Jesus vs. the Comfortable Life (Luke 6:24-26)
I. What Does the “Comfortable Life' Look Like?
Think with me about what 'the comfortable life' might look like.
For many, a comfortable life has to include 'comfort food'; but not only good food; also lots of choices, whether at home or eating out. For others, a comfortable life means a life of laughter and fun instead of stress and toil. And for still others, there have to be people with whom you can enjoy all this; but drama-free relationships; easy people... who like you, respect you, and don't expect too much of you. Good food. Good times. Good friends. But hold on. Let's not forget the financial freedom to fund this kind of life. The comfortable life is a life free of financial anxiety, but full of financial ability. Does all this sound about right to you?
But what if I were to tell you that, this morning, that Jesus wants to warn you about that kind of life. Some might hear that statement and think, “But doesn't Jesus want us to be happy? Why would he warn us about these things?” Let's answer that question by looking together at Luke 6.
II. The Passage: “Woe to You” (6:24-26)
In this passage from last week's readings, listen to how Jesus touches on every idea I just mentioned. I'll be reading from verses 24-26 of Luke chapter 6. These are the words of Christ...
“But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.  “Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry. “Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.  “Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.”
Money. Food. Laughter. Respect/reputation. Those are all the ingredients we talked about earlier; the ingredients to cook up a comfortable life, right? But every time Jesus talks about one of these things he starts by saying, “Woe to you!” (that is, 'beware, be worried, be wailing' you who are rich/hungry/laughing) What's going on here? But it isn't simply our cultural context that makes this confusing. Listen to what the OT teaches us about these 'ingredients'...
Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil—this is the gift of God. (Ecclesiastes 5:19)
For he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things... He provides food for those who fear him; he remembers his covenant forever. (Psalm 107:9; 111:5)
When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream.  Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then they said among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them.” (Psalm 126:1–2)
“A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold.” (Proverbs 22:1) And when we get to the NT, there are many who had this kind of “good name”: Acts 10:22 mentions "Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation...” And Paul describes one Ananias as “a devout man according to the law, well spoken of by all the Jews who lived [in Damascus]”. (Acts 22:12)
Money. Food. Laughter. Respect/reputation. What's going on here in Luke 6?
1. Consider the Context
The first thing we need to consider (that we always need to consider) is the immediate context. Look with me at the verses that come right before our main passage. Look at Luke 6:20-23...
And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.  “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.  “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man!  Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.
Now many of you might recognize this language. This is 'beatitude' language, isn't it? What I mean is that this sounds a lot like what are called “the beatitudes”; the opening verses of Matthew chapter 5, the opening verses of the longest recorded teaching session of Jesus, a discourse traditionally known as “The Sermon on the Mount”. But that opening section in Matthew 5 starts like this: “Blessed are the poor... in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 5:3) A few verses after, Jesus declares, “Blessed are those who hunger... and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” (Matt. 5:6) Something is different here in Luke, isn't it.
What Luke wants to make clear to us is that this is not the 'sermon on the mount'. No. Look at Luke 6:17... “And [Jesus] came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon...” This is a 'sermon on the “level place”', or a “sermon on the plain'. As you read through Luke 6, you will find many similarities to what we find in Matthew 5-7. But clearly, this isn't the same incident. The messages include similar elements, but they are not the same.
And yet these “blessed are you” statements are driven by the same staggering reality. It's right there in Luke 6:20... “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” If you don't already know, the kingdom of God was the main subject of Jesus' ministry. It's what he announced, proclaimed, taught, emphasized, and... died for... and rose for. And what we find here, in 6:20-23, is Jesus reassuring his disciples that this in-breaking kingdom, this new dawning of God's reign as king, should radically alter their understanding of reality. Here's how...
Though a person's poverty or hunger or sorrow might lead them to believe otherwise, in light of the kingdom, they are indeed blessed. Why? Because by grace, through Jesus, the provision and abundance and satisfaction and comfort and joy of God's kingdom is theirs! And not only now (in some form or fashion, inside and outside), but one day, in every way... in everything. Notice the verb tenses in 20 and 23... “for yours is the kingdom of God”, “your reward is great in heaven”. But we also find the future tense in 21 and 22: “for you shall be satisfied... for you shall laugh”. Like the kingdom itself, its blessings are both now and not yet.
2. Consider the Contrast
Okay. So... in light of the context here, in light of verses 20-23, think about the contrast we find in our main passage, in 6:24-26...
Instead of blessedness in light of the kingdom's consolation, those who are rich are those who (v. 24) “have [already] received [past tense][their] consolation”.
