How Can We Grow Spiritually?
July 7, 2018
Christian Education Congress
July 13, 2018
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The Widow and the Unjust Judge

Lesson 7 (KJV)

The Widow and the Unjust Judge

Devotional Reading: Psalm 145:13b-20

Background Scripture: Luke 18:1-8

Luke 18:1-8

Photo: digitalskillet / iStock / Thinkstock

1 And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint;

2 Saying, There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man:

3 And there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary.

4 And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man;

5 Yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.

6 And the Lord said, Hear what the unjust judge saith.

7 And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them?

8 I tell you that he will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?

Key Verse

Shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him?—Luke 18:7

Lesson Aims

After participating in this lesson, each learner will be able to:

  1. Retell Jesus’ parable of the persistent widow and the unjust judge.
  2. Explain what the parable teaches about prayer.
  3. Identify a spiritually mature Christian to use as a role model for persistence in prayer.

Lesson Outline


  1. Contest of Wills
  2. Lesson Background
  3. Parable (Luke 18:1-5)
  4. Particular Purpose (v. 1)

Yes, We Pray . . . But “Always”?

  1. Pompous Judge (v. 2)
  2. Persistent Widow (v. 3)
  3. Promising Perspective (vv. 4, 5)
  4. Principles (Luke 18:6-8)
  5. Affirming God’s Justice (vv. 6-8a)
  6. Asking a Question (v. 8b)

Waiting for Christmas


  1. Prayer in a Weary World
  2. Justice as a Burning Issue
  3. Revelation as an Insightful Help
  4. Prayer
  5. Thought to Remember


Contest of Wills

As of the time of this writing, there were at least a dozen “judge shows” airing on North American television. Their popularity is traced to the launch of The People’s Court in 1981. The formats are often the same: judges preside over certain types of cases, listen to evidence presented by each side, and issue rulings. Usually these programs last a half hour and feature two cases; thus each case is wrapped up in a little under 15 minutes.

Not so the legal drama of today’s lesson! Our lesson text features instead a drawn-out process in which two people having entrenched viewpoints engage in a contest of wills. It may remind us of the old conundrum “What happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object?” Jesus used this parable to call attention to important truths concerning our relationship with the ultimate judge, the judge of judges: Almighty God.

Lesson Background

Whereas last week’s lesson was drawn from an incident that occurred during Passion Week, this week’s study actually moves back a bit on the time line, to perhaps a couple of months before Passion Week. The text comes from a portion of Luke’s Gospel that covers the ministry of Jesus in Perea. The designation Perea is not found in the Gospels, but it is used in records of the time to describe the territory east of the Jordan River, opposite the southern part of Samaria and most of Judea.

John 10:39-42 may indicate the beginning of Jesus’ Perean ministry. Following His presence in Jerusalem at “the feast of the dedication” (10:22), He departed “beyond Jordan into the place where John at first baptized” (10:40). Luke 13:22-19:27 is that Gospel’s record of Jesus’ Perean ministry.

Immediately before giving the parable of today’s lesson, Jesus had been addressing a question of the Pharisees concerning when the kingdom of God would come (Luke 17:20). In doing so, He issued some very solemn warnings about the future, most of them tied to His second coming. The suddenness of Jesus’ return will catch many people off guard; they will be engaged in ordinary, routine activities “when the Son of man is revealed” (17:30). His return will not be a time for looking back and attempting to save anything of value, as indicated by the ominous warning, “Remember Lot’s wife” (17:32). After the time frame of Jesus’ teaching shifts from the future (17:20-25) to analogies between past and future (17:26-33) to the future again (17:34-37), Jesus puts the spotlight on the present with the parable that follows.


(Luke 18:1-5)

Particular Purpose (v. 1)

And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint.

After the intense instruction of Luke 17, Jesus returns to His common teaching method of using parables. The word them refers to Jesus’ disciples, as noted in Luke 17:22. Perhaps they are taken aback by Jesus’ teaching concerning His return. The analogies to lightning, the flood of Noah’s day, and the destruction of Sodom in chapter 17 indicate much turmoil to come. How does one prepare?

The preparation of prayer is foundation. The word translated not to faint carries the idea of “be not weary,” which is how the word is translated in 2 Thessalonians 3:13. It’s vital not to get worn out as one prays always. Stay focused! The story at hand is out of the ordinary among Jesus’ parables in that the purpose is stated at the outset.

