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Table Talks (Luke 14:1-24)

1 One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched. 2 There in front of him was a man suffering from dropsy. 3 Jesus asked the Pharisees and experts in the law, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?” 4 But they remained silent. So taking hold of the man, he healed him and sent him away. 5 Then he asked them, “If one of you has a son or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull him out?” 6 And they had nothing to say.

7 When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: 8 “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. 9 If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this man your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. 10 But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all your fellow guests. 11 For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

12 Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

15 When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.” 16 Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. 17 At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ 18 “But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’ 19 “Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’ 20 “Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’ 21 “The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’ 22 “‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’ 23 “Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will be full. 24 I tell you, not one of those men who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’”

Introduction

The meal table is (or at least has been) one of the social centers of the home. Think of some of your warmest memories, and many of them will be associated with meal-time. Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter, usually include a festive meal, fellowship, and pleasant memories.

In our text, the entire section is centered about a meal table. A prominent Pharisee asked Jesus to eat at his home. A number of things took place at this table, but none of them were very pleasant. Indeed, I am inclined to think that when most of those seated at this dinner table went home they immediately went to the medicine cabinet and reached for the Rolaids. Of course they did not have medicine cabinets or Rolaids, but if they would have had such things, they would have been used after this meal. All-in-all, it was a most unpleasant occasion. It was not a time of friendly conversation and warm hospitality. It was a time of silent sullenness, of treachery, of self-seeking on the part of those Pharisees who were present. It was a time of rebuke and sober warning from the lips of our Lord. It was not a pleasant meal. The “tension of our text” (as I sometimes speak of it) is here the tension which exists between Jesus and those sitting at table with Him.

The meal took place on the Sabbath. Things started off with a confrontation over the legality of healing a man on the Sabbath (vss 1-6). The Pharisees silently and sullenly watched as Jesus healed a man of dropsy. They remained silent when Jesus asked them whether or not healing would be possible, and they were even more so when Jesus unveiled their own hypocrisy as to the keeping of the Sabbath.

When the guests jockeyed for position at the table, Jesus spoke to this evil as well (vv. 7-11). While they believed that “getting ahead” socially required self-assertion and status-seeking, Jesus told them that the way to get ahead was to take the place of less honor and status. Status was gained by giving it up. One is exalted by humbling himself, Jesus said.

The Master then went on to direct a word specifically to the host (vv. 12-14). He had apparently invited all the prominent people to his table on this occasion. Jesus told him that while men might seem to get more in return from inviting their friends, family, and prominent people to a meal, in heaven’s currency men were rewarded by God when they invited those who could not give anything in return—the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.

The final words of our Lord in this section would have been the most disturbing to those present at the meal (vv. 15-24). By this time, I believe that things were so tense you could have cut the atmosphere with a knife. It was exceedingly uncomfortable and to break the silence resulting from Jesus’ last words (and partly in response to His mention of “the resurrection of the righteous,” v. 14), a man called out, “Blessed is everyone who shall eat bread in the kingdom of God!” (v. 14, NASB). Jesus’ response was even more unnerving. He went on to tell a parable which informed His listeners that while feasting at the banquet of heaven (that is, the kingdom of God) would be a blessing, it was one that they would not experience. Indeed, Jesus indicated that the prominent people would turn down the invitation given them and that the guests would be those they would never have anticipated, indeed, that they would never have invited to their own banquets.

I call the title of this message “Table Talks,” but these are not friendly, casual, “fireside talks,” they are stinging words of rebuke to those who have not received Jesus as Israel’s Messiah. They are a shocking statement to those who viewed themselves as those who would be prominent in the kingdom of God that they will not even be present.

These words of our Lord are, once again, directed specifically to Israelites. This does not mean, however, that they have no relevance to us. The misconceptions of these prominent Jews are similar to those current in religious and Christian circles today. And while we may be greatly disappointed and grieved at the failure of certain “Christian” leaders in recent days, this text will remind us that we should not be taken by surprise that leaders often fail, and miserably. Let us look to our text and listen well to the teaching of God’s Spirit as we seek to understand it and have it applied in our lives today.

A Sick Man, A Sabbath
Healing, and a Sullen Silence
(14:1-6)

1 One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched. 2 There in front of him was a man suffering from dropsy. 3 Jesus asked the Pharisees and experts in the law, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?” 4 But they remained silent. So taking hold of the man, he healed him and sent him away. 5 Then he asked them, “If one of you has a son or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull him out?” 6 And they had nothing to say.

