The Parable of Perseverance
As Jesus taught His disciples and the multitudes, He constantly spoke to them in parables. Parables help to color and vitalize teachings and they represent a very effective teaching method.
Many times, however, people get bogged down in trying to pin down precisely what Jesus intends with a given parable. Luke many times helps his readers by indicating the purposes of Jesus' parables. This is certainly true of the parable of which we shall speak today, found in Luke 18:1-8:
And he spake a parable unto them to the end that they ought always to pray, and not to faint; saying,
"There was in a city a judge, who feared not God, and regarded not man: and there was a widow in that city; and she came oft unto him, saying, 'Avenge me of mine adversary.' And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, 'Though I fear not God, nor regard man; yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest she wear me out by her continual coming.'"
And the Lord said, "Hear what the unrighteous judge saith. And shall not God avenge his elect, that cry to him day and night, and yet he is longsuffering over them? I say unto you, that he will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?"
We can know to whom Jesus directs this parable by looking back to Luke 17:22: He speaks to His disciples, and desires for them to learn that they should always pray and should not faint or to lose heart. The story presented is fairly easy to understand: a widow continually begged for justice from an unrighteous judge so that the judge, despite his unrighteousness, gave her justice, so that she would stop bugging him.
We should avoid any impulse to try to interpret the parable directly, lest we find ourselves in the situation of considering God as the unrighteous judge, which is by no means the case (Acts 17:30-31)! While there are many parables where we can easily project the spiritual understanding directly on the literal understanding (say, the sower and the seed with the preacher and the Gospel, Matthew 13), this parable is not one of them. Instead, Jesus is presenting a story of an extreme to teach His disciples. As He himself indicates in verses 6 and 7: if such is the way with a judge who fears neither God nor man, how much greater do you think the judgment will be of the Son of God and the Son of Man?
We can see, therefore, why Jesus presents this parable to His disciples. The disciples can see the example of the widow, how through continual vigilance and perseverance in petition, one will be avenged. If they, therefore, remain constant in prayer, God will see that they receive justice.
We can also see, however, a lesson in this parable about perseverance in general. Despite facing great adversity, this widow never gave up. She kept trying. She kept bringing her petition forth, and finally, she was heard. As we look at our own lives, and how we strive to present the Gospel to our fellow man, can we sympathize with this widow? Many times we think that if we invite our neighbor or our co-worker once to assemble with us, and we get turned down, and we get discouraged and do not continue in trying. Nevertheless, many have found that by constantly trying, people may eventually listen. People have visited a congregation out of the blue because they realized that they needed God and they remembered receiving material from that congregation before. Many times it may take inviting someone 10, 20, maybe 50 or more times before they actually accept the invitation and come with you. If, however, you never ask more than twice, how will you reach such a one?
Perseverance is a very important trait of the Christian; consider again the widow. If she had not continually come to the judge, but only every so often whenever she got around to it, would the judge have found her presence so bothersome that he would give her justice? It is rather unlikely. Likewise, the Christian who only takes his commitment to God seriously occasionally will not be the light of the earth he is called to be (Matthew 5:13-16). The Christian must be constantly diligent, constantly persevering, if he will be found pleasing to God. Paul emphasizes this when he describes the need to take up the whole armor of God, twice establishing the need to stand firm in Ephesians 6:10-13:
Finally, be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world-rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Wherefore take up the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and, having done all, to stand.
When we do not persevere in the faith, we give Satan an opportunity to accuse us, and the people of the world have reason to revile us (1 Peter 5:8, 1 Peter 2:11-12). Wives, if your husbands are unfaithful to the Lord, if you do not persevere, you cannot present that example which can lead him back to the faith (1 Peter 3:1-5), and the same is true of those who are husbands with unfaithful wives. Parents, if you do not persevere in your faith, how can you raise your children according to the admonition of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4)? Jesus considers those who do not persevere as salt that has lost its flavor, good only for being trampled upon by men (Matthew 5:13).
What of the question that Jesus asks in Luke 18:8? We have every confidence that Jesus will return, or so we say, but when He returns, will He find faith on the earth? Will He find people persevering despite trials and tribulations, persevering in promoting the Gospel to those with whom they come in contact, and steadfast in encouraging fellow saints in the faith? While it is not for us to know the precise time that the Lord will return, we can certainly ask this question of ourselves. If Jesus returns right now, will He find faith in us? Will we be as the widow, having continually with vigilance made every petition to God? Will we have taken strength in God and His might and have persevered in the face of temptation, and have done all we could to bring others to the faith? Or will we have lost heart and given up before we should have? Consider yourself today (2 Corinthians 13:5), and commit yourself to persevering before the Lord.
By Ethan R. Longhenry
From Expository Files 13.10; October 2006