Thoughts on preaching Luke 16:14-18

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JTB.SDG

Puritan Board Sophomore
Hi all,

I'm trying to discern the best way to handle preaching this section of Scripture, in terms of structure. Wondering whether to include verse 18 and preach the whole section, or whether verse 18 is so important (and seems to be somewhat more isolated contextually) to devote a sermon to. Nowadays I don't usually preach on just one verse but I'm not sure I remember hearing a sermon devoted to clarifying this topic (divorce); and it seems important to do so. Any thoughts? What have others done?
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
We have to reckon with the fact that this all belongs to an extended confrontation with Christ's opposition, exemplified by the Pharisees. Building tension in ch.14, in ch.15 Jesus spoke several parables (or one parable in three vignettes) against them. And the parable at the beginning of ch.16 has them as a foil once again. They either do not understand it; or to the degree they do understand it, they are infuriated by it.

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Context: The meaning Jesus intends for the parable of vv1-13 is wholly dependent upon understanding that this man (the steward) behaved very badly. The point of the parable is that this man did not get what he deserved. This is the very issue that came suddenly and dramatically to prominence in the end of the parable of the Prodigal Son (end of ch.15). The prodigal did not get what he deserved—not even a little bit of what he deserved, for treating his father with the ultimate contempt, for living an amoral life, etc. He got everything he did not deserve, capped off by his father's unfailing love. He was treated like one who not only had never run away, and had even done “better” than his brother, who (among his other faults) resented the fact his father never gave him a reward.

“Unrighteous mammon” (v9) we might well rephrase as “ill-gotten gain.” Does Jesus command his disciples to embrace “ill gotten gain?” On the face of it, that is what it seems. And that's the message the misinterpreting Pharisees take away. We should know better than to take those words, then, at face value. There is intentional irony here. You are, in your own person, as morally dubious a character as this steward, as “unrighteous” as he is. For heaven's sake you need something you don't deserve, and cannot earn. You actually deserve the opposite; but by gaining this wealth, you receive your place in heaven.

Jesus says in v11: that you (and I) have been unfaithful in (actual) unrighteous mammon. Here the double-sense of the term is employed. Consequently, in terms of just-desserts, we cannot be entrusted with “true riches.” Not having been faithful, v12, in the earthly stewardship we were entrusted with, on our own merits we cannot be given even greater responsibility.

v13 sets forth clearly the difference between two paths, two masters, two ways of operating, set forth in terms of the previous parable. Either one works for mammon, for himself, to earn his way to favor; or else he submits to God and his gracious ways, and loves him. In the last parable of ch15 (the prodigal son) Jesus was devastating on this point—the Pharisees did not love God, any more than the elder son loved his father. What was implied at the end of the last parable (which has no "resolution" or explanation), is a lesson made more explicit here, vv13-14 (while still demonstrating typical parabolic "secrecy").

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Now these Pharisees react predictably to Jesus' latest "upside down" parable. To the degree they understand what Jesus says, they must be furious. And, in the main, they don't even understand his spiritual meaning, but they think he is both wicked in what he affirms, and stupid. He doesn't even make the right sort of fellow the hero of his latest story (ch.16vv1ff).

What follows, as Jesus addresses them, now turning face on their direction and speaking to them, with his disciples listening in—he plainly tells them they are deeply deluded about their hope for justification, and eternal life. Why? Because they are trusting in themselves, justifying themselves (v15), not understanding the righteousness of God. They think they are good law keepers, but they are abominable. They are worse off than the unjust steward, because the books can't balance, and they haven't even faced the fact yet.

V16 explains that the age of the law has turned; the kingdom of God and grace has arrived, and the weary and worn out are pressing into it.

V17, the law remains the law. It is high and holy, and far beyond your ability to keep, you Pharisee!

V18 is adduced here by Jesus not as a random teaching on divorce; but actually as an indictment of so many of the Pharisees. This adulterous behavior was but one glaring example or arena of their hypocrisy.

My :2cents:
 

JTB.SDG

Puritan Board Sophomore
Bruce, thanks as always. I like the reason they may be scoffing--wrongly thinking Jesus' parable was mixed up and the wrong guy made the hero. When I preached on vv1-13 last week, I understood "unrighteous wealth" simply as "physical wealth." I took verse 9 as one way Jesus is telling us to 1) BE like the unrighteous manager (use your money now to "make friends" with those who will be welcoming you into heaven; IE, the poor and needy; cf. the connection between Jesus welcoming us and how we act now towards believers in need in Matthew 25:31-46; and contra to the warning in James 5:1-6); and vv10-13 as how 2) we are NOT to be like him (Christ calling us to be faithful in our present stewardship, grounded in the gospel).

