Luke 18:1–14 . . . Bible Study Summary with Videos and Questions
Persistent and Prayerful Parables
In today's parable-rich passage, Jesus will share two more Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth (B.I.B.L.E.). In light of difficult days today and ahead, our normal mind-set often is to lose heart and give up. But Jesus will encourage his disciples (including every one of us) that the cure for our losing heart is a tried-and-true remedy: persistent personal prayer. Thus, in the face of the many political, emotional, and spiritual hurdles that we face, we should pray because (a) prayer will keep us in touch with God, to prevent us from giving up on those difficult days before his second coming, and (b) prayer will show God our heart.
"Then Jesus told his disciples a parable" is how today's text begins. Luke records sixteen parables in his gospel. Today, we'll look at the eleventh and twelfth parables. A parable is taken from nature or some human condition, in order to teach a spiritual principle within the kingdom of God. Jesus shared parables with his disciples so that they could understand the deep mysteries of the kingdom of God and how he was working on the earth (Matthew 13). But with unbelieving crowds and the Pharisees, he taught in parables to hide spiritual truth as a form of judgment (Matt. 13:34–35).
Prayer Will Keep Us in Touch with God (vv. 1–8)
"Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up". In view of difficult days that lay ahead for the Lord and his disciples, Jesus instructed them to go back to the basic truth about their relationship with their heavenly Father and his desire to bring the kingdom of heaven to this wicked and fallen world through his Son as well as these disciples. He had taught them earlier to pray: ". . . your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven" (Matthew 6:10). This was followed by the encouragement, recorded in the Parables of the Friend at Midnight and the Persistent Widow (11:5–13), that if they'd place their faith in their heavenly Father, not only would he hear their deepest needs, but he'd also answer their request.
When he said they must "always pray," Jesus wasn't asking the disciples to pray like a Tibetan priest prays by turning a prayer wheel. What he was saying was that, as we're confronted with rejection and injustice while ministering and waiting for his second coming, we should continue to ask God to protect us and other believers, asking him to provide all the resources necessary to confront our present realities. Jesus set the model for his disciples by demonstrating a lifestyle of prayer.
Prepare your minds and spirits by the power of the Holy Spirit so that when you come before your loving heavenly Father in prayer, your thinking will be sound and your spirit won't be drunk with anxiety over your circumstances. The spiritual principle starting with v. 1 is clear: Within our present reality, our risen Lord is still saying, The Kingdom of God is among you. Salvation is still being offered to mankind in the midst of a corrupt and fallen world. Keep in mind that, as you go about as hearty followers of Christ in this generation, you'll face difficult days of rejection, persecution, and injustice for his name's sake. We must, therefore, develop a lifestyle of prayer; otherwise we'll lose heart and give up as we face our many difficult situations.
In v. 2, Jesus starts his eleventh parable, the story of the wicked judge and the persistent woman. We need to look closely at this parable because many believe that it teaches a principle of "spiritual persistence," but it doesn't. Before we dig into this today's first parable, it would be a good idea to reread vv. 2–8 now . . .
What do you see of the widow's character? Apparently she had no family or friends in high places. Further, she was being sued, and her opponent was demanding an unjust settlement. It appears that the facts of the case were on her side, so she went to the court system and got permission to approach a judge. This only made things worse, however, as she was given a wicked and merciless judge who was unwilling to grant her the protection she believed she was entitled to. It seems she returned to him day after day; in time she bothered him so much that she wore him out. The judge agreed with God saying, Even though I don't fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won't eventually come and attack me! He didn't grant her legal protection because he'd heard her case again and decided, based on Roman law, that she'd suffered an injustice. No! He was afraid that she'd eventually "attack him" or "wear him out" (which had nothing to do with justice); so he ruled in her favor. Now comes the spiritual principle: "And the Lord said, 'Listen to what the unjust judge says.'" The judge said that he wasn't interested in justice for this widow, but rather in his own personal comfort and peace, his space, and this bothersome woman's dismissal.
In contrast, let's appreciate the character of the Judge of all the earth? Jesus said to his disciples, "And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off?" Our heavenly Father, who is perfect in love, righteousness, and justice, is nothing like this wicked judge.
Jesus was encouraging his disciples, telling them that the heavenly Father is interested in justice, and that if they came to him in prayer, asking for justice in the difficult days ahead, before he'd return, he'd hear them because they were among his elect. But unlike the widow in the parable, the disciples didn't have to approach him persistently, day after day; once they asked for justice, they should believe that the righteous Judge of all the earth would not only hear them but quickly establish justice for them.
