How to Develop Compassion

Today we are on the topic of developing a compassionate heart, one that is concerned about others, primarily the salvation of lost people around us. The command is found in Luke 16:9, to Make Friends (aorist imperative). But, in order to understand Luke 16:1-13, we must go back to Luke 15:1-2.

Passage for Today: Luke 16:1-13 – which is all about stewardship. You will notice this is the parable of the unjust steward. The main question has to do with why the rich man would commend his dishonest manager. A second question has to do with why Jesus cites the actions of the dishonest manager with approval, using him as an example for his disciples. Let’s deal with these in the lesson

Group Question: When have you been let go from a job, or passed over for a job you wanted?

Purpose of the Study: The purpose of this study is to determine our willingness to invest our resources in light of eternity. God wants us to faithfully invest our time and financial resources to reach lost people. The command of Christ in this passage is that we “make friends for yourselves by means of the wealth of unrighteousness.” Obedience to this command requires the faithful stewardship of our money.

Historical Background: To understand the context of chapter 16, we must go back to 15:1-2. Jesus has surrounded himself with tax collectors and sinners. The Pharisees stand on the perimeter, criticizing that Jesus would spend time with lost people. Chapter 15 is a series of three parables directed toward the Pharisees. They teach that lost people matter to God, they deserve an all-out search and when they are found we ought to celebrate.

Luke 16 starts with a parable about “The Unrighteous Steward.” The parable and command is directed toward His disciples but the Pharisees are within hearing range of His teaching. The Pharisees’ reaction to His teaching is found in 16:14 — “Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, were listening to all these things and were scoffing at Him.” Jesus then addresses the Pharisees directly in 16:15 — “And He said to them, ‘You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God.'” Jesus accuses them of valuing (esteeming) the wrong things. Lost people matter to God and we ought to invest both time and money to reach them.

The Pharisees could not understand so Jesus then tells a true story of a real after death experience (unlike today these two men didn’t return to report what happened). The Story of the Rich Man and Lazarus is a true story because parables never use proper names. The Pharisees must have gasped as Jesus told the story of a fellow Pharisee that was unnamed but apparently easily identified by Jesus’ detailed description.

The main point of this story is that rich men who don’t come to God on his terms (Luke 16:29-31) and misuse the stewardship of their resources (a reflection of their unbelief) end up in Hell (Luke 16:19,22b,23-28).

Epistles address this theme as well: 1 Corinthians 4:12; Titus 1:7; 1 Peter 4:10

Discussion Questions:

1. What three parables did Jesus tell the Pharisees in Luke 15? The parable of the “Lost Sheep” (Luke 15:1-7); the “Lost Coin” (Luke 15:8-10); and the “Lost Son” (Luke 15:11-32).

2. Why did He tell them these three parables? (Luke 15:12) Jesus taught these three parables to set the religious leaders straight once and for all. It really aggravated these spiritual leaders of the day that this man who claimed to be the “Son of God” would feel so comfortable socializing with riff-raft. The Pharisees (Luke 15:1-2) couldn’t understand how Jesus could eat with, socialize with, hang out with those whose lives were not submitted to God. What bothered Jesus was that these leaders had a list in their minds of who mattered to God and who didn’t. They had it all figured out that they mattered to God but these irreligious, Gentile, pagan, market place outsiders didn’t matter to God.

This is one of the only times in the teaching ministry of Jesus where He tells three parables back, to back, to back. It was normally Jesus teaching style to confront a problem by the telling of a parable, the explaining of a parable, and then moving along. But this time, it’s as though Jesus is saying “I want to straighten out the confusion in your minds, once and for all. I’m going to tell you not one, not two, but three stories. I’m going to rapid-fire truth into your minds so that you will never again be confused on the issue of who matters to God and who doesn’t.

3. Collectively, what are these three parables teaching? (Luke 15:6,9,24) All three parables teach that lost people matter to God, they deserve an all-out search and when they are found it demands a celebration.

4. In the third parable, whom does the older brother represent? (Luke 15:25-32) The older son represents the Pharisees who were “angry’ (Luke 15:28) because Jesus was spending time with lost people instead of them. They were the religious establishment; if Jesus was going to check in with anybody it should have been them. On an earlier occasion Jesus informed the Pharisees that His mission was targeted to reach the unrighteous and the spiritually sick people of this world. In Luke 5:30 the Pharisees asked Jesus the question: “Why do you eat and drink with the tax collectors and sinners?” Luke 5:31-32 says, “And Jesus answered and said to them, ‘It is not those who are well who need a physician, but those who are sick. 32 I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.'” Jesus’ suggestion was that he didn’t need to spend time with them because they were the healthy and the righteous was sarcasm. They were self-righteous and spiritually dead but couldn’t recognize it.

5. To whom does Jesus direct this parable? (Luke 16:1) It is clearly stated in Luke 16:1 that Jesus was directing this parable to his disciples. The word “also” seems to mean that at this same time, after speaking to the Pharisees (in Luke 15), Jesus proceeds to speak a parable to the disciples (Luke 16:1-13). it’s obvious from Luke 16:14 that the Pharisees hung around to see what He would say to his disciples.

