“That Which is Highly Esteemed Among Men”
“No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. And the Pharisees also, who were covetous, heard all these things: and they derided him. And he said unto them, Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knoweth your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God. The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it. And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail. Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery.” (Luke 16:13-18)
The Lord Jesus concluded His parable of the unjust steward with these words, “No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon” (v. 13). The lesson He here declares is unmistakable: ― If we would worship and serve our God, we must worship Him and serve Him with a single, undivided heart.
“The Lord looketh on the heart.” In all things concerning faith in Christ, obedience to our God, and worship, the heart is the principle thing (Proverbs4:23; 23:26). — “The Lord looketh on the heart.” “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart” He will not despise. The one thing He requires of all who come to Him in faith is the heart, a sincere, single, undivided heart. The heart was the one thing lacking in the rich young ruler. The heart was the thing the Scribes and Pharisees would not give. The heart is the one thing none will give to God, except the Lord God create a broken, contrite, single, undivided heart in us by His omnipotent grace. Faith in Christ is the surrender of myself to Him. It is giving up my life to Him. Faith in Christ is not a partial consecration, but the entire consecration of myself to my God. Read the Scriptures for yourself and understand the doctrine of Christ. Where there is no consecration, there is no conversion. Where there is no surrender, there is no salvation. Where there is no voluntary bowing to Christ as Lord, there is no knowledge of Christ as Savior (Luke 14:26-33; Mark 8:34-37).
The plain and simple fact is “No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” We are not the servants of God, we do not trust Christ as our Lord, if we do not give up ourselves so entirely to His service as to make mammon, that is, all our worldly gain, serviceable to His kingdom, His will, and His glory.
If we love the world and seek to hold on to the things of the world, we will hate God and despise His grace. Our worship of, service to, and faith in God will be made to be subservient to our worldly interests. We will use the things of God to serve the world.
If we love God and seek to hold on to Him, serving His kingdom and His glory, His Son and His gospel, then we will hate the world and despise all that it offers. That simply means that when the world comes into competition with God, we throw the world away and hold our God and Savior. We make our business and worldly interests subservient to the worship of, obedience to, and service for our God. We make the things of the world to be neither more nor less than instruments with which we serve the Lord God.
It is a useless show of hypocrisy to claim that we are worshippers and servants of God, when in reality we only serve ourselves. God in heaven cannot be served with a divided heart. That fact is so obviously revealed in the New Testament that dispute regarding it would seem to be unthinkable. Yet, multitudes in this world try to do the thing our Master declares is impossible. They try to be friends of the world and friends of God at the same time.
Does that describe you? Your conscience forces you to be religious. But your heart is chained to earthly things. You live in constant unrest. You have too much religion to be happy in the world and too much of the world in your heart to be happy in religion. You labor to do that which cannot be done. You are striving to “serve God and mammon.”
Whole-hearted, decisive faith is what our Lord requires. Whole-hearted, decisive faith is the key to contentment and peace in this world. Half-heartedness brings up an evil report of the good land and of God’s promise. Whole-hearted faith in Christ, like Caleb, is of another spirit and follows the Lord fully, saying, ― “The Lord will bring us into this land and give it to us.”
“The more entirely we live, not to ourselves, but to Him who died for us, the more powerfully shall we realize what it is to have ‘joy and peace in believing’ (Romans 15:13). If it is worthwhile to serve Christ at all, let us serve Him with all our heart, and soul, and mind and strength…If we cannot make up our minds to give up everything for Christ's sake, we must not expect Christ to own us at the last day. He will have all our hearts or none. “Whoever will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God’ (James 4:4). The end of undecided and half-hearted Christians will be to be cast out forever.”
(J. C. Ryle)
When the Scribes and Pharisees heard our Lord’s parable of the unjust steward and the conclusion He drew from it, “they derided Him.” These lost religionists turned up their noses in contempt at our Savior’s doctrine. — “And the Pharisees also, who were covetous, heard all these things: and they derided Him” (v. 14).
When the Pharisees, a money-loving, money-obsessed bunch of religionists, heard the Master say these things, they rolled their eyes, dismissing Him as hopelessly out of touch. These covetous men, these lovers of the world, turned up their noses, made faces at the Son of God, and sneered at Him. They laughed and scoffed at His doctrine. These men professed to be, and everyone highly regarded them as being lovers of God; but that which was the master passion of their hearts was the love of the world. “These men”, wrote G. Campbell Morgan, “were filled with scorn for this poor, Galilean peasant who talked like that about money. To them, the teaching Jesus had been giving was so preposterous that they could not restrain their mockery.”
