17 Feb 2008
"Summoned to Be Humble"
Printed Text: Luke 14:1, 7-14
Background Scripture: Luke 14:1-14
Devotional Reading: Psalm 25:1-10
LUKE 14:1; 7-14
LUKE 14:1 And it came to pass, as he went into the house of one of the chief Phar'i-sees to eat bread on the sabbath day, that they watched him
7 And he put forth a parable to those which were bidden, when he marked how they chose out the chief rooms; saying unto them,
8 When thou art bidden of any man to a wedding, sit not down in the highest room; lest a more honourable man than thou be bidden of him;
9 And he that bade thee and him come and say to thee, Give this man place; and thou begin with shame to take the lowest room.
10 But when thou art bidden, go and sit down in the lowest room; that when he that bade thee cometh, he may say unto thee, Friend, go up higher: then shalt thou have worship in the presence of them that sit at meat with thee.
11 For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.
12 Then said he also to him that bade him, When thou makest a dinner or a supper, call not thy friends, nor thy brethren, neither thy kinsmen, nor thy rich neighbours; lest they also bid thee again, and a recompence be made thee.
13 But when thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind:
14 And thou shalt be blessed; for they cannot recompense thee: for thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just.
One of the most common manifestations of our sinful nature is pride. Even though God's Word tells us we have nothing of which to boast, we all find ways to think of ourselves in elevated terms.
Some glory in their physical attractiviness, intelligence, their national heritage or racial background. Many take pride in their wealth and the status symbols it brings. Even those who have little wealth find reasons to think of themselves as better than others they know. Many like to look down on those with more obvious sins, without verbalizing it.
Pride shows itself in religion as well. Many take pride in their church doctrine and anyone that disagrees is not as good as them. They glory in having "the truth" and despise and ridicule those who do not. Pride is what keeps some from receiving God's salvation, for they do not want to admit they need it. There are some in our churches who are proud of their service, faithfulness, prayer, preaching, singing, giving and witnessing.
In Jesus' day the Pharisees were impressed with themselves. The incident in this week's lesson brought His rebuke and a summons to humility.
Luke 14 is set within a period of time that some call "the later Perean ministry" of Jesus. Luke 13:22-19:28 is the most comprehensive of the four Gospel accounts in documenting this period of time. In Luke 14, Jesus stopped for Sabbath-day dinner at the home of an unnamed Pharisee, an important religious leader in his community. As we read the chapter, we realize that this was not a simple matter of hospitality. The Pharisee and his comrades were testing Jesus.
Two years earlier, Jesus had challenged the Pharisees on two important points. First, He had been willing to share meals with people the Pharisees saw as unacceptable (see Luke 5:30). Second, Jesus had shown that laws regarding the keeping of Sabbath were not to be understood absolutely (see Luke 6:2). More recently, Jesus had denounced the practices of the Pharisees and other religious leaders in no uncertain terms (Luke 11:37-52).
As a result, the Pharisees began "to provoke him to speak of many things: laying wait for him, and seeking to catch something out of his mouth, that they might accuse him" (Luke 11:53, 54).
The Pharisees had labeled Him as a Sabbath-breaker, one who followed the Jewish law in a careless, casual manner (see Luke 13:14). In short, they saw Jesus as one who ran with a bad crowd and had no respect for the law.
To show how Jesus taught proud Pharisees and others to be humble in their relationships with people.
To point out that God humbles the proud and exalts the humble.
To persuade Christians to obey God and give preferential treatment to others.
Humility Through Watching Jesus
1. How did the Pharisee party originate? What were their emphases in Jesus' day?
This week's passage finds Jesus in he house of a prominent Pharisee. The term "Pharisee" means "separated one." This group can be traced back to at least the second century B.C. It probably began as a legitimate attempt to protect the Jews against the influences of Greek pagan culture. Pharisees did this by constructing a barrier of oral traditions around the law of Moses to keep it from being violated. This set of traditions continued to expand until, by Jesus' day, it overshadowed the law itself.
During Jesus' lifetime the Pharisees were the largest and most influential Jewish sect. They were revered for their knowledge of Scripture, and people took seriously their traditions, which by this time affected every area of life. But the Pharisees had departed from their original purpose and made legalistic observances an end in themselves. They had also become proud of their separation - not only from paganism but from ordinary people as well.
