Many of you are familiar with Advice columnists. I’m specifically thinking about people like the late Ann Landers, Dear Abby and Dorothy Manners (on etiquette). There are others who give financial advice, advice on cooking, advice on what movies to attend, and even advice on playing Bridge and chess.
Anyone can give advice (and feel free do so). However, the question is: is the advice worth hearing? People who are successful advice columnists have a reputation for being able to see issues clearly and speak succinctly to those issues. People who are not able to see clearly or speak succinctly are generally not worth listening to.
In our text this morning Jesus gives some advice. Because He is the Son of God and sees life more clearly than any mortal man ever will, His succinct words are counsel worth hiding deep in our heart.
We find Jesus in a very familiar setting. It is once again the Sabbath. Jesus has apparently been invited to the home of a “a prominent Pharisee” for lunch. This would have been a common occurrence, especially for a visiting Rabbi.
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.
A Familiar Exhortation: Be Consistent
One of the first things we are told is that Jesus was being carefully watched. Jesus may have been invited to dinner, but the motivation was not hospitality but hostility. They were looking for ammunition that they could use against Him.
We are told that “in front of him was a man suffering from dropsy”. It appears this man may have been “planted” at the dinner to entice Jesus to heal on the Sabbath. “Dropsy” is not familiar to us. The disease is characterized by the retention of fluids (edema). It generally was an indication of other problems perhaps affecting the kidneys, liver, blood, and/or heart. Some people felt such a person was guilty of some grievous sin.
It is easy to see the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. They have invited Jesus (and this man) to dinner under false pretense. The Bible has much to say about the hypocrite. In Matthew 23 Jesus called the Scribes and Pharisees Hypocrites again and again. Hypocrisy is pretending to be something that you are not. It has many forms,
- Have you ever invited someone over to your house for a meal because you had an ulterior motive? Perhaps you wanted to sell them something, or enlist their help, or to gain some advantage? That is hypocrisy.
- Have you ever been all smiles and hugs toward someone you didn’t like only to talk negatively about them behind their backs? Hypocrisy
- Have you ever quoted Bible verses to people (or posted them on Facebook) to give people the impression that you were Christian even though you made no effort to follow Christ in your life? That’s hypocrisy.
- Have you taken positions of leadership because it stroked your ego even though you had no intention of doing the job you agreed to do? Hypocrisy
- Have you ever invited someone to church not because you really wanted them to meet Jesus, but simply to look spiritual yourself, or to win a prize, or to make your church bigger than other area churches? Hypocrisy.
- Have you ever told someone you would pray for them only to forget about the need as soon as you turned away? That’s Hypocrisy.
- Have you ever been critical about the way someone was raising their children when in fact you were inattentive to your own children? Hypocrisy.
If we are only consistent in our faith part of the time . . . we are not consistent at all! We are a hypocrite. It is much easier to be a hypocrite than it is to live consistently. Hypocrites can pick and choose when they want to follow Christ and when they would rather not. They choose who they will love and who they will ignore. Jesus condemns the hypocrite.
Jesus confronted their hypocrisy by asking, “Is it lawful to heal this man on the Sabbath?” He knew they believed it was not lawful. After Jesus healed the man (the Greek seems to indicate some kind of physical touch or embrace) Jesus said,
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.
They had nothing to say because the men knew they would quickly rescue their son, or even an ox that fell into a well on the Sabbath. Such an action would be deemed an act of compassion, an exception to the Law. Their hypocrisy was in the fact that they were willing to treat what belonged to them with compassion, but they were not willing to extend that same compassion to this very sick man. They had one set of rules for themselves and another for others. Jesus’ advice: Be Genuine and Consistent.
Advice for the Guests: Be Humble
As we imagine the scene it is possible that this discussion took place before the meal actually was served. When the host said, “Time to eat” everyone raced to get the seats of honor. In most homes of the time short tables with pillows for chairs would be set in a “U” shape. At the head of the group (the base of the U), the guest of honor or the host would be seated. To the left of the host would be the person next in honor, on the right the second most honored person. Positions of honor would fan out from that point down.
Since everyone was acutely aware of this reality, people wanted to be seated in positions of honor . . . they wanted to be esteemed above others. It would be like being seated at the head table at an important dinner filled with important people. Sitting at the head table denotes a measure of significance. Jesus watched the scramble to get the most significant seats and told them a parable. Let’s take His illustration and retell it in a way more familiar to us.
Suppose you are invited to a wedding ceremony. You consider yourself good friends with the Bride and Groom and their parents. You arrive at the reception and you go and sit at one of the family tables. People see you sitting at the table and ask why you are sitting there. You reply, “Because I am such a special friend to the family that I am ‘like family’ to them.” You crow, “Don’t worry, I’ll leave you some food.”
Everything is great until the family actually arrives. Someone comes over to you and tells you that you are seated in Grandma’s seat and you will need to find another seat at another table. Unfortunately, most everyone else is seated and the only table left is back in the corner right in front of the kitchen door where a few little kids are sitting. Imagine how humiliating that would be.
Jesus said it would have been better to come in and find a seat on the outskirts of the group. Then perhaps the host would come in and see you and say, “We want you to sit with us because you are like family to us.”
Jesus is not teaching us about etiquette. He concludes “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” This is a parable about the attitude we should have throughout our lives. We should be humble.
Unfortunately this goes against everything we have been taught. We are urged to promote ourselves. We view every conversation as an opportunity to prove our knowledge, wit, or intelligence (often failing). We approach every situation looking for how we can benefit. This is the opposite of humility; it is arrogance.
Humility is essential to spiritual life and vitality. It has to do with the posture of our heart. Humility is essential for several reasons.
- Humility facilitates gratitude and worship. We can’t truly worship God until we stop worshiping ourselves.
- Humility makes us teachable rather than stubborn. When we believe we know more than others (even God) we can’t learn anything.
- Humility enables us to receive and appreciate grace. Grace can be extended only when a person recognizes they need that grace. The humble person sees that they deserve God’s wrath rather than His love. They appreciate and cherish grace.
- Humility enables us to see the glory and blessing in others. We can appreciate others until we stop seeing them as the competition.
- Humility makes it possible for us to truly trust God. Pride makes us stubbornly insist on our own way.
So, how do we cultivate humility? It is certainly not by writing books titled, “Humility: and How I attained it”! Humility does not come easily but there are some things that can help us move in that direction. First, We must compare ourselves to the perfect standard of the Word of God. We can always spin data as we compare ourselves to others. However, when we compare ourselves to the Bible the light of God’s Word exposes the darkness in our lives. When we see ourselves clearly before God we will be still and submit to Him.
Every vocalist who auditions for shows like American Idol and America’s Got Talent thinks they have a great voice. The reason they think this is that they are comparing themselves to their friends and believing the words of their tone-deaf, drunk, or lying friends. However when they get into the arena where people compare you to Celine Deon it is a different perspective entirely. The hot shot athlete in school is frequently humbled when they get to college and compete against other hotshots. The “smartest person in class” is often humbled when they encounter people much smarter than they are in the world. The point is this: to gain an accurate perspective on our life we must compare ourselves to the perfect standard of God’s Word.
Second, we must reflect deeply on the cross of Christ. We need to stop and remind ourselves that Jesus did not come to earth and give His life for us because we deserved His love. He died for us because we were hopelessly lost without Him. Apart from Christ we would be eternally condemned. Apart from Him we would be condemned to the futility and emptiness that characterizes the rest of the world. It is because of Him that we can know joy. It is due to His grace that we find hope. As we reflect fully on the cross we understand that we owe everything to Christ. No sacrifice in our lives is too great in serving Him. No praise is sufficient in honoring Him. As we reflect on the cross we come to understand that His love for us is trustworthy. We see that this life is temporary and the only thing that matters ultimately is our relationship with Him.
Third, we will grow in humility as we pay attention to the strengths of others rather than always trumpeting our own gifts and abilities. Rather than spending all our time impressing people with how smart we are, if we stop and listen and learn from others we discover people who have great hearts, wonderful abilities, incredible strength, and insights that will often make us feel small in comparison.
The Bible is filled with examples of those who were wrapped up in themselves (such as Miriam and Aaron who wanted to take over the job of Moses; Nabal who refused to honor David and his men; Jezebel who sought to kill Elijah; Nebuchadnezzar and Herod Agrippa, who both claimed that had built great kingdoms by their own strength and power). These people were struck down by God. In contrast we see the deep humility of Moses; the heartfelt surrender of Hannah and Mary the mother of Jesus. We hear Jesus commend the Tax Collector who prayed simply, “Lord, be merciful to me a sinner”. Most of all we see the attitude of our Savior who said, “Not my will, but yours be done”. We need to pay attention or we will commit the same folly.
Humility is about the posture of our heart. It requires that we stop demanding what we think we deserve and start living with gratitude for what we have received in spite of what we deserve.
Advice for The Host – Reach Beyond the Predictable
There is one further piece of advice we will briefly touch on this morning (because it is addressed more fully in the passage to follow)
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.”
Jesus is not saying we should never invite friends and family to dinner. That’s not the point. The point is that these things are self-serving acts. We do them because of what we derive from them. Real hospitality, real graciousness, real credit with God comes when we give of ourselves to others even though we expect nothing in return. When we “repay others” or look for others to “repay us” (either tangibly or through some “snob appeal”) there is still a motivation of selfishness. When we invite those who cannot repay us we are then extending grace and the love of Christ.
The point is that real love means opening our hearts to others even though they may provide nothing to us. This isn’t just about dinner parties. It means
- Saying hello to someone you don’t know
- Stopping to really talk to someone of a different generation
- Inviting someone to eat with you who is cast away by others
- Being helpful to someone who is a competitor in business
- Reaching out to an “unpopular kids” at school
- Inviting someone to church who doesn’t fit the normal “demographic”
The idea is simple: we should look beyond ourselves. We should think about others and give without calculating the return we can get for ourselves. True hospitality is generously giving to others for no other reason than the love of Christ.
Lett me draw a few quick applications. First, we learn from this passage that you can’t reach the lost unless you are willing to associate with them. Jesus knew the Pharisees were setting Him up. He knew their hearts were hard yet He still agreed to have dinner with them, why? This dinner was one more opportunity for Him to share the Word of Truth with these leaders. We cannot reach lost people unless we are willing to associate with them.
We must observe a caution. We must never allow such relationships to compromise our walk with Christ. If a relationship with unbelievers leads us into sin or is drawing us away from living for the Lord that relationship is toxic to us and we must withdraw from the relationship (if possible). You may need to let someone else reach out to that person.
Second, we are reminded that if you identify yourself as a believer you will be watched. People want to see if your discipleship is “real” or just pretend. They notice that you go to church (or don’t go to church). They are watching your behavior, listening to your language, and observing your values. It is a sad truth that “slips” and inconsistencies will not be overlooked or forgotten. We must be diligent in our pursuit of consistency.
Some people rather than live consistently, choose to not identify themselves as a believer or they deny any relationship with Christ so that they can live how they please. The truth is: either option is better than professing Christ and living as a pagan. In the Book of Revelation Jesus told the church in Laodicea that they were lukewarm (non-committal). The Lord said He would rather they be hot or cold rather than Lukewarm. The lukewarm “believer” does much more harm than good.
Third, we should live our lives in light of the coming resurrection of the dead. Jesus tells us to reach out to those who cannot pay us back because we will be rewarded in the resurrection of the dead. In Matthew 6 Jesus told us that if we live for the praise of men then the praise of men is all we can hope to receive. Jesus encourages us to live for the praise of our Father in Heaven . . . even if no one notices on earth.
Finally, take careful note of the deadly attitude of these leaders. They were continually confronted with the truth (especially about the Sabbath) but they refused to back down. We must be on guard against this same attitude. We must be alert to any rebellious attitude in our heart lest it destroy us as it did these leaders.
I encourage you to write three words, to remind you of the advice of Jesus, on a card and post it somewhere: Consistency, Humility, and Hospitality. Every time you see or remember those words rededicate yourself to pursuing these traits in your life. And if anyone asks you why you have changed, just tell them that you were given some good advice and decided to embrace it.