A Midnight Friend and an Unjust Judge

In Luke 11 we see the story of the someone who receives some late night guests and has nothing to place before them, so he goes to a neighbor in the middle of the night asking for bread so he can offer it to his guests. I have heard this story preached many times, and the basic gist I often hear is this:

In those days, it was customary to offer guests something to eat after their journey, so upon realizing he had no food for his late night guest, the first man in the story was in a perilous position. He did not want to be rude to his guests, or offend them by not offering food, as was expected and customary.

So he goes to his neighbor and it’s late. In those days, the family would all sleep together due to space and to stay warm, and would be upstairs with animals held safely inside downstairs for the night. To get up and get food for the man banging on the door would have been a great inconvenience, and would have waken everyone up! It is only because the man outside was persistent in banging on the door and yelling up at his neighbor that he got him what he asked.

Some will even add: The neighbor was stuck in a double lose position: get up and bother everyone getting bread for the man at the door, or try to ignore him and have everyone in the house bothered by the incessant banging and yelling.

This never set quite right with me. I don’t disagree with any of the customs as described, though I have no evidence either way. It makes sense, though, that if someone came as a guest, that you would be expected to offer them something to eat, and it makes sense that families would sleep together, and it makes sense that getting up in the middle of the night to get bread would involve some sacrifice. However, the moral of the story always seemed to be – not “ask and it shall be given” as Jesus said in the very next verse, but “bother God enough and He’ll get tired of you, so in order to shut you up and make you go away, will give you what you want – so keep at it!”

Luke 11, verses 2-13 are what Jesus says in response to being asked to teach His disciples how to pray. All of the text must be considered together, as it is one conversation. First, He teaches the Lord’s Prayer, and immediately proposes a question in telling the story discussed above. After this, He proposes a few more questions in further making His point. Let’s look at all of these questions, as they are all asked in the same discourse, and all are being used to teach the principles of prayer.

  • 5 And He said to them, “Which of you shall have a friend, and go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves; 6 for a friend of mine has come to me on his journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; 7 and he will answer from within and say, ‘Do not trouble me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give to you’?
  • 11 If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone?
  • 11 Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish?
  • 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion?

I have the fortune of having a few friends. Even though it may be a bother to them, I know that if I show up at their door at midnight and wake them up, even waking up their whole family, I can get bread from them if I ask. He will not just tell me to “go away.”  I also have a father, and I’m fairly certain that if I ask for bread from him, he will not give me a stone. If I ask for a fish, he will not give me a serpent. If I ask for an egg, he will not suggest a scorpion instead.

I believe the point Jesus was trying to make with every question He asked in explaining prayer, was that we should not expect the outcome proposed in the question. We should expect the opposite. He asked, in all four scenarios, a question that was seeking an opposite response to make his point. To every question, our thought should be, “no, that wouldn’t happen.” In none of the four scenarios was He making a statement of how things are.

“I’m sorry neighbor, but even though we are friends (as stated by Jesus) and you’re in a tough spot, I’m not going to help you – you will have to go home and offend your guests with nothing to offer them.” Or, “Son, I know you’re hungry, so here’s a rock.” – in both cases, just the opposite.

This brings us to a couple of points that should be clarified so that there is no confusion. Verse 8 says “I say to you, though he will not rise and give to him because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will rise and give him as many as he needs.” Maybe friendships were different then than they are now, or maybe Jesus was making the point that it’s not because of the friendship that the man gets his late night bread. It is because of his persistence. The original King James uses the word “importunity” instead of persistence. The word is from the Greek anaideia. This is the only time this word is used in the New Testament, and it means shamelessness or impudence, and implies a lack of modesty. Picture a desperate man in need – guests have arrived and he needs to honor them with food, for they have been traveling, so he is knocking on a friend’s door at night, regardless of the rudeness or inopportune time when everyone is asleep, and you will see a shameless man who knows he can come to his friend, even in this inconvenient situation, and ask for a favor.

And such it is with us and God. Even in the darkest hour, late at night, when every fiber of our being says that we don’t need to bother Him with our petty problem, God says, “ask, and it shall be given.” In our desperation, we can call on him, and our prayers will be heard, and provided for.

Between the questions, Jesus says “9 “So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.” The Amplified Bible translates these sentences with “ask and keep on asking,” “seek and keep on seeking” etc. because “the idea of continuing or repeated action is often carried by the present imperative and present participles in Greek.” – from the Amplified’s notes attached to these scriptures.

