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Bible Commentaries

William Barclay's Daily Study Bible

Luke 6



Verses 1-49

Chapter 6


6:1-5 One Sabbath day, Jesus happened to be going through the corn fields, and his disciples were plucking the ears of corn and rubbing them in their hands and eating them. Some of the Pharisees said, "Why are you doing what is illegal to do on the Sabbath?" Jesus answered, "Have you not read what David did when he and his comrades were hungry?--how he went into the house of God and took the loaves of the presence and ate them and gave them to his comrades, although it is not legal for any but the priests to eat them. The Son of Man," he said to them, "is the Lord of the Sabbath."

This is the first of two incidents which show the opposition to Jesus rapidly coming out into the open and which make it clear that the immediate charge against him was that he was a breaker of the Sabbath law. He and his disciples were passing Along one of the paths which intersected the corn fields. The fact that the disciples plucked the ears of corn was in itself no crime. One of the merciful laws of the Old Testament laid it down that anyone passing through a corn field was free to pluck the corn so long as he did not put a sickle into it (Deuteronomy 23:25). On any other day there would have been no complaint; but this was the Sabbath. Four of the forbidden kinds of work were reaping, threshing, winnowing, and preparing food; and technically the disciples had broken every one of them. By plucking the corn they were guilty of reaping; by rubbing it in their hands of threshing; by flinging away the husks of winnowing; and the very fact that they ate it showed that they had prepared food on the Sabbath. To us the whole thing seems fantastic; but we must remember that to a strict Pharisee this was deadly sin; rules and regulations had been broken; this was a matter of life and death.

They made their accusation and Jesus quoted the Old Testament to them. He quoted the incident in 1 Samuel 21:1-6 when David and his comrades, when they were very hungry, ate the shewbread of the Tabernacle. A better name for it is the Bread of the Presence. Every Sabbath morning there were laid before God twelve wheaten loaves baked of flour sieved no fewer than eleven times. There was one loaf for every tribe. In the time of Jesus these loaves were laid on a table of solid gold, three feet long, one and a half feet broad, and nine inches high. The table stood lengthwise along the northern side of the Holy Place. The bread stood for the very presence of God and none but the priests might eat of it (Leviticus 24:5-9). But David's need had taken precedence over rules and regulations.

The Rabbis themselves said, "The Sabbath is made for you and not you for the Sabbath." That is to say at their highest and their best the Rabbis admitted that human need abrogated ritual law. If that be so, how much more is the Son of Man, with his heart of love and mercy, Lord of the Sabbath? How much more can he use it for his purposes of love? But the Pharisees had forgotten the claims of mercy because they were immersed in their rules and regulations. It is most significant that they were watching Jesus and his disciples as they passed through the corn fields. Clearly they were spying; from now on every act of Jesus' life was to be scrutinised by those bleak and critical and hostile eyes.

This passage contains a great general truth. Jesus said to the Pharisees, "Have you not read what David did?" The answer of course was, "Yes"--but they had never seen what it meant. It is possible to read scripture meticulously, to know the Bible inside out from cover to cover, to be able to quote it verbatim and to pass any examination on it--and yet completely miss its real meaning. Why did the Pharisees miss the meaning--and why do we so often miss it?

(i) They did not bring to scripture an open mind. They came to scripture not to learn God's will but to find proof texts to buttress up their own ideas. Far too often men have taken their theology to the Bible instead of finding their theology in the Bible. When we read scripture we must say, not, "Listen, Lord, for thy servant is speaking," but, "Speak, Lord, for thy servant is listening."

(ii) They did not bring a needy heart. The man who comes with no sense of need always misses the deepest meaning of scripture. When need awakens, the Bible is a new book. When Bishop Butler was dying he was troubled. "Have you forgotten, my lord," said his chaplain, "that Jesus Christ is a saviour?" "But," said the dying bishop, "how can I know that he is a saviour for me?" "It is written," said the chaplain, "him that cometh unto me I will in nowise cast out." And Butler answered, "I have read these words a thousand times and I never saw their meaning until now. Now I die in peace." The sense of need unlocked for him the treasury of scripture.

