Rejoicing in the Paradox

Here in Philippians 4.10-19, scholars see some nuances here in the text as though Paul is embarrassed by the gift from the Philippians or is at least speaking somewhat reserved as he speaks of finances. There’s an uneasiness as Paul expresses thanks and presents his own contentedness.

Strength from Christ (10-13)

The secret to contentedness regardless of circumstances is realizing Christ’s strength is available to Christians.

10I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity.

I rejoiced in the Lord…concern for me: The cause for Paul’s joy was the Philippians’ active interest in him is once more in blossom and the manifestation of this in their monetary gift sent by way of Epaphroditus. As always, the Lord is both Source and Sustainer of joy.

You were…had no opportunity: The Philippians had desired to show their interest in Paul but had not had favorable circumstances to show it. Connected with “revived” (a horticultural term), the season was not right for their concern to blossom, though they always had Paul in mind and wanted to do something for him.

11Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.

Not that I am speaking of being in need: As he is writing Paul is not presently lacking in supplies or was suffering want. Paul is “well supplied” (v.18) and…

For I have learned…to be content: When did Paul learn this lesson? Aorist tense seems to indicate a specific point in his past. In fact, some suggest that it was when he became a Christian that Paul learned this. “It broke upon him at his conversion” and his life the outworking of that lesson learned (Morris 178). Robertson suggests that Paul is “looking at his long experience as a unit.” It was “in the school of life” that Paul came to “know” (v.12) contentedness. Either way, Paul learned sufficiency for every situation is possible only in Christ (cf. v.13). He is not self-sufficient but God-sufficient. This is true contentedness.

12I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.

I know…how to abound: Even as Christ “humbled himself” (2.8) so Paul has shared in humiliation, be it voluntary or forced upon him. Conversely, he has seen an overflow.

In any and every circumstance: Little, much, high, low, and everything in-between…

I have learned the secret: Gk memuemai, (perf. Pass), the root of which we get our English “mystery.” Paul came to eb instructed and is fully instructed (initiated) into the secret of facing life with contentedness, namely, that Christ’s strength is sufficient for every circumstance.

Facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need: cf. 2 Corinthians 6.4-10; 11.21-29

13I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

I can do all things through Him Who strengthens me: Lit. I have strength for all things. In every conceivable circumstance (v.12) the Lord empowers “me”  by His Spirit in the inner being to be adequate for the situation. Paul’s strength is wholly inadequate; he finds the strength for life and work in Him. Barnes says,  “It was not in any native ability which he had; not in any vigor of body or of mind; not in any power which there was in his own resolutions; it was in the strength that he derived from the Redeemer.” See 1 Timothy 1.12

Supply from the Church (14-19)

Fellowship in Christ ensures that all brethren have their needs met by the riches of God’s glory.

14Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble.

Yet it was kind of you to share in my trouble: Although in “all things” he is content and capable due to Christ, Paul does not want his brethren thinking their gift was not welcome or wanted. Indeed, they were joint fellowshipping (Gk sugkoinoneo, a compound of sun [with] and koinonia [fellowship]) with Paul in his affliction by means of the gift they sent. This, Paul says, was a good or beautiful thing.

15And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only.

And you…beginning of the gospel: cf. 1.5, when the gospel was first preached in Philippi and the church was established these brethren have been willing to help support Paul’s work. Lenski says Paul is remembering back about a decade.

When I left Macedonia: see Acts 17.14, he ends up in Athens (17.16-34).

No church…except you only: Paul’s modus operandi was not to burden churches with monetary support (1 Thessalonians 2.9; 2 Thessalonians 3.7-8). That’s why he worked as a tentmaker (Acts 18.3). He had the right to earn his living by the gospel (1 Corinthians 9.14; 2 Thessalonians 3.9), but did not avail himself of that right. Later the churches in Macedonia (which might include Thessalonica and Berea) sent him support so he could work with the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 11.8-9). However, at first it was only the Philippians who opened an account with Paul; other churches came along later.

16Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again.

Even in Thessalonica: Paul went there immediately following the establishment of the congregation in Philippi (Acts 17.1ff). No sooner has Paul left the city than the church in Philippi is sending him support for his apostolic work.

You sent me…once and again: Lit. “both once and twice” the Philippians sent Paul what was needed, supplies necessary to maintain his work. They supplied his needs not greeds.

17Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit.

Not that I seek the gift: Paul does not want to be misunderstood as though he is prodding the Philippians to send him more support. He is not wishing for a monetary or material gift.

But I seek the fruit that increases to your credit: Gk alla (strong contrast). Paul does desire  a spiritual increase of fruit in the account of the Philippians. Paul “desired that when they came to appear before God, they might reap the benefit of all the acts of kindness which they had shown him” (Barnes). See Proverbs 11.25

18I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.

I have received full payment and more: Or I have more than enough. The generosity of the Philippians had more than met his needs.

