Wednesday, August 27, 2014

We Are Not Neutral

“Let’s buy it, dad!” These were the words that darted out of my mouth as soon as I saw the cool yellow truck with its custom rims and ground effects. Immediately I could proudly see myself driving it to school. Not only was it cool, I couldn't believe it was in my price range. This could be mine, so I thought.

My father responded with the dreaded but predictable words, “We need to test drive it first.” Though this sounds only reasonable, you must realize that I was young and poor. My parents promised to help me buy my first vehicle by doubling all the money I earned over the summer. I worked hard, but only saved $900.00. And even back in the early nineties, you could not expect much for $1,800.00. The last thing I wanted was some grandma wagon.

So when I saw this customized truck, I was ready to pull the trigger without any investigation. In fact, I didn't want to test drive it, for deep down I knew it was too good to be true. If we happen to discover its mechanical problems, I knew my father would stand in the way of me being cool. You see, I thought if we bought it before we learned that it needed repairs, though more money would be needed to get the thing running, the most important thing would be accomplished – I would have a respectable looking ride to show off to all my friends. The truth is, I didn't want to know the truth, for I assumed that the truth would stand in the way of my happiness.

As you can imagine, when we opened the hood, it was missing half of its engine. Yep, too good to be true. I ended up with my dad’s old, brown, farm truck – dependable but no ground effects.

I realize now that I was willing to overlook all the blaring red flags and knowingly do something foolish because of my foolish pride. My emotions, my pride, and my inverted values hindered my judgment. I was not objective or rational because I did not want to be objective or rational.

Foolishness is living in opposition to what we know to be true. I am afraid this irrational condition and manner of thinking is universally prevalent in all of us. We are not merely irrational every now and then. Without God, we live in a state of irrationality.

Only irrational fools would consistently and practically deny that 2 + 2 = 4. Not only is the answer to this equation a part of common sense, it is easily demonstrable and highly useful. If a postmodern thinker practically rejects the absolute and universal principles of mathematics, he may applaud himself for being consistent with his relativistic worldview, but in the process his checkbook will be a total mess. Regardless of what we claim we believe about the laws of math, we cannot live consistently without practically submitting ourselves to them. For this and many other reasons it is intellectually difficult to deny the absolute and universal nature of mathematics.

The same is true concerning the truth of Scripture. Scripture does not merely provide a few isolated, unrelated, and discounted truths; it gives us the only complete and cohesive worldview that provides meaning and rationale to the universe. In other words, without the Bible, nothing makes sense in the grand scheme of things. As the Psalmist says, “In your light we see light” (Ps. 36:9).

Yet, if the Bible provides us with the only cohesive system of thought, why is it so hated and rejected by so many? If it is impossible to disprove the truth claims of the Bible, why is it so despised and ridiculed by some of the brightest and smartest minds? Do you want to know the truth? The truth is that if people loved the truth, they wouldn't reject the truth. The problem is not that the truth is irrational, but that fallen man is not without his personal biases and foolish pride. As we shall see in this chapter, people are selfish by nature, and their selfishness is the controlling influence in how they feel, think, and behave.

Man is Not Neutral

The Bible describes this as depravity. Depravity is an inner heart condition that prevents us from loving any truth that is in opposition to our internal desire to be independent, free, and self-governing. Because we are born depraved, with a fallen nature, we hate the God of the Bible. We may love a god of our own imagination – a god that we can control. This is because we naturally want to be in control of our own destiny. If we want to go to heaven, then we can work our way there. If we want to go to Hell and hang out with our drinking buddies, then that is what we will do. But to lovingly submit every detail of our lives, thoughts, and beliefs to the absolute, sovereign God is not enticing in the least.

This is because the Bible claims that the entire universe and every individual person within it was made for the glory of God. This design not only determines our intended purpose, but it demands how we should think, feel, and live. In other words, we are not made for ourselves. Yet, we naturally do not want to be confined to such a sacrificial lifestyle, and even less do we want our sin, shame, and guilt to be fully exposed. This is what the Bible does, however. The Bible defines our lives and exposes our sin and guilt. This personal rebuke and criticism is too much to accept by those of us who love ourselves. Those of us who desire to cover up our sins, establish or own purpose, and control our own destinies will reject any truth that endangers these objectives. It is not that we are incapable of understanding the truth; without the grace of God, we simply do not appreciate it.

For this reason it is a false notion to think that our beliefs, opinions, and judgments are determined merely by the facts. When the facts oppose us, we will oppose the facts. Absolute objectivity is an impossibility for sinful and self-loving individuals. Only computers and machines are completely neutral. This is because computers do not care one way or another about the truth. As much as I like my new IMac, it could care less about me. As smart as it may be, it is void of any emotions and feelings. If I do a web search for Adolf Hitler or for Jesus Christ, my computer remains indifferent. It simply does not have a judgment or opinion upon such things.

This is not true, however, with emotional people. People have an opinion on almost everything, especially upon those things that relate and affect their personal lives. Most people could care less about the fact that George Washington was the first President of the United States of America. Most people will accept this historical fact with little to no evidence. “Who cares, for how does that affect my day to day life?” Yet, all of a sudden, when something touches us directly or indirectly, we will show great interest and concern. Bring up religion, politics, gun control, abortion, sexual orientation, George Bush, Obama, and other such heated topics, and all of a sudden people get testy. Yet, if there is one subject that we are all have a heavy and emotional investment in, it would be the grand subject of ‘me, myself, and I.’

Just as we naturally seek to ovoid physical pain and gravitate towards physical pleasure, we all hate to be criticized, rebuked, and shamed and love to be recognized, praised, and honored. This tendency makes it easier to accept that which is personally beneficial and harder to accept that which is personally detrimental. Tell me that I am brilliant and I will not put up an argument, even if there is no supporting evidence. Tell me that I am not the sharpest tool in the woodshed, even when if it is clearly evident, and it will make me mad.

I have sadly seen this first hand. In High School, one of my friends committed suicide. No one saw this coming either, especially the boy’s mother. I knew denial was one of the steps of grieving, but I didn't realize just how strong this emotion could be. At the graveside, the mother of this boy threw herself on top of the casket and began to shake it rapidly while crying out, “Wake upwake upwake up!” Everyone else stood silent. Reality was bitter, and at that time it was too hard for this mother to accept. She, for the time being, would not allow herself to believe that her only child was about to be buried. Though the evidence was overwhelming, it was not enough to convince her of something she did not want to believe. Because she loved her son, she did not love the truth. In this way, none of us are neutral.

Man’s Values are Controlled by His Nature

We cannot help but have something or someone that we love the most – more than anything else. And what we love the most will inadvertently determine what we hate and loathe. If we love darkness, then we will hate the light. If we love pleasure, then we will hate pain. If we love ourselves, then we will hate our enemies. This also cannot be avoided. With this in mind, everything falls into a sliding scale from the object of our greatest affection to the object of our deepest hatred, with everything else in between. This scale is our value system. For our values are nothing more that what we appreciate and love, and this value system determines our morals and ethical behavior.

This is because the object that we love the most becomes our god – what we serve and worship. Whatever we love the most will control our thinking, emotions, and behavior. It will control us, and we will willingly bow down to it. For instance, let's say you loved baseball more than life itself. Your love for baseball would not only shape your opinion about baseball, it would control your life. If baseball was your greatest love, then it would shape how you spent your time and money, it would influence your friendships, and it would shape almost everything else in your life. This does not mean you wouldn't enjoy other things unrelated to baseball, but it does mean that those unrelated things would be subjugated to your principle concern – baseball. Your love for baseball would be the ruling principle behind everything you thought and did. No doubt it would be a willing enslavement, but an enslavement it would be.