When we read God's book we must bring to it the open mind and the needy heart--and then to us also it will be the greatest book in the world.


6:6-11 On another Sabbath Jesus went into the synagogue and was teaching, and there was a man there whose right hand was withered. The Scribes and the Pharisees watched him to see if he would heal on the Sabbath day in order to find a charge against him. He knew well what they were thinking. He said to the man with the withered hand, "Rise, and stand in the midst." He rose and stood. Jesus said to them, "Here is a question for you--is it legal to do good on the Sabbath day or to do evil? To save a life or to destroy it?" He looked round on them and said to him, "Stretch out your hand." He did so and his hand was restored. They were filled with insane anger, and they discussed with each other what they could do to Jesus.

By this time the opposition to Jesus was quite open. He was teaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath day and the scribes and Pharisees were there with the set purpose of watching him so that, if he healed, they could charge him with breaking the Sabbath. There is this interesting touch. If we compare the story in Matthew 12:10-13 and Mark 3:1-6 with Luke's version, we find that only Luke tells us that it was the man's right hand which was withered. There speaks the doctor, interested in the details of the case.

In this incident Jesus openly broke the law. To heal was to work and work was prohibited on the Sabbath day. True, if there was any danger to life, steps might be taken to help a sufferer. For instance, it was always legal to treat diseases of the eye or throat. But this man was in no danger of his life; he might have waited until the next day without peril. But Jesus laid down the great principle that, whatever the rules and regulations may say, it is always right to do a good thing on the Sabbath day. He asked the piercing questions, "Is it legal to save life or to destroy it on the Sabbath?" That must have struck home, for while he was seeking to help the life of the man, they were doing all they could to destroy him. It was he who was seeking to save and they who were seeking to destroy.

In this story there are three characters.

(i) There is the man with the withered hand. We can tell two things about him.

(a) One of the apocryphal gospels, that is, one which never gained admission into the New Testament, tells us that he was a stone mason and he came to Jesus, begging his help and saying, "I was a stone mason earning my living with my hand; I beseech you, Jesus, give me back my health that I may not have to beg my bread with shame." He was a man who wanted to work. God always looks with approval on the man who wants to do an honest day's work.

(b) He was a man who was prepared to attempt the impossible. He did not argue when Jesus told him to stretch out his useless hand; he tried and, in the strength Jesus gave him, he succeeded. Impossible is a word which should be banished from the vocabulary of the Christian. As a famous scientist said, "The difference between the difficult and the impossible is only that the impossible takes a little longer to do."

(ii) There is Jesus. There is in this story a glorious atmosphere of defiance. Jesus knew that he was being watched but without hesitation he healed. He bade the man stand out in the midst. This thing was not going to be done in a corner. There is a story of one of Wesley's preachers who proposed to preach in a hostile town. He hired the town-crier to announce the meeting and the town-crier announced it in a terrified whisper. The preacher took the bell from him and rang it and thundered out. "Mr. So and So will preach in such and such a place and at such and such a time to-night--and I am the man." The real Christian displays with pride the banner of his faith and bids the opposition do its worst.

(iii) There are the Pharisees. Here were men who took the quite extraordinary course of hating a man who had just cured a sufferer. They are the outstanding example of men who loved their rules and regulations more than they loved God. We see this happen in churches over and over again. Disputes are not about the great matters of the faith but about matters of church government and the like. Leighton once said, "The mode of church government is unconstrained; but peace and concord, kindness and goodwill are indispensable." There is an ever present danger of setting loyalty to a system above loyalty to God.