I am well supplied: This continues the thought of Paul having all his physical needs met. He has had all his needs met and at the time of his writing his needs are still met (perf. Tense).

Having received…the gifts you sent: Mentioned earlier in the epistle (2.25-30), Epaphroditus once more enters the scene as the gift-bearer. He delivered the Philippians contribution.

A fragrant offering: The phrase “fragrant offering” or “sweet-smelling aroma” (NKJV) occurs often in the Old Testament in connection with sacrifices (e.g. Gen. 8.21; Exo. 29.18, 25, 41; Lev. 1.9, 13, 17; et al). “The true sweetness of [the burnt sacrifices] consisted in the spiritual condition of the persons bringing the sacrifice” (Lenski 896). The Philippians contribution was an act of worship, the scent of which rose to God in heaven and in which he took pleasure.

A sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God: “Given to the servant of God, it is in truth offered to God himself” (Caffin 159). God received the gift through Paul (cf. Matthew 25.40). Through these allusions, Paul is essentially saying that what the Old Testament Jewish sacrifices performed at the temple were, the Philippians (New Testament church) gift is (cf. Hebrews 13.16). When Christ’s church gives to support ministry we engage in sacred sacrifice.

19And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.

And my God will…in Christ Jesus: Even as Paul’s needs were met by them and with abundance so the Philippians’ “every need” would be met by God. In Paul’s case, God used the agency of the church to meet Paul’s need. How God would meet the needs of the Philippian Christians is not stated, though it makes no difference; Paul is emphatic that God will do it. Further, all (“every”) need would be met, indicating not only physical but also spiritual needs. And abundantly as well! It will be according to God’s “glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” Christ is both head over all things to the church (Ephesians 1.22) as well as the supplier of every spiritual blessing (Eph. 1.3). “In Him there is full provision for all the needs of God’s people” (Muller (152).

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The Widow’s Mite

Every Sunday, the church is privileged to worship our God. One of the acts in which we engage in during worship is giving. That is, many members will give money during the allotted time of worship service. Some are able to give a lot of money, others less. Unfortunately, some do not give. The money collected is used for a variety of reasons including local evangelism, missionary support, and maintanence of the building.

It is interesting to note that this practice of the church has Jewish roots. Under the Law, Jews gave the tithe, a tenth, to the Lord. Even before the Law, Abraham gave a tenth of his spoils to Melchizedek. Giving has been a something that God has approved of, even commanded of his people since the beginning; Cain and Abel offered sacrfices to God. In Luke 21.1-4, Luke records the account of when a poor widow (a picture of true poverty in the first century) showed up at the treasury of the temple to make an offering.

Now Mark sets the stage for us when he records that Jesus was sitting “opposite the treasury” (Mark 12.41); perhaps he is tired from the exertion that went along with his four round heavyweight bout with the Pharisees and scribes. So he is able to see everyone coming in to make their offerings. Now there were 13 offering boxes (ESV) or trumpets (called that for their shape) which were labeled so you knew where your money was going when you gave. In this scene, Luke makes the striking contrast between the rich and poor. The rich people are coming up with their offerings and dropping it down into the mouth of the offering box. Perhaps the large sums of money make a lot of noice as they clatter into the offering box.

But then a poor (lit. lacking the essential means of livelihood) widow, one who is in dire circumstances (for a widow had basically not means of income) comes forward with her offering. She gives “two small copper coins” (ESV) or “two mites” (KJV, ASV). It was the smallest of the current currency. It was a very small, thin coin worth less than a penny today. Clink clink. I wonder if she was embarassed, if her face was flush with color because she had to follow those who were rich and whose great amount of money had great noice when dropped into the offering boxes.

Jesus shows why there was no need for her to be embarassed. He says she has put in more than everyone else, more than the each rich person who came to make an offering. The force of the words cannot be stressed. Literally Jesus says she gave “more than all” – her offering was greater than all of those rich before her combined. Wow! Why? Jesus explains: “For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on” (v.4, ESV). It was not about size but significance. This was all she had to live on (and it wasn’t much). What’s incredible to me is that she had two of these coins, implying she could have kept one. But to hold back would make the gift no different than those of the rich. This action of giving both mites is an action demonstrating her total reliance upon God. It was a true sacrifice to give all she had. The rich before had their bank accounts to fall back on; this widow, when she commits to give those two coins to the Lord, has nothing.

It should be noted that Jesus does not make her rich. A lot of televangelists will tell you that God wants you rich and if you give a lot of money, God will make you rich. Jesus does not miraculously give this widow riches. He does not command the rich to give her money. He does not tell his disciples to give her money. As far as we she know, she died a poor widow. But that’s the point! Luke is rife with warnings for the rich (Luke 16.14-15; 16.19ff; 18.24; 20.46-47, et al). Indeed, one of the greatest sermons ever preached (but not nearly as well known as the Sermon on the Mount) is recorded by Luke and the first blessing is for the poor (Luke 6.20b). Why? Because you cannot serve both God and money (Matt 6.24) and those who are rich must take special care lest they trust in their money, in this world, rather than God. This widow represents a disposition which is always looking toward God for deliverance and sustenance.