Man’s Behavior is Controlled by His Nature

With this in mind, as I have already pointed out, the Bible authoritatively teaches that which is also clearly evident from our own personal observation and inward experience, namely that our chief object of affection is self. Without God’s grace, we make ourselves the center of our thoughts and activities. It is hard to deny that human nature is selfish. Infants are born not thinking about their mothers but themselves. Children do not have to be taught to covet and fight over toys. The history of the world is full of strife, bloodshed, and exploitation. Man may give himself to various pleasures and hobbies (such as baseball), materialism, and the pursuit of power and fame, but all these things are rooted in a love for self. When laws, restraints, oversight, and accountability are removed, ours hearts do not naturally move upward. As dumbbells naturally fall to the ground, we naturally place our own needs and happiness above the needs and happiness of others. Thankfully, not all of us want to be as bad as Hitler, but without the power of God, none of us will love God more than we love ourselves. We may have a desire to be good, but this love of self will always control the motive behind our seemingly good actions. We may have a love for God, but not a love for God that is greater than our love for ourselves. And whatever appears to be good, if done for selfish reasons, falls short of the glory of God and is classified as sinful.
  
Thus, selfishness is the controlling influence behind man’s behavior. In other words, the problem behind sinful behavior and irrational thinking is man’s depraved, selfish heart. As the Scripture claims: Because of “the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart” (Eph. 4:17-18). As a result, the sinful heart is the heart of man’s problem.

Man’s Emotions are Controlled by His Nature

This sinful heart also controls fallen man’s emotions. It is a false but common notion to think that we are not responsible for our emotions. We often speak as if our emotions are alien creatures that attack us from the outside, as if they are outside of our control. ‘I can’t help the way I feel.’ ‘You would feel the same way if this had happened to you.’ ‘I couldn't help that I fell in love with her.’ ‘You can’t help who you love.’ ‘Sorry I don’t love you anymore.’ With such common statements as these, people would have us believe that their emotions are not derived from within themselves but from their external circumstances. ‘How could my emotions not be affected if I learn that something bad had happened to my mother, or if I hear that my rich uncle was about to give me a million dollars?’ ‘Of course, my emotional ups and downs are a result of factors outside of my control.’ ‘I am a victim of my own emotions.’ ‘I am a victim of my circumstances.’ ‘I am just an emotional person. I can’t help it.’

Yet, this false way of thinking eliminates our responsibility to control our emotions. Depression is not like cancer; it is not a disease that attacks us without our permission. We are not innocent victims of our own emotions. Emotions are not alien forces that are caused by our ever-changing circumstances. Rather, we are responsible for our emotions. We are responsible for loving that which is good and hating that which is bad. Jesus Christ made it clear, in the Sermon on the Mount, that we are not only responsible for how we outwardly behave but also for how we inwardly feel.

It is true that our emotions are connected to our circumstances. But, it is not true that our emotions are controlled by our circumstances. Rather, our emotions are controlled by our values (i.e., the things that we love and hate). Because I love my mom, it would deeply sadden me if I learned that something bad had happened to her. How distressed would I feel? It all depends upon the level and degree that I loved my mother. Because I value money, I would naturally rejoice to learn that my rich uncle was going to endow me with a million bucks. It is not that our emotions are controlled by the uncontrolled changes in our environment, but rather it is our pre-established values that control how we emotional respond and feel towards the uncontrolled changes in our circumstances.  In other words, our ever changing circumstances expose our true nature and our personal values.

Man’s Beliefs are Controlled by His Nature

This heart problem, which produces various emotional problems, is the reason why sinners do not believe the truth. It is not that the Bible lacks credibility or is incomprehensible; it is that man values himself more than he values the Word of God. That is, fallen man has a fallen and inverted value system. Rather than God being man’s chief affection, fallen man has placed himself in that spot. Yet, to believe the truth, man must warmly embrace the truth, and this requires submitting to God. Submitting to God is hard because it requires the dethroning of self. But this brings us back to the heart of the problem – man is willingly enslaved to his own selfishness.

Selfishness is blinding. What we do not love, we will not willingly embrace. If we do not have ears to hear it is because we do not want to hear. By nature, unbelievers are enslaved to their own fleshly passions. Because of this, unbelievers love darkness rather than the light (John 3:19). They will naturally resist and suppress the truth in unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18) because they take “pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thess. 2:12). Thus, the knowledge of God is viewed as a threat to their desire to live for themselves. As R. C. Sproul remarked: “God manifests a threat to man’s moral standards, a threat to his quest for autonomy, and a threat to his desire for concealment.”[1]

Thus, a lack of faith does not come from a lack of rational and credible evidence, it comes from a spiritually dead heart that is enslaved to its own selfish desires. Blaise Pascal understood this when he stated: “Those who do not love the truth take as a pretext that it is disputed, and that a multitude deny it. And so their error arises only from this, that they do not love either truth or charity.”[2]

Beliefs Will Not Change without a Change in Man’s Nature

For this reason, it is not mere logic or evidence that changes hearts. Denial and hatred of God’s Word will cause even the most intellectual and brilliant people to become fools. As the Scriptures say, “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools” (Rom. 1:21-22). And the “fool has said in his heart, there is no God” (Ps. 53:1).

It is not as if unbelievers need more empirical evidence to convince them of the truth, for even if they saw a man raised from the dead, the Bible says, they would still stubbornly hold on to their sins and reject the truth (Luke 16:31). The only thing that can produce faith in Christ is a heart transplant. Sinners must be born again, they must have the love of God poured into their dead hearts before they will willfully repent of their sins and run to Christ Jesus for forgiveness. Sin must be hated and Christ must be loved before sinners will embrace the gospel. Blaise Pascal understood this as well:
Do not wonder to see simple people believe without reasoning. God imparts to them love of Him and hatred of self. He inclines their hearts to believe. Men will never believe with a saving and real faith, unless God inclines their heart; and they will believe as soon as He inclines it.[3]
Though faith is not blind, illogical, or without empirical evidences, it is supernatural. Faith comes from God because the new nature comes from God. Yet, my dear reader, this does not excuse you from being accountable for rejecting the God of the Bible. Your rejection and denial of the truth is not because you lack evidence, it is because you love yourselves and your sins more than you love the Christ who came to die for your sins.