There are many in pulpits and churches around the world today of the same opinion. They are moral. They are religious. But they tell us that such things as our Lord here emphatically declares are not practical. What blasphemy there is in the use of that word “practical”! When religious people talk about “being practical,” “teaching practical things,” practical doctrine,” and “practical godliness,” what they usually mean is: ― “We’ve heard enough about Christ and His Gospel. That no longer appeals to us!” When they talk about devotion and consecration to the Son of God as something “excessive” and “impractical,” they are only attempting to cover their own rebellion, self-interests, and love of the world. Nothing in all the world is more reasonable and practical than the whole-hearted consecration of our lives to our God and Savior (Romans 12:1-2). That man or woman who loves the world, no matter how religious he or she may be, betray themselves by the object of their affection (1 John 2:15-17).
A Biting Reply
The Master had already stung their consciences. They knew He had been talking about them. And, now in verse 15 our Savior gives a biting reply to their sneers. God sees right through the mask of hypocrisy. He knows every man’s heart. — “And he said unto them, Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knoweth your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God.”
Hiding behind the mask of religious devotion, these men passed themselves off as being great lovers of God and of His law. But their religion was nothing but a mask to hide their covetousness, their love of all that can be gained in this world. Here, our Lord unmasked the Pharisees publicly. In essence, He is saying, “You are masters at making yourselves look good in front of others, but God knows what’s behind the appearance. What society sees and calls “monumental,” God sees through and calls “monstrous.” In doing so, He gives us two, sobering lessons, if we have ears to hear them.
1. “God knoweth your hearts.”
2. “That which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God”
That which is high in the estimation of men is an abomination in the sight of God. That is to say, those who attempt to justify themselves by their works, ever making a show of religion and godliness before men, are a stench in the nostrils of God in heaven, who knows their hearts.
They are a stench in His nostrils, and all their religion is a stench in His nostrils. Their religion and holiness, their devotion and ceremonies, their zeal and their prayers are a stench to God! Everything by which they gain the applause of men as “holy, devoted, godly people,” everything by which they gain the world they covet is an abomination to God.
What was our Lord referring to here? Did He have anything specific in mind? Hear His own words and see…
“Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven. Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.” (Matthew 6:1-4)
“And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly. But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.” (Matthew 6:5-8)
“Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.” (Matthew 6:16-18)
“Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples, Saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat: All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not. For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments, And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi. But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren.” (Matthew 23:1-8)
“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves.” (Matthew 23:15)
“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess.” (Matthew 23:23-25)
“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.” (Matthew 23:27-28)
“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous, And say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets. Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets. Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers. Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?” (Matthew 23:29-33)
God’s opinion of a man’s goodness and his own opinion of his goodness are not quite the same. Your opinion of your righteousness and God’s opinion of it are as different as heaven and hell (Isaiah 1:10-15; 65:2-5). God loves what men despise: mercy, grace, lovingkindness, and faith. And men love what God despises: a form of godliness, a religious show, and the praise of men.
“Be not thou afraid when one is made rich, when the glory of his house is increased; For when he dieth he shall carry nothing away: his glory shall not descend after him. Though while he lived he blessed his soul: and men will praise thee, when thou doest well to thyself. He shall go to the generation of his fathers; they shall never see light. Man that is in honour, and understandeth not, is like the beasts that perish.” (Psalm 49:16-20)
Legalists and the Law
In verses 16-18 our Lord exposes the legalists’ contempt for God’s holy law. While all legalists denounce as antinomian those faithful men who proclaim the believer’s complete freedom from the law (Romans 6:14-15; 7:4; 8:1-4; 10:4; Galatians 5:1-4; Colossians 2:8, 16, 20), the fact is all who claim to live by the law would destroy the law. It is the legalist who is the antinomian, the one who is against the law.
All who want you to believe that they are holy, that they live by the law of God and make themselves holy by their obedience to God really despise the law and endeavor to destroy it by lowering it to their level. This is exactly what our Lord charged against the Pharisees and all their followers in these three verses.
Legalists love to show their obedience to the law, though they despise it inwardly. How often we hear legalists say, “If I didn’t believe I was still under the law, I could go out and live any way I wanted to.” With such assertions they betray their hatred of the law; and by their own words they are judged. Believers delight in the law after the inward man.
A New Age
Our Savior declares in verse 16 that the law and the prophets have now been fulfilled and a new age has begun. — “The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it.”
In the strictest sense, the law and the prophets were not fulfilled until Christ died and rose again. But John the Baptist appeared as the forerunner of the Christ, preparing the way before Him, announcing the beginning of this present Gospel age. Since the day John the Baptist pointed to Him and cried, “Behold, the Lamb f God that taketh away the sin of the world,” the types and shadows of the law have been fulfilled.
The kingdom of God no longer has any connection with meats, and drinks, and ceremonies, and bondage. It is not outward, but inward. The kingdom of God is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost (Romans 14:17). In this Gospel age we do not call men and women to duties and ceremonies, but to Christ himself, preaching the kingdom of God.