I agree. We should ask, and keep on asking. We should seek, and keep on seeking, and we should knock, and keep on knocking. But let’s not apply the point here inappropriately to the story preceding it. There is no note of the present imperative being used in the story above, stating that the friend was “banging, and kept on banging at the door.” There is no evidence that the friend was kept waiting at all. His friend saw his shamelessness (remember: anaideia) and answered the plea by giving whatever he needed.

The present imperative means: Continually, habitually follow this command! The Present Imperative is often a call to a long-term commitment and calls for the attitude or action to be one’s continual way of life, or lifestyle.

Just because we knocked on the door last night doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it again tonight if we find ourselves in another desperate situation. Asking – should be our lifestyle. In that, we should keep on asking, no matter how much asking we have already done. In fact, by definition of the imperative, it is a command.

I want to look at Luke 18, verses 1-8, to conclude this study.  This is the parable of the woman and the unrighteous judge. I often hear this story told in conjunction with the story of the late night neighbor, to press the point of “persevering with God so you eventually get what you need.”  Verses 1-8 read as follows:

1 Then He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart, 2 saying: “There was in a certain city a judge who did not fear God nor regard man. 3 Now there was a widow in that city; and she came to him, saying, ‘Get justice for me from my adversary.’ 4 And he would not for a while; but afterward he said within himself, ‘Though I do not fear God nor regard man, 5 yet because this widow troubles me I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.’”
6 Then the Lord said, “Hear what the unjust judge said. 7 And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them? 8 I tell you that He will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?”

The point of most arguments suggesting God wants us to really pray and pray and pray is based on the words “He bears long with them.” I agree that God wants us to pray and pray and pray. Please don’t assume I am saying otherwise. But I don’t believe He wants us to pray and pray and pray just so that can He sit up in Heaven watching, waiting, looking at His watch thinking to Himself, “I think I’ll make him pray on this for 2 more weeks, and if he’s still troubling me then, maybe I’ll do something.”

That is not our God.

We must look at the original Greek for these words, “bear long.” It will change the entire meaning of the passage. We must also remember that it is God who is bearing long. It is not us who are bearing long, waiting for God to act. These two words are from the Greek word “makrothymeō.” The outline of Biblical usage is as follows. I encourage you to read the full Thayer’s Lexicon entry at the link above:

  • To be of a long spirit, not to lose heart
    • To persevere patiently and bravely in enduring misfortunes and troubles
    • To be patient in bearing the offenses and injuries of others
      • To be mild and slow in avenging
      • To be longsuffering, slow to anger, slow to punish.

So in what way is God “bearing long” with us? By definition of the Greek, He is, not losing heart. He is persevering patiently and bravely in enduring troubles. He is being patient in bearing offenses. He is slow in avenging, slow in anger, and slow in punishing. He is longsuffering with us.

Look at verses 7 and 8 together in light of this definition: “7 And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them? 8 I tell you that He will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?””

He will avenge us speedily! He is bearing long with us, waiting on us! If we have sin we have not dealt with, God is bearing long until we take care of that before He answers. If we have anger towards our brother, He is bearing long, waiting for us to go make it right before He responds. If we have bitterness in our heart regarding the very situation we are praying about, He is bearing long, waiting on us to come to Him confessing our need for deliverance of that bitterness before He addresses the issue. We need to ask God to reveal to us what He is bearing long about when we pray. And when we do, and when we are praying in faith, because we are praying His Word, He says He will avenge speedily.

Without God, we cannot; but without us, God will not

The words of the title are from St. Augustine. They capture a great truth – a truth that needs revitalized in today’s society. In today’s world of internet and television and work and friends and family and thousands of other things, it is very easy to forget many of the facets of our true calling in Christlikeness. One of those facets is prayer. So many tend to put God in a box that says “He can do whatever He wishes, and all things work together for good in Him, so we can let Him be to do as He wants.” And while it may be true that He can do whatever He wants, the fact of the matter is – He has chosen to work through and in partnership with us!

Look at Ezekiel 22:23-31 (NKJV).