Notes:

[1] R. C. Sproul, If There’s a God, Why are there Atheists? (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1988), 73.
[2] Pensées, 261.
[3] Pensées, 284.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Shawn Mathis Offers a "Pastoral Evaluation of the Family Integrated Church Movement"

Some of this blog's readers will no doubt remember that I have previously recommend articles by Shawn Mathis, Pastor of Providence Presbyterian Church in Denver, Colorado. I recommended "What Is a Family Integrated Church?" here. And I recommended "Why I Cannot Sign the Family Integrated Church Confession" here. But more recently Shawn has published an eight part series of articles entitled "Pastoral Evaluation of the Family Integrated Church Movement." Following are the links to all eight articles, together with a brief description of each one.
Part One is focused on historical matters, in which it is demonstrated that, "Far from being a relatively new innovation of the last 200 years, the Reformed churches have a long history of instructing the youth on the Lord's Day."
Part Two offers a brief history of the Family Integrated Church Movement (FICM) and the founding of the National Center for Family Integrated Churches (NCFIC) as well as a description of the beliefs of the movement as set forth by the NCFIC.
Part Three details what the major issue of the NCFIC appears to be, namely the rejection of any sort of age segregated activities or instruction in the churches.
Part Four offers an analysis and critique of the historical claims of the NCFIC and the FICM in general.
Part Five offers an analysis and critique of the theological claims of the NCFIC and the FICM in general. Here Shawn interacts with "The strongest argument against youth ministries by the NCFIC" which he correctly says "is a hermeneutical argument rooted in a misunderstanding of Sola Scriptura." It is encapsulated in what Shawn calls the “regulative principle of discipleship.”
Part Six expresses his concern for the way that the God-given authority of parents -- particularly fathers -- tends to overthrow the God-given authority of pastors and churches in the FICM. He also affirms some of the positive things we can learn from the FICM, not wishing to minimize their good concerns and contributions while dealing with their errors.
Part Seven describes some of the dangers of the FICM, both doctrinal and practical, such as a tendency to legalism and divisiveness, as well as their view that they are a part of a revival and a process of reformation of the churches that is brought about by God that ought not be resisted.
Part Eight offers advice for "working with FIC members in a non-FIC church" and discusses a few of his own personal experiences dealing with those who are a part of the movement. He also outlines where the FICM seems to be heading at present.
I think Shawn has done a very good job of describing the FICM and reacting to it in a Biblical manor, and I highly recommend reading his series, which is actually taken from his lecture notes from the Spring 2014 Presbytery of the Midwest Seminar. You can listen to the audio of this seminar, together with the audio for the question and answer session, here. I also recommend reading Shawn's recent book, Uniting Church and Family, which is primarily a digest of his may past blog posts and internet articles and which gets into much more detail.


On another note, I have recently called upon Scott Brown, the Director of the National center for Family Integrated Churches, to respond to my Biblical arguments in support of age segregated education in the churches (here). I now call upon him to respond to Shawn's work as well. Although my work comes from a Reformed Baptist perspective and Shawn's comes from a Presbyterian perspective, I think our Biblical and theological arguments overlap nicely for the most part, and I think that they warrant a response.

As I pointed out in my previous article, Scott Brown as stated that he has "heard dozens of arguments for age segregation that are not based upon the Bible, but none that are grounded upon the Bible." However, since both Shawn and I have offered such Biblically grounded arguments, I think it behooves him either to show that our arguments clearly are not Biblical or to revise his statements.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Answering Scott Brown's Challenge Concerning Age Segregated Education

Over the years I have consistently heard advocates of the Family Integrated Church Movement (FICM) assert that age segregated education, such as employed in youth ministries or Sunday schools, is not Biblical. As a matter of fact, Scott Brown, a well known FICM advocate and director of the National Center for Family-Integrated Churches (NCFIC) has at least twice challenged those who advocate some form of age segregated education that the burden of proof is on them and that they cannot meet it. Here is what he said in a November 25, 2009, NCFIC blog post entitled Burden of Proof for Age Segregation:
It is easy to prove the pattern of age integrated discipleship from Scripture. The entire fabric of scripture is woven with age integrated gatherings of God’s people. But it is almost impossible to prove the principle of age segregation. I have yet to hear a biblical case for age segregation. Why? Because it does not exist in Scripture. Therefore, the burden of proof for age segregation rests upon those who support it.
Then, in an August 30, 2011, NCFIC blog post entitled The Burden of Proof for Age Segregation, Brown restated the challenge and wrote:
The big question is this: "Where is the clear biblical proof for segregating the church by age?" This is where the burden of proof lies. Scripture shows what seems to be an almost exclusively age-integrated world for worship, instruction, prayer, and celebration. After many years, I have never seen a credible exegetical argument FOR age segregation. I have heard dozens of arguments for age segregation that are not based upon the Bible, but none that are grounded upon the Bible.
The readers of the Reformed Baptist Blog will observe that I commented "a year ago" on the second of these two posts with a link to the first in a series of articles on this blog containing the very kind of Biblical argument that Brown says either has not or cannot be made. Here again are the links to all three articles:
Now, although I informed Brown in the aforesaid comment, and although I know he is aware of this blog (since he linked to it at least once here, in footnote 3), I don't think he noticed either the comment or the series as posted here. So, having just sent him a message through his church's website, I am also posting this article to let him know about the series and to invite his rebuttal. He says that he has "heard dozens of arguments for age segregation that are not based upon the Bible, but none that are grounded upon the Bible." However, since I have offered such Biblically grounded arguments here, I think it behooves him either to show that my arguments clearly are not Biblical or to revise his statements.

P.S. I have made a few minor edits of the articles linked above (15 August 2014).

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church Removed From Acts 29 Network

On Friday the board of the Acts 29 Network of churches announced on their blog that Mark Driscoll and the Mars Hill Church which he co-founded have been removed from membership in the network. Here is the statement as it appeared on the blog
It is with deep sorrow that the Acts 29 Network announces its decision to remove Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church from membership in the network. Mark and the Elders of Mars Hill have been informed of the decision, along with the reasons for removal. It is our conviction that the nature of the accusations against Mark, most of which have been confirmed by him, make it untenable and unhelpful to keep Mark and Mars Hill in our network. In taking this action, our prayer is that it will encourage the leadership of Mars Hill to respond in a distinctive and godly manner so that the name of Christ will not continue to be dishonored. 
The Board of the Acts 29 Church Planting Network 
Matt Chandler
Darrin Patrick
Steve Timmis
Eric Mason
John Bryson
Bruce Wesley
Leonce Crump 
With a "better late than never" sigh, I commend the board and the Acts 29 Network for their action, and I hope that their prayers on behalf of Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church will be answered.

More details may be found here.

26 August 2014 Update

It has recently been reported that Twenty-One Former Mars Hill Church Pastors Bring Formal Charges Against Mark Driscoll. Apparently there are more ad more witnesses coming forward in support of the decision made by the Acts 29 Network to remove Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church form their association.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

James White Responds to the "Gay Christian" Movement




I hope all the blog's readers will watch these videos, because you will find no better, and no more Biblical, response to the issue than that set forth by Pastor James White.
 
I would also highly recommend reading The Same Sex Controversy: Defending and Clarifying the Bible's Message About Homosexuality by James White and Jeffrey Niell.
 
I regard James White to be the best and most Biblically sound Christian Apologist of our day, so I also encourage you all to check out his ministry website at Alpha and Omega Ministries, as well as his YouTube channel here.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Interesting Articles on the Doctrine of Two Kingdoms

In this post I thought I would list some helpful and interesting articles on the Doctrine of Two Kingdoms, or Two Kingdom Theology. This is a doctrine that I believe reflects a proper understanding of Scripture. In various forms it was held by Augustine and then later by Reformers such as Martin Luther and John Calvin, and it is a doctrine that has had a long history among Reformed churches and theologians. It is also a doctrine upon which I and my fellow-blogger Jeff Johnson agree (at least in its Reformed rendering). In fact, our commitment to a form of this doctrine is reflected in some of the articles we have written here (as will be mentioned below).