Yes, We Pray . . . but “Always”?

In the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Americans spontaneously turned to God in prayer. President Bush subsequently proclaimed September 14 as a National Day of Prayer and Remembrance. Bells rang across the land at noon as churches opened their doors for memorial services. That evening, candlelight services marked the solemn occasion.

How to Say It




But the change didn’t hold for long. Even as the cleanup of the massive pile of rubble and human remains continued, Americans returned to everyday habits. Prayer was again tucked away like a spare tire—to be saved for use when the next calamity struck.

Tucked-away prayer is symptomatic of a tucked-away God. More than one commentator agreed with Anne Graham Lotz (Billy Graham’s daughter) when she said, “For several years now Americans in a sense have shaken their fist at God and said, ‘God, we want you out of our schools, our government, our business, we want you out of our marketplace.’ And God, who is a gentleman . . . [has removed] his hand of blessing and protection.” Whether one agrees with these thoughts or not, Jesus’ instruction is still valid: we ought always to pray! What are we saying about our relationship with Him if we view prayer as only our “spare tire” to be used in emergencies?

—C. R. B.

  1. Pompous Judge (v. 2)
  2. Saying, There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man.

The first person described has no redeeming qualities. To have no fear of God is to have no concern for God’s righteous standards. Neither does this judge care about what people may think about any decision he renders. One gets the impression that he is entirely self-centered. Cold and insensitive, he lacks any degree of compassion for anyone.

This is not the kind of character that judges are to possess, according to the Law of Moses. Judges are to judge God’s people “with just judgment” (Deuteronomy 16:18). They are not to “wrest,” or pervert, justice (16:19). They are to show no favoritism and must not allow bribes to influence their thinking (16:19). Judging in this manner reflects the just character of the Lord himself (10:17, 18).

  1. Persistent Widow (v. 3)
  2. And there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary.

Widows in antiquity are especially vulnerable to being mistreated or taken advantage of by unscrupulous individuals (which is often the case today as well). The Law of Moses includes several commands that widows be properly cared for and not be abused or abandoned (Exodus 22:22-24; Deuteronomy 14:28, 29; 24:17-22; 26:12, 13; 27:19). Jesus confronted the religious leaders of His day with their heartless treatment of widows, stating that they “devour widows’ houses, and for a shew make long prayers” (Luke 20:47).

We are not told what this widow’s adversary has done to her. But we keep in mind that this is a fictional story; unstated actions are unimportant. What is important is that the widow needs someone to intervene on her behalf, which she hopes this judge will do. The verb came in the Greek indicates a continual coming; that is, she comes repeatedly in an effort to persuade this callous judge to show a measure of concern for the law.

Promising Perspective (vv. 4, 5)

4, 5. 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 by her continual coming she weary me.

Jesus does not specify the amount of time that passes before the judge tires of the woman’s persistent nagging. His decision to hear her out is not based on any change in his personal character; he still neither fears God nor has any concern for people. His reasoning is purely pragmatic: “If I help her, I’ll get her off my back, and she’ll quit bothering me!”

What Do You Think?

If you were to discuss persistent prayer with someone who models it, what would you want to learn regarding his or her motivations? Why?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

Regarding intecessory prayer

Regarding prayers of praise and worship

Regarding prayers of petition

Regarding prayers of thanksgiving


(Luke 18:6-8)

Affirming God’s Justice (vv. 6-8a)

6, 7. And the Lord said, Hear what the unjust judge saith. And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them?

Jesus does not say specifically how the unjust judge decides the widow’s case. The implication, however, is that the judge adjudicates in the widow’s favor.

Jesus’ explanation of this parable should not be taken to mean that God is the equivalent of an unjust judge. God is the very essence of justice (Deuteronomy 32:4). Jesus is drawing a contrast between God and the unjust judge in arguing from the lesser to the greater: If this self-centered, unjust judge will finally agree to come to the aid of a person who persistently seeks his assistance, then will not the sovereign God avenge his own elect who come to Him persistently (day and night) in prayer? Responding to prayer is part of His nature as not only a righteous and just judge but also a compassionate heavenly Father.

What Do You Think?

How did a time of persistence in prayer result in your spiritual growth?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

In ways unseen to others

In ways seen to others but personal to you

In ways others could see and learn from

The phrase though he bear long with them carries the idea of long-suffering, as the same Greek wording is translated in 1 Corinthians 13:4 and 2 Peter 3:9. It appears that Jesus is telling us that God exercises His own brand of persistent patience as He delays answering those who call on Him. There will be an opportune time to respond, but that time may not come as soon as we would like.

