When Jesus told His disciples, one one hand, to 'make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon', and then on the other 'You cannot serve God and mammon'; it might have been a bit confusing to them, although maybe not as much as to those of us who read these words today! What did Jesus mean by giving them these instructions?
As always, with passages like this, we must first hearken back to the Ancient History of Israel, and read this parable in that context! When God was preparing to liberate His People from bondage in Egypt, He ordered them to plunder their neighbors that they might have the wherewithal to subsist on the long and arduous journey to the Promised Land! This 'making friends of unrighteous mammon' ( ill-gotten wealth? ) enabled the children to obey God's instructions, to whatever point they did, throughout their Exodus!
It is manifestly clear, through the knowledge & study of metaphor that this parable, like so many others that Jesus told, along with the stories that we read in the Gospel accounts, was not simply about money or material wealth. Just like the words of Jesus in the parabolic story that follow this one, this parable had reference to a greater spiritual truth, that being found in the fact that the religious leaders of Jesus day sought, not His Kingdom & His Righteousness, but their own!
Can we who read this parable today make application from it to our own situations? Well, yes & no! We can surely take a lesson from it, and realize that sometimes those who are not followers of Christ have a better head for business ( this is, by far, not always the case ); we can understand ( and take advantage of ) the fact that, even though this material wealth may seem like 'meat offered to idols'; in our Heavenly Father's good Plan, it has been placed there for our use ( or not )! We may not & should not make quite the same application that those first-century disciples did, nor can we, for we have been set free from that bondage & and have reached the Promised Land pictured in the original Exodus! Although unrighteous gain still serves God's Purpose for His People, we know that our 'stewardship', unlike that of the 'unjust steward' in the parable, will never be taken away!
Just as the physical bondage that the children of Israel cried under in Egypt was a metaphor for the bondage of sin that Adam's race was subject to until the Time of the Christ, so the 'riches' ( Matthew 13:22, Mark 10:23 ) that Jesus talks about in these parables, referred, not necessarily to just material wealth, although that was definitely a consideration, but to the greater spiritual truth of the battle for righteousness that was waged from the time of the first Adam till the Time of the Second, or Last Adam!
When we realize, viewing passages like these through the lenses of a covenantal understanding, that we are not in danger, like those in the first century, of losing our stewardship, our place within God's Covenant Family, we can live with the freedom & comfort of knowing that, because we seek His Kingdom first. all that we need has been & will be, added to us! Yes, our Heavenly Father still uses the material wealth of the unrighteous to meet our needs, sometimes & no, this material wealth no longer has reference to unrighteousness; Both the righteous & the unrighteous in this Kingdom of our Heavenly Father have the ability, to whatever extent, to amass material wealth! It is what is done with that material wealth that is right or wrong, not the material wealth itself!
Charles Haddon Shank