Click to donate today!
Luke 12:1. An innumerable multitude of people.—“The many thousands of the multitude” (R.V.); lit. “the myriads of the multitude.” The discourse in this chapter is evidently in continuation of what has just been recorded: the cardinal sin of the Pharisees is dealt with, and freedom of speech is commended, in spite of the dangers which it provoked. Unto His disciples first of all.—Opinion is about equally divided as to whether the words should be thus rendered, or “say unto His disciples, First of all, beware ye.” The former is retained in the R.V. So far as internal evidence is concerned, Christ’s words seemed to be addressed to His disciples rather than to the multitude; and this distinction harmonises rather with the rendering of our version than with the other, which some editors prefer. The leaven of the Pharisees.—Cf. Matthew 16:6-12. The characteristic spirit of the Pharisees, which issued in a general corruption of the characters of those influenced by it. Leaves is most frequently used in Scripture as a symbol of evil. Hypocrisy.—The word “hypocrite,” in its original sense, means an actor; one who assumes a part and adopts a name, dress, and manner of speaking, in harmony with it. The appropriateness of the figure for those who assumed an austerity and goodness which were foreign to them, for the sake of imposing upon others, is obvious.
Luke 12:2. For there is nothing covered.—Hypocrisy is not only sinful, but useless: all secret words and sayings will one day be made public and open. The words have a different application in Matthew 10:26. There the reference is to the public proclamation of what the disciples have learned in secret from the Master.
Luke 12:3. In closets.—“In the inner chambers” (R.V.); “in the store-rooms,” the most secret part of the house. The same word is used in Matthew 6:6; Matthew 24:26. Upon the house-tops.—So that all in the streets can hear. “These sayings have a strong Syrian colour. The Syrian house-top presents an image which has no sense in Asia Minor, or Greece, or Italy, or even at Antioch. The flat roofs cease at the mouth of the Orontes; Antioch itself has inclined roofs” (Renan).
Luke 12:4. My friends.—An unusual phrase. Cf. John 15:13-15.
Luke 12:5. I will forewarn you.—Rather simply “I will warn you” (R.V.). Fear him, which after, etc. Who is the person here referred to? Strangely enough, the words have been interpreted both of God and of Satan. The opinion of the majority of commentators is that God is meant as the “almighty dispenser of life and death, both temporal or eternal.” But, on the other hand, Christ is here speaking of enemies; He warns His disciples not to fear those who can only hurt the body, and says there is reason to fear One who has power to “cast into hell,” or, as St. Matthew says, “to destroy both body and soul in hell.” If Satan is an enemy of the souls of men, and if those who yield to his solicitations share his punishment, there can be no difficulty in understanding this passage as alluding to him. Fear (or terror) of a spiritual enemy of real power and malignancy is evidently meant here. No such emotion is represented in the Scriptures as belonging to man’s relations with God. Alford understands the words as referring to God, and endeavours to draw a distinction between the phrase used in Luke 12:4 and that in Luke 12:5 to denote “fear”—in the one case the preposition ἀπό (fear of something coming from such and such a quarter) being used, and in the other case the simple verb—and understands by the one, “terror,” and by the other the nobler “fear of God” so often commended to us in the Scriptures. But he does not support his argument by adducing any examples of the words being used to denote these varying ideas. Hath power.—Or “authority” (R.V. margin). The word is appropriate for indicating authority which may be used in subordination to a higher rule, and so is in harmony with the above interpretation. Hell.—Lit. “Gehenna,” the place of punishment, as distinguished from Hades, the abode of the dead. Gehenna means simply the Valley of Hinnom, outside Jerusalem, so called apparently from the name of the original inhabitants or owners of it (Joshua 15:8). It was polluted by the worship of Moloch (Jeremiah 7:31), and was afterwards used as a receptacle for the rubbish and filth of the city. Large fires were kept burning in it, to prevent pestilence.
Luke 12:6. Are not five sparrows?—St. Matthew speaks of two being sold for one farthing (Luke 10:29). Evidently if four were bought at one time, a fifth was thrown in for nothing; yet not even one of these insignificant creatures is “forgotten before God.”
Luke 12:7. Hairs of your head.—Evidently a proverbial expression. Cf. 1 Samuel 14:45; 1 Kings 1:52; Luke 21:18; Acts 27:34.
Luke 12:8. Before the angels of God.—Allusion is here made to the last judgment, at which the angels of God are generally represented as present. The phrase in the parallel passage in St. Matthew is, “Before My Father which is in heaven.”
Luke 12:10. It shall be forgiven.—I.e., on repentance. Blasphemeth against the Holy Ghost.—A wilful and deliberate state of sinning, against the clearest light and knowledge, which, from the very nature of things, must exclude from forgiveness. These words were spoken to encourage the disciples; they give assurance that God will be with them in their work, and that obstinate opposition to it would be severely condemned by Him.
Luke 12:11. Synagogues.—The officials in each local synagogue had certain judicial powers. Magistrates and powers.—I.e., higher tribunals, either Jewish or Gentiles.
Luke 12:12. For the Holy Ghost.—This mention of the Holy Ghost as Paraclete, or Advocate, closely corresponds with Christ’s teaching as recorded in St. John’s Gospel, and is an interesting testimony to the historical character of the latter.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Luke 12:1-12
The Disciples Encouraged.—The hostility manifested towards Christ, as described in the closing paragraph of the preceding chapter, was calculated to intimidate weak and wavering disciples, and even to shake the courage of the bravest amongst them. For it is evident that a large proportion, at any rate, of the crowd now assembled sympathised with the attitude towards Jesus taken up by their leaders. Accordingly our Lord, in the very presence of His enemies, addresses His disciples and encourages them to steadfastness in their allegiance to Him and His cause. By various kinds of inducements Jesus would now lead them to banish their fears.
I. The promise of victory (Luke 12:1-3).—The first encouraging fact on which Jesus laid stress was that in due time the hypocrisy of their enemies would be unveiled and the triumph of the gospel be complete and final. At the present time the teaching of the Pharisees, and the rules of conduct laid down by them, had great weight in Jewish society. But the day would come when the mask would be torn away; the corruption hidden beneath a pretence of piety would be brought to light, and the authority of these present guides and rulers of public opinion would crumble away. On the other hand, the disciples of Jesus, who were now abashed in the presence of their enemies, and who, as it were, scarcely dared to whisper in secret the truth they had learned from Him, would become His heralds, and proclaim to a listening world the teaching which He had entrusted to them. This assurance of future victory was a timely word of encouragement to the followers of Jesus. Just as there is nothing more likely to damp enthusiasm and to diminish activity than a dread of defeat, so the anticipation of winning the day gives fresh spirit and strength to the soldier in the midst of the fight. The same ground of encouragement which Jesus then gave to His disciples, exists still. All who are endeavouring in His name to overcome the ignorance and sin and misery that afflict human society, have reason to believe that the time will come when their efforts will be crowned with complete success.
II. Assurance of Divine protection (Luke 12:4-7).—In the second place Jesus encourages His disciples by assuring them that they were the objects of God’s providential care. All the evil that man could do to them was, even at its worst, but trifling and insignificant. Man had power only to injure the body, and even that power could only be exercised within the limits fixed by the Divine decree. They should, therefore, be freed from all fear. The enemy, whom they had reason to dread, was one who might find an ally in their own hearts. The solicitations of the enemy of their souls to save their lives in the hour of danger, by renouncing their Saviour, were indeed to be dreaded. This was the only fear that they need entertain. Jesus, it is to be noticed, does not promise His disciples that in every time of danger their lives would be preserved. They might be called upon to forfeit life, but not without the consent of Him whom He taught them to regard as their heavenly Father. And in the most forcible terms He assures them that the providence of God extends to the minutest details of human life. The birds of the air are not forgotten by God; how much more will He care for His children! He numbers the hairs of their heads; how much more will He protect their highest interests! Let them banish all fears, therefore; they will not fall without God’s consent, and God will not consent to anything which is not to be for their good.
III. The reward of the faithful disciples; the punishment of the faithless (Luke 12:8-10).—Fidelity to the Saviour and to His cause may entail pains and sufferings upon earth: but if they persevere unto the end, a glorious reward will be bestowed upon them. Their glorified Master will recompense them for confessing Him to be their Lord by acknowledging them to be His own before the assembled hosts of heaven. But denial of Him must inevitably be followed by the loss of His love and favour in the day when all shall appear before Him for judgment. It is for them to decide, by their attitude towards Him, what is to be His attitude towards them. There will be nothing arbitrary or capricious in the rewards He will bestow or the punishments He will impose, but both will commend themselves as just to those who will receive them. For a moment Jesus turns from the disciples to the crowd that surrounds them, and speaks of a worse sin than cowardly denial of Him as Lord and Master, and of the heavier punishment which that sin entails. Faithlessness towards Him, or even misguided antipathy towards Him, are grave offences, but they may be forgiven; but deliberate resistance to the Holy Spirit is a sin that can never be forgiven. The sinner who resolutely banishes from himself the light-giving, sanctifying influences of that Spirit, and who hates goodness, shuts himself out from the possibility of salvation.
IV. The promised aid of the Holy Spirit (Luke 12:11-12).—Well might the disciples fear that they would not be able to bear worthy testimony to their Master when exposed to the dangers of which He now forewarned them. And therefore Jesus reassures them, and promises that in their hour of need they would be sustained by that Spirit whom their enemies blasphemed. Many and various would be the tribunals before which His followers would be called to stand; they would be confronted with the representatives of ecclesiastical and worldly power, but they would receive supernatural help to enable them to endure the trial. Let them not premeditate defence! Words would be given them to speak which their adversaries would not be able to gainsay or resist. They would be taught both what to say and how to say it, and not only to defend themselves, but also to render testimony in favour of their Lord. Thus it was with St. Peter and St. Stephen before the Sanhedrim, and with St. Paul before Felix and Festus; they not only maintained their own integrity, but also proclaimed the gospel of which Christ had appointed them ministers.
In all these ways, therefore, did Jesus seek to strengthen His disciples. He infused into their hearts the hope of victory; He confirmed their faith in the almighty power of their heavenly Father; He spoke of the glorious reward which those faithful to Him might anticipate receiving, and of the penalty which cowardice would draw upon itself; and, finally, gave assurance of a Divine aid which would enable the weakest and most timid to rise to heroism in the day of trial and persecution.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Luke 12:1-12
Luke 12:1-2. Hypocrisy and Truth.
I. The doom of hypocrisy.—Its triumph is short-lived, for the mask that conceals the true character of pretenders to godliness will be torn away.
II. The triumph of truth.—The words now spoken by disciples in secret will resound through the whole world. Evil done in secret, and truth spoken in secret, will both come to light, and men will condemn the one and approve the other.
Luke 12:1. Two Kinds of Hypocrisy.—Hypocrisy is of two kinds:—
I. Pretending to be what we are not.
II. Concealing what we are.—Though these are so closely allied that the one runs into the other, it is the latter form of it against which our Lord here warns His disciples.—Brown.
Self-Deception.—Hypocrisy is not merely for a man to deceive others, knowing all the while that he is deceiving them, but to deceive himself and others at the same time; to aim at their praise by a religious profession, without perceiving that he loves their praise more than God’s, and that he is professing far more than he practises.—Newman.