Here is a helpful introduction by Kim Riddlebarger:
Here are some helpful articles by Michael Horton: 
Here are some helpful articles by Matthew Tuininga:
Jeff Johnson and I have also written several articles on this blog advocating or assuming the position of this doctrine: 
Giving Uncle Sam His Due (A good, basic introduction to Two Kingdom Theology, with some important practical implications, by Jeff)
These last two articles are written by me and definitely reflect the perspective of Two Kingdom Theology. I hope you find all of these articles helpful, and I welcome contributions to the list from the blog's readers as well.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Parable of the Persistent Widow (Luke 18:1-8 Teaching Outline)

Note: It is important before we get into the Parable of the Persistent Widow to understand the context in which Jesus tells the parable. The context is provided in chapter 17, in which we have the account of Jesus' response to a question from the Pharisees about the coming of the kingdom, followed by Jesus teaching the disciples about His second coming. He instructs them about a delay in His return, and He tells them about its visible and sudden nature when it does occur. So, in order to get the context of the parable clear in our minds, it is important to begin reading the text at least as far back as 17:20.

Introduction: Warren Wiersbe has written that “The ability to calm your soul and wait before God is one of the most difficult things in the Christian life. Our old nature is restless … the world around us is frantically in a hurry. But a restless heart usually leads to a reckless life” (Men’s Life, Spring, 1998, as cited here).

He is right about that, isn't he? We are all pretty bad at waiting on the Lord, aren't we? Yet the Bible is filled with instruction about waiting on the Lord, and it is one of the most important lessons any believer can and must learn. For example, the Prophet Isaiah emphasized the importance of waiting on the LORD, and he told us of the LORD's promise to those who wait upon Him:
NKJ  Isaiah 40:28-31 Have you not known? Have you not heard? The everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth, neither faints nor is weary. His understanding is unsearchable. 29 He gives power to the weak, and to those who have no might He increases strength. 30 Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall, 31 but those who wait on the LORD Shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.
The Apostle James also encourages us to wait patiently for the return of the Lord Jesus:
NKJ  James 5:7-8 Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain. 8 You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.
Thus waiting for our Lord's return requires patience, but it also requires persistence in prayer, and this is the reason for the parable we are studying this morning, to which we shall now turn our attention. We will examine the parable under three primary headings: 1) the aim of the parable, 2) the assertion of the parable, and 3) the application of the parable.

I. The Aim of the Parable 

We find the aim of the parable in verse 1.
NKJ  Luke 18:1 Then He [Jesus] spoke a parable to them, that [πρός] men always ought to pray and not lose heart [ἐγκακέω], [Note: πρός is used here with the accusative, “indicating the subject or aim of the parable” (Expositor's Greek Testament, p. 596).]
Luke gives us a two-sided description of the purpose Jesus had in mind in telling this parable, from both a positive and a negative angle.

Positively, Jesus wants us to be persistent in praying. He wants us to pray “always,” or at all times, no matter what the circumstances, but especially in the face of the trials that will be our lot as we watch for His return (for this is what the preceding context is about).

Negatively, Jesus wants us not to be discouraged in praying. Actually, the Greek word translated by most modern translations as “lose heart” can have the idea, “to give in to evil, to become weary, to lose heart, [or] to turn coward” (Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament, p. 194). Thus the Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament aptly observes in its treatment of the word that “real courage requires that we leave the problem with God” (p. 194).

Jesus assumes, then, that we will face some sort of opposition to persistent prayer and that it will be difficult for us to be steadfast in prayer. He knows that persistent prayer in the face of evil can be hard. He knows that we get tired. He knows we can all too easily become discouraged. And He knows that we can actually be afraid to trust God with our lives. But He doesn't want us to give up!

This is why, Luke tells us, that Jesus related this parable. Luke is also letting us know that, after we are finished studying this parable, we should be encouraged to be persistent in prayer as we await Christ's return, and we should be better able to leave our lives in God's hands, trusting that He knows best, no matter what our circumstances may suggest. And this leads us to our next major heading.

II. The Assertion of the Parable

We find Jesus' assertion of the parable in verses 2-5.
NKJ  Luke 18:2 saying: “There was in a certain city a judge who did not fear God nor regard man.”
The description of this judge identifies him as a godless man, who has no concern to keep either of the two greatest commandments. He loves neither God nor his neighbor! This is basically what Jesus means when He says that this judge “did not fear God nor regard man.” What a terrible judge for a desperate person to have to come to hoping for justice! Yet Jesus goes on to describe just such a desperate person continually coming before this awful judge.
NKJ  Luke 18:3 Now there was a widow in that city; and she came [Imperfect > ἔρχομαι, she kept coming, which is brought out better in most modern translations, such as the ESV and NASB] to him, saying, “Get justice [ἐκδικέω] for me from my adversary.”
First we are told that the person is “a widow,” which means that we are dealing with a desperate person who could not get justice at all if the judge would not help her. Klyne Snodgrass describes the plight of such a first century Palestinian widow this way:
Since women married in their early teens, widows were numerous but not necessarily old. Widows were often left with no means of support. If her husband left an estate, she did not inherit it, although provision for her upkeep would be made. If she remained in her husband's family, she had an inferior, almost servile, position. If she returned to her family, the money exchanged at the wedding had to be given back. Widows were so victimized that they were often sold as slaves for debt. (Stories With Intent: A Comprehensive Guide to the Parables of Jesus, p. 453)
Thus, although Jesus does not give any details about this widow, those who heard the parable would have understood her as a person who had no one to stand up for her, especially since she has had to resort to relying on such a terrible judge for help.

What the woman was seeking from the judge was what she could not get otherwise, namely “justice,” as the Greek word is rendered in the NKJV. But the word could also be taken in slightly different ways. For example, the King James Version renders that widow's plea, “Avenge me of mine adversary.” And the New American Standard Bible has the widow saying, “Give me legal protection from my opponent.”
 
However we understand the verb here, the point is still that the widow wanted the judge to help her by providing justice, whether it was punishment that an adversary deserved or whether it was legal protection from such an adversary.

It is also worth noting that we should assume that the woman's cause was indeed a just one. Otherwise the parable would hardly make sense as an analogy for prayer that we should expect God to answer by granting our request.

At any rate, given that this was a judge who did not care either about what God would have him do or about the woman who kept coming before him, he refused for a while to grant her justice, as the next verse says.
NKJ  Luke 18:4-5 And he would not for a while; but afterward he said within himself, “Though I do not fear God nor regard man, 5 yet because this widow troubles me I will avenge [ἐκδικέω] her, lest by her continual coming she weary [ὑπωπιάζω] me.”
Now, the Greek verb translated weary – hupōpiázō – literally means to “strike beneath the eye” or to “give a black eye” (Friberg #27682, BibleWorks). But it has to be taken here in a figurative sense, much as when we say that we might ay today that we give someone a black eye when we embarrass him or damage his reputation in some way. As Klyne Snodgrass puts it, “even though [the Greek word] connotes physical violence, its use here is surely metaphorical or sarcastic. The judge fears not that the woman will strike him but that she will annoy him to death” (Stories With Intent: A Comprehensive Guide to the Parables of Jesus, p. 458). Or as the Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament says, the Greek verb is used here “in the sense of 'to annoy' or 'to disgrace' in the sense of losing prestige” (p. 194).

But, whether the judge simply grew tired of what he viewed as an annoyance, or whether he was concerned that the widow would eventually damage his reputation by making him look as bad as he really was, Jesus' point is clear: The widow will get the justice she seeks because she persists in her request and does not give up. And with this we come to our final point.