One final word: “As for the rich of this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.” – 1 Timothy 6.17-19. I ask you: who are the rich today, the rich of this present age? Are they the people in Washington? Are they the movie stars of Hollywood? Or is rich just another word for those who have more than their “daily bread”?

Finding Christ in Spite of Hinderances

When I was a kid, my neighbors had a good climbing tree in their front yard and we would play with their kids for hours during the summer in that tree. Of course, the fear of breaking an arm was always in the forefront of our minds and kept us pretty close to the grounud. But I do remember one time I climbed up the tree until I could nearly touch the power lines that ran through the top of that tree. From there I could see most of the neighborhood. In Luke 19.1-10, we read about a short man who climbs a tall tree and finds a seeking Savior.

A Wealthy, Short Man

The Place. Jesus is still on the path that will lead him to Jerusalem. In the previous section (18.35-43) he was getting ever closer to Jericho. Now he is actually entering Jericho. Scholars debate about which Jericho this was: the original Jewish Jericho or the new Jericho built by the Romans. You can study that out and make your own conclusions. Never the less, Jesus enters Jerusalem and “was passing through.” He had no intention of staying there; he has a mission in Jerusalem.

The Person. Enter Zacchaeus. This man is described as “chief tax collector.” That is, he was the manager over those who collected taxes. He ordered which officers to go to which person and collect what taxes. No doubt he had used that power to skim a bit off the top for Luke says he was rich. It is interesting that in the previous chapter, Jesus has just explained about how hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom (18.24). In that same account, the rich man there went away sad but we will find Zacchaeus goes home joyful. But Jesus is a friend to tax collectors and sinners (7.34) and here is an account of just that. Also, here is an example of an impossibility made possible: a rich man enters the kingdom.

The Problem. Zacchaeus would like to see Jesus. There is, though, one big problem: he cannot see him for all the people pressing in around Him. Zacchaeus was a short man and with the great crowd of people surrounding Jesus, he was not able to get even a glimpse of Jesus. What’s a guy to do? His solution is to run ahead, a very undignified thing for a rich, chief tax collector to do, and find a tree to climb that was on the route Jesus was taking through the city and then he would see Jesus.

The Wise Son of Man

So here comes Jesus and Zacchaeus is ready…ready to get his quick glimpse of Jesus. Why did he want to see Jesus? v.3 says he just wanted to see who he was. What’s all the hubbub about? Just like most people, they just wanted to know. But something incredible happens. Jesus comes to the tree and stops. Then he looks up and addresses Zacchaeus. Think about that: these men (far as we know) have never met, he hasn’t been told this man’s name, doesn’t know him from Adam, and yet he calls him by name! “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me” (John 10.14). He knows his name. But not only that he tells him “hurry and come down” (something Zacchaeus literally does in v.6, note the parallelism) because he must stay (literally abide) at his house. Some commentators say that Jesus is going to stay overnight with Zacchaeus. Possibly. But later in the chapter (v.28) it seems like Jesus just passes through. You can judge for yourself.

Nevertheless we see the inspired wisdom of the Son of Man in knowing Zacchaeus immediately and calling him by name. Zacchaeus catches this as well and receives Jesus joyfully! He is overjoyed that Jesus will be staying with him. However, not all is well. In verse 7, not some people, but all the people are upset and grumbling about Jesus being a guest in the house of a “sinner.” Again, He is a friend of tax collectors and “sinners.” But Zacchaeus is undaunted; he stands up to make an announcement that everyone who was ever taken advantage by his tax police, he was going to reimburse personally four times what he took. There’s some good news if you were under his tax jurisdiction!

A Wonderful, Saving Message

Jesus hears this and has an announcement to make himself. While all these people are grumbling, Jesus teaches them about salvation. There is a change which has taken place in the heart of Zacchaeus. He did not realize it, but even with all his money gained by extortion, he was still poor because he was not right with God. And certainly as a Jew Zacchaeus was a “son of Abraham” and Jesus went to the lost sheep of Israel (Matt 15.24), but Jesus seems also to be pointing toward Zacchaeus’ faith. It is Abrahamic in nature and is a saving faith for it is an acting faith.

Luke 19.10 is a key passage in Luke. In fact, it could be the purpose of the whole book. “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (ESV). This is the mission and purpose of Jesus. First, we see the greatest missionary – Jesus, the Son of Man. Second, we have the greatest missionary journey – he came. That is, he came from heaven with all of its splendid privileges and prerogatives and came to earth. Third we have the greatest mission – to seek and save. Like a loving shepherd looking for even one, Jesus is searching and finding his lost sheep. Fourth, we have the greatest mission field – the lost. Every single person who has transgressed the law of God and marred their perfect image.