Luke 12:2-3. The Place and Function of the Lamp.—The disciples are to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, one element of whose hypocrisy it was to withhold from the common people the light of their own better knowledge; neither going into the kingdom of heaven themselves, nor suffering those who would have entered to go in. The disciples, unlike the Pharisees, are not to withhold any light which they possess; for God intends nothing to be concealed from any man. Whatever is covered is to be uncovered. Whatever is hidden from us is hidden, not by God, but by the limitations of our own faculty, and will be disclosed as we train our faculty of perception and outgrow its limitations. So far as we can see, we may see; and what we see not yet we shall see soon. Yes, and, as we are expressly taught here, so far as we can see we may speak, and must speak. For as it is the will of God that nothing should be covered except that it may be uncovered, so also it is the will of Christ that whatever He or His disciples have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light; whatever they have spoken in the chamber shall be proclaimed from the house-top. The same rule is to govern their words which governed His words. What He had taught them privately, that they were to teach openly (Matthew 10:27); and now He adds that whatever they taught privately, that their successors were to teach openly. They were to have no mysteries, no “economy,” no truths reserved for the initiated.—Cox.
Luke 12:2. A Warning and a Promise.
I. A warning against the hypocrisy which comes from fear of man.
II. A promise and a consoling hope for the faithful.
Luke 12:3. “Shall be heard in the light.”—“All that ye, on account of persecutions shall have taught in secret, will, at the victory of My cause, be proclaimed with the greatest publicity.”—Meyer.
The Course of the Gospel.—St. Luke has described the course of the gospel from the closet of Mary in Nazareth to the house-tops of the city of Rome.
Luke 12:4-9. Three Arguments against Fear.
I. That drawn from the impotence or limited power of the most malicious enemies.—They can “kill the body” and can do no more.
II. That drawn from the providence of God, without whose will not even the slightest injury can befall us.
III. That drawn from the fact that in the day of judgment Christ will acknowledge as His those who have been faithful to Him, and deny those who have denied Him.
Luke 12:4-6. A Mid-Course.—The state of mind Christ here seeks to cultivate is midway between fear and implicit trust.
I. He urges them on to earnestness by pointing out spiritual dangers to which they are exposed.
II. He preserves them from faint-heartedness by speaking of God as their protector.
Luke 12:4-5. The Place of Fear in the Gospel.—There is a place for fear in the gospel. Some readers of the Bible, some preachers of the gospel, have thought that fear was a dangerous, even a forbidden principle, under the dispensation of the fulness of times. They have made this one of the chief points of difference between the law and the gospel. This is a hasty inference. Our Lord says, “Fear Him, which, after He hath killed, hath power to cast into hell”; says it to His disciples—says it to those whom, in the very same sentence, He calls His “friends.” Paul bids his Philippian converts work out their salvation “with fear and trembling”; Peter commends a “chaste conversation coupled with fear”; and even John, who speaks of “perfect love casting out fear,” yet uses this, in the Revelation, as a characteristic of the faithful—“them that fear Thy name.” Fear has a place in the gospel, may we but find it. But it is not, as some would make it, the whole of religion. But there are three things the proper objects of gospel fear:
1. Sin and wickedness,
2. Our ghostly enemy.
3. Everlasting death.—Vaughan.
Luke 12:5. “Whom ye shall fear.”—The Christian, though having Christ for his friend (Luke 12:4), and God as His protector is not above all “fear.” The great enemy is still near, and his malice is deadly and unsleeping.
Luke 12:6-7. Divine Providence.
I. Christ here teaches that God’s government of the world extends to the minutest detail in the lives of all His creatures.
II. That this is not rule of a blind law, but of a loving Father.—Nothing is left to chance, and we have every encouragement to confidence in Him, and to commit ourselves in prayer to His protecting power.
Luke 12:7. Safety while Work is Unfinished.—The servant of Christ is immortal so long as his work is yet unfinished.
Luke 12:8-9. Confession and Denial of Christ.—The context shows plainly that it is a practical, consistent confession which is meant, and also a practical and enduring denial. The Lord will not confess the confessing Judas, nor deny the denying Peter; the traitor who denied Him in act is denied; the apostle who confessed Him, even to death, will be confessed (cf. 2 Timothy 2:12).—Alford.
I. Gentle allurement.
II. Grave menace.
Luke 12:8. The Promise.
1. How base, then, to refuse our testimony to Christ, when on His part He offers His testimony to us by way of reward!
2. How much more Christ promises than that which He requires from us! The Threatening.
(1) Not only will the names of the cowardly be blotted out of the book of life, but
(2) He will bear testimony against them and take away all hope of their admission into the heavenly kingdom.
Luke 12:10. The Sin against the Holy Ghost.—St. Luke records the utterance to the disciples of that same dread sentence which St. Matthew and St. Mark give as addressed to the blaspheming Pharisees—showing conclusively that Christians are not out of reach of that danger which in open enemies is blasphemy, and in false friends is a “doing despite.” St. Luke connects this sin with that of denying Christ. His warning is addressed to disciples. They may deny Christ and be forgiven: “to him that blasphemes against the Holy Ghost it shall not be forgiven.” Thus he prepares us for later disclosures which shall show how a Christian may blaspheme against the Holy Ghost, and, so doing, sin beyond forgiveness.—Vaughan.
Rejecting the Preaching of the Apostles.—The history of Israel fully proves the truth of this word of warning. That nation did not perish because of the sin of having nailed the Son of man to the cross. Otherwise the day of the crucifixion would have been its day of judgment, and God would not have offered for forty years longer forgiveness of this act of rejection. It is the rejection of the preaching of the apostles—the obstinate resistance offered to the Spirit of Pentecost—that filled up the measure of Jerusalem’s sin.—Godet.
Sins Against the Spirit.—Other forms of sin against the Holy Spirit are referred to in Scripture:—
I. To resist the Spirit (Acts 7:51), or to vex the Spirit (Isaiah 63:10). The action of those who refuse to turn from their evil ways.
II. To grieve the Spirit (Ephesians 4:30)—as believers do when they allow themselves to be carried away by sin. But to blaspheme is of one’s own free will, with full knowledge to hate and withstand the Holy Spirit. The reason why this sin cannot be forgiven is not that the fountain of God’s pity is closed up, but that the fountain of penitence and faith is dried up in the sinner’s heart.
Luke 12:11. Promised Help.—The disciples are forewarned that they would be cited, not only before Jewish, but also before heathen tribunals, and are promised direct, immediate help from above for all cases in which they would need it. The promise is of a twofold nature.
I. Help would be given them to frame their defence.
II. They would be assisted to deliver their testimony on behalf of Christ. The Acts of the Apostles contains the record of many instances of the fulfilment of this promise.
Luke 12:12. The Authority of the Apostles.—Not unjustly is the Saviour’s promise of the assistance of the Holy Spirit regarded as one of the strongest grounds of the high authority in which the word and writings of the apostles stand. The manner of the Spirit’s working may be incomprehensible, but it is evident that we are to understand an entirely extraordinary immediate influence; for it was to be given them “in that hour.” The promise of this assistance extended as well to the substance as to the form of their language, and this help was to support them so mightily (cf. chap. Luke 21:14-15) that it would be morally impossible for their enemies to persevere in offering them resistance.—Van Oosterzee.
Luke 12:13. One of the company.—Rather, “one out of the multitude” (R.V.). Perhaps the mention of magistrates and powers suggested to him Christ’s acting as a judge and giving a decision in his favour. Divide the inheritance.—See Deuteronomy 21:15-17. Whether the claim were just or not cannot be inferred from the narrative.
Luke 12:14. Man.—Apparently in reproof. Cf. Romans 2:1; Romans 9:20. A judge or a divider.—The one may mean an ordinary judge, the other an arbitrator specially chosen to decide conflicting claims. There is no doubt an allusion to Exodus 2:14.
Luke 12:15. Beware of covetousness.—A better reading and translation is: “keep yourselves from all covetousness” (R.V.), i.e., from every kind: the unlawful desire, the selfish enjoyment, of earthly goods. For a man’s life, etc.—The passage is a peculiar one, and might be rendered, “for not because one has abundance does his life therefore depend on the things which he hath.” “The meaning is, that abundance is not a necessary condition of existence: a man lives on what he possesses; all that is needed is a mere sufficiency” (Speaker’s Commentary).
Luke 12:16. The ground, etc.—This is not a case of riches acquired in any unlawful manner, but of riches derived from industrious labours and the bounty of heaven. Mere multiplication of his wealth, and selfish enjoyment of it, take up all his thoughts. My fruits.—Notice also in Luke 12:18 “my barns,” “my fruits,” “my goods,” and in Luke 12:19 “my soul”; as though this last were a possession of which he was equally sure.
Luke 12:18. All my fruits.—“Not a word of the poor” (Bengel). The word in the original is a different one from that in Luke 12:17, and may be rendered “my produce” or “my corn” (R.V.).
Luke 12:19. Take thine ease.—The gathering together of his wealth, and his schemes for hoarding it (Luke 12:17), had disquieted him; he would now make his wealth the basis of rest and enjoyment. In the original there are simply four words, four verbs in the imperative, for the second half of this verse. The conciseness of style gives additional vividness to the picture.
Luke 12:20. Thou fool.—Lit. “senseless”—wise though he was in worldly wisdom and in management of his property (Luke 12:18). This night.—As contrasted with “many years.” Shall be required of thee.—As contrasted with “I will say to my soul.” Lit., “they require thy soul; i.e., either the angels of God as ministers of death, or, it may be, robbers who deprive him of life and carry off his wealth. No great stress need be laid on this, as the “they” is not emphatic: the verb is impersonal. Whose shall those things be?—“Not that it matters to him into whose hands they pass: it is only an emphatic way of saying that they will not be his” (Bloomfield).
Luke 12:21. For himself.—I.e., for himself only. Rich toward God.—Elsewhere described as “laying up treasures in heaven,” by almsgiving and benevolence. “He that hath pity upon the poor lendeth unto the Lord” (Proverbs 19:17).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Luke 12:13-21
The Rich Fool.—Christ’s unusually stern and cold answer disclaims a commission, either from God or man, to decide squabbles about property, or to put such decisions in force. He lays down principles and supplies motives which dominate and purify the sphere of conduct connected with wealth; but He will not narrow Himself into a mere arbitrator of family feuds. If the man and his brother would lay to heart His next words, the feud would arbitrate itself. It is for others to trim the branches; he proceeds to dig up the root. The request is made the occasion of the general warning against covetousness—against all forms of undue desire after, and delight in, worldly good. Mark the only reason here assigned for the warning (Luke 12:15). “Life” simply means physical life, and the one reason our Lord gives for His warning is that worldly goods cannot keep alive. The abundance of the things which he possesseth can do much for a man; but one thing they cannot do, on which all the rest of their power depends—they cannot keep the breath in him, and, if it is out, they are of no more use. “Threadbare morality,” it may be said—“scarcely worth coming from heaven to tell us;” but Jesus did not disdain to repeat familiar truths, and no commonplaces of morals are too threadbare to be reiterated, until they are practised. There are but two stages in the parable:
I. What the foreseeing rich man said to himself; and
(II.) What God said to the blind rich man. There is something very grim and terrible in the juxtaposition of these two elements of the picture, enhanced, as it is, by the long-drawn-out statement of the man’s projects, and the brevity of the Divine word which smites them to dust.
I. What the foreseeing rich man said to himself.—He has made his money honestly in the innocent occupation of a farmer. God’s sun has shone on the fields of the unthankful, and his abundant harvest—what has it done for him? It has only added to his cares. He has no gratitude and no enjoyment yet. How clear and deep an insight Jesus had into the misery of wealth when He made the first effect of prosperity on this man to be reasoning within himself and perplexity as to what he was to do! How many rich men cannot sleep for wondering how they are to invest their money! This man is provident and enterprising. He sees quickly and clearly, and makes up his mind promptly to face the necessary expenditure entailed by prosperity. He has many of the virtues which commercial communities adore. Perhaps if the farmer had looked about him he could have found some empty barns not far off and some bare cupboards that would have taken the surplus and saved the new buildings. But that does not occur to him. “All my corn and my goods” are to be housed as “mine.” Looked at from the world’s point of view, he is a model man of business. He adds to all his other claims on the world’s esteem, that he is just about to retire, on a well-earned competence, to enjoy well-deserved leisure. His ideal of enjoyment is somewhat low. But how unconsciously he acknowledges that wealth has hitherto failed to bring peace! “Take thine ease” confesses that there has been no ease yet in his life, and unless he has really “many years” to live, there will have been none. His case is that of many prosperous men nowadays, who have no tastes but the coarsest, and who, when they go out of business, are miserable. They cannot eat and drink all day, and they have killed so much in themselves, by their course of life, that they care nothing for books, or thought, or nature, or God, and so live empty lives, and try to fancy they like it.
II. What God said to the blind rich man.—How awfully “God said unto him” breaks the thin tissue of the man’s dreams! The important points, in brief speech, are the Divine designation of every such life as folly, the swift snatching away of the soul, and the unanswerable question as to the ownership of the wealth. God addresses men in their true characters. When He does, the man knows himself for what he is, and others know him. The end of every self-deceiving life will tear down the veils, and the conscience will echo the Divine voice, and feel, “I have played the fool, and have erred exceedingly.” All lives greedily gripping to earthly good, and making it the be-all and end-all, are folly, and so is the presumption that reckons on many years. The soul which he had called “my soul” is demanded from him. He called it his, but he cannot keep it. A good man, dying, commits his soul into the Father’s hands, but this “fool” would fain cling to life, and has reluctantly to surrender it to the stern voice which demands and will not be put off. The grim reality of death, set by the side of the shattered projects of self-indulgent life, shows what a fool he is. And the last touch which perfects the picture of his folly is the question which he cannot answer, “Whose shall they be?” and the bitter irony of “thou hast prepared.” What foresight, which did not foresee the possibility of leaving them! What preparation, which got the things ready for a moment which never came! The parable is finally pointed to a specific application. “So is he” refers both to the folly and the fate of the man. The same absurdity is committed and the same end is certain, though not always with the same startling suddenness and completeness. Come how it may, the separation of the worldly soul from all its “goods” is sure to come, and “he that getteth riches,” or sets his heart on them, “shall leave them in the midst of his days, and at his end shall be a fool.” The sin and folly lie, not only in amassing, but in doing so for self; and the only way to escape the snares of worldly wealth is to be “rich toward God.” “Toward God” is the antithesis to “for himself,” and the whole clause describes the only wise use of earthly good as being its consecration to the service of God.—Maclaren.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Luke 12:13-21
Luke 12:13-21. The Rich Fool.—“Man does not live by bread alone.” Christ tells the history of a man who forgot that—
1. His history is a parable; but how real! and how often has it applied! In the Bible alone we have Balaam, Achan, Nabal, Gehazi, Judas, Ananias, These men were fools, utterly being overwhelmed in their covetousness.
2. But, again, to how many does it apply—to how few does it not apply, though in a less overwhelming manner, in our daily life! The very phrases that are current in men’s mouths testify to this. “What is he worth?” they say.
3. “Every good gift cometh down from above.” To learn that, and never forget it, is the way to rise above covetousness. This rich fool said, “my fruits” and “my barns,” and “my soul.” And so it came to pass that there was no way by which God could teach him that none of it was his, except the one way, that last and terrible way—by taking away his life. Paul said to the Corinthians, “All things are yours,” and he named “the world” and “life” among them. But then he added, “Ye are Christ’s.”—Hastings.
I. The Saviour’s refusal to interfere.—
1. He implied that it was not His part to interfere.
2. It was implied that His kingdom was one founded on spiritual disposition, not one of outward law and jurisprudence.
3. He refused to be the friend of one, because He was the friend of both.
II. The source to which He traced this appeal for a division.—Covetousness.
III. He proceeds to give the true remedy for covetousness.—“A man’s life,” etc.; a true consolation and compensation for the oppressed and the defrauded.—Robertson.
Luke 12:13. A Type of the Wayside Hearer.—
1. This man who interrupted Christ while preaching on this occasion had just heard Him utter the words, “Magistrates and powers,” and these suggested to him the topics on which his thoughts were habitually fixed—his dispute with his brother about their patrimony.
2. And so it happened to him according to the parable of the sower. The truth he had heard did not get into his mind, hardened as it was, like a beaten path, by the constant passage through it of current thoughts about money; it was very soon forgotten altogether, caught away by the god of this world, who ruled over him through his covetous disposition.—Bruce.
Misplaced Discontent.—Men misplace their discontent. They are very well satisfied with what they are; they are only dissatisfied with what they have: whereas the very reverse ought generally to take place; and the only desire which we ought to set no bounds to is that of increasing in godliness.
Use of the Passing Incident.—This incident becomes a text for a sermon on covetousness. And thus the Holy Spirit teaches us to consider every event of our lives as an occasion for applying to ourselves the words of Christ. He instructs us to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the holy gospel in such a manner that we may be able to bring its precepts to bear on the principal occurrences, public and private, of our own lives and of the world’s history.—Wordsworth.
Luke 12:14. “Who made Me a judge?”—Reasons why Christ refused to interfere—
I. His interference would have encouraged the delusion that the Messiah would be an earthly ruler.
II. He wished to draw a distinction between the kingdoms of this world and the government of His Church.
III. Because he saw that this man was neglecting graver matters than the inheritance which he wished to be shared with him.
A Higher Office than Arbitrator of Property.—With great propriety He declines interference with matters of this world who came not down on their account; nor does He, who was Judge of quick and dead, to whom belonged the final disposal of the souls of men, condescend to be an arbitrator in men’s contentions about their property.—St. Ambrose.
The Error of Moses not Repeated.—Christ will not repeat the error of Moses (Exodus 2:14), and thrust Himself into matters that do not concern Him. His work was from the inward to the outward, and so He kept within the limits of that moral and spiritual world from which alone an effectual renovation of the outer life of man could proceed.—Trench.
A Lesson to All Religious Teachers.
I. Their influence in the external relations of life is great, but only when it is indirectly exercised.
II. It is broken when they interfere directly with secular and political matters.—When ministers of religion keep within their proper sphere, all parties look up to them, and they are often the means of mollifying the bitterest feelings and reconciling the most conflicting interests.—Brown.
Luke 12:15. Covetousness.
I. This is one of the red flags our Lord hung out which most people nowadays do not seem much to regard.—Christ said a great deal about the danger of riches; but not many persons are afraid of riches. Covetousness is not practically considered a sin in these times. A man may break the tenth commandment, and be only regarded as enterprising. The Bible says the love of money is the root of all evil; but every man who quotes the saying puts a terrific emphasis on the word “love,” explaining that it is not money, but the love of it, that is such a terrific root.
II. To look about one, one would think that a man’s life did consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.—Men think they become great just in proportion as they gather wealth. So it seems, too; for the world measures men by their bank account. Yet there never was a more fatal error. A man is really measured by what he is, and not by what He HAS. You may find a shrivelled soul in the midst of a great fortune, and a grand, noble soul in the barest poverty.
III. The chief thing is to gather into our life all the truly great and noble things of character.—Here are two texts which settle the question: “Whatsoever things are true, honest, … think on these things”; “Add to your faith virtue,” etc.”—Miller.
The Fool’s Fourfold Mistake.
I. As to the true gauge of the worth of life.—He valued his days by the money he could make in them. Men like him sell their soul for money—abandon heart culture, the amenities of life, the choice delights of home life, for money. Now, worth means, not wealth, but quality of character, purity, sweetnees, nobility, truth. If a millionaire is of worthless character, he dies a pauper.
II. As to the true use of his superfluity.—He had more than he needed. This made him think of building bigger barns. It is well to have an overplus, but to what use are we to put it? To make provision for sickness, old age, death? Yes, and after that is done to be a trustee for the orphan, the widow, the poor.
III. As to the true way of being merry.—This man talks in a strange way to his soul. What does his soul say in response? “I am ill at ease. I cannot be merry. I cannot eat gold or corn.” It is a profound mistake that one can be made happier by a bigger house, or a “place in the country.” More likely to be at “ease” with a daily wage than as an anxious, speculating business man. “Ease!” Yes! get it from a clean conscience and a pure heart. Money, rank, and power, cannot give it.
IV. As to the tenure of his life.—He thought of “many years.” He had only one day left. He had a good title for earth, but no lease, and he had no title for heaven. The soul that night crept out from it all—all its wealth—a poor beggar, into God’s presence. How full of warning is the record of this man’s mistakes!—F. B. Meyer.
A Warning Against Avarice.—So far as the request had to do with secular matters Christ refused to accede to it; but so far as it revealed a faulty moral condition it entered within the Saviour’s province to deal with it. Though not a judge of civil questions, He was a Redeemer from sin—from avarice no less than from hypocrisy. Nor are his followers in slight need of the warning He gives: for avarice is a sin which may attack those who have triumphed over lusts of the flesh, and who are in many other respects exemplary in spirit and life.
“Covetousness.” “All covetousness” (R.V.); both
(1) that which leads a man to desire the possessions which rightly belong to another, and
(2) that which sets an exaggerated value upon earthly goods. Whether the petitioner were in the right or the wrong, he was evidently in danger of one form or other of this sin.
“A Man’s Life.”—There is a contrast here between the earthly natural life and the true life—between his “living” and his “life”: the one is sustained by what he has, the other depends upon what he is. Possession of worldly goods may
(1) for a time secure a measure of ease and comfort, but
(2) it may overlay, hinder, and strangle the higher nature.
Money a Test of Character.—The philosophy which affects to teach us a contempt of money does not run very deep; for, indeed, it is clear that there are few things in the world of greater importance. And so manifold are the bearings of money upon the lives and characters of mankind, that an insight which should search out the life of a man in his pecuniary relations would penetrate into almost every cranny of his nature. He who knows, like St. Paul, both how to spare and how to abound, has a great knowledge; for if we take account of all the virtues with which money is mixed up—honesty, justice, generosity, charity, frugality, forethought, self-sacrifice—and of their correlative vices—it is a knowledge which goes near to cover the length and breadth of humanity: and a right measure of manner in getting, saving, spending, giving, taking, lending, borrowing, and bequeathing, would almost argue a perfect man.—H. Taylor.