6:12-19 In these days Jesus went away into a mountain to pray; and he spent the whole night in prayer to God. When day came he called his disciples. From them he chose twelve, whom he also called apostles--Simon, whom he named Peter, and Andrew his brother, and James, and John, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon who was called the Zealot, and Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor. He came down with them and took his stand with them on a place in the plain; and there was a great crowd of his disciples there, and a great crowd of people from all Judaea and Jerusalem and from the coastal district of Tyre and Sidon, who had come to listen to him and to be healed from their diseases; and those who were distressed by unclean spirits were healed and the whole crowd sought to touch him because power went out from him, and he healed all.

Here we see Jesus choosing his men. It is interesting and salutary to see why he chose them, because it is for the same reasons that he still wants and needs men.

(i) Mark 3:14 tells us that he chose them that they might be with him. That means two things.

(a) He chose them to be his friends. It is amazing that Jesus needed human friendship. It is of the very essence of the Christian faith that we can say in all reverence and humility that God cannot be happy without men. Just because God is Father there is a blank in his heart until the last man comes home.

(b) Jesus knew that the end was coming. Had he lived in a later age he might have written a book which would have carried his teaching all over the world. But, living when he did, Jesus chose these men that he might write his message upon them. They were to be his living books. They were to company with him that they might some day take his message to all men.

(ii) Jesus chose them from his disciples. The word disciple means a learner. They were to be those who were always learning more and more about him. A Christian is a man whose whole life is spent learning about that Lord whom he will some day meet face to face and will then know even as he is known.

(iii) Jesus chose them to be his apostles. The Greek word apostolos (Greek #652) means someone who is sent out. It can be used for an envoy or an ambassador. They were to be his ambassadors to men. A little girl received in the Sunday School a lesson on the disciples. She did not get the word quite right because she was very young; and she came home and told her parents that she had been learning about Jesus' samples. The ambassador is the man who in a foreign land represents his country. He is supremely the sample of his country. The Christian is ever sent to be an ambassador for Christ, not only by his words but by his life and deeds.

About the Twelve themselves we may note two things.

(i) They were very ordinary men. There was not a wealthy, nor a famous, nor an influential man amongst them; they had no special education; they were men of the common folk. It is as if Jesus said, "Give me twelve ordinary men and I will change the world." The work of Jesus is not in the hands of men whom the world calls great, but in the hands of ordinary people like ourselves.

(ii) They were a strange mixture. To take but two of them--Matthew was a tax-collector, and, therefore, a traitor and a renegade. Simon was a Zealot, and the Zealots were fanatical nationalists, who were sworn to assassinate every traitor and every Roman they could. It is one of the miracles of the power of Christ that Matthew the tax-collector and Simon the Zealot could live at peace in the close company of the apostolic band. When men are really Christian the most diverse and divergent types can live at peace together. It was said of Gilbert Chesterton and his brother Cecil, "They always argued, they never quarrelled." It is only in Christ that we can solve the problem of living together; because even the most opposite people may be united in their love for him. If we really love him, we will also love each other.


6:20-26 Jesus lifted up his eyes upon his disciples and said, "Happy are you poor, because yours is the Kingdom of God. Happy are you who are hungry now because you will be filled. Happy are you who weep now because you will laugh. Happy are you when men will hate you and shut you off from their company and insult you and cast out your name as an evil name, for the sake of the Son of Man; for--look you--your reward in heaven will be great. Their fathers used to treat the prophets in the same way. But woe to you who are rich because you have all the comfort you are going to get. Woe to you who are filled because you will be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now because you will grieve and weep. Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is what your fathers used to do to the false prophets."

Luke's Sermon on the Plain and Matthew's Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1-48; Matthew 6:1-34; Matthew 7:1-29) closely correspond. Both start with a series of beatitudes. There are differences between the versions of Matthew and Luke, but this one thing is clear--they are a series of bombshells. It may well be that we have read them so often that we have forgotten how revolutionary they are. They are quite unlike the laws which a philosopher or a typical wise man might lay down. Each one is a challenge.

