Jesus' other teachings—and how does it tie in to being received "into the eternal dwellings?" We must look at the preceding context to gain better understanding.

What precedes this verse is the parable of the unjust steward (Luke 16:1–8). In many parables, the powerful figure is a representation of God or the main character is a positive example we are meant to emulate. But in this parable, the steward and his boss are ruled by evil motivations—dishonesty and self-gain via shrewd behavior appear to be praised. Based on His other teachings we know that Jesus is not describing dishonest behavior as exemplary, but is instead using this story to communicate a spiritual principle.

In this parable, a rich man tells his steward that he is going to be fired due to mismanagement of resources. Before he leaves, the steward makes a point to set up provision for himself once his job ends. He does this by creating shrewd deals with clients who owe his boss money. He reduces their debt under the premise of them being willing to offer him shelter and provision when he needs it. When the boss becomes aware of the sneaky deals this steward has been making, rather than reprimanding him, he congratulates him for his "shrewdness."

Jesus told this story to showcase a spiritual principle, rather than a natural one. Luke 16:9 is about preparing for the eternal life to come by being generous and wise stewards in the present one. This concept matches the Sermon on the Mount in which Jesus teaches us to "lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven" (Matthew 6:20). The phrase "worldly wealth" could also be called "earthly wealth." We are not supposed to become wealthy through dishonest business practices, even if it is for the purpose of being generous. Rather, Jesus wants us to be shrewd stewards in the sense of utilizing our resources wisely—to advance His kingdom and bless others.

When we give financially to our church or missions, when we give to people from our own personal resources, when we are generous with our time, what we are really doing is helping to propel God's plan "on earth as it is in heaven" (Matthew 6:10). In doing this, we are storing up eternal rewards and making friends in this life and the life to come. Here's an alternate translation of the same verse: "Here's the lesson: Use your worldly resources to benefit others and make friends. Then, when your possessions are gone, they will welcome you to an eternal home" (Luke 16:9, NLT).


Related Truth:

Why did Jesus use parables so often?

How can a Christian be an ambassador for Christ?

Does the Bible say anything about friends?

What is meant by the command to love one another?

What does it mean for Christians to be in the world but not of the world?


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