This speaks to the issue Jesus raises in the parable: When will God come to the defense of His people (His elect) who are under attack from their enemies? When will He carry out retributive justice on their behalf?

Considering again 2 Peter 3, we are told concerning “the day of the Lord” that God in His long-suffering is “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (3:9, 10). Paul echoes this thought in Romans 2:4. Part of God’s seeming failure to come to the aid of His beleaguered, suffering people is that He is giving those enemies a period of time, an opportunity, to turn from their sinful ways and find His salvation. Thinking of your own previously lost state, aren’t you glad He does?

What Do You Think?

How does (or should) God’s concern for justice influence how you pray?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

Regarding prayers for yourself

Regarding prayers for your church

Regarding prayers for your nation

8a. I tell you that he will avenge them speedily.

Jesus answers the question He has raised. In so doing, He assures His disciples (and us) that God will come to His people’s defense in the proper way at the proper time. What must be kept in mind, however, is that speedily has to be understood according to God’s timetable, not ours. Again to the apostle Peter: “One day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:8). The speed will occur when God determines that the time for judgment has come (compare Hebrews 10:37).

From our standpoint, God often does not act as quickly as we would like. As the prophet reminds us, “my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord” (Isaiah 55:8). We are to trust that He, as the righteous judge, will bring about justice in His time.

When that time comes—and come it will—it will happen in no uncertain terms. Abraham asked, during his “negotiations” with the Lord over Sodom and Gomorrah, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:25). Most assuredly He will, at the right time. His timing is always perfect (compare Galatians 4:4, 5). Waiting for that perfect timing is, of course, the hard part for us (compare Psalm 94:1-7).

Asking a Question (v. 8b)

8b. Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?

In the parable just told, the unjust judge is the one who is concerned about becoming worn out because of the widow’s persistence. But in our time of waiting for our judge (God) to act, we are the ones who may grow weary at His seemingly delayed response to our cries for justice. This leads to the question that Jesus raises here as He concludes His parable.

The verse before us should be read in light of Jesus’ teaching regarding His second coming (see the Lesson Background). The question thus is asking the disciples to consider whether their faith will be strong enough to survive the wait until Jesus returns. During that time, they (and we) may have to endure ridicule, persecution, etc. Will faith continue or collapse?

What Do You Think?

Without giving advice, how would you counsel someone who struggles in prayer waiting for God’s help?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

Considering the person’s level of spiritual maturity

Considering the nature of the need

Considering appropriate and inappropriate use of Romans 8:28; etc.

Jesus’ question is rhetorical. It is not a question that requires a specific answer on the spot, but rather is a challenge for self-examination and reflection. Each person listening to this parable is challenged to consider whether he or she will be judged as a person of faith. Such reflective reaction is similar to what Jesus’ disciples will experience later during the last supper as each asks in turn “Lord, is it I?” (Matthew 26:20-22) when learning of the pending betrayal.

Waiting for Christmas

Do you remember how hard it was to wait for Christmas when you were a child? We are reminded of our own long-ago childhood every year as we watch the little ones in our families eagerly anticipate Christmas. Many families use a calendar to count down the days to December 25.

Visual for Lesson 7. Put learners in small groups to come up with more words that begin with the letter P to describe prayer.

A certain company specializes in calendars for this purpose and claims to have 300 varieties in stock. For example, the company sells a chocolate calendar with a piece of chocolate behind the window for each day. Then there are religious calendars with Scripture verses behind each window. Those with a more secular orientation have Santas, snowmen, winter scenes, or Victorian-era art as the surprise each day. Admittedly, the last one probably would not be of much interest to the average child!

Jesus concluded His parable about the unjust judge by making a point about how we should await His return. Some Christians create “end-times calendars” with “windows” that feature clues as to how close we are to the second coming. The Lord doesn’t want us to waste time trying to determine the exact timing of His return. He’s more interested in what we do and how we pray during that interim, right?

—C. R. B.


Prayer in a Weary World

It is easy when reading this parable to forget, or at least fail to give attention to, the specific purpose for it. That purpose is stated in the opening verse: “that men ought always to pray, and not to faint” (Luke 18:1). We can get so caught up in the issues of God’s justice and the timing of His action on behalf of His people that we overlook the fact that this parable is meant to help us with our prayer life. Proper prayer will result in self-examination; this is much more useful than prayers of complaint regarding a perceived lack of action on God’s part. A vital ingredient in maintaining the faith that Jesus mentioned at the close of the parable is steadfast, refuse-to-faint prayer.