As Deissmann said, "They are spoken in an electric atmosphere. They are not quiet stars but flashes of lightning followed by a thunder of surprise and amazement." They take the accepted standards and turn them upside down. The people whom Jesus called happy the world would call wretched; and the people Jesus called wretched the world would call happy. Just imagine anyone saying, "Happy are the poor, and, Woe to the rich!" To talk like that is to put an end to the world's values altogether.

Where then is the key to this? It comes in Luke 6:24. There Jesus says, "Woe to you who are rich because you have all the comfort you are going to get." The word Jesus uses for have is the word used for receiving payment in full of an account. What Jesus is saying is this, "If you set your heart and bend your whole energies to obtain the things which the world values, you will get them--but that is all you will ever get." In the expressive modern phrase, literally, you have had it! But if on the other hand you set your heart and bend all your energies to be utterly loyal to God and true to Christ, you will run into all kinds of trouble, you may by the world's standards look unhappy, but much of your payment is still to come; and it will be joy eternal.

We are here face to face with an eternal choice which begins in childhood and never ends till life ends. Will you take the easy way which yields immediate pleasure and profit? or, Will you take the hard way which yields immediate toil and sometimes suffering? Will you seize on the pleasure and the profit of the moment? or, Are you willing to look ahead and sacrifice them for the greater good? Will you concentrate on the world's rewards? or, Will you concentrate on Christ? If you take the world's way, you must abandon the values of Christ. If you take Christ's way, you must abandon the values of the world.

Jesus had no doubt which way in the end brought happiness. F. R. Maltby said, "Jesus promised his disciples three things--that they would be completely fearless, absurdly happy and in constant trouble." G. K. Chesterton, whose principles constantly got him into trouble, once said, "I like getting into hot water. It keeps you clean!" It is Jesus' teaching that the joy of heaven will amply compensate for the trouble of earth. As Paul said, "This slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison" (2 Corinthians 4:17). The challenge of the beatitudes is, "Will you be happy in the world's way, or in Christ's way?"

THE GOLDEN RULE (Luke 6:27-38)

6:27-38 Jesus said, "But to you who are listening I say, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who ill-use you. To him who strikes you on one cheek offer the other cheek also. If anyone takes away your cloak, do not stop him taking your tunic, too. Give to everyone who asks you; if anyone takes away your belongings, do not demand them back again. As you would like men to act towards you, so do you act towards them. If you love those who love you, what special grace is there in that? Even sinners love those who love them. If you are kind to those who are kind to you, what special grace is there in that? Even sinners love those who love them. If you are kind to those who are kind to you, what special grace is there in that? Even sinners do that. If you lend to those from whom you wish to get, what special grace is in that? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to get as much back again. But you must love your enemies; and do good to them; and lend with no hope of getting anything in return. Your reward will be great and you will be the sons of the Most High, because he is kind both to the thankless and to the wicked. Be merciful as your Father in heaven is merciful; do not judge and you will not be judged; do not condemn and you will not be condemned; forgive and you will be forgiven. Give and it will be given to you. People will give into your bosom, good measure pressed together, shaken down, running over; for with what measure you measure it will be measured to you back again."

There is no commandment of Jesus which has caused so much discussion and debate as the commandment to love our enemies. Before we can obey it we must discover what it means. In Greek there are three words for to love. There is eran (compare Greek #2037), which describes passionate love, the love of a man for a maid. There is philein (Greek #5368), which describes our love for our nearest and dearest, the warm affection of the heart. Neither of these two words is used here; the word used here is agapan (Greek #25), which needs a whole paragraph to translate it.

Agapan (Greek #25) describes an active feeling of benevolence towards the other person; it means that no matter what that person does to us we will never allow ourselves to desire anything but his highest good; and we will deliberately and of set purpose go out of our way to be good and kind to him. This is most suggestive. We cannot love our enemies as we love our nearest and dearest. To do so would be unnatural, impossible and even wrong. But we can see to it that, no matter what a man does to us, even if he insults, ill-treats and injures us, we will seek nothing but his highest good.

One thing emerges from this. The love we bear to our dear ones is something we cannot help. We speak of falling in love; it is something which happens to us. But this love towards our enemies is not only something of the heart; it is something of the will. It is something which by the grace of Christ we may will ourselves to do.

This passage has in it two great facts about the Christian ethic.

(i) The Christian ethic is positive. It does not consist in not doing things but in doing them. Jesus gave us the Golden Rule which bids us do to others as we would have them do to us. That rule exists in many writers of many creeds in its negative form. Hillel, one of the great Jewish Rabbis, was asked by a man to teach him the whole law while he stood on one leg. He answered, "What is hateful to thee, do not to another. That is the whole law and all else is explanation." Philo, the great Jew of Alexandria, said, "What you hate to suffer, do not do to anyone else." Isocrates, the Greek orator, said. "What things make you angry when you suffer them at the hands of others, do not you do to other people." The Stoics had as one of their basic rules, "What you do not wish to be done to yourself, do not you do to any other." When Confucius was asked, "Is there one word which may serve as a rule of practice for all one's life?" he answered, "Is not Reciprocity such a word? What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others."

Every one of these forms is negative. It is not unduly difficult to keep yourself from such action; but it is a very different thing to go out of your way to do to others what you would want them to do to you. The very essence of Christian conduct is that it consists, not in refraining from bad things, but in actively doing good things.

(ii) The Christian ethic is based on the extra thing. Jesus described the common ways of sensible conduct and then dismissed them with the question, "What special grace is in that?" So often people claim to be just as good as their neighbours. Very likely they are. But the question of Jesus is, "How much better are you than the ordinary person?" It is not our neighbour with whom we must compare ourselves; we may well stand that comparison very adequately; it is God with whom we must compare ourselves; and in that comparison we are all in default.

(iii) What is the reason for this Christian conduct? The reason is that it makes us like God, for that is the way he acts. God sends his rain on the just and the unjust. He is kind to the man who brings him joy and equally kind to the man who grieves his heart. God's love embraces saint and sinner alike. It is that love we must copy; if we, too, seek even our enemy's highest good we will in truth be the children of God.

Luke 6:38 has the strange phrase, "People will give into your bosom." The Jew wore a long loose robe down to the feet, and round the waist a girdle. The robe could be pulled up so that the bosom of the robe above the girdle formed a kind of outsize pocket in which things could be carried. So the modern equivalent of the phrase would be, "People will fill your pocket."


6:39-46 Jesus spoke a parable to them: "Surely a blind man cannot lead a blind man? If he tries to do so will not both fall into the ditch? The disciple cannot advance beyond his teacher, but every disciple will be equipped as his teacher is. Why do you look at the speck of dust that is in your brother's eye and never notice the plank that is in your own eye? Or, how can you say to your brother,' Brother, let me take out the speck of dust that is in your eye,' when you yourself do not notice the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite! First put the plank out of your own eye and then you will see clearly to put out the speck of dust that is in your brother's eye. There is no good tree which produces rotten fruit; nor again, is there a rotten tree which produces good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not gather figs from thistles nor do they gather grapes from a bramble bush. The good man produces good from the treasure of his heart. The evil man produces evil from the evil. The mouth speaks out of whatever abounds in the heart."

This reads like a disconnected series of separate sayings. Two things are possible. It may well be that Luke is collecting together here sayings of Jesus which were spoken on different occasions and so giving us a kind of compendium of rules for life and living. Or, this may be an instance of the Jewish method of preaching. The Jews called preaching "charaz" (Hebrew #2737), which means stringing beads. The Rabbis held that the preacher must never linger more than a few moments on any topic but, in order to maintain interest, must move quickly from one topic to another. Jewish preaching, therefore, often gives us the impression of being disconnected.

The passage falls into four sections.

