Luke 16:14-18: Jesus Confronts Hypocrisy and Legalism
Christ’s teaching on money stands in counterpoint to the heart fixed on money. Christ teaches that everything is God’s and we are stewards. He teaches that money should be invested so as to gain rewards in the New Creation. Christ teaches that we cannot have an idol of money, and challenges those who have this idol to sell all they have and give to the poor. Christ teaches that sacrificial giving is good. Christ teaches that the usual preoccupation with security and possessions can be entrusted to God who loves you as a Father and you can seek first His kingdom and give yourselves to more godly concerns. Christ’s spending plan and saving plan does not agree with any of this world’s wisdom because it works according to different rules. Christ’s teaching generated a radical generosity in the early church as people sold what they had to give to the poor; it generated a radical faith and those who preached the gospel trusted in the Lord to provide for the work; it generated a radical contentment as those who lost the things of this world or had them removed could still be joyful having God as their portion.
But to those who are perishing the teaching of Christ is folly, His attitudes and teaching on possessions are scoffed at, and this is exactly what sparks off our next section in Luke 16:14-18. This is a chapter that addresses several matters relating to money. Jesus has given the parable of the unfaithful steward and followed that up with challenges about faithfulness. He ended that section with some very strong words about the love of money, v13, ‘No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” This was too much for the Pharisees who then ridiculed Christ. So v14-18 are a condensed interaction between Christ and the Pharisees before He gives another parable about a rich man. These verses are very terse and are likely an abbreviated form of a much longer exchange. For this reason they can be difficult to understand. But here is the basic flow of thought as I see it.
The Pharisees we know are self-righteous religious hypocrites who are convinced that their own way of salvation and teaching about God is correct and they despise Christ who contradicts them and publicly humiliates them at every turn. They attempt here to publicly mock Christ but Christ turns it back on them as He usually does. In v14-15 he goes after their hypocrisy and brings to bear the reality of God seeing the heart and God’s definition of what is an abomination. But there is a perpetual elephant in the room. The Pharisees view Jesus message of free grace and acceptance of sinners as somehow antinomian and a denigration of the law. So in v16-18 Jesus gives us some teaching on the law in relation to the gospel speaking of both discontinuity, and continuity, and finally He ends with some teaching on divorce as an example of showing that it is those who follow His teaching who actually fulfil the law where they are hypocrites who have invented ways to break the law. As we look at these verses we will divide them under two headings, exposing hypocritical religion and correcting legalistic religion.