It was the Sabbath day, in some unnamed town of Israel. Undoubtedly Jesus had been in the synagogue that day, teaching. The “preacher” was invited to the home of one of the prominent Pharisees for dinner. It is my impression that the atmosphere was hostile and the mood unpleasant from the very beginning. Jesus did not, in my opinion, sour the mealtime conversation by saying something unpopular. Jesus does not seem to be invited for the hospitality of it, but for the hostility of it. I believe that word of Jesus had already come to these Pharisees, and they knew Him to be at odds with them, their beliefs and their practices. His message that day had probably confirmed their suspicions. It seems that He was invited so that some specific charge could be leveled against Him. Luke simply tells us, “they were watching Him closely” (Luke 14:1, NASB).

It appears that the guest list was made up of all the prominent Pharisees, and few others. Perhaps, I should say, just one other person—the man who was afflicted with a strange-sounding ailment known as “dropsy” (verse 2). He seems hardly to have been there by chance. I think that the inference is clearly that this man was placed here, knowing that his ailment was obvious, and that Jesus’ compassion was so predictable, he would surely not be overlooked by Him.

I can visualize the stiff silence as they all watched Jesus' eyes fix on the pathetic sight of this man, suffering from his sickness. Their eyes perhaps met those of their colleagues, knowing that the trap was working. Jesus missed none of this. Before healing the man, He turned to these silent skeptics and asked them whether or not the law permitted healing on the Sabbath (verse 3).250

Here was a touchy matter. Their traditions, their teachings, clearly forbade such healing. The Law of Moses, however, did not forbid healing on the Sabbath. Indeed, if the Sabbath was made for man, for his benefit and blessing, how could one refrain from healing on the Sabbath, if he had the ability to do so?

They would not answer the question. And why not? It was not because they had no beliefs or teaching on this issue. Perhaps they would not discuss the matter because they had heard that Jesus could easily show the folly of their position. Surely they did not want to discuss the matter in order to learn from Him, and thus to change their minds. Keeping silent, they thought, would perhaps result in His healing the man, and if they thought this they were right.

The man was unceremoniously healed, and then sent away (verse 4). But why was the man sent away? The meal does not yet seem to have been served (cf. verses 7ff.). He hadn’t eaten yet. Often, those who have been healed by our Lord want to stay with Him, to worship and adore Him. Why is this man not left to do so here? I think that it is because the man was never brought here to eat in the first place, but only as “bait” by which to trap Jesus. Knowing this, Jesus sent the man away immediately. He had played his role and served his function, at least so far as the Pharisees were concerned.

Jesus may have had other reasons for sending him away, however. I believe that this person had been used. His illness must have been very evident, and perhaps even grotesque. Frankly, this man’s infirmity had been “used” by the Pharisees. Jesus graciously healed the man, but He would not leave him there to be humiliated. But how would he be humiliated? Jesus had already drawn attention to the error of the teaching of the Pharisees as it related to healing on the Sabbath. Jesus was now about to show them their hypocrisy in terms of their own practice. I believe that Jesus did not want this man to be among those who were about to be rebuked, and perhaps even shamed for using one who was infirmed, and so He sent him away. This is an act of mercy and grace, just as the healing had been.

With the man gone, Jesus now asked a second question of the Pharisees. The first was a matter of principle; the second was a matter of practice. It would be one thing for Jesus and His critics to differ over principle. It was another when these critics differed in what they professed (and demanded of others) and what they practiced. And so Jesus exposes their hypocrisy (inconsistency) with these words:

“If one of you has a son or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull him out?”

No matter what these Pharisees taught and demanded of others, they made exceptions for themselves. Let one of their sons, or even one of their oxen fall into a well on the Sabbath and they would “work” to get it out. They would do so immediately, without any hesitation or agonizing reflection. If, then, they would come to the aid of their son or their stock, why should Jesus not be allowed to heal the infirmed? Pharisaical hypocrisy was showing, again. The silence which results is the silence of sullen willfulness. If there was no willingness to discuss the matter, neither is their any intention of acknowledging their hypocrisy. Silence is the passive form of rebellion, but it is rebellion none the less.

