LEGALISTS JUSTIFY LOOPHOLE LIVING BUT STAND CONDEMNED BEFORE GOD WHO SEES THE HEART
The interaction between Jesus and the legalistic religious leaders of His day intensifies as His ministry approaches its culmination. Despite all of their scheming and insidious plots and lies and treachery, their wicked hearts are exposed time and again. That should come as no surprise because God sees the hearts. He knows the inner thoughts and motivations behind external actions. This short section bridges the gap between the previous section highlighting their love of money and failure to be a good steward for God and the section that will follow contrasting the rich man and Lazarus.
Deffinbaugh: The unity of the entire chapter is evident in many ways. The thread which unifies the chapter is money. The unjust steward used his master’s money to serve his own interests, rather than to serve his master. The rich man will also use his money for his own interests, ignoring the needs of Lazarus, who lay at his gate. Both parables begin with virtually the same expression: “There was a certain rich man … ” (vv. 1, 19). Verses 14-18 enable us to understand the evil of these two rich men, which was descriptive of the wickedness of the Pharisees, by showing the source of their sin.
Brian Evans: Through these kinds of practices [teachers grading on a curve], we can grow up expecting the standard to be adjusted to us rather than us conforming to the standard. God’s Law, found in the Old Testament, is the standard. We must be very careful to work with God and conform to His standard rather than adjusting the Laws of God to conform to us. God does not grade on a curve.
Today, we’re shown a group of religious people who were grading themselves on a curve. It’s one thing when someone else grades you on a curve but it gets infinitely worse when you begin to grade yourself that way. When this happens, the sky is the limit. There are no boundaries set and you create for yourself a license to sin and you can reason by way of this curve that God even approves it.
I. (:14-17) LEGALISTS JUSTIFY THEMSELVES AND MISS THE POINT OF GOD’S REVELATION
A. (:14) Legalists Reject the Application of Truth to Their Hearts
“Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, were listening to all these things,
and they were scoffing at Him.”
They hated Christ’s charge that they were actually serving mammon and not God; they boasted in their wealth as a sign of God’s favor, as something that distinguished them from the poor; at their heart they were “lovers of money”
Donald Miller: The Pharisees looked upon wealth as the reward for righteousness, for keeping the Law, rather than as a danger. . . Their religious praise of wealth was an effort to cover up hearts filled with greed (vs. 15; 20:47).
Deffinbaugh: But what, specifically, were the Pharisees scoffing about? The text does not tell us exactly, and perhaps we would do best to leave it at that. Given the Lord’s words in response to their scoffing, we might conjecture what they would be scoffing about. They judged on appearances. Jesus was talking a great deal about money, and how to use it. They could well have said to themselves and others, “Who is this expert on money, anyway? Who does He think He is? How much money does He possess? He is so poor that He has to have women of means accompany Him, to provide for His needs!” They may very well have mocked Jesus’ teaching, based upon His poverty.
MacArthur: Jesus felt much more comfortable, much more at home hanging around sinners and tax collectors than He did around Pharisees. Why? Because it wasn’t the sinners and tax collectors who were the architects of the satanic opposition; it was the false religious leaders. Lovers of money with corrupt and impure motives antagonistic to the commands of God, hostile to the word of God, purveyors of a kind of self-righteous system where you make a contribution to your own salvation by your good works, and seekers of honor from people. That’s what marked the Pharisees. And that’s what set them in contrast to Jesus. They are outside the kingdom clearly.
Wayne Barber: lovers of Money = “prosperity seekers” – they pursue and cherish money. A person working overtime to get wealthy qualifies as a lover of money. It doesn’t matter if you are wealthy or not. The key is what is your motivation and how you got there. A lover of self will love money because money is what does for self what humanly speaking nothing else can do. Whereas Christianity seeks to put self on the Cross, money builds self up in the world’s eyes
B. (:15a) Legalists Justify Themselves Based on External Behavior
“And He said to them, ‘You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men,”
Perfect description of the Pharisees – tried to look good to others by performing external acts of supposed righteousness
Geldenhuys: The great question is not whether they are honoured by men on account of their wealth and outward piety [i.e. alms giving], but whether God esteems them.
Lenski: the present participle makes this self-justification their outstanding characteristic. They condemned others without mercy as if their judgment were divine. In their own cases they ignored and set aside God and his verdict and, like a supreme court, acquitted themselves.
Deffinbaugh: he underlying problem of the Pharisees was that they were seeking their approval from the wrong source, and they were seeking to be judged according to the wrong standard. They were striving to be justified by men, and their standard had to be that which men could see and evaluate—outward appearances.
C. (:15b) Legalists Are Exposed Before God Who Hates Their Hypocrisy
“but God knows your hearts;
for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God.’”
Killer blow to Legalists! It is all about heart motivation; you can’t fool God
1 Sam. 16:7
Anyabwile: What’s striking about verse 15 is how often you hear people saying “God knows my heart” as a way of excusing their sin. It’s their way of saying, “God will be OK with me. God understands and accepts my sin.” But when Jesus talks about God knowing our hearts, it’s to make it plain that we can’t fool God. His judgment will be perfect. He will see our thoughts, our motives, our desires, our feelings, and everything else that is under the surface of all our pretending. We should tremble when we read, “God knows your hearts.”
D. (:16) Legalists Miss the Heart of the Gospel Message — the Fulfillment of the OT
“The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John;
since then the gospel of the kingdom of God is preached,
and everyone is forcing his way into it.”
The authoritative revelation of God must be viewed as a consistent unit – not as if the NT contradicts the OT; the OT anticipates the NT which is its fulfillment; the two must be seen together as a consistent whole
Donald Miller: the thought that men could be justified by keeping the Law had lost validity since the preaching of John. Repentance and belief in the good news of the Kingdom were the means of being justified before God. Now everyone, be he Pharisee or tax collector, scribe or harlot, could enter the Kingdom if he desired to press into it (vs. 16).
