God’s Word for You
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Friday, January 12, 2018
25 Woe to you who are well fed now,
because you will be hungry.
Here once again Jesus’ word “now” helps us to remember that he’s talking about the difference between woeful sins of this lifetime and their woeful result in eternity.
Those who find all their pleasure in what the world has to offer either forget the one who really offers these things, or else they reject him outright. Either way, relying on the creation rather than on the creator is a sin the Bible warns us about many times. Not least among these lessons is the First Commandment itself, both in its first half, “You shall have no other gods,” and also in its second half, “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them” (Deuteronomy 5:8-9a). And God continues with the passage Luther sets apart as the conclusion to all of the commandments: “For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of their fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments” (Deuteronomy 5:9b-10).
God wants us to use the gifts he gives to us, but he commands us not to worship them, nor even to think that we somehow deserve them or earn them. We are to treat them as gifts. Even a gift you expect is still a gift. A friend of mine knew that his mother would give everyone in their very large family a new pair of jeans for Christmas every year. Its how she made sure that all of their dozen children were taken care of. That didn’t mean that those jeans weren’t still a gift. And so it is with God and us. We may expect that when seed goes into the ground, the wheat and the corn will come up, but those things are still blessings from God.
So why does Jesus speak out against the well-fed man? Because there are those who are going hungry all around him. God doesn’t want us to use some economic trickle-down theory when it comes to helping each other. That’s not how it works. God says: “He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker” (Proverbs 14:31).
God gives someone a huge gift, and he plans for that man’s bounty to shower everybody around him with whatever he’s been given. One woman is given joy as a gift, and she can’t help but spread her joy. Another woman is given teaching as a gift, and she’s always teaching, all the time. She can’t help it. But then he gives wealth or enough to eat to some man—and what happens? The guy turns into a miser. He locks away the riches that should have made the world a better place for a thousand people and he hoards it all like the dragon in the Hobbit.
And what does God say to that man? You’re going to lose it all. It won’t just be like King Midas in the legend who was afraid of losing his gold on earth. No—that man will lose his place in the kingdom of God, because he threw out his faith when he locked away all his bounty. He will hunger for God’s fellowship. He will yearn to be allowed at God’s table, but it won’t happen. He will know the agony of hunger, and there will be nothing anyone can do about it, forever.
That man’s repentance is what God looks for. And what should the repentance look like? We can’t dictate all of the details, but it seems pretty clear that helping those who are in need would be part of it. Otherwise, his repentance is not really repentance, and what he thinks is faith isn’t really trust in Christ, but more of a “just in case” idea like a hedged bet. He still has both feet in hell. He thinks he’ll be able to jump out at the last second; he isn’t aware of the chains that have bound him already.
There will be degrees in hell. Not temperature degrees (although that’s true, too), but levels; degrees of suffering. This is confirmed by Jesus’ words, “It will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon at the judgment than for you” (Luke 10:14). None will have it well off in hell; some will simply have it worse. Why? The most severe punishment is reserved for those who rejected the gospel after hearing it preached in its fullest measure.
Where will hell be? Where is it now? Chrysostom said: “We search not where it is, but how we may flee it.” Hell is not somewhere “below” the earth, nor is heaven somewhere “above” the moon. Hell is outside the physical universe, just as heaven is outside the physical universe. But between them, the Bible says, there is nothing—not purgatory, nor any limbo. There is only the great chasm (lit. “yawning space”) between heaven and hell which we will discuss further in chapter 16.
What is it that leads us to repentance? Is it just terror over the alternative? There are at least four things to know about:
First: God’s law teaches us how thoroughly sinful we are and how bad hell’s punishment will be for those who are condemned. Paul said, “Through the law we become conscious of sin” (Romans 3:20).
Second: As the law is preached, the Holy Spirit increases our knowledge of sin and the devil’s ways, and we become grief-stricken because of our sins. “After I came to understand, I beat my breast. I was ashamed and humiliated because I bore the disgrace of my youth” (Jeremiah 31:19).
Third: God further calls us to repentance through all of the misfortunes in the world: death, disease, war, famine, the yearly flu virus, etc. Sometimes people do not listen: “‘I struck all the work of your hands with blight, mildew and hail, yet you did not turn to me,’ declares the LORD” (Haggai 2:17). But sometimes they do listen: “Come, let us return to the Lord. He has torn us to pieces, but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds” (Hosea 6:1).
Fourth: Where there is faith, the mind and will of the person are turned back to God. The Holy Spirit works through the Gospel and then the crushed and wounded spirit is healed. The pain the person felt over their sins also remains in their memory, and will help in the future to keep those sins from being repeated.
The Gospel heals our wounded spirits, but it also moves us to want to serve God by serving one another. Love the Lord your God, not just a little or at your convenience, but with all your heart (not with a divided heart) and all your soul (not letting your sinful nature and will distract you), and all your mind (not letting yourself become divided in your goals) and all your strength (not in a puny effort, but in the gargantuan effort the Lord knows your capable of). And love your neighbor as yourself. “As yourself”! If we admit how much we love ourselves, how patient and forgiving we are with ourselves, how much we demand for ourselves, then we will see just how loving God wants us to be toward one another. Don’t stop loving yourself. Just love everyone else that much, too. Jesus did.
Pastor Timothy Smith
To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.