Pecking Order and Position:
A Parable and a Paradox
(14:7-11)

7 When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: 8 “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. 9 If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this man your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. 10 But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all your fellow guests. 11 For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

In Israel, the meal table played a very important role, not only in the family, but in society as well. When an Israelite provided a meal for a guest, even a stranger, it assured him not only of the host’s hospitality, but of his protection. Lot, you will recall (Genesis 19), invited the angels of God into his home and provided them with a meal. When the men of Sodom wanted to do these guests harm, Lot offered his daughters to the men to sexually abuse, in an attempt to prevent harm from coming to his guests. This is shocking to us, but it tells us the meaning of a meal.

Also in Israel (as elsewhere), the meal table was closely tied to one’s social standing. “Pecking order” was reflected in the position one held at the table. Places at the table were something like “chairs” in a band—they all have rank. In my high school band, as in virtually all others, there was a “first chair” trumpet position, and then “second chair,” “third chair,” and so forth. We all eagerly sought to win “first chair.” Some believe that at the “last supper” Judas may have been seated in the chair of honor.

The Pharisees who attended this meal (not to mention many others) seemed to think that one’s table position not only reflected one’s position, but may indeed create it. Thus, people jockeyed for position at meal time, so that they could end up in a seat of honor. It was like musical chairs, except there was no music.

Where I grew up, unlimited hydroplane racing was a very popular sport. The Gold Cup races often took place on Lake Washington. How well I can remember boats like Slo Mo IV and Slo Mo V. The boats could cross the starting line at the sound of the starting gun. They were allowed to have a “flying start,” which meant that they would all mill about the lake, a good distance away, and then begin to charge the starting line at about 160 miles per hour. The first boat across the starting line (sometimes their timing was off and they crossed too soon and were disqualified) had the distinct advantage. For one thing, it could leave the rest of the boats not only in its wake, but also under its rooster tail of water, which made visibility difficult, and sometimes drowned out engines.

I like to think of the meal scene where Jesus was present as something like the jockeying for position that took place in the Gold Cup races. Can you imagine the humorous antics which Jesus must have observed as all the guests tried their own techniques at getting to sit in the best seats? It was nearly time to eat. The guests would soon be seated. Everyone began milling about, just happening to be standing beside a chair of honor. How subtle it was all supposed to be. Jesus saw it all, and spoke to it.

As I have thought more about this incident at the table, it occurred to me to wonder where Jesus ended up sitting. Here He was, Israel’s Messiah, sitting at a table. What a perfect prototype of the kingdom of God. But was Jesus sitting at the seat of highest honor? Was He sitting in the seat of the host? I hardly think so. It would appear that while the others jockeyed for position, Jesus sat back, watching. When He finally arrived at the table, there would only have been one place left—the seat of lowest honor. Here is the King of Israel, sitting, very likely in the place of the lowest person. How tragic, in one sense, and yet how appropriate, given His calling (cf. Philippians 2:4ff.).

Jesus did not deal directly with the position-seeking, but only responded on the basis of it. Instead, He told a parable. They all knew, of course, what He referred to. He told them that they should avoid seeking the place of honor, for in so doing they actually set themselves up for humiliation. Suppose that a more important person came, after they had seated themselves in that individual’s chair. The host would have to ask them to sit elsewhere, and the only place left would be (thanks to the other self-seekers) the place of lowest position. How humiliating it would be, in front of all the rest, to be unseated in such fashion! As our kids would put it, this would be a real “put-down.”

On the other hand, if one were to take the lowest place, then the only way to move would be up. The host might then come to you and move you up higher, in front of all. What a blessing this would be, to be honored publicly before all.

In verse 11, Jesus moved from the parable to a principle which underlies His teaching:

“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Here is a paradox indeed. The way up is down. To try to “work up” is to risk being “put down.” Those who wish to be honored must be humble and seek the lowly place. Those who strive to attain the place of honor will be humiliated. The ways of our Lord and His kingdom are not man’s ways.

Guidelines for the Guest List
(14:12-14)

12 Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Our Lord’s words in verses 7-11 were directed towards the guests, who were jockeying for position at the table. The host, however, had no need of doing this, for his chair was guaranteed. He had the only reserved seat. But there is much evil to be exposed on the part of the host, for those he invites are those who promote his standing. The same spirit is seen in the host, but in a different way, and thus Jesus deals with this, too. He is going to leave no one’s sins unveiled.