III. The Application of the Parable

We find Jesus' application of the parable in verses 6-8.
NKJ  Luke 18:6-7 Then the Lord said, “Hear what the unjust judge said. 7 And shall God not avenge [ποιήσῃ τὴν ἐκδίκησιν, do justice] His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them?”
Here we see that Jesus intends this to be a how much more parable, in which He draws a contrast between some other person and Himself or God. In this case, Jesus is basically saying that, if even an unjust judge will grant justice to one who is persistent in her request, then how much more will God grant justice to those whom He has chosen to be His own, to His elect.

When Jesus says that He “bears long with them,” He may be describing the fact that God answers in His own time, as the KJV and NKJV translations seem to take it. Or He may be asking an additional question, as the ESV and NASB take it:
ESV  Luke 18:7 And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them?
NAU  Luke 18:7 … now, will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them?
The Greek can be taken either way, and either translation may fit the context. On the one hand, Jesus clearly thinks of God as bearing with His people since they are said to “cry out day and night to Him.” This means that they are anxiously waiting for a response that will come in God's own good time. In this case, they are like the souls under the altar in the book of Revelation:
NKJ  Revelation 6:9-11 When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held. 10 And they cried with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge [ἐκδικέω] our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” 11 Then a white robe was given to each of them; and it was said to them that they should rest a little while longer, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was completed.
On the other hand, one could say that Jesus also thinks of God as acting without delay in responding to the requests of His people for justice, especially given what Jesus says in the next verse.
NKJ  Luke 18:8a I tell you that He will avenge [ποιήσει τὴν ἐκδίκησιν, do justice] them speedily [ἐν τάχει].
Although we may “cry out to God day and night” (vs. 7) and his justice may thus seem to us to be delayed, Jesus assures us that in God's plan it comes “speedily,” that is without delay.

It is clear that this cannot mean that God will answer our prayers for justice immediately as we await the Lord's return, for in this case why does Jesus bother with telling the parable? Why does He prepare us for the necessity of being persistent in prayer and not giving up, if He actually thinks God will always answer right away?

The apparent difficulty is alleviated when we remember that this parable is given in an eschatological context – dealing with the second coming of Christ – and that, in such a context, God's timetable and ours are not the same. What may seem long to us is right away to God, for it is right on His timetable.

Remember when Peter later dealt with scoffers who asked, “Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation” (2 Pet. 3:4). After pointing out that the underlying premise of the question is wrong – all things have not continued as they were from the beginning of creation; there was, for example, a worldwide flood – Peter goes on to say:
NKJ  2 Peter 3:8-9 But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9 The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.
In other words, we cannot judge what is soon to God by our own standard of time. We cannot assume that, because we are tempted to be impatient, God is somehow too slow in His timing. We cannot assume that God must work in accordance either with what we think must be done or when we think it must be done.

I think Bob Deffinbaugh gets the point of the parable right when he says:
[T]he Christian is taught to persist in prayer because of the character of God, which is the opposite of that of the judge. God is righteous; the judge was unrighteous. God has chosen His disciples—they are called “His elect” (v. 7), and He cares about His disciples because He has chosen them. But the unrighteous judge has no feelings and no relationship to the widow. He has no compassion toward her, while God has great compassion on His elect. The unrighteous judge delayed because he didn’t care about God or man; the Lord Jesus delays out of compassion on guilty men, giving them time to repent and be saved. The unrighteous judge only cared about reducing his “pain,” while the righteous Judge came to suffer the greatest pain of all—the just wrath of God—in order to save fallen man. The unjust judge brought about justice slowly and reluctantly, but the Just Judge of all the earth will hastily bring about justice when He returns to the earth. (Piety, Persistence, Penitence, and Prayer)
As I have already indicated, I think it is right to thus interpret the parable in the context of Jesus' second coming, since that is what leads up to His telling the parable in the first place. But just in case we missed this emphasis, Jesus makes it clear in His final question.
NKJ  Luke 18:8b Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?
That is, when Jesus comes, will He find the kind of trust in God that persists in prayer without giving up, despite all the temptations to quit believing and to quit praying? This is what Jesus must have in mind here.

Conclusion: I will end with another quote from Bob Deffinbaugh, who is again helpful when he writes:
The parable of the persistent widow is occasioned by the fact that Jesus’ coming will not be immediate but that it will occur later on in time. In addition, during this time of “delay” men will react to and resist Christians just as they did Christ. Thus, there is a real danger of Christ’s disciples losing heart and ceasing to pray for the coming of His kingdom as they ought. This is suggested at the beginning of the paragraph and at the end as well. The last words of our Lord in this paragraph are, “However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?”
I believe Jesus is saying something like this: “You can count on the fact that I will return and that I will bring about justice on the earth when I come. The issue for you to concern yourselves about isn’t whether I will fulfill My promises, but whether you will be found faithful when I return.” We need not worry about our Lord’s faithfulness, but only our own. (Piety, Persistence, Penitence, and Prayer)
I think this hits the nail on the head! Jesus wants us to take His faithfulness as a given, but he also wants us to admit our own weakness in this regard and thus continue to trust in His faithfulness rather than our own. He knows how fickle and fainthearted we can be, so He wants our faith to be anchored in His faithfulness. For it is only when we trust in His faithfulness that we ourselves may found faithful.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31 Teaching Outline)

Note: Remember that the context here follows Jesus' telling of the Parable of the Unjust Steward, in which He teaches that how we use money – what He calls “unrighteous mammon” –  indicates where our hearts truly are. So, with this in mind, and in order to really get what is going on here, let's begin reading in verse 9 and read all the way through verse 31, and then we will focus our attention upon the parable in verses 19-31. Notice especially Luke’s' description of the pharisees reaction to Jesus' teaching in verse 14, where he says, “Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, also heard all these things, and they derided Him.”

Introduction: Richard De Haan relates the following story:
A bank in Binghamton, New York, had some flowers sent to a competitor who had recently moved into a new building. There was a mixup at the flower shop, and the card sent with the arrangement read, “With our deepest sympathy.”
The florist, who was greatly embarrassed, apologized. But he was even more embarrassed when he realized that the card intended for the bank was attached to a floral arrangement sent to a funeral home in honor of a deceased person. That card read, “Congratulations on your new location!” (Our Daily Bread, May 25, 1992)
Now, that card might not be such a bad one for the funeral of a believer in Christ, but it definitely wouldn't be a good one for the funeral of an unbeliever. And today we will think about why this is so, as we examine the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. For one of them could have been congratulated on his new location, but the other could definitely not have been congratulated!

As we focus our attention on the parable today, we will see that our Lord Jesus gives essentially gives it a two part structure, so we will follow this structure and examine it under two primary headings. We we look first at the contrast between the rich man and Lazarus, and then at the rich man's conversation with Abraham.

I. The Contrast Between the Rich Man and Lazarus

We find the contrast between the rich man and Lazarus in verses 19-23. As we look at the contrast between these two men, we will see that they are contrasted both in this life and in the afterlife.

1. They are contrasted in this life.

We find this contrast in verses 19-21.
The Rich Man: NKJ  Luke 16:19 There was a certain rich man who was clothed [Impf. > ἐνδιδύσκω] in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day.
Just how rich this man was is seen in the fact that he typically wore purple and fine linen, both of which were very expensive kinds of cloth for clothes. I say that he typically wore such extravagant clothing because of the tense of the Greek verb used. It is an imperfect tense, which here indicates an ongoing or repeated action in the past. In fact, the Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament identifies it here as a customary imperfect which should be understood to mean that “he customarily clothed himself” in purple and fine linen (p. 190). In other words, these clothes were not his best that he wore only on special occasions, but rather were his typical garb. He was so rich that he could dress this way every day if he wanted, a fact which seems to be verified by what else Jesus says about him.

