The New Community’s Ethic
One of God’s goals within the plan is to call his people to a righteous life, a life that honors him. Design and compassion provided the enablement, but with that provision comes a call for believers to live in light of God’s goodness. The call to discipleship contrasts with the Jewish leaders’ way to God. Most of these passages come in the “Jerusalem journey” section of the gospel (Luke 9:51–19:44). As Jesus heads toward the place of suffering, he instructs the disciples on what God desires of them and what God plans for them. When Jesus condemns the current ways of official piety, he issues a call to new piety and prepares his disciples for his approaching physical absence.
Luke’s look at the Jewish leadership in Jesus’ day provides the negative portrait against which Christian discipleship is defined. The note of trouble for those leaders comes early. John the Baptist states that the ax of judgment is sitting at the root of the tree, ready to be wielded against anyone who does not respond with repentance (Luke 3:7–9). Genealogy is no guarantee against judgment. God wants responsive people with hearts open to him.
No section is stronger in its condemnation of the old way than Luke 11:37–52. Here Jesus, like a classic OT prophet, rails against the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and scribes. They are morally filthy inside, no matter how clean they appear on the outside. They follow all kinds of tithing rules about herbs, but neglect justice and love. They love the attention of the first seats and think they lead others, but in fact their teaching is like an open grave, leading to death and uncleanness. They burden others with rules, but do not lift a finger to help those burdened. They think they have the key of knowledge, but instead their way of thinking is a wall that prevents entry. Their actions are like the nation’s failure in earlier eras to heed God’s message.
Jesus’ imagery is strong here. This long condemnation destroys the popular portrait of Jesus as a mild-mannered teacher who avoids confrontation. Though not blatantly immoral, the Jews have a form of piety that does not honor God. That is what Jesus condemns here. By contrast, the new community is not to be selfishly and arrogantly pious.
Jesus’ warning about the wrong way continues in Luke 14:7–14, where he admonishes his host and the guests at a meal not to seek places of honor. The next passage shows that many who think they will be present at the great banquet will miss it (vv. 15–24). Jesus also condemns self-righteousness (16:14–15), a flaw seen in the Pharisee in contrast to the tax collector-sinner (18:9–14). Here the humble sinner is commended. Jesus’ confrontation closes with a word of weeping lament (Luke 19:39–44) and with his cleansing of the temple (vv. 45–48). The way to please God is not found in the Jewish leadership.
The way to God stands in contrast to the way sought by the Jewish leaders. God’s way is a life of love and service, rooted in the great commandments to love God and one’s neighbor. His followers are called to a unique kind of love. Luke 6:27–36 is a declaration to love in a way different from that of sinners. While Paul defined the attributes of love in 1 Corinthians 13, Jesus describes here in concrete terms what love is and how it acts. Love is giving. It reaches out to enemies as well as friends. It is vulnerable and sensitive to others, treating them as one wishes to be treated. Love exposes itself again and again to abuse by turning the other cheek in the hope of helping others. It is generous and expects nothing in return. In short, love continually and consistently displays mercy, compassion, and honesty. It is slow to judge others (6:37–42). It senses responsibility for others. It does not dictate to them, but aids them. This love recognizes that similar spiritual dangers and faults exist anywhere, especially in our own souls. The disciples’ major responsibility is to deal with their own faults first and then to help others deal with theirs.
Love for one’s neighbor is described in Luke 10:25–37. Here the issue is not who one’s neighbor is. Rather, the challenge is to be a neighbor. Such was the Samaritan to the man who fell among the thieves. Love for Jesus is exemplified in Mary seated at his feet (vv. 38–42). This pictures the dedicated disciple, as does responding to the call to pray (11:1–13).
Love for God expresses itself in a variety of ways besides listening to and talking with God. Disciples give all of themselves to the Lord (9:57–62; 14:25–35). This means that generosity is a key characteristic of his life. In addition, that life is not defined by excessive attachment to material things (12:13–21; 16:1–32). The disciple is called to confess Christ and fear God (12:4–12), to seek the lost (15:1–32), to have faith (17:5–6), and to view his spiritual labor as his duty (17:7–10). Fundamentally, discipleship involves giving to God and to others.
The God of design and concern has devised a plan, in part, to produce such transformed people. Such ethics are to typify the community God has molded and saved through Jesus Christ. The Spirit whom Jesus gives enables this transformation. This is life lived as God designed it when he made people in God’s image. Such a life pictures promise realized and enablement received. As seen in Luke 1:73–74, God made an oath to Abraham “to rescue us from the hand of our enemies, and to enable us to serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.” That is a key goal of the plan at an individual level.
Excerpted from A Theology of Luke and Acts by Darrell L. Bock. Copyright © 2012 by Darrell L. Bock. Use by permission of Zondervan. www.zondervan.com
About the Contributors
Dr. Bock has earned recognition as a Humboldt Scholar (Tübingen University in Germany), is the author of over 40 books, including well-regarded commentaries on Luke and Acts and studies of the historical Jesus, and work in cultural engagement as host of the seminary’s Table Podcasts. He was president of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) for 2000–2001, writes for the Christianity Today’s Places and Space series, and serves on the boards of Wheaton College, Chosen People Ministries, the Institute for Global Engagement, and Christians in Public Service (CIPS). His articles appear in leading publications. He is often an expert for the media on NT issues. Dr. Bock has been a New York Times best-selling author in nonfiction and is elder emeritus at Trinity Fellowship Church in Dallas. When traveling overseas, he will tune into the current game involving his favorite teams from Houston—live—even in the wee hours of the morning. Married for over 40 years to Sally, he is a proud father of two daughters and a son and is also a grandfather.