Blessings and Woes

The studies that came before this one were all based on the Sermon on the Mount as it is recorded in the gospel according to Matthew. But there are related verses that many believe are from the same event in the gospel according to Luke.

There is a big difference between these two gospels. The first was written by a disciple of Christ and who was appointed as one of the original apostles. He was present when Jesus gave this teaching, and so we can accept that he was writing from personal memory. Luke, on the other hand, was not even alive when these things happened. He did not see or hear Jesus personally. He was not even a Jew, and so would never have been among the original apostles even if he was alive at the time. And that gives his writings the interesting status of being the only 2 books of the bible to have been written by a gentile.

He is known as Luke the Evangelist, and it is certainly true to say that he had a personal conversion to Christ. Then, as he was also a scholar and a physician, he tried to find out all he could about the faith he now had. He made it his business to discover as much as he could about the truth of Christ and his life. He also gathered whatever information he could garner about the early church, and some of the later things in the book of Acts he may well have witnessed personally.

So the gospel of Luke is the result of research rather than experience. A gathering together of oral records before they were forgotten or died out. It is assumed that, whenever he met a Jew who was old enough, he would press them with questions to discover what they personally remembered from the time of Jesus, and if they had seen him or met him.

It is also assumed that he had many notes as a result of this, and that he was diligent to compare what different people had told him, and so to see what stories were repeated and consistent. This would give greater expectation that the recorded interviews were telling of the same events with the greatest accuracy possible. This does bring into play, however, the normal human failing of embellishment or reduction of witnessed events over time. It is a known and proven phenomenon, but was probably little thought of at the time of Luke. But it is accepted that Luke paid all diligence that he could to create an account about Jesus that was as accurate as it was possible to be, through careful questioning of many witnesses.

So, in the sixth chapter of Luke’s gospel, we have a passage of scripture that mirrors the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew. But this sermon is much shorter, and there appears to be different emphases at times.

The Sermon in Matthew began with a section that is commonly known as the Beatitudes. We have a similar beginning in Luke, but this time it is a collection of blessings and woes. This is found in Luke 6:20-26

Looking at his disciples, he said:
‘Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who hunger now,
for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you,
when they exclude you and insult you
and reject your name as evil,
because of the Son of Man.
‘Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.
‘But woe to you who are rich,
for you have already received your comfort.
Woe to you who are well fed now,
for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
for you will mourn and weep.
Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you,
for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.’

At first glance, this appears to be a much more difficult passage than that of the Beatitudes in Matthew. In Matthew it became increasingly clear that Jesus was talking about the life and relationship that is ours as sons and daughters of the Father. And the Beatitudes can be seen as qualities of a child of the Father that grow and develop as the child develops and matures.

This list here is very different. The ‘blessings’ are to do with what you may lack in this life, and the ‘woes’ are to do with what you are ‘blessed’ with in this life.
In one sense it can be summed up like this: that if you are a true follower of Jesus, and if you have repented and accepted the loving work of Christ on the cross of Calvary, then you are living a new life in Christ, clothed with his righteousness and holiness. As such you can enjoy the privilege of being a child of the Father, and to be a member of this family. And as such a child matures and develops, they are salt and light in the world – which is to say that you will be noticed and you will affect the world around you.

What Luke points out here is that, once you are noticed, there can be rejection and hatred. People may not want to employ you, or they may not want to make purchases from your business. Friends can walk away from you, considering you ‘weird.’ So without work or business, you can become destitute, hungry, friendless… and – as we see increasingly in the world today (and certainly in both USA and UK) – a person who has been reduced to such a level of need is often reviled, called a ‘scrounger,’ or accused of being a drug addict or alcoholic, or even assumed to be a former convict not really deserving of a place in society.

And Luke continues to point out that there are those who are considered not only religious people, but good and blessed and who surely must be ‘blessed of God’ because of the wealth and happiness that they have acquired. But yet these are not children of the Father. They preach a false gospel and they seek comfort, wealth and the approval of men.

Brothers and sisters, what an accurate and unfortunate description of the church as we see it today! I have already, a number of times, shown that we have false prophets and teachers who are enjoying the lifestyles of multi-millionaires, but while there are those in their own congregations who go hungry and yet are still put under pressure to give. These preachers who are well fed, rich almost beyond the imagination of many people, and who have so much approval from a wide swathe of the church, and even in the world beyond the church.