6. When the Pharisees heard this command on stewardship, what did they do and why? (Luke 16:14) Luke 16:15 says, “Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, were listening to all these and were scoffing at Him.” The verb “scoffing” means “to turn out or up the nose at one, to sneer, to scoff.” The Pharisees being “lovers of money” rather than lovers of God precipitated this emotional response when Jesus commanded His disciples to invest their money to reach lost people.

7. What happened to one of the Pharisees’ friends who used his resources for himself alone? (Luke 16:19-31) This question suggests that the rich man who was “joyously living in splendor every day” (Luke 16:19) was a fellow Pharisee. The text seems to imply this when it describes the rich man in the story as dressing like a Pharisee and acting like one. The Pharisees (like this rich man) measured their spirituality by their wealth instead of their compassion for the poor.

They believed that financial prosperity was a sign of God’s blessing on their lives because they were righteous. In reality they were spiritually bankrupt. On more than one occasion Jesus reminded these Pharisees that they didn’t have the love of God in their hearts (John 5:42) or they would have reacted differently when Jesus helped the poor and the afflicted. The rich man in this text (all too familiar a story with a poor beggar named Lazarus laying outside of their friend’s home, dogs licking his sores, to be just a coincidence) died and immediately went to a place of torment (Luke 16:23) and agony (Luke 16:24,25) called Hades. This rich man should have sought God’s mercy (Luke 16:24) while he was alive. It was too late to seek God’s mercy after he died.

8. What is a manager? (Luke 16:1) A “manager” was an individual who had been entrusted with the stewardship of another person’s property: from oikos, (house), and nemo, (to distribute or dispense). So, one who assigns to the members of the household their several duties, and pays to each his wages. The paymaster. He kept the household stores under lock and seal, giving out what was required, and for this purpose received a signet ring from his master.

Vincent writes, “A manager was a trusted servant, usually someone born in the household, who was chief of the management and distribution of household provisions. He provided food for all the other servants, thus managing his master’s resources for the well-being of others. He acted as an agent for his master, with full authority to transact business in the master’s name.”

9. Are managers or stewards held accountable? (Luke 16:2) The verse says, “And he (rich man — owner) called him and said to him (manager),”What is this I hear about you? Give an accounting of your management, for you can no longer be manager.” The owner wanted a complete audit of the books. “Balance the books and show me how you have been running my business or household.” The “rich man” in this story is a picture of God who will hold every believer accountable at the Bema Seat of Christ as a servant & a steward (Romans 14:12; 1 Corinthians 3:10-15; 2 Corinthians 5:10). The rich man in verse 8 is called the “master” (Greek kyrios).

10. Why was the manager losing his job? (Luke 16:1) He had mismanaged the Masters resources. Luke 16:1 says, “…this manager was reported to him as squandering his possessions.” The word “squandering” means “wasted.” Since this man wasn’t arrested or punished for swindling or theft, it appears that the owner didn’t suspect the manager of dishonesty but thought that he had been irresponsible and extravagant.

11. What did this man do before he was removed from his stewardship? (Luke 16:3-7) The text says the manager asked himself, “What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig; I am ashamed to beg” (Luke 16:3). Then the manager realized it wouldn’t be long before his employment would be terminated and he would be homeless. Then he got an idea how to be welcomed to stay with others. The verb “I know” in Luke 16:4 is better translated “I am resolved.” It is a burst of daylight to the puzzled, darkened man: We got it, I see into it now, a sudden solution. Cleverly, he arranged to give large discounts to his master’s debtors, which they would eagerly agree to pay. By reducing their debts to his master, he gained their indebtedness to him. The amounts owed were large; the wheat is said to be equal to the yield of about one hundred acres (Jeremias, Parables of Jesus, pg. 181). They would therefore be obligated to take him into their homes when he was put out of his master’s home.

12. Was the Master praising the manager for his unrighteousness? (Luke 16:4,8a) The master (rich man or owner) commended the unrighteous manager. He wasn’t applauding the man for unjust handling of the funds once he was notified that he was going to be dismissed but he was impressed with how shrewd he was about planning for his future.

13. Where does the parable end? (Luke 16:8) This parable ends in the middle of the verse. Jesus begins to draw a principle from the parable with these words — “for the sons of this age are more…”

14. How does Christ use this parable to contrast believers with unbelievers? (Luke 16:8b) Jesus said, “for the sons of this age are more shrewd in relation to their own kind than the sons of light.” It is more literally translated, “The sons of this age are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light.” This means that ungodly, unregenerate men show more shrewdness or wisdom in providing for their future in this world than true believers show in laying up treasures in heaven. Unbelievers know how to manage their resources to prepare for the future and retirement. lf Christians were just as conscientious about preparing for heaven we would see many more people coming to Christ as we invest our resources in them.

15. What does Jesus command His disciples to do in Luke 16:9? “And I say to you, make friends (aorist imperative) for yourselves by means of the wealth of unrighteousness, so that when it fails, they will receive you into the eternal dwellings.” The aorist imperative “make friends” denotes urgency. In the phrase, “Wealth of unrighteousness,” Christ commands His disciples to use not only their time but also their money to build redemptive friendships.