In light of the difficult days we live in before Christ's second coming, we should be found praying at all times — praying so that we don't lose heart and give up. We should be praying about our Lord bringing justice in the midst of an unjust world.
Prayer Will Show God in Our Heart (vv. 9–14)
Our text tells us that Jesus taught the second parable "To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else." The question that would be raised in the disciples' minds, considering the fact that when Jesus returns he'll judge the wicked and reward the righteous, was: Who are the wicked men and who are the just men?
The Pharisees had two basic problems in the sight of God: (1) they were self-righteous and (2) they had contempt for others, despising all who weren't like them. To appreciate the characteristics of the Pharisees, why not read the second parable now? . . .
The Pharisee In this parable, Jesus tells us this about the typical Pharisee: He went to the temple to pray to a God who he imagined in his mind; he stood in the midst of all the others gathered to pray and, in effect, prayed to himself: God, I want to give thanks to you at this moment. As I look around at the humanity in which I'm forced to live because of Roman oppression, I want you to know I'm so thankful that I'm not like other people. Then he named the kind of people he had in mind: . . . swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or worse yet, like this tax collector. Now Lord, back to me: I fast twice a week, every Monday and Thursday [which was unnecessary because the Law only asked a Jew to fast once a year, on the Day of Atonement]. And then, instead of obeying the law concerning tithing, which required that he give a tenth of his grain and cattle, he gave a tenth of all that he had, including the smallest seeds, etc. But here's what Jesus said of that practice: ". . . but you ignore justice and the love of God" (11:42).
The Tax Collector Tax collectors were Jews hired by the Roman government to collect taxes from fellow Jews. Once hired, they were known as "publicans" or "public servants." They were considered to be on the lowest rung of the social ladder because of their unscrupulous methods. As Jews, they were hated by their countrymen and regarded as sinners and traitors. Their Roman employers hated them also. The only friends a tax collector had were fellow tax collectors.
In spite of how others thought of him, however, this tax collector realized that he needed God in his life. He had such respect for the "awesome God" that was revealed in the Book of Deuteronomy that he was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven. In contrast to the Pharisee, this man "beat his breast and said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.'" In other words, Let your anger, which I deserve, be removed. Cover me with the blood of the lamb, for the sins of your people. Dear God, please forgive me. I know I've sinned in your sight.
Jesus next evaluates and judges the heart of man: "I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted" (v. 14). The tax collector could go home knowing he was justified (declared righteous) by God, and await the second coming of Jesus in confidence and peace. The Pharisee wasn't forgiven of his sins, because he thought he hadn't sinned, and he exalted himself before God and man. Unless he changed his attitude from pride to humility he'd be judged at Christ's second coming.
[You can see in Warren's commentary on Jesus' Parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector how Jesus presents two men praying in a temple: an excessively proud Pharisee and the humble tax collector who asked God only to have mercy on him because he was a sinner.]
Concluding thoughts In the difficult days between our Lord's first and second coming, he continues to give his disciples, them and us, needed Basic Instruction Before Leaving Earth. We hearty disciples must continue to proclaim the message that God's kingdom is still among us in the person of Jesus Christ. Let's pray continually and not lose heart or give up, because (1) prayer brings us back to God, and (2) prayer reveals our hearts, as we serve our Lord. It's in our personal prayers that we sense our own helplessness, the wonderful presence of our risen Lord, and his encouragement of our spiritual focus and dedication to deal with today's realities.
Why pray when it's much easier to give up? Because our Lord doesn't want us to live defeated, discouraged lives. Instead, he wants us to come to him on these difficult days before his second coming, so that we can ask for all the spiritual resources we'll need to continue to share the good news of Jesus Christ to all who'll listen.
- Q. 1 What causes you to lose heart and give up, rather than to pray consistent and believing prayers? What's the fix?
- Q. 2 What does the tax collector's prayer and body language tell us about him (v. 13)?
New International Version (NIV)
[To view it in a different version, click here; also listen to chapter 18]
† Watch this video clip from Jesus Film Project titled "Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector."
The Parable of the Persistent Widow
18 Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. 2He said: "In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. 3And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, 'Grant me justice against my adversary.'
4"For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, 'Even though I don't fear God or care what people think, 5yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won't eventually come and attack me!'"
6And the Lord said, "Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? 8I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?"
The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector
9To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10"Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other people — robbers, evildoers, adulterers — or even like this tax collector. 12I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.'
13"But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.'
14"I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted."