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God’s Word for You

Luke 18:1-7 pray and pray and pray

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Monday, December 3, 2018

With this chapter, we make the transition from Jesus journeying toward Jerusalem to the actual approach to the city through Jericho (Luke 18:35). Thus the Passion of Jesus begins, but it is seamless; he never stops teaching his followers or encouraging all to turn away from sin, to trust in him for eternal life, and to prepare our hearts for his second coming.

LUKE 18:1-7

18 Then Jesus told his disciples a parable, that we should always pray and never lose heart.

Verse 1 should be read alongside verse 7, so that we understand the true and full meaning of the parable that comes between. The context, which is Jesus’ point about prayer, is this:

  • We should always pray and never lose heart (vs. 1)
  • God will bring justice for us (his elect) who keep praying (vs. 7)
  • He will not ‘wait long’ to help (vs. 7).

To illustrate this, we have the parable of the unjust judge. This parable confuses some readers, but if we keep the above points in mind, we will understand our Lord’s meaning well enough:

2 He said, “There was a judge in a certain town who didn’t fear God or respect anyone. 3 In the same town there was also a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my enemy!’  4 For a while he refused, but in the end,  he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or anyone, 5 yet since this woman keeps bothering me I will give her justice, or else she will keep coming to me and wear me out.’”

This judge was worthless as a public servant. He wasn’t interested in anyone; not God, not his fellow man. All he cared about was his own life. It’s not possible to equate him with any particular member of the rulers of the Jews; we don’t have enough information to say whether or not Jesus is drawing a caricature of Annas the former high priest (Luke 3:2). Doubtless we have examples of his kind in our government today, the sort who find a political office to be an achievement rather than a service.

This worthless judge was hounded by a woman who wanted justice against her “enemy.” This is an antidikos, an opponent in a courtroom or on the field of battle. In Hebrew, such a person would be called a satan (1 Kings 5:4, 11:14, 11:23,25). This is the title we use for the devil when he makes us feel guilt or despair. We have this Greek word in the sense of Satan in 1 Peter 5:8, “Your enemy (antidikon) the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” The widow in our text is not asking for justice against the devil, however, but just against her legal opponent—someone against whom she was bringing charges, or who had brought unfounded charges against her.

The worthless judge didn’t want to bother with her. Why not? Probably because, in the context of Jesus’ day, judges often received bribes to do their jobs, and this woman only brought her case. What was the profit in simply hearing a case for the sake of the law? She had no advocate to speak on her behalf or to put any other pressure on the judge. But she used what she had: Her constant appearance in court was what wore him down.

A brief word about the phrase “wear me out.” From ancient times in the days of the original Greek Olympic games up through the middle of the Nineteenth Century, boxing was a lot different than the gloved, knockout-in-the-ninth-round game we know today. Opponents were bare-fisted, and a match could last many hours. Knockouts were rare; almost unknown, because if a boxer cut or hurt his hand trying to knock out his opponent, he would not be able to use that hand for the rest of the fight—which would be very brief for him from that moment. Instead, the object was to batter the opponent until he was so exhausted or had lost so much blood that he could no longer stay on his feet. This is where the Greek word ὑπωπιάζω (hypo-piazo) comes in: “to give a black eye; to pummel in the face.” This is what Paul is talking about when he says, “I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize” (1 Corinthians 9:27). Jesus is showing us a judge who was so worthless that he was worried that a widow with no backing would beat him up legally, morally, and in terms of mere endurance. Therefore, the judge decided, I’ll give her what she wants so that she’ll go away.

6 And the Lord said, “Notice what the unjust judge says. 7 Now, won’t God certainly bring justice for his elect who keep calling out to him day and night? Will he wait long to help them?

The comparison is not that God is the unjust judge. The comparison is that if a worthless wisp of nothing like this judge would give justice for a persistent widow, how much more won’t God—the most worthy and just Judge—give justice to those he has called to be his children? Of course he will! Jesus even uses an old Classical Greek construction that was becoming rare in New Testament times when he says, “Won’t God certainly bring…?” (οὐ μὴ ποιήσῃ).

The last sentence in verse 7 is handled in different ways by various translations. The King James makes it an “even though” construction, but it seems better to take it as a question that is set on equal (correlative) footing with the beginning of the verse. We can understand this in one of three ways. First, that he will not wait long to help his people. Second, that he might “wait long,” but that this is to allow his elect time for repentance. Third, that he might “wait long” or he might not, but that his plans have their own pace and time for the good of all and not just the good of one. In either case, our good is in God’s plan and in his desire, therefore we should be patient. Yet here in this very parable, he urges us to be persistent with our prayers. Pray and pray and pray! But it is not the number of prayers, the volume of prayers, nor the intensity of prayers, that matters. What matters is God’s love for us. He knows you, and he will answer you.

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.

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