We should use money and other material things in such a way as to form friendships that potentially could endure throughout eternity. Money can be used to buy Bibles, Christian books, tracts, message tapes, dinners out, tickets to a concert or sporting event, sacrificial gifts that could help our lost friends with pressing needs all this with the goal of reaching a lost friend for Christ.

The unrighteous manager used his master’s money to buy earthly friends; believers are to use their Master’s money in a way that will accrue friends for eternity. The unrighteous manager anticipated being welcomed into the homes (Luke 16:4) of those for whom he had reduced the debt. In a similar manner, those who make an investment to help their lost friends come to Christ will be welcomed into their “dwellings” in heaven. What a reception in heaven that will be for those who make the maximum investment of their lives and possessions down here on earth.

The word “welcome” and “receive” (same Greek word) in Luke 16:4,9 echoes back to a previous occurrence of the word in Luke 15:2. If we receive (“to receive by deliberate and ready reception” Vines) lost people like Jesus did and invest our resources to see them come to Christ, they will receive us into their eternal dwellings in heaven. Note that eventually our money will “fail” us because it cannot be taken to heaven, but our lost friends who trust Christ can be taken and even precede us if they die first.

16. What is unrighteous mammon? (Luke 16:9) Christ did not commend the man’s dishonesty; He specifically called him “unrighteous” or “unjust” (Luke 16:8). He only used him as an illustration to show that even the most wicked sons of this world are shrewd enough to provide for themselves against coming evil. Believers ought to be more shrewd, because they are concerned with eternal matters, not just earthly ones.

17. If we use our resources to reach our unbelieving friends, what can we anticipate when we get to heaven? (Luke 16:9) The following verses show that the steward was not at all commended for his crookedness, but rather for his foresight. He had acted prudently. He looked to the future, and made provision for it. He sacrificed present gain for future reward. In applying this to our own lives, we must be very clear; the future of the child of God is not on this earth but in heaven. Just as the steward took steps to insure that he would have friends during his retirement here below, so the Christian should use his Master’s goods in such a way as to insure a welcoming party when he gets to heaven.

18. How do you know what a person values? (Matthew 6:21) A person invests his time, treasure, and talent into whatever he values. Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

19. According to Jesus, how important is it to be faithful as a steward? (Luke 16:10-13) If we are “faithful in” our stewardship of “a very little thing,” then we will be “faithful” in handling “much” (spiritual treasures). On the other hand, if a man has “not been faithful in the use of unrighteous wealth,” why would God trust him when bigger considerations of eternal value are at stake? The relative unimportance of money is emphasized by the expression “a very little thing.”

20. What are the “true riches” in Luke 16:11? These refer to the souls of men. If God cannot trust us with unrighteous money, which is of a temporal nature, why would he entrust into our care new converts that are of an etemal nature?

21. Can a disciple of Christ love money and God at the same time? (Luke 16:13) No! “You cannot serve God and mammon.” It is utterly impossible to live for things and for God at the same time. If we are mastered by money, we cannot really be serving the Lord. It is a matter of divided loyalty. Motives are mixed. Decisions are not impartial.


  1. Serendipity Bible for Groups by: Serendipity House, Zondervan Publishing House, 1998
  2. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 8 by: Frank E. Gaebelein (General Editor), Zondewan Publishing House, 1984
  3. Commentary on Luke by: Frederic Louis Godet, Kregel Publications, 1981.
  4. Investment Portfolio Exercise Heart for the Harvest Seminar Notebook and Study Guide. By Search Ministries, Inc., 1989
  5. The Gospel of Luke by: Vlfilliam Hedriksen Baker Book House, 1978.
  6. The Chronological Life of Christ Vol.2 by: Mark E. Moore, College Press Publishing Company, 1997
  7. The MacArthur Study Bible by: John F. MacArthur, Jr., Word Publishing, 1997.
  8. Believers Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments by: William MacDonald, Thomas Nelson, 1997
  9. Word Studies in the New Testament Vol.1 by: Marvi R. Vincent, WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1975
  10. Word Picture in the New Testament Vol.2 by: A. T. Robertson, Broadman Press, 1930



Copyright 2001, Richard D. Leineweber, Jr.

Additional Commentary: 1

Back to our original questions, why the rich man would commend his dishonest manager? and why did Jesus cite the actions of the dishonest manager with approval, using him as an example for his disciples.

The first question may be answered only when the actual action of the dishonest manager is fully understood. An old interpretation of this parable held that the rich man was impressed with the shrewdness of the manager because the latter, after being served notice of dismissal, dishonestly reduced the bills owed the rich man so as to ingratiate himself with these various clients and business associations. Although the rich man has been cheated yet again by the scoundrel, he is, nevertheless, impressed with his manager’s cleverness. Related to this interpretation is the suggestion that the manager has eliminated the interest part of the bill in conformity to the Old Testament’s law against usury (Deuteronomy 15:7–8; 23:20–21). So, the idea is that the dishonest manager has finally done a proper, biblical thing. This approach to the parable, however, is not satisfying. Why should the master praise the dishonest manager? Would he have anything good to say about someone who had not only wasted his money (Luke 16:1), but then after being fired (Luke 16:2) further cheated him? This seems highly unlikely.