Possessions and Life.—Not from the possession of many goods, but from the will of God, who lengthens or shortens the thread of life, does it depend whether one remains long and quietly here in life or not. One may be preserved in life without possessing goods, and also remain in the possession of goods and unexpectedly lose life.—Van Oosterzee.
Luke 12:16-21. This Parable Teaches—
I. That God maketh His sun to shine and His rain to fall on the just and on the unjust.
II. That the increase of riches increaseth care.
III. That worldly men’s possessions are their “good things”—such they esteem them, and such is their whole portion from God.
IV. Great estates and enjoyments of this life have a very enticing quality in them:
1. They make us loth to die, and willing to think we shall live many years.
2. They lull the soul to sleep.
3. They entice us to sinful mirth and luxury.
V. He that hath most may have his soul taken from him in a night.
VI. A man is no longer owner of the goods of this life than he can keep an earthly possession of them.
VII. When he dies he knoweth not where these things shall be.
VIII. That it is the greatest folly imaginable to spend all one’s time and strength in getting and laying up treasure upon earth, and in the meantime neglecting to be rich towards God.—Pool.
Luke 12:16. “A parable.”—To teach
(1) how short and transitory life is;
(2) that riches are of no avail for prolonging it; and
(3) that the great duty of all, both rich and poor, is to be rich toward God.
A Fault often Condemned in the New Testament.—There are more parables, I believe, in the New Testament against taking no thought about heavenly things, and taking too much thought about earthly things, than against any other fault whatsoever.—Hare.
“The Ground,” etc.—Christ selects the most innocent method of acquiring riches, that which most obviously tended to lead the mind constantly to thankful acknowledgment of God, and thus makes this wretched harvest-joy all the more frightful and all the more impressive a warning to every man.—Stier.
“A Certain Rich Man.”—The character here drawn is exactly that of a prudent worldly man, who rises from inferior circumstances to great affluence by assiduous industry and good management, and then retires from business, to spend the latter part of his life according to his own inclinations. His is the sort of life which is often held up as a model to young men. He figures here as a warning. All who desire to be successful in business, as he was, should keep in mind the words of the Psalmist: “He gave them their request, but sent leanness into their soul.”
Luke 12:17-20. The Miseries of the Worldly Rich Man:—
II. Anxieties and cares.
III. False hope.
IV. The terror of losing all his goods.
Luke 12:17-19. The Worldly Character.—
1. Activity in promoting his own temporal interest.
2. Selfish love of ease and pleasure. The “soul” which he addresses is the seat of the emotions and of the power of enjoyment—not the spiritual element in man.
Luke 12:17. “What shall I do?”—Not what should I do? Scarcely any other words could more vividly depict his utter and unconscious selfishness. That all he has is to be secured for himself and for his own exclusive benefit is assumed as a matter of course—the only difficulty is as to the precise method of doing this.
“I have no room.”—Thou hast barns—the bosoms of the needy, the houses of the widows, the mouths of orphans and of infants.—St. Ambrose.
“My fruits.”—Compare the speech of Nabal (1 Samuel 25:11), who says, “Shall I take my bread, and my water, and my flesh that I have killed for my shearers?” And on the very next day his heart died within him, and he became as a stone; and in ten days after he died. Contrast the words in Deuteronomy 8:10-18, and David’s language, 1 Chronicles 29:12-14.
Luke 12:18. “This will I do.”—Man proposes.
I. How boastful!—He speaks of his barns and fruits as though he, and he only, had any share in producing them, any right of ownership in them.
II. How shortsighted!—He speaks of the “many years” as a matter of certainty, when he must have known the uncertainty of life.
III. How selfish!—His aims are all selfish. There is no provision made for others. His life is entirely self-centred.
IV. How unworthy!—His idea of life is a low one. Indolent ease, eating, drinking, and merrymaking. Pity for the sorrows of others; charity for the aged and poor; provision for those who had helped to make him rich;—all these are forgotten.—W. Taylor.
Luke 12:19. “I will say to my soul.”—What folly! Had thy soul been a sty, what else couldst thou have promised to it? Art thou so bestial, so ignorant of the soul’s goods, that thou pledgest it the foods of the flesh? And dost thou convey to thy soul the things which the draught receiveth?—St. Basil.
“Thou hast many goods.”—The devil does not now endeavour to deceive us by saying, “Ye shall not surely die.” He knows that so notorious a cheat would never pass upon us; but yet for fear, lest we should undervalue the allurements of the world, he whispers in our ears, “Ye shall not die so soon.” And “Although thou hast not all that thou canst wish for, thou hast many goods”; and “Though thou canst not enjoy them always, yet they are laid up for many years”; and what hast thou to do but “take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry,” as if thou wert to live for ever? Behold the best that we can make of the most happy state we hope for here.
Little Satisfaction Yielded by Wealth.—He unconsciously confesses how little satisfaction his wealth has brought him; he looks for rest, but it is only in the distant future, when the intended work shall have been completed, that he can hope to obtain it.
This Parable found in Germ in Ecclesiasticus.—Cf. Sir. 11:17-19 : “The gift of the Lord remaineth with the godly, and His favour bringeth prosperity for ever. There is that waxeth rich by his wariness and pinching, and this is the portion of his reward: whereas he saith, I have found rest, and now will eat continually of my goods; and yet he knoweth not what time will come upon him, and that he must leave those things to others, and die.”
Luke 12:20. “Thou fool.”—Why is this man called a fool?
I. Because he deemed a life of secure and abundant earthly enjoyment the summit of human felicity.
II. Because, having acquired the means of realising this, through prosperity in his calling, he flattered himself that he had a long lease of such enjoyment, and nothing to do but to give himself up to it. Nothing else is laid to his charge.—Brown.
Loss.—He comes before the judge with a lost name, for God calls him “Thou fool”; with a lost soul, for it is taken away from him by force; with a lost world, for it he has to leave behind him; and with a lost heaven, for in heaven he has laid up no treasure.
Contrasts.—Note the contrasts:
1. “Thou fool,” though he has manifested worldly prudence.
2. “This night,” as opposed to “many years.”
3. The “soul” in the one case, at its ease, eating, drinking, and making merry; in the other, demanded, rendered up, judged.
Vain Preparation.—“Prepared”—“made ready;” “but not for thyself.”
Fourfold Folly.—His folly is fourfold:
1. He forgets God, the giver of his wealth.
2. He appropriates all he receives for himself.
3. He counts these things the food of his soul.
4. He does not think of the daily possibility of death.
Moderation.—A wise man will desire no more than what he can get justly, use soberly, distribute cheerfully, and leave contentedly.—Bacon.
Riches Without Godliness.—The gloom of barrenness has besieged your mind; and while the light of truth hath departed thence, the deep and profound darkness of avarice has blinded your carnal heart. You are the captive and slave of your money; you keep your money, which, when kept, does not keep you; you heap up a patrimony which burdens you with its weight; and you do not remember what God answered to the rich man, who boasted, with a foolish exultation, of the abundance of his exuberant harvest. Why do you watch in loneliness over your riches? Why, for your punishment, do you heap up the burden of your patrimony, that, in proportion as you are rich in this world, you may become poor to God?—Cyprian.
“Shall be required.”—From the righteous his soul is not required, but he commits it to God and the Father of spirits, pleased and rejoicing, nor finds it hard to lay it down, for the body lies upon it as a light burden. But the sinner who has enfleshed his soul, and embodied it, and made it earthy, has prepared to render its divulsion from the body most hard; wherefore it is said to be required of him, as a disobedient debtor that is delivered to pitiless exactors.—Theophylact.
The Parable brings vividly before us Four Considerations:—
I. The embarrassment which wealth, and especially a sudden accession of wealth, may bring to a man who is not under the guidance of high and true principles.
II. Here is an example of the love of property, as such, and apart from anything that can be done with it.
III. There is that in the human soul, even when most forgetful of its true destiny, which refuses to take pleasure for ever in the mere handling money or any sort of matter, as a thing to be rejoiced in for its own sake.
IV. The whole scheme of definite enjoyment may collapse: no man has a right to presume upon the future.—Liddon.
Luke 12:21. False and True Riches.—The contrast between the false and the true riches is implied in the two phrases, “to lay up treasure” and “to be rich.”
I. The one is to hoard up laboriously things which are outside one’s self.
II. The other is an actual condition of wealth and happiness.
Rich Towards God.—There is a contrast between “laying up treasure for oneself” and being “rich towards God.” God cannot be enriched or impoverished. That man is rich toward God who lays up treasure in heaven, and so he is rich indeed (cf. 1 Timothy 6:17). By being rich towards God he becomes rich for ever.
“He who is rich for himself, laying up treasures for himself, is by so much robbing his real inward life, his life in and toward God, of its resources; he is laying up store for, providing for, the flesh; but the spirit, that which God looketh into and searcheth, is stripped of all its riches” (Alford).
The evil is not in the treasure, nor in laying up treasure, but in laying up treasure for oneself. A case like this, where the sinner is respectable, honest, and prosperous, shows the true nature of sin—it is a devotion to self, not to God; and laying up solely for self is, therefore, a sin, according to the judgment of Christ.
Change the Place of Riches.—God desires not that thou shouldst lose thy riches, but that thou shouldst change their place. He has given thee a counsel, which do thou understand. Suppose a friend should enter thy house, and should find that thou hadst lodged thy fruits on a damp floor, and he, knowing by chance the tendency of those fruits to spoil, whereof thou wert ignorant, should give thee counsel of this sort, saying, “Brother, thou losest the things which with great labour thou hast gathered; thou hast placed them in a damp place; in a few days they will corrupt.”—“And what, brother, shall I do?”—“Raise them to a higher room”—thou wouldst listen to thy brother, suggesting that thou shouldst raise thy fruits from a lower to a higher floor; and thou wilt not listen to Christ, advising that thou raise thy treasure from earth to heaven, where that will not, indeed, be restored to thee which thou layest up—for He bids thee lay up earth, that thou mayest receive heaven, lay up perishable things, that thou mayest receive eternal.—Augustine.
Luke 12:22. Take no thought.—Rather, “be not anxious” (R.V.). The meaning of the word “thought” has changed since 1611. Then it meant “anxiety” (see 1 Samuel 9:5).
Luke 12:23. Is more.—I.e., is a greater gift. He who gave the greater may be relied upon to provide the less.
Luke 12:24. Consider.—The word is a strong one: “observe carefully,” “study.” Ravens.—Cf. Psalms 147:9; Job 38:41. Sow … reap … storehouse … barn.—In reference to the parable of the Rich Man: he perished in spite of all his labour and anxiety; they live without labour or anxiety.
Luke 12:25. Thought.—As in Luke 12:22. Stature.—Rather “age.” The word means either the one or the other; but prolongation of life is the idea of the passage here. It would be a great thing to add a cubit to one’s stature, while this is spoken of as a slight and insignificant trifle.
Luke 12:26. The application of measures of space to time is not uncommon. See Psalms 39:5; 2 Timothy 4:7. A cubit is a foot and a half.