It is not just where one sits at the table that gives one status, but also whom one is sitting with at that table. I remember someone saying that status would be to be sitting in the Oval Office with the President of the United States, to have the red phone ring, and for the President to hand it to you, saying, “It’s for you.”

I do not know this as a fact, but it occurred to me as I studied this text that the Jews of that day may not have been introduced to the “potluck dinner.” We all know that a potluck dinner is one that everyone contributes to. It has become a part of our culture, and very often when we invite someone to our table for dinner they ask what they can bring. It would seem that this thought never occurred to the person of Jesus’ day. If people ate “potluck” then there would have been no need to reciprocate, but as it was, when one person invited another to dinner, they provided the entire meal, and the guest would reciprocate by doing likewise. This seems to be the backdrop for what Jesus is saying in our text.

When planning a banquet, the temptation is to invite those who are most likely to do us some good in return. Thus, one thinks first of inviting family members or rich friends, who will reciprocate in kind. We are tempted to give in order to get. Jesus taught that this practice should not only be revised, but reversed. In this world, men invite their friends and the rich, in order to gain from their reciprocal invitations and hospitality. In God’s economy, men are gracious to the helpless and to those who cannot pay them back, so that when the kingdom of God is established on the earth (at the resurrection of the righteous), God may reward them. Thus, Jesus advocated inviting as “guests” at our next banquet the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind (verse 13). Doing so assures us of God’s blessings in heaven.

While the words of our Lord in verses 7-14 should be seriously taken and applied in a literal way, let us take note of the fact that Jesus was speaking a parable (verse 7, cf. v. 12). The parable and its principle is thus to be much more broadly applied.

Jesus Turns The Tables
(14:15-24)

15 When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.” 16 Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. 17 At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ 18 “But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’ 19 “Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’ 20 “Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’ 21 “The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’ 22 “‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’ 23 “Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will be full. 24 I tell you, not one of those men who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’”

The Pharisees were concerned with their position at the table, not only the dinner table of their host, but also the table of the kingdom of God. The disciples had also become infected with this preoccupation with position, as we know from the gospel accounts. Jesus’ words must have caused all of those present at the meal great discomfort. Jesus had effectively exposed and rebuked their sinful ambition. Hearing the mention of the “resurrection of the righteous,” a clear reference to the coming kingdom of God, one man saw a way to defuse the situation, and so he called out, “Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.”

There was one thing greatly wrong with this man’s statement: he spoke from the vantage point of one who would be sitting at that table. This man, like the other Pharisees, assumed that if anyone were to be at this messianic meal, this banquet of the kingdom of God, it would be him. Here they were, jockeying for position in a kingdom which they were not even going to be a participant in.

Jesus speaks a word of warning to this man and those like him with another parable in verses 16-24. He tells of a certain man who plans a great feast, and who sends out invitations, well in advance, to all those guests He desires to attend. We would conclude that God is the host, that the feast is the kingdom of God, and that the invitation would be the covenant promises of the Old Testament, along with the announcements of the Old Testament prophets, including John the Baptist, the last of these prophets. The invited guests are, we would know, the people of Israel, the Jews.

One would assume that all the invited guests implied by their deeds and words that they were going to be a part of God’s promised kingdom. It is only when the announcement is made that the feast is ready that the invited guests “welch.” They all have their excuses, of course. One man excuses himself to look at land he has just purchased, which apparently he had not inspected before the purchase. Another declines to “try out” his oxen, which he bought untested. A third has to stay at home with his wife, whom he has just married.

These invited guests—Israelites—whom God invited and who appeared to be planning on participation in the kingdom of God, failed to accept the invitation when it actually arrived. They had other, better, more important things, to do. In response, God now offers the blessings of participation in His kingdom to those who would not have been considered acceptable guests, the very ones (the poor, crippled, blind, and lame (verse 21)) whom God has told His host to consider inviting to a feast (verse 13). But not just the rejected, lower, classes of Israel are invited, but even those unsuitable people along the by-ways are compelled to come. God will not take “no” for an answer from them. It is not that they have chosen to be a part of God’s kingdom, but that God has chosen to make them a part of that kingdom. It is God’s sovereign purpose that has prevailed, not some superior wisdom on the part of Gentiles. Thus, there is no basis for pride.

What a word this is for Luke’s Gentile readers, the audience to and for whom he has written. This explains to Gentiles how it is that the blessings of the Jews can be experienced by the Gentiles, and how the majority of the Jews can fail (at this time) to grasp what God is doing or to accept it.