The Rich, Young Ruler

My regular routine for Sunday afternoon following Sunday morning worship is to turn on the television and watch televangelists. *gasp* Yes, although I usually give them a bad wrap, I have to admit that I get some pretty good illustrations from them and every once-in-a-while they will say something worth writing down and keeping. Mind you, though, I have to wade through a load of garbage to get that gem. At any rate, although I should be used to it, I am always astounded by what comes out of these guys mouths. For example, just yesterday, one of these guys was saying how God does not want you poor and the reason this particular preacher “ain’t po’ no mo'” is because he began living his life according to the bible. Hmm…and in addition, he told everyone in the audience (a rather large crowd) that he doesn’t like being all alone on his mountain and told everyone they too can be rich by following what God says.

Now understand this: I do not think there is anything wrong with money. In fact, the Bible says Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were wealthy in cattle, gold, and silver. But to me, this kind of preaching demonstrates the gross sin of the love of money. It was this attitude which Jesus condemned in the Pharisees (Luke 16.14) and I believe Jesus addresses this same topic again in Luke 16.18-30 with the rich ruler.

The Dramtic Dialogue with the Rich Ruler

A Hasty Query. Matthew tells us this rich ruler was “young” (Mt 19.20) and Mark tells us that he came running up to Jesus and knelt before him. He calls Jesus “Good teacher.” From what I can gather, this was not a term in regular useage among rabbis during Jesus’ time. In fact, as Jesus will point out, the reason it was not in use was because “good” was a term reserved for God (see Psalms 25.8, 106.1). So, did the youth in his haste make a mistake? I mean, Jesus has to set him straight right? More in minute.

Let’s examine the ruler’s question: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” It’s a good question, no doubt a question many people were asking themselves and even today continue to ask. But the question for us, of course, is, “Is there really anything I can do which will cause me to inherit eternal life?” In actuallity, eternal life is not earned by us but instead is a free gift from God in Christ Jesus (Romans 6.23).

A Heavy Reply. First, Jesus addresses what the man has called him: “Good teacher.” He says God alone is good. Well, that we knew…but dig deeper here. Jesus is teaching this young man a lesson about who He is. The implication is that Jesus himself is God inasmuch as He contains divine qualities. Its as if Jesus is saying, “If you’re going to call me ‘good,’ at least understand what you are truly saying.” And dig a little deeper: the good God who can bestow eternal life to this young man is standing before him! If he truly understood the meaning of this statement from Jesus, instead of seeking self-glorification (which he does in a moment), he would beg for mercy and forgiveness.

Jesus’s response gets heavier in v.20: He answers the young man’s request for a list of things to do and not do. It is simply a reiteration of the Law. “Do not commit adultery” – so do honor marriage. “Do not murder” – so do honor life. “Do not steal” – so do honor other people’s property and merchandise. “Do no bear false witness” – so do love truth. “Honor your father and mother” – do not dishonor or harm them.

A Haughty Retort. As mentioned above, when Jesus implies his divinity in v.19, this young man should have been quick to humble himself. Instead, once he hears that he has been fulfilling the Law and earning his eternal life by his good works, you can almost see him coming out of his skin with excitement. He’s been doing these things. *phew* nothing new to add! But he fails to understand that there is something deeper at the heart of the Law which he has missed. This young man himself is not “good” – he has fallen short of God’s goodness by missing God’s standard.

A Hard Request. It was at the unabashed statement of self-righteousness that Jesus makes this difficult request of the rich young man. Jesus tells the man he still lacks one thing: “sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.” What Jesus is getting at is that there is one thing that is hindering this man from truly having eternal life: a love for money. Rather than leave everything and follow Jesus (as his Twelve had done, v.28, cf. Mt 19.27), he simply will not (cannot?) do this most difficult deed. Hence, he forfeits the eternal blessings of heaven for the momentary riches of earth. How many today do the same thing? Their greed for more stuff, their trust in their 401k and retirement plans…they have more faith in the dollar signs and stock markets of the world than in Christ. And when told what they need to do to have treasure in heaven, the true treasure, they leave sad becasue the price tag is too high.

The Deflated Discussion with Flabbergasted Followers

The rich young ruler is not the only one leaves the dialogue with sadness. This scene of a man who is more in love with his money and stuff leaving breaks the Lord’s heart also. But as sad as the Lord is and as heartborken he is over this one man, notice something very important: Jesus does not go after him. You almost expect him to run after the boy and embrase, and plead with him to come back. If it were a parent, you would expect the parent to try and bargain with the boy: “What will it take for you to come back?” Here’s the thing: Jesus Christ is Lord. As Lord he will not accept discipleship on just any terms; he demands true discipleship to be on His terms!