We are also told that he “fared sumptuously every day.” Or, as the NASB says it, he was “joyously living in splendor every day.” Or, again, as the ESV translates it, he was a man “who feasted sumptuously every day.” Every day was like a party for this man, because he could afford to celebrate extravagantly every day.

As the NET Bible notes put it, this man “'celebrated with ostentation' (L&N 88.255), that is, with showing off. Here was the original conspicuous consumer” (BibleWorks).
Lazarus: NKJ  Luke 16:20-21 But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus [Lázaros is the Greek form of the Hebrew ’el‛āzār, which means God has helped, probably the reason Jesus gives this name to this character], full of sores, who was laid at his [the rich man's] gate, 21 desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell  from the rich man's table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.
There are five facts we are given about Lazarus:
1) We are told that he was a “beggar.” He was so poor that he had to beg in order to live. Apparently he was unable to work, and we will see why as we look at the rest of Jesus' description of him.
2) We are told that he was “full of sores.” Whatever sickness he had, it certainly wasn't pleasant! This poor man must have been miserable! Such a condition would also have rendered him unclean so that most people would want to avoid him.
3) We are told that he was “laid at [the rich man's] gate.” Apparently the man could not walk himself and had to be carried and laid at his gate. The reason for this would be obvious. Since the rich man was so incredibly wealthy, there would have been hope that he would have given alms to Lazarus to help him in his sickness and poverty.
4) We are told that he was “desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell  from the rich man's table.” As poor Lazarus laid at the gate – not welcomed into the house – he was so hungry that he could only dream about the kind of scraps that would fall onto the floor under the rich man's table. 
5) We are told that “the dogs came and licked his sores.” This must have been a painful nuisance, but it also tells us that Lazarus was so weak that he couldn't keep the dogs away. And apparently there was no one to help him once he had been dropped there at the gate.
What we have here is a picture of a poor, hurting, hungry, lonely man. A man who apparently received no help at all from the rich man, even though he was laid at his gate where he would have walked past him whenever he came and went. What a vivid contrast Jesus portrays between the two earthly existences of these men! But that is not all, for we shall see that Jesus contrasts their existence after their deaths as well.

2. They are contrasted in the afterlife.

We find this contrast in verses 22-23, but the order is reversed, perhaps because of the reversal of their respective situations.
Lazarus: NKJ  Luke 16:22a So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham's bosom.
Whereas Lazarus had been carried and placed in front of the rich man's gate when alive, left out of the party only to dream of the scraps from the table, now we are told that, after he died, the angels carried him to “Abraham's bosom.” This is a reference to his being where Abraham is and his being close to Abraham, which would be a place of honor.

The picture is of a feast where people are reclining at a table. They would all be reclining on their left side, leaning on their lefts arms, and Lazarus is right in front of Abraham so that, when he leans back, he leans right against Abraham's chest. The situation is similar to that of the Apostle John when he reclined at the table with Jesus in the Upper Room and later told us that “there was leaning on Jesus' bosom one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved” (John 13:33) At any rate, the point is that Lazarus isn't missing the party any more!
The Rich Man: NKJ  Luke 16:22b-23 The rich man also died and was buried. 23 And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.
Notice again the vivid contrast between these two men, except that in the afterlife there is a great reversal! Now Lazarus is celebrating rather than the rich man. And, whereas Lazarus had been tormented by his illness and the dogs who licked his sores, now the rich man is being tormented in Hades.

The rich man is also said to be “afar off” from where Abraham and Lazarus are, although not so far that he cannot somehow see them. But, seeing them there, we will discover that the rich man also cries out to Abraham, and this leads us to or next major heading.

II. The Rich Man's Conversation With Abraham

We find the conversation of the rich man with Abraham in verses 24-31. In this section of the parable we are told about two requests made to Abraham by the rich man, along with Abraham's two responses. This is then followed by an objection made by the rich man and Abraham's response to that objection.

The Rich Man's First Request

We see the rich ma's first request in verse 24.
NKJ  Luke 16:24 Then he cried and said, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.”
Several observations need to be made here:
1) Notice that the rich man now wants to be shown the “mercy” that he never showed Lazarus when he had the chance. Still he thinks only of himself and has no concern for the welfare of Lazarus.
2) Notice also that the rich man's arrogance has not been altered by his situation. He still sees Lazarus as being inferior to himself when he requests that Abraham will “send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue.”
3) Notice finally that the rich man is said to be tormented “in this flame.” What more horrible and painful fate could we possibly imagine?!
Often we are tempted to think that when people die and end up in a place of torment they will somehow finally be sorry for what they have done, and thus we might be tempted to think it doesn't seem fair that they should continue to suffer so horribly. But this parable indicates that those who are hardhearted in this life will only continue to be so in the afterlife. Thus they will most definitely continue to deserve the punishment they receive. After all, they won't cease to be sinners just because they are being tormented.

But the fact still remains that what the rich man did while he was alive was in itself enough to warrant all the suffering he experienced after his death, as Abraham goes on to make clear to him.

Abraham's First Response

We see Abraham's response in verses 25-26.
NKJ  Luke 16:25 But Abraham said, “Son [τέκνον, child], remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented.”
Abraham isn't simply rubbing it in that the rich man is suffering so much. He is reminding him that it is his own fault. And when he says to the rich man that “in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things,” he is implying that it didn't have to be that way. The rich man could have helped Lazarus, but he didn't. So he cannot receive help from Lazarus now.

Here I think that the rich man is intended to stand for the one who chose to serve mammon in his life rather than to serve God. He could have loved God rather than money and made friends in his earthly life by means of unrighteous mammon, and now Lazarus might have been among those who would have received him into an everlasting home (vs. 9). But his idolatry is seen in his selfishness and his lack of mercy toward others, such as Lazarus. And his idolatry has gotten him what he deserved – a terrible punishment indeed!

But notice also that Lazarus must have been among the righteous who served God. He must have been a believer who trusted in God despite his terrible circumstances. And now he receives a reward far greater than the rich man could ever have dreamed of!
NKJ  Luke 16:26 “And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.”
If I may paraphrase in order to bring out the point, Abraham basically says to the rich man, “Not only are you getting what you deserve, but we couldn't help you anyway, because once your earthly life is over your fate is fixed.”

This is the point Jesus is making here. There are no second chances after this life has been squandered. Or as the author of Hebrews puts it, “it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment” (9:27). We need, then, to take advantage of the opportunity that God has given us now. And this means – as we shall see further on – that we need to hear what God has to say to us now.

The Rich Man's Second Request

We see the rich man's second request in verses 27-28.
NKJ  Luke 16:27-28 Then he said, “I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him [Lazarus] to my father's house, 28 for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.”
Finally the rich man begins to think of someone other than himself, but notice that there is an implied excuse for his predicament in what he says to Abraham. He implies that he wouldn't have ended up in this place of torment if there had been someone to warn him. You see, even when he is getting the punishment he deserves, and even after Abraham himself points this out to him, the rich man still wants to pass the buck. But Abraham doesn't buy it, as we shall see.