Luke 12:27. Lilies.—Supposed by some to be the crown imperial lily, which grows wild in Palestine, by others the amaryllis lutea, by others the Huleh lily. Of the last Thomson says: “It is very large, and the three inner petals meet above, and form a gorgeous canopy, such as art never approached, and king never sat under, even in his utmost glory. And when I met this incomparable flower, in all its loveliness, among the oak woods around the northern base of Tabor, and on the hills of Nazareth, where our Lord spent His youth, I felt assured that it was this to which He referred” (“The Land and the Book”). Solomon in all his glory.—Cf. Song of Solomon 3:6-11.
Luke 12:28. The grass.—The flowers mown down along with the grass. Oven.—“A covered earthen vessel; a pan wider at the bottom than at the top, wherein bread was baked by putting hot embers round it, which produced a more equable heat than in the regular oven” (Alford).
Luke 12:29. Doubtful mind.—Tossed about between hope and fear. The figure is that of a ship raised aloft, at one moment on the top of the wave and then sinking down into the depths—an apt metaphor for anxiety.
Luke 12:30. Your Father knoweth.—An additional reason for banishing undue anxiety about worldly things.
Luke 12:32. Little flock.—The word for “flock” is itself a diminutive: the double diminutive is an indication of the deep feeling with which the words were spoken. Christ here presents Himself as the Shepherd (John 10:1 ff). The kingdom.—If the higher and spiritual blessings are given, anxiety concerning food and raiment may well be banished. Preparation for this kingdom is commended in the verses that follow.
Luke 12:33. Sell that ye have, etc.—Addressed to officers of the kingdom who were to be altogether free from earthly ties; though in a certain sense all should provide for themselves a “treasure in the heavens.” That faileth not.—I.e., that is inexhaustible.
Luke 12:34. Where your treasure is.—The affection of the heart is not to be divided, but is to be concentrated on one object (cf. Matthew 6:24).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Luke 12:22-34
Anxious about Earth, or Earnest about the Kingdom.—The warnings against anxiety are another application of the prohibition of laying up treasures for self. Torturing care is the poor man’s form of worldliness, as luxurious self-indulgence is the rich man’s.
I. The prohibition against anxious care (Luke 12:22-23).—The disciples who were poor men might think that they were in no danger of the folly branded in the foregoing parable. They had no barns bursting with plenty, and their concern was how to find food and clothing, not what to do with superfluities. Christ would have them see that the same temper may be in them, though it takes a different shape. The temper here condemned is “self-consuming care,” the opposite of trust—a frame of mind that is incompatible with prudent forethought and strenuous work, since it both hinders from seeing what to do to provide daily bread, and from doing it. Reasons against this anxious care:
1. It is superficial. It forgets how we come to have lives to be fed and bodies to be clothed. We have received the greater, life and body, without our anxiety. The rich fool, in the preceding parable, could keep his goods, but not his “soul” or “life.” How superficial, then, after all, our anxieties are, when God may end life at any moment! Further, since the greater is given, the less which it needs will also be given. The thought of God as “a faithful Creator” is implied. We may trust Him for the “more”: we may trust Him for the “less.”
2. Examples of unanxious lives abundantly fed. The ravens have “neither storehouse nor barn.” In these particulars the birds are inferior to us, and, so to speak, the harder to care for. If they, who neither work nor store, still get their living, shall not we, who can do both? Our superior value is in part expressed by the capacity to sow and reap; and these are more wholesome occupations for a man than worrying.
3. The impotence of anxiety (Luke 12:25). The supposed addition, if possible, would be of the very smallest importance as regards ensuring food or clothing, and, measured by the Divine power required to effect it, is less than the continual providing which God does. That smaller work of His, no anxiety will enable us to do. How much less can we effect the complicated and wide-reaching arrangements needed to feed and clothe ourselves! Anxiety is impotent. It only works on our minds, racking them in vain, but has no effect on the natural world, not even on our own bodies, still less on the universe.
4. Examples of unanxious existence clothed with beauty. Christ here teaches the highest use of nature, and the noblest way of looking at it. It is a visible manifestation of God, and His ways there shadow His ways with us, and are lessons in trust. Christ appeals to Creation as witnessing to a loving care in heaven. That appeal teaches us that we miss the best and plainest lesson of nature, unless we see God present and working in it all, and are thereby heartened to trust quietly in His care for us, who are better than the ravens, because we have to sow and reap, and than the lilies, because we must toil and spin. Luke 12:29 adds to the reference to clothing a repeated prohibition as to the other half of our anxieties, and thus rounds off the whole with the same double warning as in Luke 12:22. It paints the wretchedness of anxiety as ever tossed about between hopes and fears, sometimes up on the crest of a vain dream of good, sometimes down in the trough of an imaginary evil. We are sure to be thus the sport of our own fancies, unless we have our minds fixed on God in quiet trust, and therefore stable and restful.
5. Such undue anxiety is pure heathenism (Luke 12:30). The nations of the world who know not God make these their chief good, and securing them the aim of their lives. If we do the like we drop to their level. What is the difference between a heathen and a Christian, if the Christian has the same objects and treasures as the heathen? That is a question which a good many so-called Christians at present would find it hard to answer.
6. Faith in God as our Father should dispel anxious care.—This is the crowning reason. What has preceded it might be spoken by a man who had but the coldest belief in Providence. But how should we be anxious if we know that we have a Father in heaven, and that He knows our needs? He recognises our claims on Him. He made the needs and will send the supply. Our wants are prophecies of God’s gifts. He has made them as doors by which He will come in and bless us. How, then, can anxious care fret the heart which feels the Father’s presence and knows that its emptiness is the occasion for the gift of a Divine fulness? Trust is the only reasonable temper for the child of such a Father. Anxious care is a denial of His love, or knowledge, or power.
II. An exhortation to set the affections on the true treasure (Luke 12:31-34).—This points out the true direction of effort and affection, and the true way of using outward good so as to secure the higher riches. Life must have some aim, and the mind must turn to something as supremely good. The only way to drive out heathenish seeking after perishable good is to fill the heart with love and longing for eternal and spiritual good. To seek “the kingdom”; to count it our highest good to have our wills and our whole being bowed in submission to the loving will of God; to labour after entire conformity to it; to postpone all earthly delights to that, and to count them all but loss if we may win it;—this is the true way to conquer worldly anxieties, and is the only course of life which will not at last earn the stern judgment, “Thou fool!” This direction of our aims is to be accompanied with joyous, brave confidence. How should they fear whose desires and efforts run parallel with the “Father’s good pleasure”? They are seeking, as their chief good, what He desires, as His chief delight, to give them. Then they may be sure that if He gives that, He will not withhold less gifts than may be needed. If they can trust Him to give them the kingdom, they may surely trust Him for bread and clothes. Mark, too, the tenderness of that “little flock.” They might fear when they contrasted their numbers with the crowds of worldly men; but, being a flock, they have a Shepherd, and that is enough to quiet anxiety. Seeking and courage are to be crowned by surrender of outward good, and the use of earthly wealth in such manner as that it will secure an unfailing treasure in heaven. The manner of obeying the command varies with circumstances. For some the literal fulfilment is best; but sometimes the surrender is rather to be effected by the conscientious consecration and prayerful use of wealth. That is for each man to settle for himself. But what is not variable is the obligation to set the kingdom high above all else, and to use all outward wealth, as Christ’s servants—not for luxury and self-gratification, but as in His right and for His glory.—Maclaren.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENT ON Luke 12:22-34
Luke 12:22-31. The Cure for Covetousness.—Jesus well knew that over-anxiety about worldly things would always be a great snare, even to those who know and love their Lord. Hence He puts before them full and sufficient reasons why His followers should not be overanxious about their bodily needs.
I. See what God has already given.—Will He, who has given life, withhold what life needs?
II. See God’s care for birds and flowers.—Evidences of God’s thoughtful, loving providence abound on every side. If the ravens are fed, and the lilies clothed, will He neglect His immortal, redeemed servants?
III. How useless is fretful anxiety!—It does no good. You can neither add to stature, nor length of days.
IV. How unworthy it is.—The heathen who do not know God may well give themselves up to a life of mere worldly care and pleasure. But is this conduct befitting the children of the kingdom?
V. There is God’s unfailing promise.—“Seek … and all these things shall be added.” Care for His interests, and He will care for yours.—W. Taylor.
Luke 12:22-40. Against being Pre-occupied by Things of the World.
I. The believer may renounce the pursuit of worldly riches because of a strong confidence in the goodness of his heavenly Father in matters pertaining to this life (Luke 12:22-34).
II. Because of the superior blessings which he anticipates obtaining at the coming of his Lord (Luke 12:35-40).
Anxious, Restless Solicitude about Earthly Things Forbidden.
I. The Giver of life and the Creator of the body may well be trusted to give the food that sustains the life and the raiment the body needs.
II. God’s care for animals and plants.
III. The uselessness of such solicitude on our part.
IV. Anxiety about earthly things unchristian and heathenish.
V. God adds everything to those who first seek His kingdom.
Luke 12:22-24. A Precept, an Argument, and an Illustration.
I. The precept: “Take no thought,” etc. (Luke 12:22).
II. The argument in support of it (Luke 12:23). He who gave the greater will give the less.
III. The illustration from nature, (Luke 12:24).
Luke 12:22. “Therefore I say unto you.”—It cannot be said too often that the avaricious are not to be found exclusively among the rich. Augustine says, “God judges men to be rich or poor, not by the amount of their possessions, but by their dispositions.” Our Lord turns at once to the disciples, who had neither fields nor barns, and exhorts them to beware of avarice, anxieties, and worldly cares.
As the believer is not
(1) to aspire after the possession of superfluous wealth, so is he not
(2) to be unduly anxious even about the necessaries of life. He is the servant of a kindly Master, who will provide him with food and clothing.
Luke 12:23. “Meat;” “raiment.”—The illustrations that follow are drawn from
(1) the animal,
(2) the vegetable world—the ravens are fed by God, the lilies clothed by Him.
“The life is more than food.”—You turn it exactly round: food is meant to serve life, but life forsooth serves food; clothes are to serve the body, but the body forsooth must serve the clothing. And so blind is the world that it sees not this!—Luther.
Luke 12:24. “Sow;” “reap;” “storehouse;” “barn.”—All refer to the preceding parable of the Rich Fool. From the “storehouse” seed is brought out for sowing; in the “barn” the wheat is deposited to be used for food.
Luke 12:24; Luke 12:27. Birds and Flowers.—The birds of heaven, the flowers of the field: how simple, how beautiful, this contemplation of nature, as Adam before the fall beheld it in Paradise!—Stier
Luke 12:27. “The lilies.”—As the beauty of the flower is unfolded by the Divine Creator Spirit from within, from the laws and capacities of its own individual life, so must all true adornment of man be unfolded from within by the same Almighty Spirit (cf. 1 Peter 3:3-4). As nothing from without can defile a man (Matthew 15:11), so neither can anything from without adorn him.—Alford.
“They toil not, they spin not.”—Neither “toil”—as men, for the materials of clothing; nor “spin”—as women, whose office it is to give shape to those materials, and make them fit for use. Consolation is intended for either sex.—Burgon.