A Sad Remark. I imagine the following discussion between Jesus and “those who heard” him was deflated in that this sad scene has played out in front of everyone. This rich, young ruler does not want to commit and perform what is necessary in order to obtain true treasure; rather he is satisfied with the fleeting riches of earth. He does not have eternal life! And with these emotions filling our Lord he explains the situation: its hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. In fact, its downright impossible!

In v.25, Jesus says it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. A couple of interpretations have been erroneously postulated. For example, some say Jesus is talking about a camel squeezing down through a small gate; the camel would have to get on its knees and then just bearly make it through this gate. Other say the word for camel (Gk. kamelon) should be the word for cable (Gk. kamilon). Hence, it is a cable through the eye of a needle. Well, why can’t it be a cable through the small gate…then, we can remove the impossiblity completely, right?

A Shocked Petition. The key to understanding v.25 is in the people’s question which is “Who can be saved?” The recognize the impossibility of Jesus’ illustration: there is no way a camel can fit through the eye of needle (literally). It is impossible. Also, tied up in this question is the people’s understanding of how God works. To them, wealth is equated with the favor of God. This is not unlike our televangelist friends who preach “health and wealth.” The problem with this is that Jesus sent this rich man away still in a lost state. Hence, if the wealthy, who are supposed to have the favor of God, cannot get into the kingdom, who can?

Jesus answers this peition by explaining that with man, it is impossible for an camel to go through the eye of a needle and for a rich to be saved.m But with God…and we have seen this idea of all things being possible with God previously in Luke (see 1.37). Just as it is impossible for a virgin to conceive and give birth, so also it is impossible for a rich man to enter heaven and camels to go through the eyes of needles. But when you add to all those equations God, suddenly the thing that seemed impossible now has the power necessary to accomplish it. Hence, Mary becomes pregnant and births Jesus, camels can start fitting through the eyes of needles, and rich people can enter into salvation.

A Sober Reminder. Ever eager, Peter wants to remind the Lord (and everyone else hearing) just what he and his Eleven friends have done. But I can’t help but think that as Peter is making this statement, it is really sinking in just how much each of the Twelve have sacrificed to follow Jesus. This rich, young ruler is a sober reminder that if anything gets between a disciple and Jesus, he will depart Jesus in a sad state.

But Jesus issues a blessing. To those who would leave everything and follow Jesus, whether wife, brother, children, whatever, they will get much more in return in this life and that which is to come. Once more, as seen elsewhere in Luke (ch.14), Jesus is trying to impress on us the importance of placing him before all other things in life. But when we love him fully, 100% we get a wonderful return in our investment: “every spiritual blessing in Christ Jesus” (Eph 1.3-4). Not only, we exchange this worry-filled life, complete with sin and death for eternal life with God and Christ.

The Law and the Kingdom of God

Humph. This is usually the term associated with a person getting upset at what has been said or done to them. It is usually at this point that the person who is upset will turn their back, cross their arms and stick their nose up, trying to look as dignified as possible. Take that picture and apply it to the Pharisees of Jesus’ day. This is exactly what happens in Luke 16.14. Jesus drops the bomb in v.13: “You cannot serve both God and money.” It is a simple statement of reality – God must rank first and have unrivaled devotion. Otherwise, he is not really God of your life. Luke tells us that the Pharisees overhear this and that they, being “lovers of money,” began to ridicule Jesus for what they heard. Literally, the Greek says they turned their noses up in derision at Jesus. “Humph!” You can almost hear their exasperation.

Ridicule and Reply

Jesus doesn’t leave them to pout and point fingers; he answers their ridicule head on. Note this: not all ridiculers need to be addressed, but there are some who need to be straightened up. And Jesus does this. Now when you read his response in v.15, perhaps you wonder, “Where is the love, Jesus?” Or “Aren’t you being a little judgmental, Jesus?” The answer is that in every sinngle word there is love. It takes incredible love to even speak the truth to someone. Boldness, yes, but love as well. If you really love someone, it will be that love that will stimulate you to tell them truth about their current situation. And this is what Jesus does.

He tells them first that they are seeking justification for their attitudes and actions from the wrong place. The Pharisees sought to be justified in the eyes of men, rather than God. And even if they were getting away with this kind of behavior, God knew what was within them. Here is the omniscience of God; he knows even our very soul, the thoughts we have. He knew the greed in the hearts of these Pharisees; he knows the moral filth we may hide in our hearts. No one should think that anyone is going to escape the judgment of God, even yourself. God will not be mocked by men. He knows who is on the throne of every human heart. Consider how terrifying this would be to the Pharisees.

But also, Jesus says that in the eyes of God, what men exalt is an abomination. This is especially true when men try to exalt themselves. Think of the Tower of Babel. Man wanted to be tops and God had taken a back seat. Because of this, God confused their langauge and their abomination came to a grinding halt. Jesus is driving at the heart of matter (as he always does) which is the heart of men. Men have the wrong priorities and purposes. We need to reevaluate ourselves constantly to ensure that our purposes are in line with the purposes of God in everything. God knows all our hearts – are they right with Him?