23 And the word of the LORD came to me, saying, 24 “Son of man, say to her: ‘You are a land that is not cleansed or rained on in the day of indignation.’ 25 The conspiracy of her prophets in her midst is like a roaring lion tearing the prey; they have devoured people; they have taken treasure and precious things; they have made many widows in her midst. 26 Her priests have violated My law and profaned My holy things; they have not distinguished between the holy and unholy, nor have they made known the difference between the unclean and the clean; and they have hidden their eyes from My Sabbaths, so that I am profaned among them. 27 Her princes in her midst are like wolves tearing the prey, to shed blood, to destroy people, and to get dishonest gain. 28 Her prophets plastered them with untempered mortar, seeing false visions, and divining lies for them, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD,’ when the LORD had not spoken. 29 The people of the land have used oppressions, committed robbery, and mistreated the poor and needy; and they wrongfully oppress the stranger. 30 So I sought for a man among them who would make a wall, and stand in the gap before Me on behalf of the land, that I should not destroy it; but I found no one. 31 Therefore I have poured out My indignation on them; I have consumed them with the fire of My wrath; and I have recompensed their deeds on their own heads,” says the Lord GOD.

Here, we see the story of the sins of Jerusalem. How they parallel to today’s world. It is Biblically sound that sin calls out for God’s judgment. But that is not where the Lord wants us to focus, for it is also Biblically sound that God desires for us, His people, to stand in the gap before Him on behalf of the world around us. While sin calls for His judgment, His desire is that we would call for His grace and mercy!

Moses stood in the gap, and it turned God’s wrath. Exodus 32: 10-14

10 Now therefore, let Me alone, that My wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them. And I will make of you a great nation.” 11 Then Moses pleaded with the LORD his God, and said: “LORD, why does Your wrath burn hot against Your people whom You have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? 12 Why should the Egyptians speak, and say, ‘He brought them out to harm them, to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from Your fierce wrath, and relent from this harm to Your people. 13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants, to whom You swore by Your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven; and all this land that I have spoken of I give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’” 14 So the LORD relented from the harm which He said He would do to His people.

The choice is clearly ours.

2 Chronicles 7:14 (Amplified Bible)

If My people, who are called by My name, shall humble themselves, pray, seek, crave, and require of necessity My face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven, forgive their sin, and heal their land.

But in honest reflection, how often do we humble ourselves? Pray, seek, crave and require the necessity of God’s face? Turn from our own wicked ways? How often do we stand in the gap on behalf of the world around us?

Instead, if we’re to be honest with ourselves before God, how often do we complain about the world around us? Criticize each other? Passively ignore the disciples’ calling to strive for the Kingdom? Look the other way?

1 Timothy 2: 1-4 (NKJV) reads:

Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, 2 for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. 3 For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

It is clear from the writings of the New Testament that the early disciples prayed “without ceasing” (See Romans 12:12, Ephesians 6:18, Colossians 4:2, 1 Thessalonians 5:17, 2 Timothy 1:3). And so to, should we. Prayer is powerful, and God calls us to it, at all times and in all seasons – so that His will can be done. And oh how wonderful it would be, if everywhere we turned, we would begin to call forth on His mercy, and see His will done.

The Vine and the Vinedresser

John 15:1-6 (New King James Version)

The True Vine

1 “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.
5 “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.

Here we have Jesus’ words regarding the vinedresser and His actions. A superficial reading of this passage can lead to confusion, so I want to take a look at what is being said.

At first, it would appear that God simply removes those who do not bear fruit and prunes those that do manage to bear fruit so that they bear more fruit. Realizing that we are the branches, this seems rather harsh, and at first appears to to put the burden on us to at least bear some fruit before God can work to improve our fruitfulness (verse 2). Verse 3 doesn’t appear to fit, and then verse 4 returns to the idea of bearing fruit, stating that we must abide in Him to be able to bear fruit. To the casual observer, parts of this will make sense, but other parts will seem to contradict.

To better understand this passage, we need to realize that Jesus is talking to his disciples. The “you” in this passage is referring to Jesus’ disciples – those who have accepted Him as their Lord. If we are unfruitful, we need not worry about being “taken away” as stated in verse two. Jesus is more gracious than that. The word translated “taken away” is Strong’s G142airō. This is a beautiful word!

“Taken away,” according to the first definition of the Greek word, might also be translated “to raise up, elevate, lift up” as you would with a weak or hurt branch that has fallen to the ground. Further, the second definition of this word is ” to take upon one’s self and carry what has been raised up, to bear.” So, it is reasonable to say that if we are in Jesus, and are His disciples (one of His branches), and we are not bearing fruit, that the vine dresser will lift us up, and even carry us and bear us, and then, take us away (in His arms, as He has lifted us up and is carrying us). He will take us away from the junk that is stifling our bearing of fruit. This is a far different picture from the believer simply being cast off because of his or her unfruitfulness.