“Solomon.”—“The lily belongs to the paradise of God, Solomon’s glory to the hot-house of art.”—Stier.
Luke 12:28. “Clothe you.”—This may also be applied as an assurance of a glorious resurrection. If in each successive spring, after the winter’s frost and death, God clothes the flowers of the field with the apparel of such fresh verdure and beautiful colours, will He not much more clothe you with the bright raiment of a glorious body, like to that of the angels (chap. Luke 20:36), and of Christ (Philippians 3:21)?—Wordsworth.
Luke 12:29-32. Cares.
I. The cares which consume men of the world (Luke 12:29-30).
II. The only care that should engross the believer (Luke 12:31-32).
Luke 12:29. “Of doubtful mind.”—The phrase really means and implies “tossing about on the open sea”; so that we might paraphrase it, “Do not toss about in the windy offing, when you may ride safely in the sheltered haven.”—Cox.
Luke 12:31. “Added unto you.”—So to Solomon were given, not only the wisdom which he had asked, but also the temporal benefits for which he had not asked.
“The way to obtain spiritual bessings is to be importunate for them; but the way to obtain temporal blessings is to be indifferent about them. Solomon had wisdom given him, because he asked it; and wealth, because he did not ask it” (Henry).
Luke 12:32 “Fear not.”—1 They have no reason to fear want.
2. Or the various other afflictions and calamities of life.
3. Or spiritual enemies.
4. Or death.
“Little flock.”—The phrase suggests
(1) cause of fear, and also
(2) the more special care on the part of God which is needed and is exercised.
Christ’s Flock.—How Christ’s people come to be His flock.
I. By the express appointment of God.
II. By the purchase of His atoning death.
III. By His actually bringing His people into His fold.
Luke 12:33. “Sell what ye have and give alms.”—Our Lord’s words are diametrically opposed to modern socialism. The latter would make laws to take away wealth; the former inculcates love that gives away.
Luke 12:34. Detachment and Attachment. In proportion as the faithful thus creates for himself a treasure above, detachment from earth is transformed into attachment to heaven. For it is a law that the heart follows the treasure. From this results the new attitude of the faithful which is described in the words that follow. The heart, disengaged from the burden of earthly possessions, like a balloon after its fastenings have been severed, springs up to meet the Master, who is on His return, and for whom every faithful one is waiting unceasingly.—Godet.
“For where your treasure is.”—The human heart, little by little, appropriates to itself the style and nature of the treasure to which its whole thought is directed. Whoever constitutes his god of gold, his heart becomes as cold and hard as metal; whoever takes flesh for his idol becomes more and more sensual, and takes on the properties of that which he loves above everything; but whoever has invisible treasures keeps eye and heart directed upon the invisible world, and whoever has no higher good than God accords to Him the first place in his love. This is the key to the precious saying of one of the Fathers, “O Lord, since thou hast made us for thyself, our heart is uneasy within us, until it rests in Thee”—Van Oosterzee.
Luke 12:35. Loins girded.—An allusion to the long robes of the East, which those who wear them must bind up before they engage in any active employment. Lights burning.—The same lesson as in the parable of the Ten Virgins.
Luke 12:36. Men that wait.—This is a different figure from the parable just named: servants waiting at home for their master’s return from the wedding. Wedding.—The word may mean a feast or entertainment of any kind. No stress, therefore, need be laid upon the kind of feast.
Luke 12:37. Gird himself, etc.—A prophetic view of this great act of self-abasing love is given in John 13:1 ff. In the Roman Saturnalia masters and servants exchanged places for the day; but on that occasion the boon was granted to all servants, good and bad. This which Christ speaks of is an honour to faithful and vigilant servants. In Revelation 3:20-21, the figure is carried still further, and the promise is given of sharing His throne.
Luke 12:38. The second watch.—I.e., from nine to midnight. According to the Roman custom, adopted at this time by the Jews, the night was divided into four watches: from six till nine, from nine to midnight, from midnight to three, and from three to six. The first watch is not here mentioned, as return during it would be no test of the servants’ vigilance, and as probably the feast would then be in progress. The fourth watch is not mentioned, as by that time the feast at which the master was detained would have been long over, and the day would then be breaking.
Luke 12:39. And this know.—Rather, “this ye know” (R.V. margin). An appeal to commonsense. The figure is changed; the sudden and unexpected coming of the Son of Man is compared to the approach of a night-robber (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:2; 2 Peter 3:10; Revelation 16:15). Goodman.—An archaic phrase. The paterfamilias. R.V. “the master.” Broken through.—Lit. “dug through”; of mud walls.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Luke 12:35-38
The Kind Master.—The parable of the Dutiful Servant (Luke 17:7-10) is the complement of this parable of the Kind Master. The one of these parables, without the other, is not perfect. For if the one teaches us how to think of ourselves, the other teaches us how God thinks of us, when we do that which it is our duty to do. While the one sets forth the diligence and lowliness of the servant, the other sets forth the friendliness and bounty of the Master. The form of the parable. A certain Oriental lord has gone to the wedding of a friend. The festivities on such occasions were spread over many days, a week at least, sometimes a mouth. Consequently his servants could not tell to an hour, or even to a day, when he would return. But however long he delayed his coming, they kept a keen look-out for him. When night fell, instead of barring up the house and retiring to rest, they girt up their long outer robes, that they might be ready to run out at any instant to greet him; they kindled their lamps, that they might run safely, as well as swiftly, on his errands; they even prepared a table for him, in case he were hungry and tired by his journey home. In this posture, with these preparations, they await his coming. And when he comes, he is so pleased with their fidelity and thoughtfulness that, instead of sitting down to meat or hastening to his couch, he girds up his loins, bids his servants sit down to the very banquet they had prepared for him, and comes forth from his chamber to wait upon them. The main points of the parable are—
I. The watchfulness of the servants.—What does this symbolise? As these servants waited for the coming of their master, so we are to wait for the coming of our Master. The second advent of Christ is the great and special promise of the New Testament, as His first advent was the great and distinctive promise of the Old Testament. The anticipation of the second advent of Christ has come under suspicion because of fanatical and morbid minds having cherished it in a carnal and literal form. But we may frame some such reasonable conception of the promise as well make it a real power and a potent factor in our lives. Strip it of all mere accidents of form and date, and reduce it to its more simple and general terms, and what does it come to? It comes at least to this: that, somewhere in the future, there is to be a better world than this—a world more wisely and happily ordered; a world in which all that is now wrong will be righted; a world of perfect beauty and growing righteousness;—in a word, a world in which He who once suffered for and with all men, will really reign in and over all men. His spirit dwelling in them, and raising them towards the true ideal of manhood. And is not that a reasonable hope? Is it not a great hope? Does it not make a vital difference to us whether or not we entertain it? But if we believe in this great promise, if we cherish this great hope, then can we with patience wait for it. And this is the very posture which our Lord here enjoins. He would have us to be like servants who watch for the coming of their Lord, that, when He comes, they may open to Him immediately. He would have us believe in, and look for, the advent of a better world, in which all the wrongs of time will be rectified. He would have us sustain ourselves under all the toils and sorrows of our individual lot, and under the still heavier oppressions of the world’s lot, by looking forward to that end and purpose of the Lord God Almighty which will vindicate all the ways in which we have been led, and all the painful discipline by which we have been tried and purified and refined.
II. The kindness of their Master.—What does it symbolise? It means that whatever we have done for God, He will do for us—that when He reckons with us, we shall receive our own again, and receive it “with usury.” It is but a metaphorical expression of that great law of retribution which pervades the whole Bible, but the happier face of which we are too apt to overlook—that whatever a man sows, that shall he also reap, that, and all that has come of it. The Divine reward will be at once equitable and bountiful. If in this present life we have shown some capacity for serving God in serving our fellows, we may be sure that in the life to come we shall receive the harvest of our service; we may be sure that God will do for us all that we have done for Him, and a great deal more. But what, after all, is the best part of a man’s reward for faithful and diligent use of any faculty here? It is that his faculty, whatever it may be, is invigorated, developed, refined, by use. If, then, I have here used my faculty and opportunity for serving God in serving my fellows, I may hope, I may believe, that hereafter my best reward will be an enlarged faculty of service and ampler opportunities for exercising it. If I have served the Master, He will serve me; but He will serve me best and most of all by making me a more skilful, faithful, and happy servant. Is there anything arbitrary in such a reward as this, or anything unreasonable, or selfish, or base, in my hope that I may receive it? On the contrary, is it not most reasonable, is it not in accordance with the most scientific interpretation of the facts of observation and experience, to believe that my capacity for service will grow by use? Is it not a very noble and unselfish reward for having in any measure done my duty here, that I should be able to do it more effectually and happily hereafter? Let us watch, then, for the coming and kingdom of Christ; let us cherish the pure, unselfish hope that, if we serve Him in this life, He will serve us in the life to come, and serve us most and best of all by making us more capable and accomplished servants.—Cox.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Luke 12:35-38
Luke 12:35. Preparedness.—
1. “Loins girt about”—to run with speed and freedom to meet his Lord.
2. “Lights burning”—to run with safety.
Ready for the Road.
I. Christ enjoins the disciples to be ready and equipped for the journey, that they may pass rapidly through the world, and may seek no fixed abode or resting-place but in heaven.
II. As they are surrounded on all sides by darkness, so long as they remain in the world, He furnishes them with lamps, as persons who are to perform a journey during the night. The first recommendation is to run vigorously, and the next is to have clear information as to the road, that believers may not weary themselves to no purpose, by going astray.—Calvin.
Luke 12:36. “Watch.” The state of mind here commended consists
(1) of an ever-present thought of God and of our responsibility towards Him, and
(2) of an anticipation of the future coming of Him who is our Saviour and Judge.
“Open immediately.”—The watchful Christian is one who would not be over-agitated if he found that Christ was coming at once. Few will thus open immediately. They will have something to do first; they will have to get ready. They will need time to collect themselves, and summon about them their better thoughts and affections.—Newman.
“Wait for their Lord.”
I. With eager longing.
II. With joyous expectation. “Immediately.” At the first sound of His knock.
Christ’s Second Coming.—Christ returns to all from the heavenly wedding at the end of the world, when He has taken to Himself His Bride, the Church; to each individual He comes, when He stands suddenly before a man at the hour of death.—Theophylact.
Luke 12:37. Different Effects Produced by Christ’s Coming.—Among the professed servants of Christ, though all will be more or less be taken by surprise when He comes, some
(1) will be able to receive Him at once and with glad welcome; but some
(2) though faithful in the main, will be somewhat unprepared, and unable to greet Him with full cordiality; while some
(3) will be overwhelmed with confusion at their utter unfaithfulness being brought to light.
The Blessedness of the Faithful.
I. The momentary separation is closed, and they are admitted to closer fellowship with their Lord.
II. He transforms them from servants into honoured guests.
III. He bestows upon them the administration of all His possessions.
Luke 12:38. “Blessed are those servants.”—The more tardy His arrival, the greater is His satisfaction with those servants whom He finds watching. Christ here plainly teaches that His second coming will be very much more distant than the apostles themselves thought, and that the patience and faith of His servants who look for Him will be put to a severe test. The same fact of delay is alluded to in the parables of the Ten Virgins and of the Talents (Matthew 25:5; Matthew 25:19).