Law and Prophets

In v.16, Jesus explains that the Old Testament (The Law and the Prophets) was “until John.” The Greek has no verb here and therefore one must be supplied. The New English Bible (NEB) explains why it inserts “in force” in this verse: “The transitional nature of this verse, however, seems to call for something more like “in effect” (NRSV) or, as used here, “in force.” Further, Greek generally can omit one of two kinds of verbs – either the equative verb or one that is already mentioned in the preceding context.” Hence, the verse reads, “The Law and the prophets were in force until John.” I think this is a fair translation based on the explanation, especially when you consider the rest of the verse: “Since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached.” With the announcement of the kingdom, the old law is nigh unto passing away. Indeed, this is how the Hebrew presents the old covenant (see Hebrews 8.13) – it is “ready to vanish away.” So there is a changing of the guard, so to speak, as the kingdom begins to take root in the hearts of men and the Law and the prophets begins to vanish away.

Jesus says, “Everyone forces his way into it.” People were hungry for this good news, having been subject to the oppressive burden of the Pharisees. But as Jesus has said elsewhere in parables there is room for all (see 14.15-24). Unfortunately too many have to come to view the good news of the kingdom as, well, just news. Too many have a “ho-hum” approach to the kingdom and their spiritual passion wanes. Even in the kingdom there are those who view the kingdom too flipantly. It still is good news! Everyone ought to still be pressing their way into the kingdom.

Jesus explains the gravity of his teaching on the kingdom in v.17: “But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void.” While Jesus is speaking, some there may hear him and think the Law was over and done with. In fact, Jesus clears up the situation by saying the Law will be fulfilled to the smallest stroke of a pen (Gk. mian keraian, one point). This is the “tittle” of the KJV (Tittle actually comes from the Latin, though). Moffat translates this as “comma.” In fact, it is just a small mark in the Hebrew and/or Greek language. But altering even that tiny mark is equated with tearing apart the galaxy. It is easier for the universe to cease to exist than for the Law to “become void.”

Divorce and Remarriage

And as soon as Jesus finishes this discourse over the Law with the Pharisees, he picks up a discussion on divorce and remarriage. What!? Where did this come from, Jesus? Well, I think this is more of an illustration of what he has been talking about. Jesus is pointing to a point of interpretation of the Law that seems to have been a common perception in Jesus’ time. And what a point to bring up! He shows them how severely mistaken they are in their understanding of divorce.  The Pharisees had a low view of marriage and a “ho-hum” attitude of divorce. Jesus teaches us that marriage was to be a life-long commitment and that divorce was merely a provision for hard hearts (see Matt 19.1-9). Here in Luke 16.18, Jesus shows them just how intense the Law is – a man divorcing his wife and remarrying is adultery. See the Jews thought a woman divorcing her husband was adultery and a man divorcing was no big deal. Jesus says the man is just as guilty. He is showing the Pharisees that they are way off when it comes to the Law. Whether it is divorce or money, they are off. Jesus is trying to get them to view the Law even as God views the Law whether it is on an issue like money or marriage.

Much more about divorce and remarriage could be said, but that is for another time. The point of this statement in this context is to point out the lax views of the Pharisees when it comes to the Law. They had literally justified their actions using the Law of God. How often do we do the same? We use the Word of God to justify our vices and actions. We twist Scripture so terribly that it becomes nothing more than a mangled mess resembling nothing like its original meaning. We jump through theological hoops to get to where want to be. We are all guilty of doing this. It is a time for renewed honesty. Not just any honesty, but biblical honesty. Scripture says what it says. We either accept it or we don’t. When we don’t, that is when we get in trouble. It is the same offense the Pharisees were guilty of.

The Parable of the Shrewd Dude

To be honest, I have not been looking forward to commenting on these verses (Luke 16.1-13). The reason is simply because I don’t understand them that well. I mean, we have a master commending a dishonest servant. What’s up with that? Verse 1 says he spoke it to his disciples. Jesus, how does this apply to me, a disciple? For all intents and purposes, this manager stole from his master; that’s what he did when he sat down with the debtors and told them to reduce their bills. He is commended for this offense.

Chapter 15 was aimed straight for the Pharisees (see 15.1); Jesus was combating their grumblings. Chapter 16 opens as an address to His disciples (v.1). There is some lesson in this that Jesus wants his disciples to glean. To be sure, the Pharisees are still listening. In fact, based on what Jesus says, they will ridicule him in v.14. But the lesson in this is leveled straight at the disciple.