Abraham's Second Response

We see Abraham's response in verse 29.
NKJ  Luke 16:29 Abraham said to him, “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.”
Here Abraham makes it clear that the rich man did have a warning. He had the Word of God! And his brothers also have this same Word. And Abraham clearly believes that this Word is sufficient! So here we can discern the reason Lazarus was with Abraham instead of with the rich man in torment. It was because he had heeded God's Word. He must have heard “Moses and the prophets” and believed God's Word, whereas the rich man clearly had not.

However, the rich man isn't done defending himself, which we will see in next.

The Rich Man's Objection

We see the rich man's objection to what Abraham has said in verse 30.
NKJ  Luke 16:30 And he said, “No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.”
Can you believe it?! This guy is so arrogant that he is arguing with Abraham! Just think of it. Abraham was the their greatest forefather – the greatest example of genuine faith and spirituality for the Jews – and this rich man is arguing with him! He actually tells Abraham that he is wrong! He thinks that God's Word was not sufficient to let him know what he needed to know to be where Abraham is instead of in the place of torment where he now finds himself. And he thinks it will not be sufficient for his brothers either. What he and they needed was some really big miracle, like someone returning from the dead to warn them. They need to see a resurrection. That will do the trick! They will do what he should have done – they will “repent.”

But it is the rich man who is wrong, as Abraham will point out to him.

Abraham's Final Response

We see Abraham's final response to the rich man in verse 32.
NKJ  Luke 16:31 But he said to him, “If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.”
Abraham dispels the notion that so many unbelieving people seem to have today, namely that if they could only see a great miracle of some kind, then they would believe. But this just isn't true. Those who refuse to believe the Scriptures will not believe even if they see someone raised from the dead.

The generation of hardhearted and unbelieving Israelites who perished in the wilderness and were not allowed into the promised land are examples of this very truth. They had seen all the plagues on Egypt, had experienced the first Passover when all the first born but their own were killed, saw the Red Sea parted and Pharaoh's army destroyed, heard God's voice from Mt. Sinai, ate manna from Heaven and drank water from a rock, but still they did not believe. They saw more miracles in their lives than perhaps any other generation, but it did them no good. And the author of Hebrews tells us why:
NKJ  Hebrews 4:1-2 Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it. 2 For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it.
No wonder Jesus said on another occasion that “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign” (Matt. 12:29). For it is truly an evil generation that refuses to believe God's Word and thinks a sign will make all the difference!

Elsewhere Paul indicates that the Jews sought after signs because they thought it was foolishness to think God's Word would really change anyone:
NKJ  1 Corinthians 1:21-24 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. 22 For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; 23 but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks  foolishness, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
So, if you are among those who secretly think that if only God would do some great thing, then you would believe in Him, I must tell you that you are wrong. If you will not believe the Scriptures, then you won't believe no matter how many miracles you might see. And believe you must because – as this parable makes clear – we only get the opportunity in this life to believe. And if we don't believe in this life we can only expect an irrevocable judgment in the afterlife.

Conclusion: Mart De Haan illustrates the point well when he writes:
The driver of a hearse foolishly tried to warm himself on a rainy Saturday morning by drinking on the job. He didn't get warm (alcohol actually lowers body temperature), but he did get lost on the way to the cemetery. The funeral procession waited in vain at the grave for hours.
Later that evening, police found the driver asleep in the hearse by the side of the road. By then it was too late for burial, and the cemetery wouldn't accept the casket on Sunday.
On Monday, the newspaper reported that the body of the 62-year-old man “was finally laid to rest--2 days late for his final appointment.”
Actually, his final appointment was kept right on time. His tardy burial in no way altered the fact that his conscious soul had passed into eternity precisely at God's appointed time.
Until Christ returns, this will be true for every one of us. For the child of God, death immediately lifts the spirit into the presence of the Savior (2 Cor. 5:8). But for the one who rejects Christ (Jn. 3:18), death instantly closes the door to heaven and opens another to a Christless eternity.
We all have an appointment with our Maker. Whether we're ready for it or not depends on what we do with Jesus now. Are you ready for your final appointment? (Our Daily Bread, February 22, 1997)
That is a good question, isn't it? Are you ready for what comes when you die? Have you believed God's Word as revealed in the Scriptures? Have you trusted in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior? If not, I pray that He may grant you faith and repentance today, for it may be your last opportunity to trust Him.

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Parable of the Unjust Steward (Luke 16:1-13 Teaching Outline)

Notice first as we read the parable that Jesus is aiming it at His disciples. This means that He is giving instruction about how we as His disciples are supposed to live. We should keep this in mind as we read the parable, especially since the main character may at first surprise us and tempt us to think Jesus must have had some other group in mind.

Introduction: Pastor Herbert Vander Lugt once wrote, “Money can't buy happiness or eternal life. But when invested in Christ's cause, it pays eternal dividends” (Our Daily Bread, February 8, 1995).

I think this pastor has hit on a major lesson of the parable before us this morning, and I hope we will all learn this lesson, among others, as we examine the text more closely. In order to understand what Jesus wants us to learn from this parable, we will examine the passage under two primary headings: 1) the assertion of the parable, and 2) the application of the parable.

I. The Assertion of the Parable

There are essentially three stages to this parable, each centering on the steward. I have called them 1) the steward's predicament, 2) the steward's plan, and 3) the steward's prudence.

1. The Steward's Predicament

The steward's predicament is seen in verses 1-2.
NKJ  Luke 16:1-2 He also said to His disciples: “There was a certain rich man who had a steward, and an accusation was brought to him that this man was wasting his goods. 2 So he called him and said to him, 'What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your stewardship, for you can no longer be steward.'”
We know that the steward was not falsely charged because 1) he did not try to defend himself, and 2) he is later called an “unjust” steward in verse 8. So the steward has created a pretty bad situation for himself by misusing his master's money. And now he is about to be out of a job. This leads us to the second part of the parable.

2. The Steward's Plan

The steward's plan is seen in verses 3-4.
NKJ  Luke 16:3-4 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. 4 I have resolved what to do, that when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses.”
We know this steward was a hired man rather than a slave because a slave would have been severely punished and given some other menial task to do, whereas this man is simply in danger of losing his job. And when he thinks of his future, he doesn't think he will get another job as a steward. He doesn't even contemplate that possibility, no doubt because he was guilty of the charges brought against him and therefore knew no one else would want to hire him. So he thinks about the kind of work he might realistically be able to do and concludes that he may become a manual laborer – someone who has to dig, for which he is not suited – or a beggar – something his pride will not allow him to do.

So, the steward comes up with another plan, a plan that will provide him a place to live for quite some time and, as we shall see, a plan which involves taking even more of his master's money! This leads us to the third part of the parable.

3. The Steward's Prudence

The steward's prudence is seen in verses 5-8a.
NKJ  Luke 16:5-8a So he called every one of his master's debtors to him, and said to the first, “How much do you owe my master?” 6 And he said, “A hundred measures [βάτος, bath] of oil.” So he said to him, “Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.” 7 Then he said to another, “And how much do you owe?” So he said, “A hundred measures [κόρος, kor] of wheat.” And he said to him, “Take your bill, and write eighty.” 8 So the master commended the unjust steward because he had dealt shrewdly [φρονίμως].
In order to get the picture here clearly in our minds, I would like to share with you the background discussion of this parable from Klyne Snodgrass, in his Stories With Intent: A Comprehensive Guide to the Parables:
The amount of the debts is very large, although suggestions of the exact figures vary. One hundred baths of oil … would be equivalent to about 800 or 900 gallons, the yield of possibly 150 olive trees and equivalent to the wages of about three years for the average worker. One hundred kor of wheat would be almost 1100 bushels, probably enough to feed 150 people for a year, the produce of 100 acres, and equivalent to seven and one-half years of labor for the average worker. In each case the steward reduced the bill by the same amount, about 500 denarii or the wages of more than two years for a day laborer. The parable tells of large business dealings. None of the people involved are poverty-stricken peasants or even people with average incomes.
The reason it is important for us to see how big the amounts of the reductions were is so that we can see how much the steward was actually providing for his future. In a culture where reciprocity would have been expected, and where the people whose bills were reduced by so much would have been very grateful, the steward had saved these debtors a total of somewhere between four or five years wages they might have had to pay a day laborer. No wonder he felt confident that they would give him a place to stay when he got fired!