Do these people speak out to defend the poor and needy? In one sense they do – they certainly take the photo opportunities to be seen with the ragged poor children of Africa or South America, and use this as a ‘guilt pressure’ to collect more donations for their ‘ministry.’ But it has to be said that their great mansions still continue to grow in size, along with their collection of luxury cars.

As for the poor in their own congregation, they preach the ‘magic formula’ of the prosperity gospel which, of course, means giving even more into the collection for the ministry. They use a verse from later in this chapter as a kind of magic formula to ‘prove’ that you can’t out-give God, and that He will be ‘honour bound’ by His Word to bless you beyond your imagination.

I am amazed at this, quite frankly. When we reach that verse in these studies, it can be seen without a question of doubt that it has been taken completely out of context to have been used as a pretext for the ‘prosperity gospel.’ Worse still, it is as though you could take the bible as a collection of magic spells and formulae with which to force certain things to happen in life.

So I am amazed that there is no outcry against both the sins of heresy and sorcery from within the church, but then Luke makes his point about false prophets – that they gain the approval of men with the fame and fortune to go with it.

I can’t help but think again of what true Sodomy is, as referenced by the prophet Ezekiel, 16:49

“Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.”

The New American Standard Bible translates it like this:

“Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had arrogance, abundant food and careless ease, but she did not help the poor and needy.”

If we are to be true to the words of this prophecy, then we must agree with the woes as recorded in our passage of Luke. There is a coming judgement for such prophets, teachers and leaders. And those who join with them risk a lot concerning their relationship with the Father.

I do not accept that, because there is a response to the ‘gospel’ they preach, that because they do healings in Jesus’ name, and cast out demons in his name, that therefore these things must be accepted as signs that these are truly godly men doing God’s will. Look again at the passage in Matthew 7 where Jesus talks about those coming to him saying, ‘Lord, Lord.’ These were people with just such signs and miracles. And Jesus said to them to ‘go away you doers of evil.’

I know that I will not be popular in many parts of the church for my opposition to the ‘prosperity gospel.’ There is something very attractive about it. But there are also aspects of that attraction that are similar to the attraction of gambling in the lottery – and with the same level of possibility of success. But the fact that such a teaching has come from wolves in sheep’s clothing is shown by the fruits – as Jesus instructed us to see. And this is because Jesus did not want us judging people directly, but looking at the results of their actions as the way to judge things.

It is a fact, for instance, that these false prophets are tending to endorse politicians who maintain hardship, or even increase hardship, for the poorest and most vulnerable in the land. They tend to support those who promote increasing xenophobia and hatred of certain groups (just try to explain to me, please, how this fits in with ‘love your enemies’). And certainly they seem to help the rich to be richer, which always has the result of the poor being even poorer. And they even use the excuse from both the Old and New Testaments with the quote that the poor will always be with us – as though that justifies ignoring their plight. The sin of Sodom indeed…

In some ways I have picked an easy target. But there is a second group of false prophets who seem to do well in life and receive the approval of men very quickly. I would call these the Christian Pharisees. Those who promote a slavish observance to any verse of scripture that can be interpreted, or even wrongly interpreted, to be a ‘law.’ These speakers and ‘prophets’ both knowingly and unknowingly promote a hatred for those who do not follow the same ‘standards’ (despite the fact that Jesus himself taught, in Matthew 5, that such things will be useless for gaining access to the Kingdom; and that Paul taught that these things are worthless and filthy rags not fit to be clothed in for approaching the Father).

As a b-product of this kind of teaching,  whole groups of the population then have to face bigotry and persecution, and some preachers even say that they deserve the deaths when crazy individuals take heed of this ‘Christian bigotry’ and take matters into their own hands and ‘execute’ some individuals of the hated group.

I would say beware to the true followers of Jesus, to those who are clothed in his righteousness and have become true children of the Father. Those of you who know that no amount of legalism is acceptable, and who will love all universally, as did Jesus. The day could come when the false prophets of ‘prosperity’ and legalism will add you to the despised groups and encourage persecution against you. Yes, you understood me correctly – those who follow these teachings of Jesus in the Sermon will very likely face persecution from those who claim to belong to Jesus, from the church itself. Remember the dogs and the swine from the sermon in Matthew?

There is a much more positive side to these same verses, and so I will return to them in the next study. But it is clear that this passage, in contrast to the Beatitudes in Matthew, is intended as a warning and so that was my focus today. If it leaves you less than happy, then read the next study for the positives…

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