Ah, but as always with God’s Word, it gets better. Let’s look at the idea of pruning in verse 2, where we who are bearing fruit will be pruned so that we will bear more fruit. Horticulturist will tell you that pruning usually involves removing the dead or unfruitful branches which are stifling the growth of other branches. Looking at the Greek, we see that the word translated “prunes” is Strong’s G2508kathairō. This word literally means “to cleanse, of filth impurity, etc.” In vegetation terms, the word means “to prune trees and vines from useless shoots” and it also can refer to the removal of guilt. How beautiful! If there is an aspect of our lives that is not bearing fruit, God (the Vinedresser) will pick that part up, bear it on himself, and take it away). Those parts that are bearing some fruit, he will cleanse of impurity, removing guilt because He has atoned for our sins, so that we can bear more fruit!

With this, verse 3 no longer seems so random and out of place. “You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.” It is the Word – abiding in the vine of the Word, who is Jesus, that strips away all of our junk so that we can be more fruitful for Him. Verses 4 and 5 make sense as well, and no longer seem to conflict with the being “taken away” of verse 2.

Verse 6 is the warning, but here Jesus is no longer referring to “you” – the disciples. He is referring to those who do not abide in Him. Here, “cast out” means just that – cast out, without regard. We are to abide in the vine, so that He will cleans us and remove our junk, so that we can be fruitful for Him, and in being fruitful, we will bring in others – the lost, lest they suffer the consequences of not being in the vine.

Rejoice!

I once had a bible in which I had marked every instance of the words “rejoice” with a symbol reflecting the original Hebrew or Greek word which had been translated as such. There are several deeper meanings to the word, and as worshipers, I believe it is important that we are aware of the fullness of the concept, as seen in various scriptures. Linking to the original Strongs from the King James version of the Bible, I will list them here, in simple order of Strong’s number:

  1. Strong’s H1523giyl: to spin round (under the influence of any violent emotion), i.e. usually rejoice, or (as cringing) fear:–be glad, joy, be joyful, rejoice.
  2. Strong’s H1524giyl: a revolution (of time, i.e. an age); also joy:–X exceedingly, gladness, X greatly, joy, rejoice(-ing), sort.
  3. Strong’s H2302chadah: to rejoice:–make glad, be joined, rejoice.
  4. Strong’s H4885masows: delight, concretely (the cause or object) or abstractly (the feeling):–joy, mirth, rejoice.
  5. Strong’s H5937`alaz: to jump for joy, i.e. exult:–be joyful, rejoice, triumph.
  6. Strong’s H5938`alez: exultant:–that rejoiceth.
  7. Strong’s H5947`alliyz: exultant:–joyous, (that) rejoice(-ing)
  8. Strong’s H5965`alac: to leap for joy, i.e. exult, wave joyously:–X peacock, rejoice, solace self.
  9. Strong’s H5970`alats: to jump for joy, i.e. exult:–be joyful, rejoice, triumph.
  10. Strong’s H7440rinnah: properly, a creaking (or shrill sound), i.e. shout (of joy or grief):–cry, gladness, joy, proclamation, rejoicing, shouting, sing(-ing), triumph (Note: this word is not found as “rejoice” but only as “rejoicing” in the King James).
  11. Strong’s H7442ranan: properly, to creak (or emit a stridulous sound), i.e. to shout (usually for joy):–aloud for joy, cry out, be joyful (greatly, make to) rejoice, (cause to) shout (for joy), (cause to) sing (aloud, for joy, out), triumph.
  12. Strong’s H7797suws: to be bright, i.e. cheerful:–be glad, X greatly, joy, make mirth, rejoice.
  13. Strong’s H7832sachaq: to laugh (in pleasure or detraction); by implication, to play:–deride, have in derision, laugh, make merry, mock(-er), play, rejoice, (laugh to) scorn, be in (make) sport.
  14. Strong’s H8055samach: probably to brighten up, i.e. (figuratively) be (causatively, make) blithe or gleesome:–cheer up, be (make) glad, (have, make) joy(-ful), be (make) merry, (cause to, make to) rejoice, X very.
  15. Strong’s H8056sameach: blithe or gleeful:–(be) glad, joyful, (making) merry((-hearted), -ily), rejoice(-ing).
  16. Strong’s H8057simchah: blithesomeness or glee, (religious or festival):–X exceeding(-ly), gladness, joy(-fulness), mirth, pleasure, rejoice(-ing).