Geldenhuys: The appearance of John formed the transition from the dispensation of the Old Testament to the dispensation of the New Testament. He had begun and Jesus and His disciples had continued to proclaim that the kingly rule of God had come in Christ, and everyone who listens to Him in faith (like many “publicans” and sinners) presses with the greatest earnestness, self-denial and determination, as though with spiritual violence, into the kingdom – the sphere within which the kingly dominion of God is revealed. They strive hard to enter by the strait gate. But meanwhile most of the Pharisees refuse to believe in Him, and they deride Him. Thus they exclude themselves from the kingdom.
Lenski: asking the Pharisees why, when the law and the prophets to which they claimed to hold are now receiving their fulfillment in the good news of the kingdom, they, too, did not develop energy to press into it.
MacArthur: And so this is why it’s called forcing your way into the kingdom and this is repeated in other passages in the gospels. There’s a certain seizing of the kingdom. There’s a tremendous battle that goes on in the human sinful soul to bring the person…to crush the pride and the self-will and to bring the person to total penitence. Oh, they had no interest in this. They were not interested in the hard work of repentance. They were not interested in reassessing themselves as wretched sinners. And it was this kind of language on the part of Jesus that was so hateful to them. But those who were willing to do that were applying all the necessary force aided by the regenerating power of the Spirit of God to overcome the strength of their sinfulness. You’re not willing to force your way. You’re not willing to do the hard work of repentance to come into the kingdom of God. So they rejected the gospel of the kingdom
Darrell Bock: Here are the two basic eras as far as Luke is concerned. There is the era of promise and the era of preaching of the good news of fulfillment. The dividing line is John. He prepared a people (Lk 1:15–17), and now the new era is being preached. Jesus’ arrival means the new era’s arrival. The way of God is found in his kingdom preaching. Thus it is not the Pharisees’ scoffing that carries authority, but Jesus’ exhortations about how to walk with God.
(:17) Aside: Progressive Revelation is Not a Minimization of the Validity of the Law
“But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away
than for one stroke of a letter of the Law to fail.”
Donald Miller: This was not to say that the will of God expressed in the Law was set aside. Rather, it was fulfilled at a higher level (vs. 17; Matt. 5:17).
Geldenhuys: But although it is a fact that with His advent a new order, a new dispensation, is entered upon, this does not mean that the revelation of God under the Old Covenant is set aside or rejected. Although it is of a preparatory nature, it remains (naturally in a moral and spiritual sense and in the full light of the divine revelation in and through Jesus) absolutely authoritative.
Anyabwile: Nothing God has ever said and written in his Word has an expiration date. No requirement of God for his people has “void” written on it as if it were a cancelled check.
II. (:18) LOOPHOLE LIVING OF LEGALISTS CONDEMNED —
ONE CASE STUDY: DIVORCE AND REMARRIAGE
A. The Case of the One Divorcing His Wife and Remarrying = Adultery
“Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery;”
You could look at the Sermon on the Mount to see similar case studies that would have the same intention of elevating heart righteousness and exposing external legalistic observance of the law with all of its loopholes
B. The Case of the One Remarrying the Divorced Woman = Adultery
“and he who marries one who is divorced from a husband commits adultery.”
Not going to give an exposition on marriage and divorce here – this is just offered up by way of supporting illustration as another loophole strategy of those who try to dodge the application of God’s truth to their hearts
Donald Miller: Their efforts, therefore, to avoid the moral implications of God’s Law by keeping the letter of it, as their divorce practices illustrated, were proof that riches in their case were no sign of God’s approval (vs. 18).
Geldenhuys: The moral laws, e.g., may not be violated – adultery continues to be adultery, even although the time of preparation is superseded by the time of fulfillment.
Lenski: they manipulate the Word of God in order to permit its open violation, their most famous teachers [rabbis] showing them the way. But here, too, ono single letter of the Word can be abrogated. God will judge also these sins according to that authoritative Word, never according to the Pharisaic perversions of that Word. . . To understand the wickedness of their love of money they must understand this same wickedness in its workings also in other directions. Jesus rips away their defenses and drives hard at their conscience.
MacArthur: By the way, hypocrites are usually pretty careful about how they select their zones of operation and these guys were no different. He picked out one of their favorite Old Testament commands to ignore. “Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery and he who marries one who is divorced from a husband commits adultery.” You know what He’s saying to them? You’re a bunch of adulterers. Divorce was pretty rampant among the Pharisees. Well, of course, we wouldn’t expect them to live pure lives, would we? Because false religion can’t restrain the flesh. Being a legalist is pretty hard stuff. They didn’t commit adultery. They just dumped their wives and went with the woman they preferred and then when they didn’t prefer her, they dumped her and went with somebody else they preferred. That was their M.O., so He’s addressing them as adulterers. He’s saying, “You’re standing before Me and you have divorced your wives and you’ve married somebody else. Who are you to tell Me I’m depreciating the law? Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery and he who marries one who is divorced from a husband commits adultery.”
William Luck: Our Lord’s primary teaching on divorce was in His great Sermon preached on a mountain to his disciples (Matthew 5). The focus of that was that men who treacherously divorce their wives in order to marry other woman or who are a party to breaking up someone else’s marriage in order to claim the newly released woman are guilty of adultery in the eyes of His father. Subsequent to that He had an interchange with the Pharisees (Luke 16) in which He reaffirmed those teachings in an illustration showing to the religious leaders that they were poor stewards of God’s Law, especially as it related to its divorce teachings.