(i) Luke 6:39-40. Jesus warned that no teacher can lead his scholars beyond the stage which he himself has reached. That is a double warning to us. In our learning we must seek only the best teacher for only he can lead us farthest on; in our teaching we must remember that we cannot teach what we do not know.

(ii) Luke 6:41-42. Here is an example of the humour of Jesus. It must have been with a smile that Jesus drew the picture of a man with a plank in his own eye trying to extract a speck of dust from someone else's eye. He taught that we have no right to criticize unless we ourselves are free of faults. That simply means that we have no right to criticise at all, because "there is so much bad in the best of us and so much good in the worst of us that it ill becomes any of us to find fault with the rest of us."

(iii) Luke 6:43-44 remind us that a man cannot be judged in any other way than by his deeds. It was said to a teacher, "I cannot hear what you say for listening to what you are." Teaching and preaching are both "truth through personality." Fine words will never take the place of fine deeds. That is very relevant to-day. We fear the menace of communism and of other secular movements. We will never defeat them by writing books and pamphlets and holding discussion groups. The only way to prove the superiority of Christianity is to show by our lives that it produces better men and women.

(iv) Luke 6:45. In this verse Jesus reminded men that the words of their lips are in the last analysis the product of their hearts. No man can speak of God with his mouth unless God's Spirit be in his heart. Nothing shows the state of a man's heart so well as the words he speaks when he is not carefully considering his words, when he is talking freely and saying, as we put it, the first thing which comes into his head. If you ask directions to a certain place, one person may tell you it is near such and such a church; another, that it is near such and such a cinema; another, that it is near such and such a football ground; another, that it is near such and such a public house. The very words of the answer to a chance question often show where a man's thoughts most naturally turn and where the interests of his heart lie. Always our speech betrays us.


6:47-49 Jesus said, "Why do you call me, Lord, Lord, and do not what I say? I will show you what everyone who comes to me and listens to my words and does them is like. He is like a man building a house, who dug deep down into the earth and laid the foundation on a rock. When the flood rose the river dashed against that house but it could not shake it because it was well founded. But he who has listened to me and has not done what I say is like a man who built his house on the top of earth without any foundation. The river dashed against it and immediately it collapsed, and great was the fall of it."

To get the real picture behind this parable we have to read Matthew's version of it as well. (Matthew 7:24-27.) In Luke's version the river does not seem to make sense; that is because Luke was not a native of Palestine and had not a clear picture of the circumstances in his own mind; whereas Matthew did belong to Palestine and knew just what the picture was. In summer many of the rivers dried up altogether and left a sandy bed empty of water. But in winter, after the September rains had come, the empty river bed became a raging torrent. Many a man, looking for a site for a house, found an inviting stretch of sand and butt there, only to discover when the winter came, that he had built his house in the middle of a raging river which swept it away. The wise man searched for rock, where it was much more difficult to build and where it was hard labour to cut out the foundations. When the wild winter weather came, his toil was amply repaid, for his house stood strong and firm and secure. In either form the parable teaches the importance of laying the right foundation for life; the only true foundation is obedience to the teaching of Jesus.

What made the foolish builder choose so unwisely?

(i) He wanted to avoid toil. He could not be bothered to dig into the rock. The sand was much more attractive and much less trouble. It may be easier to take our way than it is to take Jesus' way but the end is ruin; Jesus' way is the way to security here and hereafter.

(ii) He was short-sighted. He never troubled to think what his chosen site would be like six months afterwards. In every decision in life there is a short view and a tong view. Happy is the man who never barters future good for present pleasure. Happy is the man who sees things, not in the light of the moment, but in the light of eternity.

When we learn that the hard way is often the best way, and that the long view is always the right view, we will found our lives upon the teaching of Jesus and no storms will ever shake them.

-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)


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Bibliography Information
Barclay, William. "Commentary on Luke 6:4". "William Barclay's Daily Study Bible". 1956-1959.

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