Dishonest Steward

 Jesus introduces us to the two main characters in this parable: a rich man (also the master later in the story) and the manager (that is, one was usually hired who had rule over a man’s estate). This manager was accused of wasting (the same word used as for the younger son of Luke 15.13 when he “squandered” his possessions) his master’s goods. Was he actually wasting his master’s possessions? Judging by the fact that he is called “dishonest” in v.8, one might conclude that (although he could be called dishonest for decreasing the bills of these debtors). Also, you factor in his reaction to the news and his shrewd actions; I don’t think an innocent man would have acted like this. Nevertheless, charges are leveled and this man begins to think, “Now, how I am I going to come of this.” He is forced to give an account for his actions, something that no doubt will reveal the charges are true. Now what?

He runs through some options: can I dig? No, I haven’t the strength. Will I beg? No, I am too ashamed to reduce myself like that. What’s a dishonest manager to do? He devises a shrewd scheme that will enable him to be received people’s homes once he is fully terminated from his position. He calls in his master’s debtors, one-by-one. One owes “one hundred measures of oil,” which is about 875 gallons (according to the ESV footnote). This is a serious sum he owes the master. The manager cuts the debt in half; what generosity! Another owed 100 measures of wheat, which is somewhere between 1000 and 1200 bushels. The manager tells this man to decrease his debt by 20%, now he owes only 80 measures. Again, how gracious! Note this: this manager has the authority, as the fiscal agent over the master’s house, to make these changes.

Now we get to the sticky part. In verse 8, we find that “the master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness.” Again, why is he dishonest? Because he was wasting his possessions or because he had acted in such a manner with the debtors? I suppose both are acceptable answers. But I would lean toward the former. While it may not have been a good move for the master when the manager decreased the debt of the debtors and it was a shrewd move, he did nothing illegal. But as for the commendation (or praise) from the master to the dishonest manager, it should be noted that the master does not praise his dishonesty; he praises his “shrewdness” or prudence. In short, this manager acted wisely.

Here is the dilema of the master now: should he restore the debts back to their original amounts, which he certainly is able to do as the master, he will be seen as an oppresive man, a hard man. If he fires the dishonest manager, who graciously acted toward the debtors, again he is seen as the bad guy. Faced with this crisis, the master acts prudently as well (so it would seem) in praising his dishonest manager for his wise move. Whether he likes it or not, the master is stuck in a tough situation, perhaps in the same vein the manager found himself in earlier when faced with termination.

Faithful Stewardship

Jesus uses this parable to make his point (v.8b-13). The lesson is that disciples are to act shrewdly too. This story illustrates this principle. The sons of the world act shrewdly with one another, as is seen with the dishonest (lit. unrighteous) manager and his master. How much more should the children of light act prudently with one another! But Jesus gets very specific as to what a disciple is to do. Be prudent, wise in the use of your wealth. Use it to make friends for yourselves. Money has no inherent character; it derives its character from those who possess it. If good people have money, it is good; if bad people have money, it is bad. And Jesus is telling is make sure your money has good character. Use it wisely for the kingdom of God. Money is sure to fail; but the eternal dwelling of God is forever. Jesus says “they” will receive you into the eternal dwellings (see John 14.2 and “rooms”). Who are “they”? Some say the friends made by the wise use of your wealth. Others say that the use of “they” is a way of refering to the trinity without invoking the sacred name. Nevertheless, the use of your wealth now apparently is tied to your eternal destination. So be wise.

Jesus continues his teaching over money in v.10. Here is another principle about the use of wealth. Your stewardship is either a faithful one or a dishonest (lit. unrighteous) one. Said another way, the use of our wealth is a test from God. If we are faithful with little, we will be faithful in much. If dishonest with little…God wants to know if we can be trusted with wealth. Too many prove to be foolish in their use of wealth, squandering it away. Hmm, have wee run across that concept before? The younger son squandered his wealth and he wound up in the pig pen. Today, many waste their possesssions on junk and end up a pig pen as well: the pig pen of debt. How then can God entrust the true riches to you? (v.11) Some say this heaven itself. It may also be blessings in general, both physical and spiritual. Don’t be surprised because God shuts the doors of his storehouse when you have proven faithless in your use of wealth.

We have seen this concept before in Luke (12.21). In fact, throughout God’s word are admonitions against wasting your money. The reason God doesn’t like this wasteful spending is because earthly wealth is God’s. Verse 12 speaks to this: implied in this verse is that earthly wealth is “another’s” which is God. He controls all the wealth in the world. “The cattle on a thousand hills are his” says the Psalmist. Then why do we treat money like it is “ours.” Ours is something greater, something prepared by the Lord. A dwelling place in the house of God (see John 14.1-4).

One more lesson from this section is in v.13: we cannot allow the love of money to rule our hearts. The Pharisees had this problem (v.14) and God was upset about it. Their hearts were not right with God. No, we must free from the love of money. To do this, we need to keep money in the right perspective: it is God’s, he has given us the sacred stewardship of dispensing it for the kingdom, and it is a test of our faithfulness. Instead of money, Christ, God should be on the throne, ruling our hearts and lives. And when Christ is on the throne of our hearts, he will help us to keep money in its proper place. To use money selfishly is to put money on the throne; it rules our life, not God. No, use money wisely, helping others, especially our brothers, to learn about God and his kingdom.