More plausible is the suggestion of Derrett and Fitzmyer, that what the dishonest manager has done is to cancel out the profit that was due him (sort of a commission). By canceling the commissions, the debts were reduced, an action that would no doubt result in future kindness being shown the dishonest manager. So, the rich man has not at all been cheated by this final action of the fired manager. The master is still owed what is due him, while his former employee, by foregoing a few commissions, now has a brighter future. Having understood the parable this way, it is now much easier to understand why Jesus sees in the action of the dishonest manager a worthy example for his disciples. They, like the dishonest manager, should be able to recognize the advantage in giving up a little now so that some day in the future they may receive much more.

The main point in the lesson above is that Jesus (or Luke) is not urging his disciples to acquire wealth dishonestly but to make good use of the resources (particularly financial resources) of this world. Jesus is not recommending compromise and he is certainly not recommending dishonesty, but he is urging his followers not to overlook opportunities and resources that will sustain his people and advance the Christian mission. By using the resources of this world wisely, Christians can be assured that when it is gone they will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. While Jesus’ followers are on earth they should make use of the world’s available resources in order to maintain themselves and the work of the church. When, however, these resources are exhausted and life’s work is finished, the followers of Christ can look forward to entering a home that is eternal, not temporary, a home whose resources will never give out.

A second lesson is drawn from Luke 16:10-12. The principle of Luke 16:10 is that by the way a person handles himself with very little it is evident how such a person handles himself with much. We come to what for Luke is probably the heart of the matter in Luke 16:11. If the followers of Jesus cannot properly handle worldly wealth, then they cannot expect to be trusted with true riches. For us, if Christians cannot manage their money, property, and other possessions properly (such as supporting the poor and the ministry), they cannot expect to be entrusted with the rewards and wealth that last forever (Matthew 6:25–34). Implicitly, one’s stewardship in this life will form the basis for future reward and responsibility in heaven (Matthew 25:14–30). Luke 16:12 adds a new thought to this second lesson: if Jesus’ disciples have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property (like God’s “property”), who (God) will give them property (rewards) of their own?

Luke 16:13 provides a third lesson drawn from this parable. In Matthew this verse occurs in a much fuller context (Matthew 6:24) concerning the need to be loyal to God over against the things of the world. Here in Luke the saying brings out one more truth with respect to wealth that every follower of Jesus should know, a truth that has been presupposed in Luke 16:9–12. Christians owe their total allegiance to God and not to money. This saying prevents us from misunderstanding Luke 16:8–9. Whereas Christians are to put wealth to good purposes, they are not to become enslaved to it. Herein lies a grave danger for many Christians. What often passes for “good stewardship” or “God’s blessing” is really nothing short of greed and materialism.

1 Evans, C. A. (1990). Luke (p. 240). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[Questions and responses by Richard D. Leineweber, Jr. c. 2000]

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Receptivity to God’s Word

Luke 8:4-21 addresses the quality of our attentiveness to God’s Word, in spiritual matters, Bible study, worship, devotional time…

This lesson is all about the heart of the listener. The nation of Israel and the disciples could not have a better teacher. The message or seed was perfect yet there were four different kinds of responses by the hearers. This was because there are four different kinds of hearts. This parable would prepare the disciples to except the sad reality that not everyone will be receptive to their teaching. We are to work hard at preparing good Bible studies and teaching, but receptivity to God’s Word or biblical teaching is an issue of the heart. Jesus is personally challenging his own disciples to build the character quality of attentiveness to God’s word. Our Lord’s half-brother James describes the goal of attentiveness, “but prove yourself to be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves” (James 1:22).

Historical Background: Matthew 13:1, 3 says, “that same day Jesus went out of the house and… told them many things in parables.” What was significant about “that day?” Earlier that day Jesus had healed the blind, mute demoniac and Jesus had been accused by the national leaders of Israel of performing that miracle by Beelzebub, the ruler of demons, (Matthew 12:22–24). This is no small accusation. Jesus describes it as the unpardonable sin of blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, (Matthew 12:31–32).

This is unrepeatable today unless a person saw the incarnate Christ performing miracles by the Holy Spirit and attributing them to Satan. The Pharisees’ words that day condemned them, (Matthew 12:37), and judicially as a nation Jesus would hide truth from them in parables and offer them one more miraculous sign, the sign of Jonah the prophet, (his resurrection, Matthew 12:38–40).

Satan had not hindered Israel’s receptivity to God’s word because Jesus had swept the house of Israel clean of such influences so we could receive the Holy Spirit. But with their formal rejection of Jesus, he predicts that since the house is unoccupied, it wouldn’t remain empty, but would be filled with all the previous demons and that they would each find a seven other spirits more wicked than themselves to take up residence there, (Matthew 13:43–45).

The primary command we are talking about today are “let him hear” in Luke 8:8, and “take care how you listen” in Luke 8:18.

