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Bible Commentaries

Calvin's Commentary on the Bible

Luke 14

Verse 1

This narrative contains nothing more than a miracle which Christ performed, in order to correct the superstitious observance of the Sabbath. For he did not, intend, as some imagine, absolutely to abolish the Sabbath, but only to point out, that neither the works of God, nor the duties of charity, violate the holy rest which is enjoined by the law. Whether or not those very persons had purposely brought the dropsical man to that place cannot be known with certainty. He unquestionably could not be present at the table by accident, nor break into a private dwelling without the permission and consent of the owner. It is therefore probable, that he was placed there with the concealed design of tempting Christ, which, on their part, was as foolish an action as it was wicked; for they had already known by experience what Christ was accustomed to do, whenever a similar occasion presented itself.

Verse 3

3. Is it lawful to cure on Sabbath? The meaning of this question is, ought the curing of a man to be reckoned among the works which violate the Sabbath? If they had said that the observance of the Sabbath is violated in this way, the reply was obvious, that it is a work of God. Now the law of the Sabbath goes no farther, than that men shall rest from their own works. Christ first puts the question to them, and he does so for the purpose of guarding against offense. It would not have been necessary for him to pacify them, if they had not been instigated by hardened malice. Not that he always laid himself under this restriction; for in many cases he did what had been enjoined on him by the Father, without attending to the offense that might arise from it. But he intended to show by this example, that he did not inconsiderately perform miracles on Sabbath, because he was prepared to assign a reason for what he did. They, on the other hand, make it evident by their silence, that their desire of finding fault is stronger than their zeal for the law; and therefore Christ treats with utter indifference their opinion about his action, because it was evident that they intentionally sought out an occasion of offense.

Verse 5

5. Which of you shall have an ox or an ass? Though they did not deserve that Christ should take pains to remove the offense, yet he shows that he did nothing inconsistent with the observance of the Sabbath. And this he undoubtedly does, not so much with the view of instructing them, as of protecting himself against their slanders; for he knew that they were too much blinded by virulent hatred to yield submissively, to argument, but wished to triumph over their malice, by compelling them through shame to be silent. If we are at liberty to relieve brute animals on Sabbath, it would be unreasonable that we should not perform a similar office of kindness to man, who is formed after the image of God.

Verse 7

7. And he spoke a parable to those who were invited. We know to what an extent ambition prevailed among the Pharisees and all the scribes. While they desired to exercise a haughty dominion over all other men, the superiority among themselves was likewise an object of emulation. It is constantly the case with men who are desirous of empty applause, that they cherish envy towards each other, every one endeavoring to draw to himself what others imagine to be due to them. Thus the Pharisees and scribes, while they were all equally disposed, in presence of the people, to glory in the title of holy order, are now disputing among themselves about the degree of honor, because every one claims for himself the highest place.

This ambition of theirs Christ exposes to ridicule by an appropriate parable. If any one sitting at another man’s table were to occupy the highest place, and were afterwards compelled to give way to a more honorable person, it would not be without shame and dishonor that he was ordered by the master of the feast to take a different place. But the same thing must happen to all who proudly give themselves out as superior to others; for God will bring upon them disgrace and contempt. It must be observed, that Christ is not now speaking of outward and civil modesty; for we often see that the haughtiest men excel in this respect, and civilly, as the phrase is, profess great modesty. But by a comparison taken from men, he describes what we ought to be inwardly before God. “Were it to happen that a guest should foolishly take possession of the highest place, and should, on that account, be put down to the lowest, he would be so completely overpowered with shame as to wish that he had never gone higher. Lest the same thing should happen to you, that God would punish your arrogance with the deepest disgrace, resolve, of your own accord, to be humble and modest.”

Verse 11

11. For every one that exalteth himself shall be humbled. This clause makes it evident that ambition was the subject of which Christ was speaking; for he does not state what usually happens in the ordinary life of men, but declares that God will be their Judge, who resisteth the proud, and humbleth their haughtiness, but giveth grace to the humble, (James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5; Psalms 138:6.) Scripture is full of similar testimonies, that God is an enemy to all who desire to exalt themselves, as all who claim for themselves any merit must of necessity make war with Him. It is a manifestation of pride to boast of the gifts of God, as if there were any excellence in ourselves, that would exalt us on the ground of our own merit. Humility, on the other hand, must be not only an unfeigned abasement, but a real annihilation of ourselves, proceeding from a thorough knowledge of our own weakness, the entire absence of lofty pretensions, and a conviction that whatever excellence we possess comes from the grace of God alone.

Verse 12

12. When thou makest a dinner. Those who think that this is an absolute condemnation of entertainments given by relatives and friends to each other, take away a part of civility from among men. It were not only unfeeling, but barbarous, to exclude relatives from the hospitable table, and to class them only with strangers. Christ did not intend to dissuade us from every thing courteous, but merely to show, that acts of civility, which are customary among men, are no proof whatever of charity. To perform any act, in the hope of a reward, to rich men, from whom we expect a similar return, is not generosity, but a system of commercial exchange; and, in like manner, kind offices, rendered from mercenary views, are of no account in the sight of God, and do not deserve to be ascribed to charity. If I entertain at supper my relatives or rich friends, the act of civility ought not in itself to be condemned, but, as a proof of charity, it will have no value whatever; for we frequently see that persons who are extremely selfish grudge no expense or luxury in treating their friends. What then? You may spread a table for the rich, but, at the same time, you must not neglect the poor; you may feast with your friends and relatives, but you must not shut out strangers, if they shall happen to be poor, and if you shall have the means of relieving their wants. In a word, the meaning of the passage is, that those who are kind to relatives and friends, but are niggardly towards the poor, are entitled to no commend-ation; because they do not exercise charity, but consult only their own gain or ambition.