By the omission of the first and fourth watches, Christ seems to hint that His second coming will not be
(1) so soon as impatience expects, nor
(2) so late as carelessness supposes.
Luke 12:39-40. A Serious Crisis for Some.—The Parousia, that event so glorious and so welcome to the faithful servants of Jesus, is for the world a serious and dread crisis. He who returns is not only a Master well-beloved, who gives to each that which he has sacrificed for Him, but also a thief, who will then take away all that they have not been able to guard.—Godet.
The Prepared and the Unprepared.—Those ready find Him a friend: only those not ready find His coming as uncomfortable as that of a thief.
Luke 12:41. Then Peter said.—The high reward promised, rather than the duty enjoined, was in Peter’s thoughts, and involved a certain measure of danger against which Christ warns him. It is noticeable that his question is not answered directly, but by implication. “Jesus continues His teaching as if He took no account of Peter’s question; but in reality He gives such a turn to the warning which follows about watchfulness, that it includes the precise answer to the question” (Godet). Cf. chap. Luke 19:25-26; John 14:22-23, for a similar mode of answering questions. The reply of Christ is virtually that the larger the powers and opportunities entrusted to any servant, the greater is the degree of watchfulness which he needs to exercise, lest he should either neglect or abuse them.
Luke 12:42. Portion of meat.—Cf. the description of the duties of presbyters, or elders, in Acts 20:28.
Luke 12:44. Ruler over all.—Probably referring to the history of Joseph (Genesis 39:4).
Luke 12:46. Cut him in sunder.—I.e., put him to death in this manner. Cf. 1 Chronicles 20:3; Daniel 2:5. Unbelievers.—Matthew 24:51 has “hypocrites.”
Luke 12:47. Prepared not himself.—Rather, “made not ready”—i.e., the things required (R.V.).
Luke 12:48. But he that knew not.—The justice of the procedure is not quite so obvious in this case as in the preceding. “Such a servant cannot remain unpunished—not because he has not obeyed his Lord’s will (for that was unknown to him), but because he has done that for which he deserved to be punished” (Meyer). Ask the more.—I.e., than from others to whom less has been entrusted. Cf. with the teaching of this passage Romans 2:12-15, in which the principle it states is applied to the Gentile world.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Luke 12:41-49
Watching for the King.—There are many comings of the Son of Man before His coming in final judgment, and the nearer and smaller ones are themselves prophecies. So we do not need to settle the chronology of unfulfilled prophecy in order to get the full benefit of Christ’s teachings here. In its moral and spiritual effect on us, the uncertainty of the time of our going to Christ is nearly identical with the uncertainty of the time of His coming to us.
I. Watchfulness because of our ignorance of the time of His coming.—What is this watchfulness? It is, literally, wakefulness. We are beset by perpetual temptations to sleep, to spiritual drowsiness and torpor. Without continued effort our perception of the unseen realities, and our alertness for service, will be lulled to sleep. Christ bases His command on our ignorance of the time of His coming. It was His purpose that from generation to generation His servants should be kept in the attitude of expectation, as of an event that might come at any time, and must come at some time. The parallel uncertainty of the time of death, though not what is meant here, serves the same moral end, if rightly used, and is exposed to the same danger of being neglected, because of the very uncertainty, which ought to be one chief reason for keeping it ever in view. Any future event which combines these two things—absolute certainty that it will happen, and utter uncertainty when it will happen—ought to have power to insist on being remembered, at least till it is prepared for, and would have, if men were not so foolish. Christ’s coming would be often contemplated if it were more welcome. But what sort of servant is he who has no glow of gladness at the thought of meeting his lord? True Christians are “all them that have loved His appearing.”
II. The picture and reward of watchfulness.—It is to be observed that watchfulness is not mentioned in this portraiture of the watchful servant. It is pre-supposed as the basis and motive of his service. So we learn the double lesson, that the attitude of continual outlook for the Lord is needed if we are to discharge the tasks which He has set us, and that the true effect of watchfulness is to harness us to the car of duty. A Church or a soul which has ceased to be looking for Him will have let all its tasks drop from its drowsy hands, and will feel the power of other constraining motives of Christian service but faintly, as in a half-dream. On the other hand, true waiting for Him is best expressed in the quiet discharge of accustomed and appointed tasks. The right place for the servant to be found, when the Lord comes, is “so doing” as He commands, however secular the task may be. Observe, further, the interrogative form of the parable. The question is the sharp point which gives penetrating power, and suggests Christ’s high estimate of the worth and difficulty of such conduct, and sets us to ask for ourselves, “Lord, is it I?” The servant is “faithful,” inasmuch as he does his Lord’s will, and rightly uses the goods entrusted to him; and “wise,” inasmuch as he is “faithful.” For a single-hearted devotion to Christ is the parent of insight into duty, and the best guide to conduct; and whoever seeks only to be true to his lord in the use of his gifts and possessions, will not lack prudence to guide him in giving to each his food, and that in due season. Such faithfulness and wisdom (which are, at bottom, but two names for one course of conduct) find their motive in that watchfulness which works as ever in the great Taskmaster’s eye, and as ever keeping in view His coming, and its rendering account to Him. The reward is, that faithfulness in a narrower sphere leads to a wider. The reward for true work is more work, of nobler sort and on a grander scale. That is true for earth and for heaven. If we do His will here, we shall one day exchange the subordinate place of the steward for the authority of the ruler, and the toil of the servant for the joy of the Lord.
III. The picture and doom of the unwatchful servant.—This portrait presupposes that a long period will elapse before Christ comes. The dimming over of the expectation, and doubt of the firmness, of the promise is the natural product of the long time of apparent delay which the Church has had to encounter. It will cloud and depress the religion of later ages, unless there be constant effort to resist the tendency and to keep awake. It was an “evil” servant who said so in his heart. He was evil because he said it, and he said it because he was evil; for the yielding to sin and the withdrawal of love from Jesus dim the desire for His coming, and make the whisper that He delays a hope; while, on the other hand, the hope that He delays helps to open the sluices, and let sin flood the life. So an outburst of cruel masterfulness and of riotous sensuality is the consequence of the dimmed expectation. The corruptions of the Church, especially of its official members, are traced with sad and prescient hand in these foreboding words, which are none the less a prophecy because cast by His forbearing gentleness in the milder form of a supposition. The dreadful doom of the unwatchful servant is cast into a form of awful severity. The cruel punishment of sawing asunder is his. What concealed terror of retribution it signifies, we do not know. At all events, it shadows a dreadful retribution, which is not extinction, inasmuch as, in the next clause, we read that his portion—his lot, or that condition which belongs to him by virtue of his character—is with the unbelievers. That is not the punishment of unwatchfulness, but of what unwatchfulness leads to, if unawakened. Let these words of the King ring an alarm for us all, and rouse our sleepy souls to watch, as becomes the children of the day.—Maclaren.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Luke 12:41-49
Luke 12:41. “Then Peter.”—This apostle was the one who afterwards most needed the admonition (Matthew 26:41), and in so sad a manner forgot it. Those who stand in most danger are often slowest to profit by words of warning.
Luke 12:42. “Faithful and wise.”—Faithful comes before wise, because the true wisdom of the heart comes from faithfulness. Motives to faithfulness:—
I. Love.—Which is sufficient of itself.
II. But where love is defective, considerations of prudence—a salutary fear, which Christ here commends to us.
The portion of steward in the kingdom of God is—
I. One of honour.
II. One of usefulness.
III. One of responsibility.
Luke 12:43. “Blessed.”—I. He is already blessed in his deed.
II. It is a new and increased blessedness so to be found of his lord.
III. He is promised a high promotion, from a few things to many things.
Luke 12:45-48. Punishment of evildoers is here represented—
I. As no mere affectionate chastisement for the moral reformation of the erring, but as just retribution.
II. As varying in degree according to the guilt incurred—according to the measure of knowledge the servants had of their Lord’s will, and the measure of their disobedience.
Luke 12:45-46. Carelessness:—
I. Trusting to a longer delay of the Master.
II. The ease with which carelessness leads to unbridled insolence and dissoluteness.
III. The severe punishment of such carelessness.
Luke 12:45. Negligence.—Negligence leads to two great sins:—
I. Hardness and caprice towards others.
II. Slothfulness and wantonness as respects the servant himself.
Luke 12:46. A Divided Heart.—The heart of the negligent sinner is divided between the duty he owes and the vicious indulgences he is determined to have; his punishment corresponds to his fault—“will cut him in sunder.”
Answer to Peter’s Question.—It is not difficult for Peter to draw from these two pictures of the faithful and the unfaithful steward the answer to his question. Yes, watchfulness, with the fidelity which results from it, is a sacred duty for all believers, but it is still more incumbent upon those of them who are honoured with the special confidence of their Master, and charged with the superintendence of their fellow-servants, as Peter and the other apostles were shortly to be. Their fidelity would receive a glorious recompense; but their neglect would be esteemed still more culpable than that of others, and would draw upon them a severer chastisement.—Godet.
Luke 12:47. A Warning to Rulers in the Church.—It ought to be remembered that those who are appointed to govern the Church do not err through ignorance, but basely and wickedly defraud their Master of His right.—Calvin.
Ignorance no Excuse.—Ignorance does not free from condemnation; for—
1. If we seek to know God’s will, we may discover it.
2. Ignorance is always accompanied by gross and shameful negligence.
Luke 12:49. I am come.—Rather, “I came” (R.V.). The tense refers to the historical fact of the Incarnation. Note in this the consciousness of pre-existence, as also of a heavenly origin in the last clause of the verse. Fire.—As a symbol of discord and violence. What will I, etc.—It is difficult to make out the precise meaning of the words. Probably the best rendering of them is—“And what will I?” (what do I desire now?) “O that it were already kindled!”
Luke 12:50. A baptism.—Cf. Matthew 20:22. To be plunged or immersed in sufferings. Straitened.—Pressed, distracted. Cf. John 12:27. A premonition of Gethsemane and Calvary.
Luke 12:51. Division.—Matthew 10:34 has “a sword.”
Luke 12:52. For from henceforth.—A better reading is, “For there shall be from henceforth five in one house divided,” etc. Three against two, etc.—I.e., the younger generation against the older.
Luke 12:53. The father, etc.—The five members of the household are here specified: father, mother, son, daughter, and daughter-in-law.
Luke 12:54. To the people.—Rather, “to the multitudes”; from which we would understand that the preceding words had been specially addressed to the disciples. He warns them also that the time is critical, upbraids them with spiritual blindness, for not being able to see it (Luke 12:54-57), and urges them to make, each one, at once, his peace with God (Luke 12:58-59). A cloud. Perhaps, rather, “the cloud,” the well-known prognostic of rain (1 Kings 18:44). In Palestine the rains come up from the Mediterranean. Straightway.—Rapid and certain conclusion as to the weather.
Luke 12:55. South wind.—Coming across the desert. Heat.—Rather “a scorching heat” (R.V.).