The law portrayed eternal things in the words of temporal things and spiritual things by carnal things. The Gospel deals only with the spiritual and the eternal. The old things of the legal age have passed away. We are no longer looking for a kingdom to come, but proclaiming a kingdom established, and pressing men and women into it. The Church of God is the Kingdom of God, a Kingdom established by Christ, a Kingdom established upon righteousness, a Kingdom of which Christ is the King, a Kingdom of grace, and an everlasting Kingdom.
In the last line of verse 16 we read, “the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it.” What do those words mean? Certainly, our Lord does not mean for us to understand that all men are trying to get into His kingdom. These Pharisees weren’t! They not only would not enter the kingdom, they did everything they could to block others from entering, just as our modern religionists do by their traditions, ceremonies, altar calls, scripted prayers, and displays of piety.
So what does it mean? The word translated “presseth” in verse 16 is used in only one other place in the New Testament (Matthew 11:12). It means, as it is translated in Matthew, “suffereth violence.” Everyone who enters the Kingdom of God strives to enter in at the strait gate. He strives against all the religion and religious duties, against all the saying of prayers and doing of penance, against all the laws and ceremonies, by which lost religionists would keep them from Christ.
In verse 17 our Lord declares that the Word of God stands and must be fulfilled in every detail. “And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail.” Apply these words to the Mosaic law or to the whole of divine revelation in the Old Testament, or to both. They mean exactly the same thing. Our Lord is here declaring, lest any foolishly say (as many do) that since they are fulfilled, the law and the prophets have been destroyed. Fulfilled is not destroyed, but fulfilled. As all the law was exactly fulfilled, so every Word of God stands forever. Not one word written in the Book of God shall fall to the ground. God’s Word is sure and unalterable!
With regard to God’s holy law, the preaching of the Kingdom of God (the preaching of the Gospel) does not lessen it, or destroy it. Not at all! The preaching of the Gospel maintains the utter severity, strictness, and justice of the law, and its fulfillment by Christ as our Substitute (Romans 3:24-26; 8:1-4; 9:33-10:4).
To enforce what He says in verse 17, our Lord declares to these self-righteous, self-serving, mean-spirited legalists that the specific law they were most flagrantly guilty of perverting, violating and trying to destroy means exactly the same thing today as it did when Moses wrote it in Deuteronomy 24. — “Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery” (v. 18).
The Word of God is crystal clear. Marriage is the lifelong union of a man and a woman (Genesis 1:27; 24). Any man or woman who breaks that union, except upon the grounds of or because of adultery or abandonment (Matthew. 5:31-32; 19:1-9; 1 Corinthians 7:15), and marries another commits adultery.
The Pharisees were flagrant in their disregard of God’s law in this regard. The famous rabbi Hillel, who lived during the days of Herod I, asserted that a man had the right to divorce his wife if she burned his food! Another rabbi (Akiba) taught that a man could divorce his wife if he found a woman who was prettier!
So commonly and easily did the Pharisees divorce their wives and marry another that when our Lord’s disciples heard what He had to say about it, they were shocked. They said, “If the case of the man be so with his wife,” if a man cannot put away his wife for any and every cause as the Pharisees do (Matthew 19:3), “it is not good to marry” (Matthew 19:10).
Does that sound familiar? All this looseness and laxity, all this contempt for God’s law was promoted by men who pretended to be lovers of it and zealous for it, while they lowered it to their own level. In reality, they were men who simply used religion and God and the Bible to gratify their own lusts, promote their own praise, and secure their high esteem in the eyes of men.
Many seem to have great difficulty trying to figure out why the Lord Jesus said what He did in verse 18 in this context. They think it is out of place, that it has nothing to do with the parable in verses 1-13, the comments in verses 14-17, or the parable of the rich man and Lazarus in verses 19-31.
They are all mistaken. In verse 18 our Lord sticks His finger right on the ever-swelling chest of every proud legalist, exposing his hypocrisy, and says, “Like the unjust steward, you live for yourself. Your religion, your great piety, that you think will get you into heaven is carrying you rapidly, headlong into hell. And, soon, you who are so rich in your own eyes will lift up your eyes in hell and see all God’s poor Lazarus’s, all these publicans and sinners who trust Me alone for acceptance with God, these who come to Me at Mercy’s open gate as poor, needy beggars seeking grace, these who feed with Me at the Father’s bounteous table, these you will see in all the riches of heavenly glory with Me. Then, then, you will remember your imaginary riches and good things to the everlasting torment of your souls.”
Hear the words of the Son of God and flee to Him for mercy, trusting Him alone as your righteousness. — “For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20). Oh, poor, guilty, needy sinner, come to Christ as a filthy, empty handed, naked beggar and find in Him the righteousness that God requires. Everything God requires is in Him. And God gives it freely to all who need it (1 Corinthians 1:30-31).
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