What a word Jesus has given to His Jewish audience! Let those who would strive to get first place in the kingdom be certain that they are even going to be in it.

Conclusion

What a lesson the words of our Lord in this text conveyed to the Jews of that day. They assumed that they had a place at the “table,” that is in the kingdom of God, and their only concern was which place that would be. They were concerned with their position in the kingdom, while it never occurred to them to be concerned with their possession of the kingdom. These Jews were not atheists, nor great “sinners” in any outward way (such as the tax gatherers and the prostitutes were, in the minds of some), they were very religious people, in fact leaders of their religion. They had no doubt about their salvation, but they were wrong. The last section of our passage is a solemn warning to the Jews that they will miss out of that which they presumed they had.

For the Gentile readers of this gospel, they find an explanation of the reason why the Gentiles have been privileged to enter into the blessings which God promised His chosen people, Israel. It is, however, not a flattering text, one which ridicules the Jews for their unbelief and which praises the Gentiles for their greater discernment, as evidenced by their faith in Israel’s Messiah for salvation. The Gentiles are those who are compelled to come, from the highways and byways. They are, as it were, the “bums” along the roadway.

Note, too, the insight which we gain from this passage on the interplay between the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man. Our text attributes the failure of Israelites to enter into the blessings of the kingdom of God to their rejection of the invitation given to them. Luke does not tell us that the Jews were kept from the kingdom by God’s choice (election—which is, you understand, a biblical truth), but by their own choice. On the other hand, the salvation of the Gentiles is not attributed to their choice, but to divine compulsion. The sovereignty of God is thus emphasized with respect to salvation; the responsibility of man with respect to condemnation. Both doctrines are true, though they must be held in tension. Let us keep the perspective and the emphasis which we find in Luke’s account. Luke does not trade of God’s sovereignty for man’s free will, nor vice-versa. Indeed, he holds both in tension (cf. Acts 2:23).

Let me pause right here for a moment. The reason why the Jews lost out on the kingdom of God was because they rejected God’s clear invitation, in the person of Jesus Christ, the King of Israel. Christ is still the key to man’s salvation, or may I say, more bluntly, your salvation. The only way men go to heaven (get into the kingdom of God—sit at the banquet table, as our text symbolically portrays it) is by receiving Jesus Christ as the Son of God, God’s King, God’s Savior.

In the Gospels, God is declaring to you an invitation to “come to dinner at His house,” as it were, to become a member of His kingdom, to sit as His table forever, forgiven of your sins, righteous in His sight through the work of Christ, and free to enjoy intimate fellowship with Him. If I have failed to make this invitation clear to you elsewhere in my exposition of Luke’s gospel, let me do it now. The “good news” of the gospel (for this is what “gospel” means) is that God wants you to enjoy fellowship with Him, in His kingdom, forever. To accept His Son at His invitation is to obtain the right to enter in. To reject His Son, or even to put off a decision to accept Him, is the cause for being condemned to eternal separation from Him and His kingdom.

A number of years ago, I taught a Bible study in our home. It was a study of the gospel of John. One of the couples that attended came to faith in Christ during the study. When the husband shared his testimony with me, he described his conversion in a way I had not heard before. He said that he could not identify a specific time when he was saved, although he knew it was in the last several weeks. He said that his conversion came “somewhere between chapter 3 and chapter 7 (I confess, I’ve forgotten the specific chapters).

What an interesting way of viewing one’s conversion, and yet a very reasonable one, for the person who has studied through a particular gospel account. The gospel accounts are written to build to a conclusion. They are written to bring us to certain conclusions, foremost among them is the conclusion that we are a sinner and that we can be saved only by trusting in Jesus as the Son of God who died in our place, bearing our penalty. I pray that as you have traveled through the chapters of Luke’s gospel the light has somehow come on, and you now know that you, too, are a child of God, assured of a place at His table.

There is yet another lesson, which is as applicable to men today as it was to the Israelites who listened to these words of Jesus centuries ago. The “external glue” of our text, which gives it a unity, is the dinner table. Everything which is said here is said at or near the dinner table, and about the dinner table. But there is an “internal glue” which should be recognized as well, providing us with an even deeper unity. That “silver thread” is the concept of self-interest. Think about the ways in which self-interest can be found at the heart of every sin which our Lord condemns in these verses.

