Woe Unto You – Lk. 6:24-26
“But woe unto you that are rich! for ye have received your consolation. Woe unto you that are full! for ye shall hunger. Woe unto you that laugh now! for ye shall mourn and weep. Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you! for so did their fathers to the false prophets.” (Lk. 6:24-26)
Luke’s sermon on the plain (v 17) is parallel to Matthew’s sermon on the mount (ch5.1). The geographic difficulty is probably explained by the plain being a flat place on a mountain and not two different sermons, but alas we digress.
The woes are peculiar to Luke’s account as he sets before his audience blessing and condemnation. The context shows that the Lord has just chosen his disciples (v 12-16) and addressed them directly with blessing (v 20-23). He reminds his followers that they will suffer for his sake, but have their reward in eternity. The woes address a second group of disciples; these do not follow Christ but the things of the world. How sad when people seek to gain the world and yet lose their own souls.
Whilst there are two categories of disciples here; saved and unsaved, the woes would serve as a timely reminder to all of the Lord’s disciples. He was setting before them a stark choice that they would regularly have to make in their lives. Would they live for time or eternity? Would they follow Christ or serve self? God did the same with the children of Israel, saying “I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life” (Deu. 30:19). God does this in order to prove the reality of faith in an individual’s life; he has done so in order to “humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart” (Deu. 8:2 NKJV).
As we walk the narrow way we often have to choose who or what we serve. Narcissistic Western culture demands that we pursue pleasure and live for the moment whilst forgetting God and eternal matters. On the contrary Christ calls us to deny ourselves to take up our cross and follow him (Lk 9: 23). Today, which will it be?
The first woe comes to those that pursue riches – they idolise money instead of following Christ. The Lord Jesus reminds us to lay up treasures in heaven (Mt. 6: 20) – we cannot serve God and money (Lk. 16:9).
The second woe comes to those that are full – their god is their belly (Phl. 3:19). Moses made clear that fullness can lead to forgetfulness saying “when you have eaten and are full … beware that you do not forget the Lord your God” (Deut. 8:10-17 NKJV). Having everything materially can quickly lead to ungratefulness and self-reliance. Ezekiel said as much about Sodom, and would say the same about Western society today; “this was the iniquity of … Sodom, pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness” (ch. 16:49). Many Christians today are couched in material comfort and ease, content to be saved but unwilling to suffer with Christ; the Lord says of such that they are poor, blind and naked (Rev. 3:17).
Solomon summarises the essence of the third woe by saying “the heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth” (Ecc. 7:4). Those that live for perpetual laughter and amusement will mourn eternally in hell. Man has always loved foolishness because it helps him forget the seriousness of life and eternal matters. We too live in a society that is saturated by entertainment, making light of divine truth and scoffing at coming judgement. The mass media all around us can all too easily distract us from what is actually important. If we find ourselves addicted to our phones and social media accounts, then they need to go. Life is too short to waste.
The last woe is directed at those who compromise on God’s truth in order to accommodate current opinion and popular culture. Whether in college, the office or amongst our working peers we can sometimes obscure or dilute the truth in order to fit in. Compromise can be so easy. And yet unfaithfulness in witnessing can never win the world but only make us more like it. The Lord calls his people to boldly proclaim the truth and confess his name wherever they are. May the Lord grant help to us all in these matters.
“God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.” (Gal. 6:14)