2. Why did the Pharisees in our lesson watch Jesus carefully? (Luke 14:1)
Jesus has been invited to the house of a prominent "Pharisee" on the sabbath day. This is a banquet-style meal with many guests. Luke lets the reader know that this meal is not intended to honor Jesus or to hear Him teach. It is a contrived situation where the Pharisees watch Jesus closely. In other words, they are testing Him in order to find a flaw. This may be "payback" for the recent event where they had been shamed by Jesus (Luke 13:17 or John 10:22-39). But instead of finding an inconsistency in Jesus' words and actions, they are about to learn a powerful lesson in humility.
Humility Through Choice
3. What did Jesus observe about those who attended the meal? (v. 7)
Having silenced the Pharisees in His healing of the ill man, Jesus continued to take the initiative. They had been watching Him, but He had done some watching of His own. "He marked how they chose out the chief rooms (places)." Diners in New Testament times reclined on couches around a low table. The couches were arranged around the table in the shape of a U. The host was at the bottom of the U, with honored guests to his right and left.
Jesus observed that the guests sought out these honored places; so He told them what Luke called a parable. This is not a full-blown story parable but a set of instructions that have applications to both earthly and spiritual relationships. It teaches humility, before both others and God.
4. What are some practical ways we can care for the poor and needy? What cautions are we to be aware of?
Giving money directly to a poor person is rarely a good idea. It is better to give the person what he or she actually needs. So instead of giving money to buy food, give the food itself. A benevolence program that is well thought out and "intentional" is better than a stopgap program that is improvised as needs arise. See cautions in 2 Thessalonians 3:10 and 1 Timothy 5:3-11.
Remember that the reason we give is to benefit the person who is in need, not to be recompensed later somehow. Giving to meet needs may have to be sacrificial at times; this will involve giving more than mere leftovers and hand-me-downs. Also, some giving may be in terms of time and demonstration of genuine concern.
5. What was the danger in taking the highest place at the banquet? (vs. 8-9)
Jesus, perhaps to avoid direct reference to the present meal, pictured persons who had been invited to a wedding feast. He advised His hearers not to take the highest places, assuming that they were worthy to occupy them. This was, of course, one of the Pharisees' besetting sins. As He pointed out in regard to another parable, they "trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others" (Luke 18:9). And those righteous before God deserved honor from people.
It is hard to imagine persons matter-of-factly assuming that they deserve this kind of recognition. Yet true stories still circulate of prominent church members who lay claim to the most noticeable pews, the most convenient parking spaces, or the solo parts in the Christmas cantata. They feel entitled to recognition, and their feelings are hurt if they do not get it.
One who assumes such honor, said Jesus, leaves himself vulnerable, for a more distinguished person may have been invited. If he arrives after other guests have taken their places, the host will then have to tell the presumptuous guest to give up his place to the new arrival.
What an embarrassment! The proud man is forced, in the presence of all, to leave the eminent place and move to the last position at the end of the table. Jesus stated the humiliation vividly. The man, now humiliated, would have to take the least important seat.
6. Is it disgraceful to have a lowly position? Explain. (v. 10)
According to Jesus, there is nothing disgraceful about occupying a lowly position. In verse 10, Jesus states that when one is invited to an event, he should sit in the lowest seat and wait to be asked to come and sit in a higher seat and not think that he deserves the high seat upon arrival. One should feel no shame occupying a low position. It is shameful only to someone who has the pomposity to believe he deserves something better. As Jesus counseled the guests, he encouraged them to "sit down in the lowest room (place)" and him who invited you may extend a friendly invitation for you to take a seat up higher.
7. How does the principle in the parable apply to God's kingdom? (v. 11)
In summary, through His parable, Jesus' was merely teaching that if promotion is warranted, it is better that it comes from someone other than oneself. Jesus also concluded His parable with a principle that applies to both human and divine relationships. The one who exalts himself will be humbled, while the one who humbles himself will be exalted.
In human affairs this principle operates only imperfectly, for many who exalt themselves seem to enjoy fame and fortune until the end of their lives. On the other hand, many of us can cite examples of those who have ridden the wave of self-importance only to crash on the shoals of criminality, financial ruin, or social ostracism.
In relationship with God, Jesus' principle operates with precision; there are no exceptions. In His kingdom God, like the host in the parable, will do some rearranging. Those who consider themselves worthy will be rejected, while those who have known their unworthiness and have asked for His mercy will be accepted (cf. Luke 18:9-14).