Christ addresses, in a particular manner, the person who had invited him; because he perceived that he was too much addicted to pomp and luxury, and was so desirous to obtain the applause and favor of the rich, that he cared very little about the poor. Accordingly, in the person of one man, this reproof is directed against all those who spend their wealth in ambitious display, or who bargain for mutual compensation, but leave nothing over for the poor, as if they were afraid that whatever is gratuitously bestowed would be lost.

Verse 14

14. And thou shalt be blessed. Christ pronounces those to be blessed who exercise liberality without any expectation of earthly reward; for they manifestly look to God. Those who constantly keep in view their own advantage, or who are driven by the gale of popularity, have no right to expect a reward from God.

Verse 23

Luke 14:23

. Compel them to come in. This expression means, that the master of the house would give orders to make use, as it were, of violence for compelling the attendance of the poor, and to leave out none of the lowest dregs of the people. By these words Christ declares that he would rake together all the offscourings of the world, rather than he would ever admit such ungrateful persons to his table. The allusion appears to be to the manner in which the Gospel invites us; for the grace of God is not merely offered to us, but doctrine is accompanied by exhortations fitted to arouse our minds. This is a display of the astonishing goodness of God, who, after freely inviting us, and perceiving that we give ourselves up to sleep, addresses our slothfulness by earnest entreaties, and not only arouses us by exhortations, but even compels us by threatenings to draw near to him. At the same time, I do not disapprove of the use which Augustine frequently made of this passage against the Donatists, to prove that godly princes may lawfully issue edicts, for compelling obstinate and rebellious persons to worship the true God, and to maintain the unity of the faith; for, though faith is voluntary, yet we see that such methods are useful for subduing the obstinacy of those who will not yield until they are compelled.

Verse 28

Luke 14:28

. For which of you, etc , That no one may think it hard to follow Christ on the condition of renouncing all his desires, a useful warning is here given. We must consider beforehand what the profession of the gospel demands. The reason why many persons yield to very slight temptations is, that they have pictured to themselves unmixed enjoyment, as if they were to be always in the shade and at their ease. No man will ever become fit to serve Christ till he has undergone a long preparation for warfare.

Now the comparisons are exceedingly adapted to this object. Building is a tedious and vexatious matter, and one that gives little satisfaction on account of the expense. War, too, brings along with it many inconveniences, and almost threatens destruction to the human race, so that it is never undertaken but with reluctance. And yet the advantages of building are found to be sufficient to induce men to spend their substance on it without hesitation; while necessity drives them to shrink from no expenses in carrying on wars. But a far more valuable reward awaits those who are the builders of the temple of God, and who fight under the banner of Christ: for Christians do not labor for a temporary building, or fight for a passing triumph.

If a king find himself unable to endure the burden of a war, (607) he prevents an ignominious defeat by seeking peace with his adversary. The statements which our Lord makes to this effect must not be applied to the present subject, in such a manner as if we were to enter into any compromise with our spiritual foe, when our strength and resources fail. It would be idle to treat parables as applying in every minute point (608) to the matter in hand. But our Lord simply means that we ought to be so well prepared, as not to be taken by surprise for want of a proper defense, or basely to turn our backs: for it is not every one of us who is a king, to carry on war under his direction.

This doctrine reproves the rashness of those who foolishly proceed beyond their capacity, or flatter themselves without thinking of bearing the cross Yet we must take care lest this meditation, to which Christ exhorts us, should fill us with alarm or retard our progress. Many persons, not having from the outset laid their account with suffering, relax their zeal through cowardice: for they cannot endure to be Christians on any other condition than that of being exempted from the cross Others again, when a condition that is harsh and unpleasant to the flesh is proposed to them, do not venture to approach to Christ. But there is no good reason for being discouraged by a knowledge of our poverty, for the Lord grants to us seasonable aid. I readily acknowledge that, if we calculate the expense, we are all destitute of power to lay a single stone, or to wield a sword against the enemy. But as the materials, expense, arms, and forces, are supplied by the Lord out of heaven, no pretext on the score of difficulty can be offered by our indifference or sloth. The design of Christ, therefore, is to warn his followers to bear the cross, that they may prepare themselves with courage.

(607) “ Pour soustenir une guerre, et fournir l'argent qu'il faut “ — “to support a war, and to supply the money that is required.”

(608) “ De vouloir esplucher tout par le menu, et rapporter tout jusqu'aux petits mots;” — “to wish to explain every thing minutely, and to make every thing apply down to the smallest words.”

Verse 33

Luke 14:33

. So then every one of you This clause shows what is meant by the calculation of expenses, with which Christ enjoins his followers to begin: it is to lead them to consider that they must forsake all In vain do persons who are delighted with an easy, indolent life, and with exemption from the cross, undertake a profession of Christianity. Those persons are said to forsake all who prefer Christ so greatly, both to their own life, and to all the wishes of the flesh, that nothing deters them from the right course.

It would be absurd to insist on a literal interpretation of the phrase, as if no man were a disciple of Christ, till he threw into the sea all that he possessed, divorced his wife, and bade farewell to his children. Such idle dreams led foolish people to adopt a monastic life, as if those who intend to come to Christ must leave off humanity. Yet no man truly forsakes all that he possesses till he is prepared at every instant to leave all, gives himself free and unconstrained to the Lord, and, rising above every hindrance, pursues his calling. Thus the true self-denial which the Lord demands from his followers does not consist so much in outward conduct as in the affections; so that every one must employ the time which is passing over him without allowing the objects which he directs by his hand to hold a place in his heart.

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Bibliographical Information
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Luke 14". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cal/luke-14.html. 1840-57.