In Luke 16:9 Jesus says, “I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.” Other translations render the verse this way:
“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” (KJV).
“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” (ESV).
“And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by how you use worldly wealth, so that when it runs out you will be welcomed into the eternal homes” (NET).
Jesus’ statement about using “worldly wealth” to “gain friends” comes at the end of the parable of the unjust steward (Luke 16:1–8). The thought of using “mammon” or “unrighteous wealth” to make friends in the world strikes us as improper, and Jesus’ promotion of such an idea seems odd, to say the least. To understand what Jesus means in verse 9, we must understand His point in the preceding story.
First, the parable of the unjust steward is told for the benefit of the disciples. The parable is somewhat unorthodox, and the setting is unusual. In most of Jesus’ parables, the protagonist represents God, Christ, or some other positive character. In this parable all the characters are wicked—the steward and the man whose possessions he manages are both unsavory characters. Jesus is not exhorting us to emulate these characters’ behavior; rather, He is trying to teach a spiritual principle.
In the parable a rich man calls his steward and informs him that he will be fired for mismanaging his master’s resources. The steward makes a move to provide for himself once he’s out of a job. He cuts some shrewd deals behind his master’s back: if you agree to shelter me when I am eventually put out, I will immediately reduce the debt you owe my master. When the master becomes aware of what the sly servant has done, he commends him for his “shrewdness.”
In His application of the story, Jesus says, “For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light” (Luke 16:8). Here, Jesus contrasts the “sons of the world” (i.e., unbelievers) and the “sons of light” (believers). Sadly, unbelievers tend to be wiser in the things of this world than believers are about the things of the world to come. The unjust steward cheated his master but in so doing made friends of his master’s debtors. Those people were later obligated to care for him once his livelihood ran out.
Then comes Luke 16:9: “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.” Jesus encourages His followers to be generous with their wealth in this life so that in the life to come their new friends will receive them “into eternal dwellings.” This corresponds to Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount to lay up treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:19–21).
In referring to “worldly wealth,” Jesus is not saying that believers should gain wealth dishonestly and then be generous with it. Worldly here means “having to do with life on earth.” In your earthly life, “make friends”; that is, bless others. Use the monetary resources you have to reach out to others. The result will be friendships that endure into eternity: the souls we reach in this world will welcome us into “eternal dwellings” someday.
The principle Jesus teaches in Luke 16:9 is that everything we own should be used to further God’s kingdom. We are God’s stewards. Just as the unjust steward in the parable was “shrewd” in benefitting himself materially, so we should be “shrewd” in benefitting ourselves (and others) spiritually. We are to use the Master’s resources to further the Master’s goals. We have been entrusted with material possessions, and we are to use them for the eternal benefit of others.
If God is our Master, then our wealth is at His disposal. The faithful steward whose Master is God will employ the wealth entrusted to him in building up the kingdom of God. The New Living Translation brings out this meaning well: “Here’s the lesson: Use your worldly resources to benefit others and make friends. Then, when your earthly possessions are gone, they will welcome you to an eternal home” (Luke 16:9).
When we give to missions, when we support our local church, when we give to charity in the name of Jesus, then we are using “unrighteous, worldly wealth” to build up the kingdom of God and lift up the name of Christ. We are being “shrewd” in our dealings in this world when our eyes are on the “eternal homes” we will one day inhabit with our “friends” in Christ.