Post Series on Luke 18:1-8:
On Monday, we began to look at the parable of the persistent widow (sometimes called the parable of the unjust judge) in Luke 18:1-8. In the parable, Jesus tells about a widow who persistently (and even violently) pleads with an unjust judge (one who neither fears God nor respects man) for justice from her adversary. In all likelihood, her adversary is something like a collections agent, which is how the word for adversary is used in Matt. 5:25 and Luke 12:58. The widow probably does owe money, but the way the adversary pursues her is subverting, rather than establishing, real justice.
So the question we posed yesterday was this: How can we legitimately seek justice when we ourselves are guilty? It’s easy to demand that God bring justice down on the people who have hurt us, but we find ourselves in a quandary when we ask for justice if we begin to think through the ways that we have hurt other people, as well as the ways in which we have offended God.
And even if we don’t think through all the ways in which we have failed to live up to justice, the Bible tells us that there is one other adversary: the only other use of this word in the New Testament is reserved for Satan himself in 1 Pet. 5:8. Where we forget the injustices that we have committed, Satan is pleased to remind us of them as he accuses us before God.
So today, we have three final questions to consider as we wrap up this study of Luke 18:1-8. First, how can we seek justice when we, like the widow, are guilty of violating God’s law? Second, what does it look like to pray for justice from our own adversaries? And third, what guarantees do we have that our prayers will make any difference whatsoever?
How to Gain Justice Apart From the Law
Jesus explains the meaning of his parable in Luke 18:6-8:
6And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. 7And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? 8I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
Jesus is using “how much more” logic. In other words, if an unrighteous judge who doesn’t care at all about God or people will give justice to a widow, then how much more will God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Even when it seems as though God neither hears nor cares, Jesus promises that God will not delay long, but will give justice to his elect speedily.
There are two important aspects of Jesus’ explanation here. First, Jesus is making a promise about how God will act toward those who pray to him for justice. In a vague way, Jesus is promising the gospel: to those who ask for it, God will give justice—and ultimately, he will give justice at the final judgment, “when the Son of Man comes.” Second, Jesus insists that faith is at the heart of this issue: only those who believe that God will give them justice will continue to pray, day and night. These two principles are helpful, but clearly much more needs to be said.
What Jesus leaves ambiguous at this point, Paul clarifies in his letter to the Romans. There, he explains that righteousness (dikaiosune; Greek uses one word for both “righteousness and “justice”) has been established even for those who have not kept every part of the law:
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. (Rom. 3:21-22)
Why does faith in Jesus Christ establish righteousness (apart from the law) for those who believe? Two reasons: (1) Jesus Christ perfectly kept the law during his life, so that he has been counted perfectly righteous; and (2) Jesus Christ incurred upon himself the legal penalty for sin that we deserve, so that there is no part of the penalty left to fall upon us.
This is critical, because it means that we can safely ask God for justice without the fear of being swept away from our own injustices. Furthermore, it means that we can seek justice from our adversary Satan, who can no longer accuse us legitimately.
How to Gain Justice From Our Adversaries
This is where prayer comes in. Specifically, this is where we put into practice the fierce, persistent, nearly violent prayer of the widow in our own lives: we pray to receive the righteousness/justice of Jesus Christ, and we pray for God’s justice to fill the whole earth. John Calvin has a marvelous passage on the relationship of faith and prayer in his Institutes:
It is, therefore, by the benefit of prayer that we reach those riches which are laid up for us with the Heavenly Father. For there is a communion of men with God by which, having entered the heavenly sanctuary, they appeal to him in person concerning his promises in order to experience, where necessity so demands, that what they believed was not vain, although he had promised it in word alone. Therefore we see that to us nothing is promised to be expected from the Lord, which we are not also bidden to ask of him in prayers. So true is it that we dig up by prayer the treasures that were pointed out by the Lord’s gospel, and which our faith has gazed upon. (Institutes, 3.20.2)
Prayer is faith in action. We typically think of going out and doing something when we talk about putting our faith into practice, but Jesus gives us a different paradigm: the weak, needy, desperate prayer of a persecuted widow. It is by prayer, and only by prayer, that “we reach those riches which are laid up for us with the Heavenly Father.”
It’s not that our prayers have some kind of magical power behind them, as though the act of our praying were something powerful on our own. We receive God’s gospel promises through prayer because God has promised that he would give his gospel to those who asked for it, and for that reason alone.
Prayer, Justice, and Our Father’s Love
Finally we come to the absolute heart of the issue. Do you believe in God’s love enough to pray? If you believe that God loves you, and you believe that we receive all the blessings of God’s love through prayer, then why is it that we do not pray?
Because we do not have strong faith. This is the problem behind Jesus’ rhetorical question: “Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” If the injustices of this world genuinely bother you—hunger, disease, broken families, abused/neglected children, addiction, poverty, corruption, violence, and even your own injustice—then you stand in the exact position of the desperate, needy widow.
The question is not whether you share the widow’s neediness; the question is whether you share her persistence.
Now, let me close this post not with a guilt-trip to shame you into praying more, but with the gospel. The way to learn to pray more is not through resolving all the more to pray, but in spending all the more time pondering the goodness and the love of God, who will not delay long to give justice to his elect. The more you stand needy, naked, and exposed before the radiant, consuming, furious love of your Heavenly Father who loves justice more than you do, the more you will cry out to him day and night naturally.
Knowing and delighting in God’s love in the gospel through prayer is the only way that the Son of Man will find faith on earth when he comes.