Wisconsin Lutheran Chapel logo

God’s Word for You

Luke 12:32-34 Have no fear, little flock

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, August 16, 2018

32 Do not be afraid, little flock, because your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom.

Jesus calls his disciples a flock in contrast with the Jews who are not a flock at all, but are like “sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36; Mark 6:34). His own flock, though small, is tended and cared for by him directly. They are the few with faith, and the Lord pours out all of God’s love and compassion on them.

An important point here is the word “give.” This is the act by which faith and the forgiveness of sins come to mankind. God invites us to reach for it, to seek it, and to “keep searching for it” (vs. 31), but no amount of good works, well-intentioned searching, or energetic searching and reaching could ever achieve it. It is ours only because God gives it to us, and he gives it freely even without any effort of ours.

But here Jesus tells us on the one hand that the kingdom is given, and yet we should strive for it, keep searching for it, and even (verses 33-34) to do other things: sell our possessions and give to the poor, etc.  Is the kingdom, therefore, a free gift, or is it something for which we work? To put it in extremely serious terms, the most basic in religion: Are we saved by grace, or by works? If it is by grace, then it is not by works—and all the world’s religions apart from the Evangelical Christian Church (that is, all the churches that proclaim salvation through the cross of Christ alone) are wrong and have wandered away from God’s grace. If it is by works, then it is not by grace, and the Evangelical Christian Church is the only one that has fallen from God’s saving hand. Which is it?

33 Sell your possessions and give to the needy. Provide wallets for yourselves that do not become old, an inexhaustible treasure in the heavens where no thief sneaks up and no moth eats away. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be.

This passage seems to make our salvation dependent upon our works, especially outward deeds like charity, humility, compassion, giving alms or gifts to the poor, and the good work of holding on to the treasure God gives. Is this correct?

Before we can answer, we must ask another question which is important to answer every time we ask anything of the Bible because without it no other answers are possible. That question is: What is the context? Is Jesus truly talking about the way we are saved in this passage? Go back and look at chapter 12 once again from the beginning.

The context is this: The Lord is not speaking about the way we first come to faith. He is speaking to his disciples, and he is speaking about the faith that they already possess. They are not prospects to whom he is preaching with parables. They are his “little flock,” the tiny group of followers who were already baptized and already instructed. Jesus is urging them to hang on to the faith they have, not to make some decision toward faith to be saved. The Bible never offers salvation as the object of a choice in man. The Bible always offers salvation as a gift from God. To quote our Augsburg Confession (June 25, 1530):

Our churches also teach that we cannot obtain forgiveness of sin and righteousness before God by our own merits, works, or satisfactions, but that we receive forgiveness of sins and become righteous before God by grace, for Christ’s sake, through faith, when we believe that Christ suffered for us and that for his sake our sin is forgiven and righteousness and eternal life are given to us. For God will regard and reckon this faith as righteousness, as Paul says in Romans 3:21-26 and 4:5 (Article IV,1-3).

Later in the same confession we also presented our firm belief and teaching that the Bible also teaches us to follow faith with good works. Yet, “We must do so because it is God’s will and not because we rely on such works to merit justification before God” (Article VI,1). How can we be certain this is correct? On the one hand, when we do any good deeds, Jesus commands us to say: “We are unworthy servants” (Luke 17:10). A servant does what he has been commanded to do. We do not merit anything for our actions; we carry out the will of God. On the other hand, the act of being saved by God is to his credit, not ours. Paul says: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). So much for how we have entered into God’s kingdom. Now that we are here, our Lord and Master does indeed give us work to do. He accomplishes many things through us.

One vital thing is caring for the poor. This is mentioned briefly in verse 33, and both the Bible and the Apocrypha spend time on it: “Give…to the poor” (Luke 11:21), “Leave them (crops at the edge of your field) for the poor and the alien” (Leviticus 23:22), “Be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land” (Deuteronomy 15:11). At Purim, the Jews gave gifts to the poor (Esther 9:22). “Do not avert your eye from the needy” (Sirach 4:5); “Do not turn your face away from any poor man, and the face of God will not be turned away from you” (Tobit 4:7), “It is better to give alms than to treasure up gold” (Tobit 12:8).

But the main point Jesus is making is still about our own treasure; the wealth we store up inside. The true treasure is our faith, which was given by God and which we nourish, nurture, and feed with the word of God and the sacraments. Delight in your faith. Be joyous about it and grateful for it. Don’t do things that damage it. Don’t embrace false teachings (especially those that insist on good works to merit salvation) and run away from sin and temptation. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you, as Jesus invites us to pray every day, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Remember that you are part of God’s kingdom, and part of his little flock.

Have no fear, little flock,
Have no fear, little flock,
For the Father has chosen
To give you the kingdom
Have no fear, little flock.

                    (Christian Worship 442:1, by Marjorie Jillson)

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim SmithAbout Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. His wife, Kathryn, attended the Chapel from 1987-1990 while studying Secondary Education (Theater and Math) at UW-Madison. Kathryn’s father, John Meyer, was also the first man to serve as a Vicar at Chapel.

To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.