Verses 14-18 have been hard for me to structure and I'll be working on it today; but I do see how v18 also fits in with v17 as one example of what Jesus is saying in v17. And in thinking about the Law, it seems one way might be vv14-15 are the Pharisees breaking the first table of the Law; v18 the second. Seems v16 is about the administration of the new covenant while v17 affirms the essence is still the same. There's Law and Gospel in both. And though Jesus tells us everyone is forcing his way into the kingdom, it begs the question for the Pharisees, and for us. The door of the ark is still open. At least, right now.
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
Bruce, thanks as always. I like the reason they may be scoffing--wrongly thinking Jesus' parable was mixed up and the wrong guy made the hero. When I preached on vv1-13 last week, I understood "unrighteous wealth" simply as "physical wealth." I took verse 9 as one way Jesus is telling us to 1) BE like the unrighteous manager (use your money now to "make friends" with those who will be welcoming you into heaven; IE, the poor and needy; cf. the connection between Jesus welcoming us and how we act now towards believers in need in Matthew 25:31-46; and contra to the warning in James 5:1-6); and vv10-13 as how 2) we are NOT to be like him (Christ calling us to be faithful in our present stewardship, grounded in the gospel).

Verses 14-18 have been hard for me to structure and I'll be working on it today; but I do see how v18 also fits in with v17 as one example of what Jesus is saying in v17. And in thinking about the Law, it seems one way might be vv14-15 are the Pharisees breaking the first table of the Law; v18 the second. Seems v16 is about the administration of the new covenant while v17 affirms the essence is still the same. There's Law and Gospel in both. And though Jesus tells us everyone is forcing his way into the kingdom, it begs the question for the Pharisees, and for us. The door of the ark is still open. At least, right now.
The passage is notorious for the conundrums it presents. This could be the parable of Jesus that has offered up more alternatives as to the meaning, than any other. And many reliable interpreters have differed and still differ. Your presentation strikes me as a faithful effort at wrestling with the text, so if we come down one side and another, we aren't necessarily at odds as we each offer biblically consistent conclusions--that regardless of accuracy are still anchored in inspired text.

My early impression of this passage was formed by listening to my father's preaching (probably close to yours) could have been from the mid 90s; I thought his was the best possible interpretation, until I heard a treatment I thought was superior around the mid 00s. I preached the passage myself in the mid 10s, which is when I really sought to understand ch16 in Luke's narrative flow, trying to judge whether this or that interpretation sat most comfortably in the context.

Ignoring the ch division, Jesus clearly addresses his opponents from 15:2-3; then turns to speak specifically to his disciples in 16:1; but the opponents are still listening, per v14. They either react to the full series of parables, or to the most recent one, or to the conclusion of the recent one. Jesus' words that follow must either deal with them abruptly and shortly in v15, or else he carries on dealing with them in all the vv15-18. Some interpreters just regard those vv as Luke's "plugging in" certain logia of Jesus; and they don't have a connection to what has just come prior in the context (nor set up the following). I don't like the idea that he just used them as "filler" between discontinuous narrative.

For my part, I think the language of v15, "Ὑμεῖς ἐστε οἱ δικαιοῦντες ἑαυτοὺς" focuses the audience on the true substance of the dispute between the Pharisees and Jesus, brewing (in the near context) since 15:2. They are not right with God, which can be seen (as you put it) as a 1st table issue; completed by a 2nd table issue at the end, vv17-18. v16 is a matter of who is, in fact, coming into the (NC) kingdom being right with God; and the Pharisees are excluded (as a group, based on their corporate confession). This shows a kind of chiastic representation of these 5vv, v16 being central.
 

JTB.SDG

Puritan Board Sophomore
Good stuff Bruce. I enjoyed hearing about your father, too. I agree, it's a harder passage. My current understanding is that when Christ tells them they "are those who justify" themselves "in the sight of men", it's more along the usage of the lawyer, who seeking to justify himself, asked, "And who is my neighbor?" IE, he's defending himself from looking foolish or being in the wrong in any way in the sight of others. That's my best understanding of what the Pharisees are doing here. They love money, but we know they also love the praise of men. So they're doing best to hold onto both idols; and here in v15 it's especially the desire of their appearance before others that they are so rigorously seeking to defend. As I'm mulling over it, I'm wondering if the connection between vv14-15 and vv16ff, is something along these lines: Jesus is saying, in effect: But, getting back to your response to Me and My words; let Me help you understand what you're doing when you scoff at Me and My words, because you seem to be oblivious. When you scoff at Me, you're actually doing something far worse than scoffing at the Law that you pretend to cherish so much. For something greater than the Law is here. For the Law was proclaimed until John under the old covenant, but now what I'M declaring to you is indeed the inauguration of the NEW.

Anyways, still working on it. Appreciate your thoughts Bruce and also your personal journey with the passage.

Love the dialogue with you as always.
 
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