But notice the response of his master, who commended him because he had been so prudent – “he had dealt so shrewdly” – in providing for his future. We might imagine his reaction this way, “You're fired for taking my money, but I've got to hand it to you, you at least were smart enough to provide for your future by ingratiating yourself to these other rich people. And there is nothing I can do about it either, not without looking like a greedy jerk and harming my own future business dealings.”

Now, before we move on, we should consider the difficulty that many have with this parable because it seeks to draw a positive moral lesson from such a sinful character, namely the unjust  – or unrighteous – steward. Many have been troubled by this analogy. But I really don't think we should let this trouble us at all, since Jesus is not affirming the rightness of the steward's sinful actions, but of his prudence in preparing for his future. This parable is not so different, then, from another statement of Jesus, in which he describes His future return as being like a thief who sneaks into someone's home:
NKJ  Matthew 24:42-44 Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour  your Lord is coming. 43 But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. 44 Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.
Now, Jesus is not commending the sinful actions of a thief here, but is only speaking of the unexpected manner in which He Himself will one day return. In the same way, Jesus is not commending the sinful actions of the steward in this parable, but is teaching the kind of wisdom even a sinful man has in planning for his future. Thus this is really another “how much more” parable, which essentially says that, if a sinful man can be wise enough to prepare for his future on earth, then how much more should a believer be concerned to prepare for his eternal future. And this leads us to Jesus' application of the parable.

II. The Application of the Parable

We find the application of the parable in verses 8b-13, and there are at least five lessons we may learn from Jesus' application of this parable.

1. We must wisely plan for our eternal future.

This is the point of the last half of verse 8.
NKJ  Luke 16:8b For the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light.
In the context this statement is an accusation by Jesus against His disciples – the “sons of light” – who often seem less concerned about their heavenly future than the sons of this world are about their earthly future. But Jesus wants us to be planning throughout this life for the next one. That this is Jesus' point is clear from the parable and also from the next point that He makes.

2. We must use our money in this life to reap rewards in the next life.

This is taught in verse 9.
NKJ  Luke 16:9 And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon, that when you fail [NU has the third person form of the verb and reads “when it fails”], they may receive you into an everlasting home.
Whether the original text has the second person pronoun – “when you fail”– or the third person pronoun – “when it fails” – makes little difference, because the person's death is in mind either way. We fail ultimately when this life ends, and our money certainly fails us when this life ends as well.

The point Jesus is making is that if we use our unrighteous mammon, the money of this world, which tends to corrupt and which can be so easily misused, to help others, then they may ultimately receive us into our eternal dwelling. That is, they may be influenced by our kindness to trust in the Lord for themselves, and therefore may just be there to welcome us as we inherit our eternal reward.

I think Vernon Grounds illustrated this point well when he once wrote in commenting on this parable:
A mortician at Forest Lawn Cemetery in California told author Gilbert Beers about a man who many years ago spent $200,000 on his own funeral. Estranged from his wife and children, that bitter man squandered all his money on his own burial and left them nothing.
Because the casket and other expenses added up to only $100,000, he ordered that the remaining $100,000 be spent on orchids! Only three people attended that memorial service. What a warped sense of values! What a waste of money that might have been used to help the needy or to support a worthy cause! And what a lesson we can learn from such egocentric folly!
We all need to ask ourselves if we are squandering the resources God has entrusted to us on worthless things. If so, we need to heed what Jesus said in Luke 16:9, “I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings” (NIV).
When we use our resources to benefit others, especially to communicate the gospel to them, we reap eternal dividends. Someday they may be at heaven's door to greet us. Let's be good stewards of what God has given us. (Our Daily Bread, January 28, 1996)
I think this makes the point pretty well, but before moving on it is important to emphasize, as does the New Geneva Study Bible notes, that “salvation by works is not being taught.” Instead, Jesus is indicating that “the loving help given to others in this life is a sign of genuine discipleship and salvation already enjoyed rather than a meritorious ground of salvation” (p. 1636).

3. We must recognize that faithfulness with what we have – not how much we have – is the important thing.

This is taught in verse 10.
NKJ  Luke 16:10 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.
Notice that the focus is on one's character. A faithful person is a righteous person rather than an unrighteous or unjust person. How we handle money in this life is indicative of our character, whether the amount of money is little or great.

4. We must recognize that God will not entrust us with the true riches of the kingdom if we cannot be faithful with riches of this world.

This is taught in verses 11-12.
NKJ  Luke 16:11-12 Therefore if you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful in what is another man's, who will give you what is your own?
We can actually find this same principle applied in others ways in Scripture as well. Consider, for example, what Paul says to Timothy about the qualifications for elders. He says that an elder must be “one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence,” and then goes on to ask, “for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?” (1 Tim. 3:4-5). In the same way, I think Jesus is aiming this lesson especially at His closest disciples who would go on to be leaders in the Church. If they can't handle stewardship over earthly things, then how will they be able to handle stewardship of the things of God? And if they can't serve faithfully under the authority of other men, then how will they be able to be given authority of their own in the kingdom?

Notice that both of these questions expect a negative answer, namely that God will not entrust true riches to those who can't even handle worldly riches, and He will not give anyone things of their own to oversee if they can't oversee things on behalf of others.

5. We must remember that how we use our money indicates who our true master is – God or mammon.

This is taught in verse 13.
NKJ  Luke 16:13 No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.
How easily we are enslaved by worldly riches! And how gracious Jesus is to warn us about it! We all too easily think we can serve both, perhaps serving mammon just a little bit and God just a little bit more. But Jesus makes it clear that there can be no divided allegiance here. It is an either/or proposition. And if we serve mammon even a little bit, then we love it rather than God, and we serve it rather than God. Period.

Conclusion: I think a devotional by Haddon Robinson helps to drive home this final point and provides a good conclusion to this message. He writes:
Godfrey Davis, who wrote a biography of the Duke of Wellington, said, “I found an old account ledger that showed how the Duke spent his money. It was a far better clue to what he thought was really important than the reading of his letters or speeches.”
How we handle money reveals much about our priorities. That's why Jesus often talked about money. One-sixth of the Gospels' content, including one out of every three parables, touches on stewardship. Jesus wasn't a fundraiser. He dealt with money matters because money matters. For some of us, though, it matters too much.
Jesus warned that we can become slaves to money. We may not think that money means more to us than God does. But Jesus did not say we must serve God more than we serve money. The issue isn't what occupies first place in our life, but whether we serve money at all. Pastor and author George Buttrick said, “Of all the masters the soul can choose, there are at last only two—God and money. All choices, however small, however the alternatives may be disguised, are but variants of this choice.”
Does your checkbook show that Jesus is the Master in your life? (Our Daily Bread, May 20, 2005)
That is a very good question, isn't it?