Other Times You Find this Command in the Gospels:

  • Matthew 11:15 let him hear, Matthew 15:10 hear and understand, Matthew 13:9 let him hear, Matthew 13:18 hear, Matthew 13:43 let him hear, Matthew 21:33 listen.
  • Mark 4:3 listen to this, Mark 4:9 let him hear, Mark 4:23 let him hear, Mark 4:24 take care what you listen to, Mark 7:16 let him hear.
  • Luke 8:8 let him hear, Luke 8:18 take care how you listen, Luke 18:6 hear.

The Gospels describe how large crowds came to hear Jesus, (Luke 5:15, 6:8.) People were astonished at what they heard, (Matthew 19:25, 22:33, Mark 11:18). They would come to hear him teach in the synagogue, (Mark 6:2, 12:37, Luke 21:38), and by the seashore, (Luke 5:1). Lazarus’ sister Mary made it a priority to sit at the feet of Jesus and learn from him when he stayed with them, (Luke 10:39). Table fellowship with irreligious people was one of Jesus favorite places to dialogue with lost people, (Luke 15:1). Men from the city of Sychar trusted in Jesus as Savior after listening to him, (John 4:42), but everyone wasn’t as receptive. On other occasions people walked away, (John 6:60), others were offended, (Matthew 15:12), others were grieved, (Matthew 19:22), they were angered (Luke 4:28) and saddened (Luke 18:23).

1. To whom was Jesus speaking? (Luke 8:4, 9, Matthew 13:2, 10, Mark 4:1). All these verses indicate that it was a great multitude, a very great multitude, the disciples, and his followers along with the twelve.

2. Where did Jesus teach this parable? (Mark 4:1, Matthew 13:1–2). These verses indicate that he began to teach again by the sea, a very large crowd had gathered so he got into the boat in the sea and sat down, and the whole crowd was by the sea on the land.

3. What is a parable? (Luke 8:4, Mark 4:2, Matthew 13:13). John MacArthur writes, “the parable was a common form of Jewish teaching, and the term is found some 45 times in the Septuagint, the Greek Old Testament. The term is a compound word made up from the Greek verb that means, “to throw, lay, or place,” and the prefix meaning “alongside of.” So the idea is that of placing or laying something alongside of something else for the purpose of comparison. A spiritual truth would be expressed by laying it alongside a physical example that could easily be understood. A common, observable object or practice was used to illustrate a subjective truth or principal. The known elucidated the unknown.

4. What reasons does Jesus give for teaching in parables? (Luke 8:9–10, Matthew 13:1, 10-17, Mark 4:10–12). Jesus at this point in time began to teach in parables to hide truth rather than to make it more easily understood. Only those with tender hearts and eyes of faith would receive an explanation and understand its meaning. Here Jesus clearly affirms that the ability to comprehend spiritual truth is a gracious gift of God, sovereignly bestowed on the elect, (Matthew 13:11).

Those with hard hearts are passed over. They reap the natural consequences of their own unbelief and rebellion, spiritual blindness (Matthew 13:13). Matthew seems to suggest that the words, “because while seeing they do not see,” that their own unbelief is the cause of their spiritual blindness. Luke 8:10 emphasizes God’s initiative in obscuring the truth from these unbelievers, “but to the rest is given in parables, in order that seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand, (see Isaiah 6:9). Both are true, yet we are not to think that God blinds them because he somehow delights in their destruction, (Ezekiel 33:11, 23:37). This judicial blinding may be viewed as an act of mercy, lest their condemnation be increased. Matthew 13:14–15 is quoted from Isaiah 6:9–10.

When the Jewish nation was guilty of unbelief, it was to our benefit because it brought in the Gentiles, (Matthew 13:11). (See also Acts 28:26, Isaiah 6, Romans 11).

5. What is the mystery of the kingdom of God? (Luke 8:10, Matthew 13:11, 24–50). The word “mystery” does not refer to stories like those found in modern mystery novels, whose complex plot and unexpected situations pique the curiosity of the reader.

In Scripture, the “mystery” refers to the revelation of something previously hidden and unknown. The New Testament mysteries were revelations and explanations of divine truth that were not revealed to saints under the Old Covenant.

The particular mysteries about which Jesus teaches here have to do with the Kingdom of Heaven, (Matthew 13:24, 31, 33, 44, 45, 47, 52). Parallel passages are in Mark 4:11, 30 and Luke 8:10, 13:18, or seem to be the same as the Kingdom of God, Matthew 19:23–24. One title emphasizes the king, God, and the other emphasizes the sphere of his reign, heaven. Of this Kingdom of the Old Testament gives only limited, incomplete glimpse. Some interpret these messianic prophecies in the Old Testament as pointing to Christ’s second coming and the establishment of his earthly kingdom and his subsequent eternal kingdom. Only hints were given about his present earthly kingdom that began with his rejection and crucifixion and will continue until he returns. This is the kingdom that exist spiritually in the hearts of his people while the king is physically absent from the earth. He is present with believers, but is not visible or evident in the world, except as revealed through their lives and testimony.

When the Son of God became incarnate, he was God’s unique Mediator, the divine-human instrument of rule, who in his own right deserved to establish and reign over God’s earthly kingdom. When the Son of God was rejected, God continues to rule through those who belong to Christ, those who are now empowered within by his own indwelling Holy Spirit. From Pentecost through the present day and until Christ returns, Christians are God’s rulers on earth.

To be in his mediatorial kingdom, requires intentional identity with him. For these false citizens the identity is hypocritical and superficial. For the true citizens, the identity is genuine, being based on repentance, faith in Christ, and the new life that faith in him brings, (Mark 1:15).

6. Do you think the disciples understood the mystery? (Matthew 13:51–52). The disciples respond to Jesus by saying “yes,” but from what they said and did, we know their understanding was far from perfect.

7. What does the seed represent in this parable? (Luke 8:12). The seed is called “the word of the kingdom,” (Matthew 13:19,) the “word of God,” (Luke 8:11), and just “the word” every other time, (Matthew 13:21, 22, 23, Mark 4:14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 20, Luke 8:12, 13, 15). The “word of the kingdom” is the good news of entrance into the kingdom by grace through faith. The “word” is able to save those who believe, (Luke 8:12, Romans 1:16). The “word” is the gospel but the text certainly has a broader application to receptivity to teaching of any of God’s Word.

8. Who is the sower? Jesus does not here identify the sower, but in the parable of the wheat and the tares, he says, “the one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man,” (Matthew 13:37).

9. What does the soil represent in this parable? (Luke 8:11, 15, Mark 4:14). The soil represents the “hearers” and the hearts of men, (Matthew 13:19, Luke 8:12).

10. What happens to the seed as it falls on each type of soil? (Luke 8:5–8, Matthew 13:4–8, Mark 4:4–8). The first three are not Christian, no fruit means no Christian.

  • Beside the road, (Luke 8:5). The seed was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air ate it up.
  • On rocky ground, (Luke 8:6). The seed grows, breaks the ground, but withers up because it had no moisture. Matthew 13:5 says they did not have much soil, and immediately they spraying up. Both Matthew 13:5 and Mark 4:5 describe this immediate growth was because they had no depth of soil. Luke 8:6 adds because it had no moisture.
  • Among thorns, (Luke 8:7). The seeds fell among the thorns and was choked out before it could bear fruit. Mark 4:7 adds that it yielded no crop.
  • Into the good soil, (Luke 8:8). This seed was able to produce a crop. When the seed falls on the good soil, Mark 4:7 says it grew up and increased, the yield of the crop and produced 30, 60, and one hundredfold. Matthew 13:8 says that there can be good soil but it is not all equally productive. Luke 8:8 contrasts the good soil with the three previous types of soil that were unproductive and says, “and produce a crop 100 times is great.”

11. What kind of hearts does each of the soil represent?

  • A hard and stubborn heart, (Luke 8:12): A person with a stubborn heart is totally unreceptive and does not understand it and “the bird” who is called “Satan” (Mark 4:15) or “the evil one” (Matthew 13:19) or “the devil” (Luke 8:12) comes immediately and takes away the word that was sown. Luke 8:12 gives us a reason for the urgency, “so that they may not believe and be saved.”
  • A selective heart, (Luke 8:13): A person with a selective part is quick to receive the Word but due to affliction or persecution because of the Word, he isn’t merely reluctant, he immediately falls away (Matthew 13:21). The words “fall away” (scandalizo) in Matthew 13:21 and Mark 4:17 refers to being “offended, caused to stumble, or trip.” The word translated “fall away” in Luke’s account is a different word that is equivalent to apostasy (Luke 8:13). In a way, these people are simply trying to avoid hell, which brings them some element of joy, but they have no desire to really follow Jesus, especially during hardship. They soon believe that Christianity doesn’t work and then they think any religion will do. So they don’t walk with Christ.
  • A preoccupied heart, (Luke 8:14): A person with a preoccupied heart is distracted by worry of the world, the deceitfulness of riches, (Matthew 13:22), the desires of other things, (Matthew 4:19), and the pleasures of this life, (Luke 8:14). In Matthew and Mark the word is “choked out” of a persons life, Luke identifies the person as being choked as well. A preoccupied heart leads to becoming unfruitful, (Mark 4:19). Luke says this kind of hearer will bring no fruit to maturity, (Luke 8:14). These people are just too busy.
  • A productive heart, (Luke 8:15): A person that possesses a productive heart will hear the Word, (Matthew 13:23), accept it, and he bears fruit, (Mark 4:20), some bearing a hundredfold, some 60, and some 30, (Matthew 13:23). Luke provides the explanation for the different levels of productiveness. Luke says the “seed in the good soil is the one who hears the word in an honest and and good heart, and hold it fast, and bears fruit with perseverance.” Luke suggests four steps to being good listeners that bring forth a crop that is a hundredfold.
    • An honest heart, which is the opposite of a false-hearted, dishonest person.
    • A good heart, “good” here has the meaning in the sense of good fertile soil, it denotes a soul inclined to goodness and accordingly eager to learn.
    • Hold it fast, meaning to cling to the truths that are learned. We are all prone to hear something and then forget it. Jesus is saying we need to hold onto it. This may require note taking during a message for Bible study, going over those notes during the week, maybe memorizing a key verse from the passage.
    • Bear fruit with perseverance, which means that bearing fruit takes time and perseverance. This requires life application, action steps, accountability, prayer, and a lot of patience. The degree to which we apply these four steps will determine our fruitfulness.

12. Why are some Christians more productive than others? (Luke 8:8, 15, Matthew 13:8, Mark 4:20). According to these passages there is a difference in the level of productivity. Luke’s gospel provides the insight into why all believers are described as good soil and yet they can produce a different size crop. Luke 8:15 says, “but the seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance.”

13. How does Luke 8:16–17 fit into the context or the flow of the passage? Jesus is teaching that when we are not obeying what we are hearing, then in reality we really haven’t listened and are actually covering our light. Therefore, the light of the gospel should not be hidden by a life of disobedience. The light of the gospel is to be put on the stand where all men can see how we obey the teachings of Christ.

14. What does Christ command us to do in Luke 8:18 (and Luke 8:8)? The command is to “take care how you listen,” and “let him hear.” Christ commands his disciples to continually give themselves to careful attention to what they hear from God’s Word in order to truly understand it and obey it. Superficial hearing must be avoided, especially in spiritual matters.

15. What is the promise of Luke 8:18? This is a terrifying verse. Jesus cautions us not to convince ourselves that we know something if we are not doing it. There is a familiar sayings, “If we are not using it we will lose it.” No, actually the text says “It will be taken away from us.” On the other hand, if we are attentive when God speaks to us through his Word and are obeying it, we will be given more.

16. What is the characteristic of every person that is truly a member of the family of God? (Luke 8:19–21). Jesus is teaching that all true believers bear fruit, even if it’s only one small shriveled up grape. If there is no fruit, there is no root. The first three types of soils bore no fruit so they represent unregenerate people. The fruit of obedience is evidence that the life of God dwells in the professing believer, (Ephesians 2:2, 5:6, Colossians 3:6).

17. What is the central truth this parable is teaching? The seed being uniform really good, the difference of crop depends upon the character of the soil that receives the seed.

The bottom line is that we are a witness in the world whether we like it or not. There are actually five Gospels, and most people read-only you. What sort of testimony do you have? Are you able to live in such a way that brings honor and glory to God, and advance his Kingdom? Are you being a fruitful Christian? Our goal is not to be a knowledgeable sinner, but to actually do and obey the Word of God that we read or hear.

Additional Commentary:

A comparison of the parallel passages in Matthew 13:3–50 and Mark 4:2–34 highlights the different emphases that the three Synoptic evangelists are able to bring out of what is essentially the same material.

The Marcan collection begins with the Parable of the Sower and its interpretation (Mark 4:2–20), to which is added the Parable of the Lamp (Mark 4:21–25) and two kingdom parables (Mark 4:26–32). The main point of this collection seems to be the concern to show how the kingdom will grow. Despite obstacles, failures, and a small beginning, through the preaching of the Word, the kingdom will grow and succeed.

The Matthean collection also begins with the same Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:3–23), omits Mark’s Parable of the Lamp (but see Matthew 5:15) and the Parable of the Seed that grows secretly (Mark 4:26–29), and adds five new kingdom parables to Mark’s Parable of the Mustard Seed (Mark 4:30–32; Matthew 13:24–50). The focus of the Matthean collection is on the kingdom’s membership (note especially the Parable of the Wheat and Tares, Matthew 13:24–30, and its explanation in Matthew 13:36–43).

Luke, however, has gathered together no collection, electing to retain the Sower and Lamp parables only (Luke 8:4–17), to which he appends Jesus’ warning to heed his words (Luke 8:18) and his pronouncement concerning his true family (Luke 8:19–21, taken from Mark 3:31–35). The Lucan theme has nothing to do with the kingdom. Instead, its focus is upon Jesus’ word and the urgent need to obey it. 1

The Three Soils: Birger Gerhardsson (“The Parable of the Sower and Its Interpretation,” NTS 14 [1967–68], pp. 165–93) has suggested that the three soils that failed to bring forth fruit are meant to correspond to the three requirements of loyalty found in Deuteronomy 6:4–5, the “Great Commandment” (Matthew 22:37; Mark 12:29–30; Luke 10:27).

  1. The first fruitless soil represents the person who does not “love the Lord” with all his “heart” (see Matthew 13:19 where “heart” appears).
  2. The second fruitless soil represents the person who does not “love the Lord” will all his “soul” (endurance).
  3. The third fruitless soil represents the person who does not “love the Lord” with all his “might” (i.e., wealth).
  4. The fourth soil represents the person who does “love the Lord” with all his heart, soul, and might.