In verses 1-6, self-interest is at the heart of the sinful actions and attitudes of the Pharisees. Self-interest caused the Pharisees to reject Jesus, angry that He spent great amounts of time and energy with “sinners” and the unsuitable people, rather than with them. Self-interest caused the Pharisees to want Jesus out of the way, lest He overthrow their system, and prevent them from all the “perks” which it afforded them. Self-interest was undoubtedly the motivation for their asking Jesus to dinner, and for “using” a sick man’s ailment in an effort to entrap Jesus in some technical legal infraction. So, too, it was self-interest that enabled the hypocritical Pharisees to excuse their acts of labor (pulling their son or ox from the well) on the Sabbath.

It was also self-interest which motivated each person to seek to sit in the places of honor at the dinner table (verses 7-11), which very likely left Jesus at the place of lowest honor, in a way fittingly appropriate, given the teaching of Philippians chapter 2 pertaining to the humiliation of Christ, leading to the cross.

Once again, self-interest is the culprit, a root evil, in verses 12-14. The reason why we are tempted to invite our friends, relatives, and the affluent, to our feasts, is that they can be counted on to return the favor. Self-interest will always invite those who can pay us back, reciprocate, rather than to “waste” a meal on someone too poor or unable to return the favor.

Finally, in verses 15-24, it was self-interest that caused the Israelites of Jesus’ day to reject Him as Messiah. In the parable which Jesus told (vv. 16-24), three individuals are said to have accepted (by inference, at least) the invitation to attend the feast, and yet the excuses for not attending were all matter of self (selfish, if you prefer) interest.

It is self-interest which keeps men from coming to Christ for salvation. Men wish to enter into the kingdom, but do not wish to create any pain, displeasure, or sacrifice for themselves. Thus, self-interest plays a prominent role in keeping men from Christ and thus from His banquet table, the kingdom of God.

Our culture is perhaps more permeated by self-interest than any other people at any other time in history. We have a magazine on the rack at the grocery store entitled “Self.” We may laugh at the antics through which the Pharisees went to get the best places at the dinner table, but we also sign up for classes which teach us how to assert ourselves, so that we can be more successful. Nearly every problem which man experiences today is now linked (in some mysterious way) to a poor self-concept. That which plagues the world is not self-seeking, but rather the lack of self-love and self-assertion. We are truly a self-oriented society, just as Paul described the culture of those in the last days (2 Timothy 3:1-5).

But I do not wish to dwell on the self-orientation of the unbelieving world, as evil as this is. I wish to draw your attention to the way self-interest has become a primary motivation in the church, and in the lives of countless Christians (myself included). While we may not fight for the chair of honor at the dinner table (only because there is none), we will find Christians lining up for leadership training classes, for positions of prominence and public visibility. At the same time, those tasks which call for menial service, for little recognition or power or prominence seem to go begging those who would faithfully carry out this non-glamorous ministry. We avoid ministry which has little immediate returns (such as praise, or increased numbers or growth). Ministry to those who are unable to pay us back, even with conscious gratitude, is shunned like the plague. Ministries where people don’t seem to appreciate us and our contribution are quickly left behind, replaced by some ministry which is more “fulfilling.”

I say to you my friend that “self-interest” literally abounds in the church and in our lives. This is one of the reasons for the strife which the New Testament writers describe (cf. Philippians 2). Paul had to look long and hard to find a man like Timothy, who would be “genuinely concerned for your welfare” (Philippians 2:20). The reason for this is also given by Paul in this same text:

For they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:21).

What a sad commentary!

Let us recognize how much self-interest paralyzes and perverts our ministry, our worship, and our Christian walk. Let us learn from our text that our reward in heaven will be great, and that it comes to those who “give up their life” to gain it, while those who seek to save their lives lose them. May the Spirit of God work through the Word of God to replace self-seeking with self-sacrifice, to the glory of God and for our own good as well.


250 Incidentally, do you think that “healing on the Sabbath” was one of the great controversial issues of that day? Is this a frequent problem, which therefore required a great deal of debate and frequent clarification, due to the number of times the “rule” had to be applied? Let’s face it, my friend, this is an issue occasioned (in my mind at least) only by Jesus. It was His healings on the Sabbath which were at issue, and not any others, for there were no others, unless by His disciples. The Pharisees had to declare a position on Sabbath healings only because Jesus had come.

Related Topics: Spiritual Life, Law