Notes: an “X” in a definition refers to a rendering in the King James that results from an idiom peculiar to the original Hebrew.

Though some are clearly from similar origins, we see that there are 16 unique Hebrew words translated “Rejoice” (or rejoiceth, or rejoicing, or rejoiced) in the King James Bible. They do not all simply mean “be happy” or “put a smile on your face.” Some of the words have implications of action. Much like fans at a football game, there are times when it is Biblically appropriate to be exuberant in our rejoicing. We are at times to “jump for joy” or “shout” and “laugh.”

My personal favorite is the first one on the list. Here we see several examples of scripture where in rejoicing, it is even scriptural to “spin around” in our excitement of Him.

Decision Making and the Deceptions of our Hearts

Jeremiah 17:5-10 (Amplified)

Verse 9: The heart is deceitful above all things, and it is exceedingly perverse and corrupt and severely, mortally sick! Who can know it [perceive, understand, be acquainted with his own heart and mind]

The heart is deceitful above all things. Yet how many of us, including myself, place our trust in our own hearts? “I feel…” is a constant phrase in our thoughts and on our tongues, and far too often we base our decisions and actions on the shallowness of our human heart and what we feel.

In this verse, “heart” is from the Hebrew word leb and refers to the soul of man; the mind; knowledge; thinking; reflection; memory; inclination; determination of will; seat of appetites, emotions, and passions. This word is not referring to the regenerated spirit of a man. Yet while we are on this earth, our corrupt human “heart” will still be with us, and we must learn to not trust it, even if all of our human nature tells us it is okay to do so. We must submit our hearts to God, for only he knows our hearts. We may think we know ourselves, but compared to God, our knowledge fails. God knows us.

Every day we are called to crucify our flesh, and allow God to create us new. This is a forever process as long as we are still on this earth. Consider the words of Jesus, and Paul to the Ephesians:

Mark 7:21-23 (Jesus speaking) says that evil comes from the heart of men, plain and simple. But that does not give us excuse! Ephesians 4:20-24 states that we are to “…put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness..” (NKJV)

But notice, this is not a get saved and be forever clean proclamation. The Word says to be “constantly renewed in the spirit of your mind” (Eph 4:23, Amplified). It is a process that never ends as long as we are within this world. Neither is this a passive blessing that will force itself on us as we go about our daily lives. We are to “put on the new nature,” a phrase which suggests action on our part. The word “put” implies “to sink into (clothing), put on, clothe one’s self.” This is something we are to do, just as we are to “put on the whole armor of God” (Ephesians 6:10-20).

Colossians 3 expounds on this, explaining that we are to put to death those evil aspects of ourselves, and to put on the character of Jesus.

So if we know we can’t trust our emotions, that we can’t even trust ourselves to truly know our own hearts, though we are continuously to be working towards greater Christlikeness, then what do we do? While some things are obvious in the scripture, there are several decisions we face in life that aren’t so clear cut. Should I take this job or that job? Should I donate to this cause? The list could go on forever.  How can we ever make a decision about anything? Verse 15 of Colossians 3 gives us a great insight. In the Amplified it says:

And let the peace (soul harmony which comes) from Christ rule (act as umpire continually) in your hearts [deciding and settling with finality all questions that arise in your minds, in that peaceful state] to which as [members of Christ’s] one body you were also called [to live]. And be thankful (appreciative), [giving praise to God always].

As we spend time in prayer over various issues, and as we learn to practice spending time in the presence of God, we will become familiar with His peace – and the Word says that it is that very peace which will guide us.  Just as an umpire makes the final call, we must let peace which comes from Christ rule in our hearts. If we are seeking God, and seeking His new nature and the crucifying of our old nature, then we can rest on His promises of guidance and peace.

Please note, however, that true decisive peace must be based on prayerful time spent in the presence of God. Seek God, and seek His presence to be sure you are not being deceived by your own heart and desires. While all decisions can’t be answered directly via the scriptures (think of the “which job should I take” question), a decision formed in the fire of true God sought peace will always be in accordance to the teachings of the Word of God.