Gerhardsson further suggests that the Matthean order of the three temptations in the desert (Matthew 4:1-11 = Luke 4:1-12) corresponds as well. He believes that it is in the Gospel of Matthew that these parallels with Deuteronomy are the clearest. 2

Mysteries of the Kingdom:

When His disciples inquired concerning the meaning of this parable, the Lord Jesus explained that the mysteries of the kingdom of God would not be understood by everyone. Because the disciples were willing to trust and obey, they would be given the ability to understand the teachings of Christ. But Jesus purposely presented many truths in the form of parables so that those who had no real love for Him would not understand; so that seeing, they might not see, and hearing they might not understand. In one sense, they saw and heard. For instance, they knew that Jesus had talked about a sower and his seed. But they did not understand the deeper meaning of the illustration. They did not realize that their hearts were hard, impenitent, and thorny soil, and that they did not benefit from the word which they had heard. 3

His followers are given the secrets of the kingdom of God, by which is meant the plain, non-parabolic word of God, or gospel; others are given parables. The reason for this is so that “though seeing, they may not see; though hearing, they may not understand” (Luke 8:10, paraphrasing Isaiah 6:9). There have been numerous attempts to mitigate the severity of this statement, but it should be taken at face value. The secrets of the kingdom have been given to Jesus’ disciples (and here Luke means everyone who will, or has ever, become a follower of Jesus), but for the rest (i.e., those who will not heed the word of God) Jesus’ words remain enigmatic parables so that they will understand even less (Luke 8:18). This is in essence a statement of judgment and all the more reason to listen (Luke 8:8, 15, 21). 4

“It has been given to you:” Here Jesus clearly affirms that the ability to comprehend spiritual truth is a gracious gift of God, sovereignly bestowed on the elect (Matthew 13:11). The reprobate ones, on the other hand, are passed over. They reap the natural consequence of their own unbelief and rebellion—spiritual blindness (Matthew 13:13). 5

“The mysteries of the kingdom of heaven.” “Mysteries” are those truths which have been hidden from all ages in the past and revealed in the NT. This term does not refer to something puzzling, but to truth known to God before time, that He has kept secret until the appropriate time for Him to reveal it. (1 Corinthians 2:7; 4:1; Ephesians 3:4-5).

Regarding the mystery in Ephesians 3:4-5: Jew and Gentile brought together in one body in the Messiah. Paul not only wrote of the mystery that, in Christ, Jew and Gentile become one in God’s sight and in His kingdom and family, but also explained and clarified that truth. He realized that spiritual knowledge must precede practical application. What is not properly understood cannot properly be applied. 6

Many specific doctrines of the NT are identified as “mysteries” (e.g., Romans 11:25; 1 Corinthians 15:51; Ephesians 5:32; 6:19; Colossians 1:26, 27; 2 Thessalonians 2:7; 1 Timothy 3:9, 16). 5

The Responsibility of Those Who Hear:

Luke 8:16 – At first glance there does not seem to be much connection between this section and what has gone before. Actually, however, there is a continuous flow of thought. The Savior is still emphasizing the importance of what His disciples do with His teachings. He likens Himself to a man who has lit a lamp, not to be put under a vessel or under a bed, but on a lampstand for all to see the light. In teaching the disciples the principles of the kingdom of God, He was lighting a lamp. What should they do with it?

  1. First of all, they should not cover it with a vessel. In Matthew 5:15, Mark 4:21, and Luke 11:33 (KJV), the vessel is spoken of as a bushel. This of course is a unit of measure used in the world of commerce. So hiding the lamp under a bushel could speak of allowing one’s testimony to be obscured or crowded out in the rush of business life. It would be better to put the lamp on top of the bushel, that is, practice Christianity in the marketplace and use one’s business as a pulpit for propagating the gospel.
  2. Secondly, the disciple should not hide the lamp under a bed. The bed speaks of rest, comfort, sloth, and indulgence. How these can hinder the light from shining! The disciple should put the lamp on a stand. In other words, he should live and preach the truth so that all can see.

Luke 8:17 seems to suggest that if we allow the message to be confined because of business or laziness, our neglect and failure will be exposed. Hiding of the truth will be revealed, and keeping it a secret will come to light.

Luke 8:18 – Therefore we should be careful how we hear. If we are faithful in sharing the truth with others, then God will reveal new and deeper truths to us. If, on the other hand, we do not have this spirit of evangelistic zeal, God will deprive us of the truth we think we possess. What we don’t use, we lose. G. H. Lang comments: “The disciples listened with a mind eager to understand and ready to believe and obey: the rest heard with either listlessness, or curiosity, or resolute opposition. To the former more knowledge would be granted; the latter would be deprived of what knowledge they seemed to have.” 7

1 Evans, C. A. (1990). Luke (p. 125). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
2 Evans, C. A. (1990). Luke (p. 128). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
3 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1397). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
4 Evans, C. A. (1990). Luke (pp. 126–127). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
5 MacArthur, J., Jr. (Ed.). (1997). The MacArthur Study Bible (electronic ed., p. 1416). Nashville, TN: Word Pub.
6 MacArthur, J., Jr. (Ed.). (1997). The MacArthur Study Bible (electronic ed., p. 1806). Nashville, TN: Word Pub.
7 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (pp. 1397–1398). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[Based on my classes with Richard D. Leineweber, Jr. c. 2000]

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