Luke 12:56. Hypocrites.—The insincerity lay in the fact that they chose not to see signs which were equally visible with those of the weather. “Among these signs were miracles (Isaiah 35:4-6); the political condition (Genesis 49:10); the preaching of the Baptist” (Matthew 3:0) (Farrar).
Luke 12:57. Yea and why.—“Even apart from signs, from the declaration of prophets, ye might, from what ye hear and see, recognise the signs of the times, and the person of the Messiah in Me” (Bloomfield).
Luke 12:58. When thou goest, etc.—The figure is that of coming to an agreement with a creditor on the way to the court. Officer.—The gaoler, lit. “the exactor,” whose duty it was to compel payment of the debt.
Luke 12:59. Mite.—The smallest Greek coin then in use.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Luke 12:49-59.
The Signs of the Times.—The fact that in the mission and work of Christ upon earth a new epoch in the world’s history had opened was clearly realised by the Saviour Himself; it was, however, but imperfectly comprehended by His disciples, and quite hidden from the people at large. In this section of the gospel history Jesus gives expression to His own feelings of concern at the greatness of the work given Him to do, and the sufferings through which alone He could bring it to a successful issue. He then forewarns the disciples of the sharp conflict between faith and unbelief which would result in every community where the gospel was preached; and, finally, He upbraids the multitude with the spiritual blindness which prevented their recognising the significance and solemnity of the times in which they were living.
I. The actual state of matters so far as it concerned Himself (Luke 12:49-50).—The conflict with the Pharisees was an indication of a widespread war between the forces of good and evil, which was to result from His work on earth. The fire-brand had been cast upon the earth, and from it a great conflagration would ensue. He had kindled in the hearts of the disciples a love of heavenly things, which they were to spread abroad; and all the efforts of the earthly-minded would be directed to oppose and extinguish it. And He recognises that one of the results of this conflict will be sufferings and death for Himself; nay, He realises the fact that His passion is needed for completing the work which He came to earth to accomplish. Without the cross His teachings and His miracles would fail to produce the great change on human society which it was His purpose to effect. This utterance of His strikingly illustrates the union in Him of the human and the Divine natures. With genuinely human feelings He shrinks from the conflict, but with Divine knowledge and love He anticipates the results that will flow from His self-sacrifice, and longs for it to be accomplished. These mingled feelings recur in a more intense form at a later period of His life (John 12:27; Matthew 26:38), but were never entirely absent from His mind during the whole period of His public ministry. The fact that He so clearly foresaw the sufferings and death which were attached to His redeeming work brings into clearest relief His love for mankind and His devotion to the will of the Father.
II. The disciples forewarned of their participation in the strife (Luke 12:51-53).—They were probably anticipating the erection of a Messianic kingdom, characterised by peace and prosperity of a material kind, and needed to be prepared for a very different state of matters. Peace was not to be the first and immediate result of His work, if by peace was to be understood comfortable outward conditions of life. The peace which He bequeathed to His disciples was a state of heart: being delivered from bondage and fear, and reconciled to God. The relation which Jesus sought to establish between Himself and all who accepted Him as their Lord and Saviour was higher and more sacred than any other, and acknowledgment of His unique claims was certain to lead to conflict, not only between Himself and the world, but between the members of human society. Men would begin to distinguish themselves as adversaries and subjects of His kingdom. And it is one proof of the profound significance of Christ’s work in the world that this strife should spring up wherever the gospel is preached. Men feel that they have to do with One whose claims override all others and extend to every department of life; and if these claims are not accepted they provoke resistance. And every one who accepts Christ as Lord and Master needs to keep in mind that He insists upon absolute devotion to Himself, even if this means the rupture of the nearest and dearest ties that bind him to his fellows.
III. The multitude upbraided for their blindness and heedlessness (Luke 12:54-59).—Jesus now turns to the people at large, who do not realise the gravity of the circumstances in which they are placed, and who are plunged in carnal security and impenitence. He upbraids them with their blindness to the importance of the crisis, and urges them to take advantage of the time which yet remains to them for making their peace with God. He contrasts the shrewdness and prudence which they display in the ordinary affairs of life with their slowness to comprehend the things that concern their spiritual welfare. The real explanation of the discrepancy is that they are interested in things that concern their earthly welfare, but are indifferent to their highest welfare. A sinful heart means a darkened understanding (cf. Romans 1:21; Ephesians 4:18). The very appearance of Christ upon the earth pointed to the necessity of reconciliation with God: it was to effect this that He came, and therefore indifference to Him and to His teaching meant exposing oneself to the greatest danger. All who heard Him had the opportunity of becoming reconciled to Him whom they had offended, and whose claims they could not of themselves satisfy. Let them beware of allowing the day of grace to pass, and of compelling God to deal with them according to the strict demands of justice.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Luke 12:49-59
Luke 12:49-53. The Conflict.—My conflict hastens apace; Mine over, yours begins; and then let the servants tread in their Master’s steps, uttering their testimony entire and fearless, neither loving nor dreading the world, anticipating awful wrenches of the dearest ties in life, but looking forward, as I do, to the completion of their testimony, when, after the tempest, reaching the haven, they shall enter into the joy of their Lord.—Brown.
The Critical Nature of the Time.—The critical nature of the time
(1) as concerned Jesus Himself—Luke 12:49-50,
(2) as concerned the disciples (Luke 12:50-53). “Is it a time,” said Elisha to the faithless Gehazi, “to buy lands and oxen, when the hand of God is on Israel?”—that is to say, when the Assyrian is at the gates of Samaria? Jesus speaks in the same way to the disciples about Him, “Is it a time for the believer to propose, as the aim of his life, the peaceful enjoyment of worldly property, at the moment when the great conflict is about to begin?”—Godet.
Luke 12:49. “Fire on the Earth.”—By “fire” here we are to understand the higher spiritual element of life which Jesus came to introduce into this earth, with reference to its mighty effects in quickening all that is akin to it, and destroying all that is opposed. To cause this element of life to take up its abode on earth, and wholly to pervade human hearts with its warmth, was the lofty destiny of the Redeemer.—Brown.
The Gospel a Fire.—Our Lord says here, in the plainest way, that while the object of His coming is to give peace, the effect of His coming will too often be to send fire on earth.
I. The text calls the gospel a fire.—A fire is a power. How fire spreads, glows, rages, devours! When the gospel is called a fire, we mean not a name, an idea, a poor faint, creeping thing, which may be disregarded and let alone, but a great, active, at last a victorious and irresistible force. Never suppose that the gospel is an insignificant or despicable thing.
II. There are hearts and places in which the gospel is not a fire.—There are families where the gospel in the heart of one causes discord and division. The only alternative must be the backsliding of the one, or the conversion of the rest. So long as the gospel is not a power, it is not a fire; it causes no breach and no division. Therefore we are constrained to wish for such signs of its working. The fire is the sign of the peace. If there be no fire, the gospel will be a mere balm, a mere soporific, a mere lullaby of the soul.
III. What is the lesson of the text for each of us?—Is the concord of our homes due to the gospel? Is serving Christ the secret of family union? Let the fire be a fire of cleansing, and a fire of quickening, and a fire of devotion. Is your home disorganised? What has divided you? Was it the fire of the gospel which severed? Are you intolerant of the devotion and service which others render to Christ? It must needs be that the gospel divides; but woe to them by whom that division comes! We do not wish to spread division by the gospel; but even if this be the effect, we recognise there one of the signs of the work of grace. Division is a sign that life is there. It means an end to fatal lethargy. It is the work of the ministry to bring the gospel home. It is something to have it preached in our churches; it is more to have it preached, even to dispeace and division, in our homes.—Vaughan.
“Already Kindled.”—The disciples having falsely imagined that, while they were at ease and asleep, the kingdom of God would come, Christ declares, on the contrary, that there must first be a dreadful conflagration, to kindle the world. And as some beginnings of it were, even then, making their appearance, Christ encourages the disciples by the very consideration that they already feel the power of the gospel. “When great commotions,” says He, “shall already begin to kindle, this is so far from being a reason why ye should tremble, that it is rather a ground of strong confidence; and, for my own part, I rejoice that this fruit of my labours is visible.”—Calvin.
“To send fire.”—“Everything fertile in results is rich in wars” (Renan). The fire when it burns on all sides consumes chaff and straw, but purifies silver and gold.
Luke 12:50. The Passover before the Passion.—Jesus expresses with perfect candour the emotion that fills His mind. The thought of the terrible suffering He is to endure is before His mind, and weighs upon Him like a nightmare until it is over. The first evidence of this feeling is in this passage; a second time it comes to view while He is in the temple (John 12:27)—“Now is My soul troubled; and what shall I say?” A third time it breaks forth in all its vehemence in the garden of Gethsemane.
The Secret of the Saviour’s Earnestness.—
1. His belief in a Divine commission.
2. His belief in the solemnity of time. We, too, however, have a mission to fulfil, and our time for fulfilling it is appointed and proportioned by God. If these convictions possessed our souls, would they not kindle a Christlike earnestness?
(1) They would dispel the delusions of time.
(2) They would overcome the hindrances to submission.
(3) They would break down the impediments of fear.—Hull.
Luke 12:51-53. The Gospel an Occasion of Division.
I. The fact that the gospel of Christ shall be the occasion of division and contention in the world is easily verified. The heart of every believer is an example. The history of the gospel in every country into which it has been introduced establishes it.
II. The causes of the division. Hatred of the truth; hatred of a holiness which rebukes sin; hatred of authority such as the gospel claims.
III. Results of this division. The world is convinced of sin. The faith and patience of believers are called forth and strengthened.
Luke 12:51. “Peace.”—This saying may distress weak minds; for
(1) the prophets everywhere promise peace and tranquillity under the reign of Christ, and
(2) Christ is our peace (Ephesians 2:14), and the very office of the gospel is to reconcile us to God. But we must remember that this peace is associated with faith, and exists only in the hearts and consciences of the godly. The corrupt nature converts the inestimable gift into a most destructive evil.
The Result of Christ’s Coming.—Our Lord speaks not of the intention with which He came into the world, but of the sad result of His coming, which was to be (owing to the corruption of man’s fallen nature) strife and division.
Luke 12:52. Strife Sometimes Better than Peace.—Better is strife, when it brings one near to God, than peace, when it separates one from God.—Gregory Naz.
Luke 12:54-59.—Two Great Faults:—
I. Blindness, in not being able to discern the significance of this time, as they did the signs of the natural heavens (Luke 12:54-56).
II. Want of prudence in not repenting and becoming reconciled to the law of God while yet there was time (Luke 12:57-59).
Luke 12:57-59. The True State of the Case.—Why do ye not discern of yourselves your true state—that which is just—the justice of your case as before God? You are going (the course of your life is your journey) with your adversary (the just and holy law of God) before the magistrate (God Himself); therefore by the way take pains to be delivered from him (by repentance and faith in the Son of God), lest he drag thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the exactor, and the exactor cast thee into prison.—Alford.
Luke 12:58-59. “When thou goest,” etc.—Our Saviour seems to say: In a merely temporal matter, you are careful to act thus prudently. While the day of mercy yet lasts, should you not discover the like anxiety to avail yourselves of it? through Me to obtain deliverance from the wrath of God, before it be too late?—Burgon.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Luke 12". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Easter