Having just come face to face with the hypocrisy of some Pharisees, Jesus has a lesson for his disciples. “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops”(Luke 12:1-3).
Read those words again carefully. Obviously Jesus is saying that hypocrisy will be exposed. But he promises far more than that. Jesus asserts that no secret will stay secret. Everything men work to hide will be exposed.
What if there were no secrets? There would be no national security intrigue—no nuclear or intelligence secrets. Crimes would be prosecuted far differently, since guilt would be apparent. Sporting events would go far differently since both teams’ game plans would be known. But most of all, relationships would be affected. How many marriages would fall apart if mates knew one another’s secrets? How many friendships would be damaged? How many families upended?
Jesus promises that this is exactly what will happen. “Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known.” He is exposing the fact that we prefer to build our lives and relationships by hiding part of ourselves from others. He assures us that such secrets—and the advantages we gain from them—are temporary. Such things usually come to light eventually in a physical sense—but Jesus is telling us that they surely will at the last day.
So what is the point of this saying? Jesus wants his disciples to live so that when our secrets are exposed, they are consistent with what we have claimed to be. How does your life fare by that standard?
Americans fixate on material things this time of year. Thanksgiving gives way to Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Christmas has become a primarily commercial holiday. It is important that disciples remember Jesus’ perspective: “Take care, and be on your guard against covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions”(Luke 12:15). You are more than your stuff.
We spend much of our time and energy in pursuit of money and possessions. Jesus tells a story about a man with this same ambition: “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry’”(Luke 12:16-18). The man’s ideal life involves having so much that he never again has to worry or work. He can simply spend his time enjoying his work.
Yet what is lost in this story (which probably sounds pretty good to modern Americans!) is the cost of this goal. What about the years of life lost in working so hard for stuff? What about the neglect of more important things along the way? What about when nest eggs are wiped out by market downturns (or, in Jesus’ words, moth and rust destroy it)? What about the relationships we allow to languish in our pursuit of the ever-elusive comfortable life? What about the kids whose childhoods we miss? What about the sharing we refuse to do because we are saving for “someday”? “But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God”(Luke 12:20-21). The man suddenly comes to the end of his life and only realizes then how terribly he has miscalculated.
You are more than your stuff. Your job is not all that matters about you. The pleasure that comes from possessions is fleeting and incomplete. The time will come when your net worth not be measured in dollars. Accept possessions as blessings from God. Use them to bless others and to honor God. Prepare not just for retirement, but for the future when your soul—your true life—is required of you.
Jesus wants us to experience life to the full. “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly”(John 10:10). He speaks to a rich and lavish blessing from God—abundant life.
To know God is to truly live. “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent”(John 17:3). When we know him, we fulfill our purpose, connect with our maker, see ourselves rightly, and hold the promise of life beyond death. Jesus came so that we could have this life and died to achieve it.
Yet abundant life speaks to having more than we need. The prodigal returns home because he remembers that his father’s servants “have more than enough bread”(Luke 15:17). Jesus makes so much food from five loaves and two fish that there are twelve baskets left over (Matt 14:20). Paul describes God as “him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think”(Eph 3:20). In Jesus, God does more than bless us with what we need. He gives us abundance. Our cup runs over.
No more living in the shadows, chasing fulfillment. No more running from my past. No more worrying about my significance. No more feeling inadequate, underfunded, unaccomplished, overlooked. I am full. I have enough. My cup runs over.
Since we aren’t always able to see inside our bodies, we learn to pay attention to outward symptoms. Chest pains, trouble breathing, digestive issues, loss of feeling—these indicate something is wrong.
So how do we know how our hearts are? We can’t see them. Self-examination can be challenging if we only ask how we feel about how we feel we are doing. Jesus tells us that there is a better way.
“For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks”(Luke 6:43-45).
Like physical pains, our words inform us as to the state of our hearts. Just as fruit defines the type of tree, so words define the type of heart we have. Words tell the story.
If my words are corrupt, crude, or perverse, I learn that my heart is polluted.
If my words are critical and harsh, I learn that my heart is resentful.
If my words are aimed and intended to hurt, I learn that my heart is full of hate.
If my words celebrate sin, I learn that this is what I truly love.
If my words are pure and good, I learn that there are positive things in my heart.
If my words are encouraging and kind, I learn that my heart is gentle and good.
If my words are aimed and intended to help, I learn that my heart is full of love.
If my words celebrate God’s word and will being done, I learn that this is my heart’s passion.
What would my family think about my words? My brothers and sisters in Christ? My co-workers? My spouse?
How is my heart? Words tell the story.
How many of your childhood birthday or Christmas presents do you still have? In our family, the initial rush of excitement at receiving a gift is followed by a few weeks or months of use. Over time, it begins to gather dust. Eventually we wind up giving it away or putting it in the garbage.
This experience helps me connect to an odd story Jesus tells:
“When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none. Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house empty, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there, and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So also will it be wit this evil generation”(Matt 12:43-45).
Jesus is criticizing his “generation” because they have condemned his disciples (Matt 12:2), conspired to kill him (Matt 12:14), accused him of working for Satan (Matt 12:24), and afterward demanded a sign (Matt 12:38). He has come to them and attempted to bless them—healing, teaching, and offering himself for them. And they are willing to receive some of the blessings. Yet it is clear that they are not willing to be changed by Jesus. They are stubborn and resistant. They are like people who have their demons cast out, but then invite seven times as many demons to take their place. Receiving the blessing is not part of a life change for them, but only a temporary interruption in their service of evil. “The last state of that person is worse than the first.” We might even say it would have been better for them never to have seen or heard from Jesus.
How should disciples understand this story? We have received this great blessing from Jesus. We have been cleansed from our sins and given hope of eternal life. What do we do with this blessing? Does the offer of salvation lead us to continual life change—or is it merely an interruption in our service of evil?
How are we building on the blessing? What changes are we making to avoid sin in the future? How are we fighting against the pride that led us down our previous path? What habits are we changing? How are we gaining momentum to make spiritual progress? What people are we allowing to influence us? Are we keeping our hearts soft?
We have a lot of experience receiving gifts that lose their meaning. Eventually they grow so unimportant to us that we dispose of them. Jesus deserves better. How are you building on your blessings?
I am a recovering people-pleaser. Everyone likes for people to be happy with them, but this impulse has led me to compromise what I believe is right, do things I am not comfortable with, and grow upset or depressed when others are mad at me.
Jesus points out people-pleasing as unhealthy and spiritually dangerous.
People-pleasing impedes faith. He interrogates a group of unbelieving Jews: “How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?”(John 5:44). Whose “glory” do we seek? Who do we want most to be happy with us? If people are this important to us, faith (the unseen) will always take a backseat to people (the seen).
People-pleasing robs us of courage. How can we stand up to people when we feel so strongly that we need their approval? John tells us of some Jewish rulers who believed in Jesus, “but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God”(John 12:42-43). We need courage to follow Jesus—bucking the trends of our culture, insisting on holiness in our own lives, and holding up under the assaults of skeptics. People-pleasing makes us afraid.
How do we overcome it?
We seek God’s glory. Jesus says flatly, “I do not receive glory from people”(John 5:41). His self-worth and praise come from another source. He is driven by what God thinks of him and his choices. People can think what they want. For his disciples, each moral issue or concern boils down to the simple question: Will God be pleased with me if I do this?
We serve in secret. In advanced cases, people-pleasing can lead us to do good things just so that people will see us and respect us (see Matt 6:1-18 and Matt 23:4-7). Jesus’ antidote is to give, pray, fast, and do our righteous deeds where no one can see us (Matt 6:1, 3, 6, 17-18). This is brilliant. It sifts our motives. If we are people-pleasers, we will have little use for service to Jesus that the broader world overlooks. Do I still serve Jesus when no one else knows?
We remember that others’ rejection is their problem. Jesus excels at this. He never seems to take rejection personally: “I do not receive glory from people. But I know that you do not have the love of God within you”(John 5:41-42). Notice that Jesus pins their rejection on them, not him! He does the same with those who reject him in his hometown (Luke 4:22-30). He encourages his disciples not to take rejection of their message personally (Luke 10:16). Of course, it is always appropriate to consider whether we are at fault. Yet even when we are doing right, there are some people we will never be able to please. When others do not like some superficial trait about me—or treat me poorly—or do not respect godly priorities in me—or are unwilling to accept some imperfect part of me--that is not my problem. People-pleasing is not always possible—and Jesus teaches me to be OK with that.
As Jesus works on my unhealthy devotion to people’s approval, I find freedom. I can make my own choices without worrying about their popularity. I find courage to say and do what I believe is right. I find comfort in knowing that God is pleased with me. And I find peace in knowing that others’ rejection is not my business.
Some sayings of Jesus accumulate such controversy over time that we struggle to see the original point. Read this passage with fresh eyes:
“Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you”(Luke 6:37-38).
There is a “go out of your way” kindness in these verses. Jesus is encouraging us to disrupt our natural way of dealing with others by erring on the side of kindness.
When Jesus says “judge not,” he’s not saying that we shouldn’t make decisions or interpretations (see John 7:24). He’s also not saying that there is never a time when a behavior is wrong—and should be called wrong. After all, Jesus himself does this (Matt 23:2-36).
Jesus is addressing a spirit we have all observed. It is harsh and swift to condemn others. It is a fault-finding, critical spirit. It is a desire to appear better than others. It holds others to an unfair standard that we know we don’t live up to ourselves. It critiques in others what we excuse in ourselves. It borders on glee when we discover wrong in others.
This is the reason Jesus links judging with condemning and forgiveness (“judge not…condemn not…forgive…give”). These are two paths—the path that longs to judge and the path that longs to forgive. Jesus is urging his followers to have a generosity of spirit with others: “For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you”(Luke 6:38).
Consider where this takes us. It means kindness with the mistakes our spouses and children make. It means patience with the missteps, annoyances, and sins of our fellow Christians. It means gentleness when considering those who do not serve Jesus and compassion when their sin worsens. It means giving far more than what others deserve because we have received so much we have not deserved—from God and others.
Jesus warns his disciples about the difficulty they are going to face during his arrest and crucifixion. “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers”(Luke 22:31-32). The process of sifting wheat involves shaking (and sometimes throwing) the wheat around to separate the good wheat from the useless chaff. Just as he did with Job, Satan has asked for permission to bring hardship into the disciples’ lives to test their commitment to God.
Modern disciples experience this too. We endure discouraging situations that test our faith. Jesus’ words can help us.
You can get back up. Jesus implies that the disciples will fail—he will shortly tell Peter that he will deny him—yet there is still hope. “When you have turned again, strengthen your brothers”(Luke 22:32). “Turn again” is a fascinating word that is used repeatedly in Scripture to describe a physical change in direction. Here it is a metaphor for turning back to Jesus after disappointment. Later Peter even uses this word to invite his fellow Jews to repent and follow Jesus (Acts 3:19). Jesus understands that we will not be perfect in our service, but he wants us to get back up when we fall down. The tragedy is when we become so overwhelmed by our mistakes that we quit serving Jesus (the path of Judas).
Jesus intervenes for you. Satan has asked for the disciples, yet Jesus tells them, “I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail”(Luke 22:32). Jesus doesn’t pray for them to avoid hardship. He prays that they will have faith to endure it and to recover from it. I cannot say definitively that Jesus prays for each one of us when we go through difficulty, but I can say that Jesus knows what we endure and that he does not leave us to face such troubles (and their architect, Satan) alone (Heb 13:5-6).
Your brothers can help you. Jesus gives this work specifically to Peter: “And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers”(Luke 22:32). Jesus anticipates that Peter will come out of this experience with his faith intact. He wants Peter to keep an eye out for his brothers and encourage them. Sometimes what we need most is not answers to all of our questions, but someone to walk the difficult path alongside us. Jesus wants his disciples to be there for each other. This desire has not changed.