At times prayer may seem ineffective in providing genuine solutions to the burning issues of our time. Some skeptics view prayer as a means of avoiding the hard work required to right or reverse some of the injustices in a terribly broken world. Those participating in various social programs and working hard to solve society’s ills are often presented as those who are really making a difference (and in many cases, they are). People who pray, by contrast, are seen as out of touch or unwilling to get their hands dirty and tackle the problems that exist.

But that’s a false either-or distinction. Certainly prayer should not be a substitute for work. God does expect His people to be salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16), to penetrate the darkness and to give more of His “seasoning” to the world as salt does to food. Part of this includes doing “justly” as the prophet tells us (Micah 6:8).

Justice as a Burning Issue

We recognize that justice (or rather the lack of it) is a burning issue in contemporary society. But we take care to note that the justice specifically addressed by Jesus in today’s parable is that which concerns God’s “elect” (Christians). The issue is their continuing to be persecuted in various ways while God does not intervene on their behalf. So, how are Christians to react to this kind of continuing injustice?

As we read Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, we see that we are not to take personal vengeance against wrongdoers; in fact, we are to seek the good of our enemies (Matthew 5:38-48). Paul’s counsel in Romans 12:19-21 is consistent with this: “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord” (12:19).

For many Christians today, this requirement creates great tension. This is particularly so in parts of the world where places of Christian worship are being burned to the ground and followers of Jesus (including children) are being tortured, mutilated, and killed because of their allegiance to Him. Christians see sin flourishing and wrongdoers enjoying life, apparently free to live under the radar of divine wrath. In the midst of this, the teaching that “men ought always to pray, and not to faint” can seem hollow, certainly much easier said than done.

What Do You Think?

How did you grow spiritually during a time when you prayed for God to change your circumstances, but He ended up changing you instead?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

Regarding patience

Regarding how you view circumstances


Revelation as an Insightful Help

The book of Revelation offers a proper perspective on this matter of maintaining faith under fire. As John describes the opening of the fifth of seven seals, he testifies, “I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held” (Revelation 6:9). He then notes how they cry out as they ask, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?” (6:10).

This language calls to mind the reality behind the imagery of our lesson’s parable: oppressed believers are crying out for God to judge their enemies and avenge them. They are in danger of growing “faint” in the sense of wondering What’s the use in praying? Nothing changes, so we might as well spend the time doing something else. The “how long” question posed by both the dead and the living (see Psalm 35:17-28; Habakkuk 1:2-4; etc.) is felt profoundly.

As we read through Revelation, we see vividly portrayed the intense conflict between good and evil, between the Lord and Satan. Finally as we draw near to the book’s conclusion, we read how John describes hearing a “great voice of much people in heaven” proclaiming the praises of the Lord (Revelation 19:1). A few verses later the great marriage supper of the Lamb is pictured, to which all the faithful are invited (19:7-9).

As Revelation 19 progresses, a rider on a white horse appears. “He that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war” (19:11). The rider is called “The Word of God” (19:13) and “hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, King of Kings, and Lord of Lords” (19:16). He has come to judge the nations and to carry out the wrath of Almighty God (19:15).

There is no question who this rider is: He is Jesus, coming in glory as He promised to do in today’s parable. And He comes speedily, to avenge the faithful and to carry out God’s holy judgment on the wicked.

The cry for vengeance will be answered, in the ultimate sense, when Satan is cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:10). He is the one whom Jesus came to destroy (Hebrews 2:14, 15; 1 John 3:8). Those who accept Jesus as Lord and Savior are equipped with the power of the Holy Spirit to overcome Satan’s temptations and schemes (1 John 4:4).

Even so, we still feel the impact of the broken, sin-cursed world that awaits redemption (Romans 8:22, 23). That full redemption will come with the creation of the new heavens and the new earth (2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:1). And when that takes place, it will happen speedily.

May Jesus find us faithful when He comes.


Father, we live in a time when so many voices are raised in protest, in anger, in defiance—but so few voices are raised in prayer. May we not allow the unchanging evil around us to silence our prayers. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Thought to Remember

Prayer is a plea
to the highest court of appeals.


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