Money, Money, Money, Money

Will it ever stop? The constant pursuit of the almighty dollar. I suppose so long as there is coinage worth anything man will continue to seek and accrue as much of it as possible. As the Christmas season drags ever closer to its conclusion, I am all the more reminded of this. The hoarding of “stuff,” the purchasing of “things;” will we ever get past it? Can we ever stop it? It is this gross commercialization of Christmas that reminds why our Lord taught so much about money. His teachings were simple but always on point: nothing in this world is so important that it should blind us of spiritual truth, especially money. In Luke 12.13-21, our Lord runs across a man desperate to ensure he gets his cut of the family inheritance.

The Man with a Plan

It seems that in the Lord’s teaching (12.1-12) there was some sort of a pause or break. It was at this point that a man spoke up. Notice, the Lord has just laid down some heavy teaching about the Pharisees being hypocrites and the sin that cannot be forgiven. And then this man speaks up and more or less tattles on his brother. Discontent with what he gets (or got) when his father passes, he wants Jesus to give him more. The man’s selfish interests are clear from the start, he can’t hide it.

Let’s keep this in cultural context: chances are this man’s brother is the older brother. Under Jewish custom, the older brother got a double portion of the inheritance. So this man is unhappy that his brother got more. This man wants an even cut. So it is this point that he submits to Jesus. Why? Because think of what Jesus’s actions look like to this man. Jesus is going against the grain, going heads-up with trradition. And if he has done that thus far, why wouldn’t he help with the tradition of inheritance. It is quite the ingenius plan.

But it is all for naught. Jesus knowws what is in a man and he can see through this cleverly crafted ruse. So Jesus replies to this man’s request. He calls his “man;” there is a tinge of rebuke in this word. Almost as if Jesus is saying “You poor, ignorant man, you still don’t get it.” Jesus has not come to be “judge or arbiter” in this world; he has come for a higher purpose, and higher work. One commentator writes, “The utter selfish worldliness of the man, who, after hearing the solemn and impressive words just spoken [v.1-12], could intrude suuch a question, comes strongly into view” (emphasis theirs). This is the wrong question tot he wrong man. Jesus did not come to assist us in our pursuits of greed and wealth. Rather he came to warn of those things.

The Lord with a Plea

Jesus once more addresses the crowd and issues a warning: Watch out! And also guard yourself, keep away from all kinds of greed. So there you have it. Jesus answers this man’s plea and publically announces for all to hear. Jesus identifies what was in this man and speaks against it. And just as this man’s greed had swallowed him up in Jesus’ day, so have many been consumed by their intense desire to have more today. What makes a man? The suit he wears? The job he has? The car he drives? The size of his bank account? No! Jesus says, “a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”  There is somethig deeper, something more infinite which ought to make up a man’s life.

The Teacher with a Parable

Jesus illustrates his teaching with a parable. Again, a parable is “an earthly story with a spiritual (divine) meaning.” It is a simply story: a rich man’s crops produce an abundant crop. What’s a guy to do? This rich man decides to build bigger barns to store up his wealth. Quite pretentious! But notice the attitude in v.17-19: “my” appears 4 times, and “I” shows up eight times in the Greek. This man is horrendously self-absorbed with himself and his money. It is about storing up that wealth, not using it wisely. There is not desire to serve God with his money nor to help other people; it is just gross selfishness and greed.

What does God think of such a man? “Fool!” is the cry from heaven. How utterly, utterly foolish to be so self-focused and desirous of self-indulgence. Leon Morris in his comments of this passage says, “A man’s life is an uncertain thing at best and no-one has the assurance that he will live the years he would like.” The true folly within this rich man is his assumption that he has control of the future. In a roundabout way, he assumes the place of God concerning his life.

What is the point of the parable? Verse 21: “…but is not rich toward God.” Someone reading may think I am being critical of rich people or that I am saying having money (even wealth) is bad. This is simply not the case. In fact, no where in Scripture is having wealth condemned. Moreover, Scripture says Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were wealthy men with catlle, gold, and silver. “What about ‘money is the root of all evil?'” My friend, read that passage again (1 Timothy 6.10): “For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.” There’s nothing wrong with money; but there is something wrong with our attitude toward money. And Jesus is attacking that problem, that improper attitude and trying to help us prioritize. What is truly important: chasing that almighty dollar or loving the Almighty God? Jesus says, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?” In other words, when you’ve gained the whole world but lost your soul (that immortal part of your very being) in the process, what will you give to get your soul back? Half the world? All of it? Then why even get in the rat race at all, if that is the case? To settle less than being rich toward God is foolish.