If only the humble will enter Christ's kingdom, only the humble will further His kingdom as well. We Christians must remember that we too are susceptible to the temptation to glory in rank. Too often we want to be known by our house or neighborhood, our car, our associations, our friends, our clothes, or even our church. But these things do not impress God (cf. Luke 22:24-27; Jas. 4:10; 1 Pet. 5:6).
Humility Through Service
8. Whom did the Pharisees usually invite to their meals? Why? (v. 12)
After Jesus addressed the Pharisees as a group, he then turned to the host. He advised him to broaden his guest list when preparing a meal. The normal social tendency was to invite only those from one's own circle-friends, relatives, and neighbors as rich as oneself because they knew some where down the road, they would be invited somewhere by this same group of attendees.
In other words, they were looking for something in return for them inviting the attendees that were selected. When Jesus urged the host not to invite these people, He was not totally excluding them from hospitality. But He knew that these were usually the only ones invited. He was pointing out the Pharisees' notoriously cliquish attitude and practices.
9. Whom did Jesus advise them to invite to their banquets? (v. 13)
Jesus exhorted them to invite "the poor, the maimed, the lame, and the blind" (cf. v. 21). The event to which he was to invite them was not just an ordinary meal, but a feast, or banquet. Nothing could have been more abhorrent to most Pharisees, for they attributed the plight of these people to their sin. To mingle with these undesirables at the table was unthinkable. Jesus was trying to get the Pharisees to see the error of their ways.
The Pharisees only associated themselves with those who fit into their clique or association. Jesus wanted them to step outside of themselves and consider those whom normally they would have nothing to do with. Showing hospitality to the undesirables of society, said Jesus, would bring a blessing. It would break the cycle of repayment and exchange, for these people would have no means of compensating the one who invited them. Thus, with no expectation of earthly reward, the host would manifest God's love for mankind without discrimination.
10. When will one be rewarded for unselfish acts of love? (v. 14)
Displaying unselfish acts of love brings no earthly reward. However, it does not go unnoticed. The person who shows unselfish acts of love will be "recompensed at the resurrection of the just (righteous)" (Luke 14:14). The Lord Himself will reward, for even a cup of cold water given in His name will not be ignored (Matt. 10:42). This is but an example of the principle that the one who humbles himself will be exalted.
We must not conclude from this that God will grant eternal life to those who do good deeds for the helpless it is noteworthy that the reward comes at the resurrection of the just. This is a resurrection reserved for those whom God has declared righteous (Dan. 12:2; Acts 24:15; 1 Cor. 15:23; Rev. 20:4-6). And this righteousness is granted only to those who claim it by faith (cf. Rom. 3:21-28). Good deeds are not the means but the fruit of salvation.
Pride has many faces, and they are all ugly. Pride may display itself in claiming the highest place and the greatest recognition, showing concern only for one's own social class and disdain for others, or refusing to lower oneself and accept Jesus' gracious salvation. This teaching of Jesus embodies the truth later expressed by James: "God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble" (Jas. 4:6).
Jews in ancient times had the notion that character and behavior determined prosperity, and they considered themselves righteous enough to be divinely blessed. This tended to make them somewhat disdainful of poor people. Jesus loved the poverty-stricken and sought to help them. He expected His privileged followers to do the same.
Acts of generosity and service that are designed to garner public attention can do a great deal of good. However, Jesus teaches us that such behavior ultimately is self-serving, and we should not expect God to reward us for them. Nor should we expect to be rewarded by those we serve. Service driven by a humble spirit will persevere, even in the face of ingratitude. True, a thank you makes this path easier to travel, but even this reward should not be expected.
Our greatest example of a humble servant is Jesus himself. Paul tells us that before Jesus' incarnation, He shared equality with God the Father. Yet Jesus did not consider this something to be hoarded or protected. Instead, Paul writes, Jesus assumed a human likeness, the form of a servant. Although a rightful king, Jesus humbled himself and went to the cross obediently, taking on the sins of the world as a sacrifice (Philippians 2:5-8). The result of this is God's exaltation of Jesus above all others (Philippians 2:9). Although we will not be exalted in this way, God promises to reward us too-if we choose the life of a humble servant.
Lord, give us hearts that seek to serve without a desire for honor or recognition. Give us hearts that are satisfied with the pleasures of doing Your will and receiving praise from You. Give us hearts that are humble and able to adjust readily to Your will. We pray this in the name of the great servant, Jesus, Your Son, amen.
THOUGHT TO REMEMBER
God honors humble service.