Instead of blessedness in light of the kingdom's provision, those who are (v. 25) “full now” will one day experience even worse hunger pains... eternal lack... eternal deprivation.
Instead of blessedness in light of the kingdom's joy, those who (v. 25) “laugh now” will one day experience an even worse kind of anguish: eternal weeping in that outer darkness (Matt. 8:12).
Do you see what Jesus is emphasizing here? He's emphasizing the time frame. All of us want ultimate consolation and provision and joy, but... are we willing to wait for it? Again, because of the kingdom that Jesus is ushering in, God freely offers us all three of these things... but not always in the ways we want, not always to the extent we want, and not always when we want them. But the world says, “Yes, you can have all of it now.” Jesus doesn't disagree. But he does warn us about the quality of what the world offers, especially the fact that none of it will last. So in essence, Jesus is asking his listeners, “What will it be? Temporary consolation now through worldly wealth, or eternal consolation later, in light of God's riches?”
But there's another aspect to all this. Look at the last item contrasted here. We see that contrast when we compare verses 22 and 23 with verse 26. In the former passage Jesus taught...
“Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man!  Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.
But in the latter verse, verse 26, we read:
“Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.”
Do you see how the context here helps us understand the contrast here, which in turn helps us understand the point Jesus is making here? To whom are these “woes” directed? They are directed at those... who are not willing to suffer for the Son of Man. Money. Food. Laughter. Respect/reputation. The question here is not, “Is it right or wrong to possess or experience or be satisfied by such things?” The question Jesus is asking is this: “Do you value such things to the degree that you would reject Jesus if he somehow threatened these things?”
Notice how Jesus used true and false prophets in the OT as examples here? God's prophets suffered for the truth. But not the false prophets. Why were the “false prophets” false? Because they told people what they wanted to hear, not what God wanted them to hear. When it came to 'prophecy', they cared more about what would be popular rather than what would be profitable. Why? Because they cared more about pleasing other people than they did pleasing God. You see, the woes of Jesus here are not simply directed at people with money, or people with full stomachs, or people who are laughing, or people who are well liked. They are directed at people who desire those things above everything else... including God. Listen to the balanced way in which the Apostle Paul addresses one of the groups Jesus addresses here, the rich...
As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.  They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share,  thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life. (I Timothy 6:17–19)
III. Too Comfortable
Brothers and sisters, friends, how many of us are people with money? How many of us are people with full stomachs? How many of us are people who regularly laugh? How many of us are people who are well liked? And because of all that, are we people who are living comfortably? If this is true of us, to whatever degree, then we must listen carefully to how Jesus warns us about that life... the comfortable life.
I mentioned a moment ago that the people to whom Jesus is speaking here are the people who desire money, food, laughter, and respect/reputation above everything else... including God. The Bible calls that idolatry. And when we make the comfortable life an idol, we fall under this warning from Jesus Christ.
As I've mentioned, God is not opposed to you and me being comfortable. We should give thanks to God for every comfort with which we've been blessed. But... we cannot get too comfortable with being comfortable. Why? Because being comfortable can easily lead to being spiritually sluggish; being comfortable can easily lead to being resistant to discomfort... even when God himself requires it! Jesus said in John 16:33, “In the world you will have tribulation.” Paul told the young churches he planted “that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” (Acts 14:22). Believer, tribulation is not comfortable. Discomfort should be expected when it comes to following Jesus.
But how easy it is for us to buy what our culture is constantly selling; that the comfortable life is to be sought above everything else; defended above everything else; justified above everything else. Be honest with yourself. How many of us work... for the sake of the comfortable life? How many of us manage our time... for the sake of the comfortable life? How many of us practice 'selective hearing' when it comes to God's word... for the sake of the comfortable life? Or how many of us are complaining, moaning, griping because our comfortable life feels threatened?
When is the comfortable life a problem? When it produces people who are comfortable ignoring God.
How is Jesus warning us in Luke 6? He is confronting the 'comfortable' with the truth that such comfort today leads only to eternal discomfort. But at the same time, when we are willing to suffer discomfort now for Christ (e.g., sacrificial giving, being judged or rejected by others, putting others before myself), when we are willing to live an uncomfortable life... for the sake of Christ, we can rest assured that eternal comfort awaits us according to God's own promises; according to the gospel of Jesus.
But the gospel also reminds us that, through Jesus, through his ultimate discomfort... on the cross, God provides abiding comfort for us today; comfort for when the obedient life is the uncomfortable life. Listen to the entirety of John 16:33, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace [comfort]. In the world you will have tribulation [discomfort]. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” Let's both confess and seek that comfort!
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