Perhaps most amazing is that Jesus then gives to Peter—the one who has just denied him—the work of encouraging others not to deny him! When we have been sifted like wheat, we are often better equipped to help others through similar trials.
It is refreshing that Jesus does not give up on his disciples just because they fail him in moments of trial. There is still hope!
How does God look at people? Jesus shares the divine perspective: “Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?”(Matt 6:26). God takes care of birds, but people are worth more than birds. God takes care of people because every person matters.
He later mentions birds again: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows”(Matt 10:29-31). Sparrows are small and unimportant, yet God sees and provides for them. Jesus assures us that we are worth more than many sparrows. God knows every person down to the level of the number of hairs on our heads—better than we even know ourselves. Every person matters to God.
That also means that God cares about each person finding their way back to him. “If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray”(Matt 18:12-13). The shepherd goes after every sheep because every sheep matters. The fact that he has other sheep in the flock doesn’t diminish the value of that one. Every person matters.
Every person matters. Rich people matter and poor people matter. Black lives matter and white lives matter. Male people matter and female people matter. American lives matter and Chinese lives matter. Nothing about the quality of our lives, the choices we make, or the circumstances we live in affects the fact that every person matters.
Know this about yourself. You matter. Your life has innate value because you were created in the image of God. Don’t allow other people—with their labels, expectations, and criticisms—to blur the truth of this fact about you.
Know this about others. Other people matter—even when I disagree with them, dislike them, resent them, or have been hurt by them. Don’t allow the occasional unpleasantness of your interactions with others obscure the fact that they matter.
Emulate Jesus’ compassion. If people matter this much to God, we should treat them with dignity and respect. We should work to understand their perspective, relate to their hurts and needs, and work to be a blessing to them—like Jesus. Our ultimate goal is to be a bridge toward them reconciling to God.
If every person matters, then every person should matter to me.
The “rat race”—that fixation on work and trying to get ahead financially and socially to the neglect of all else—seems like a modern phenomenon. It is not. Jesus himself addresses obsession with money and possessions, storing up treasures, business expansion, and retirement. What does Jesus say about the rat race that can help modern disciples?
The rat race is hollow. Jesus warns us that “one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions”(Luke 12:15). He then tells the story of a farmer whose fields produce so plentifully that he decides to start new construction. Once they are complete, he has plans: “I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, and be merry’”(Luke 12:19). Yet he dies that night and all his “ample goods” go to another. Are our lives merely intended for us to collect a lot of stuff for ourselves, then turn it over to someone else? Solomon is right to declare this “vanity”; Jesus says there is more to life than this.
The rat race is shortsighted. Focusing on work, money, and status means not considering the future after this life. “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”(Matt 6:19-21). The problem with focusing on earthly things is that they are subject to earthly problems. They fade or we lose them or we die. “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you”(John 6:27). Jesus is not teaching us not to work for physical food; he is challenging us not to focus on food when we will just need to eat again tomorrow. Jesus urges us to look primarily toward eternal purposes.
The rat race breeds anxiety. Jesus doesn’t want his disciples to be anxious: “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?”(Matt 6:25). It is possible to live in constant anxiety about how we’re going to take care of ourselves and our families. It is possible to obsess about careers and plans and retirements. The problem is that we worry about these things foremost and leave God’s things for our spare time and energy. “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you”(Matt 6:33). When we must provide for ourselves, we grow anxious; when we seek God first and trust him to provide, we gain peace.
None of this is to say that work is bad. Disciples of Jesus are workers (Eph 4:28, 1 Thess 4:11-12, Acts 20:34). The danger is that we lose context and begin to think that our work is deserving of all of our energy, time, and attention. We define ourselves by it. We think it is the key to validation and success and enjoyment. Jesus calls us back to center: seek God first. Lay up treasure in heaven. Go after the food that will endure.
There is more to our lives than our careers. Look ahead!