(A) Introduction. Read: Luke18v1to8

William Barclay in his commentary on Luke points out that the judge in Jesus' parable was not Jewish. Disputes between Jews were usually settled by 3 elders - one chosen by the plaintiff, one by the defendant and one independently appointed. The judge in the parable was probably a paid magistrate appointed by Herod or the Romans. Such men were notoriously corrupt. To get a case settled you either needed influence or the money to pay a bribe.

The widow may have been in dispute with the Roman authorities or a Gentile. Perhaps property had been seized illegally for the non payment of taxes or grain commandeered by Roman soldiers had not been paid for or the widow had been inadequately compensated for land taken by the Romans for a building project.

Jesus used an all too familiar scenario in an occupied country to teach his disciples that they should always pray and not give up. v1.

(B) A hopeless case.

Jesus uses the stark contrast between the widow's situation and his disciples' position to encourage his disciples to pray. Everything was stacked against the plaintiff including:

(1) Her Status.

The plaintiff was nothing in the eyes of the magistrate. She was a poor, childless, friendless widow. The woman was a nobody and could exert no influence at all. She possessed insufficient money for bribes and had no chance of getting her case heard by an unjust judge.

Consider how different it is for the believer. Christians have status in God's eyes. Peter reminds his readers: But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God. 1Pet2v9. If this wasn't encouragement enough the church is described as the bride of Christ. God can never do enough for his dear son's bride.

(2) Her relationship.

The widow had no relationship with the magistrate. She didn't move in the same circles as him. The unjust judge didn't know her and didn't care about her.

What a difference a good relationship makes if you have to ask a favour. I used to ask my mother to do some typing for me. She wasn't wildly enthusiastic! However my mother obligied because I was her son! I have been asked to take many funerals of the fathers or mothers of people who know me. A friend is there to help you as this anecdote illustrates:

Jackie Robinson was the first black to play major league baseball. Breaking baseball's colour barrier, he faced jeering crowds in every stadium. While playing one day in his home stadium in Brooklyn, he committed an error. The fans began to ridicule him. He stood at second base, humiliated, while the fans jeered. Then, shortstop Pee Wee Reese came over and stood next to him. He put his arm around Jackie Robinson and faced the crowd. The fans grew quiet. Robinson later said that arm around his shoulder saved his career.

We should always pray and not give up because God is our father and Jesus is our friend. Paul wrote to the Romans: For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received a spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, "Abba, Father." The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs - heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. Rom8v15to17. Jesus said to his disciples: "I no longer call you servants ..... . Instead I have called you friends ... . John15v15.

Nothing, absolutely nothing, could be further from the truth that we are unknown and unimportant to God our Father or Jesus our Friend.

(3) Her isolation.

The woman was all alone. She had no friends or family to help her get justice. The widow fought on single-handedly with no allies, no supporters, no-one to give her moral support. I used to feel like this sometimes when speaking against some new but flawed teaching initiative in a staff meeting.

The backing of a loyal band of supporters is a huge advantage when campaigning for justice. William Wilberforce, Elizabeth Fry and Martin Luther King would not have achieved so much without the assistance of others dedicated to their cause.

Christians are not without support. We have a Great High Priest interceding for us in heaven, the Holy Spirit as our advocate and many prayer partners in the church. Herod may have put Peter in prison guarded by four squads of four soldiers each but the apostle was not without hope because in the house of Mary the mother of Mark many people had gathered and were praying. Acts12v12.

(4) Her position.

As Warren Wiersbe points out in his commentary on Luke the widow petitioned an unsympathetic court of law which remains for most people an alien and intimidating experience. Christians come to a throne of grace. The writer of the epistle to the Hebrews put it like this: Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Heb4v16.

(5) Her arbiter.

The woman in the parable appears to have no chance of success because of the nature of the magistrate. He was:

    (a) Unrighteous. The judge neither feared God. v2. He had no firm moral standards. Doubtless this magistrate of dubious morality was, like Pilate, inclined to do what was expedient rather than what was right. People lacking integrity cannot be relied upon to act justly.

    Integrity is a great virtue. Throughout his administration, Abraham Lincoln was a president under fire, especially during the scarring years of the Civil War. And though he knew he would make errors of office, he resolved never to compromise his integrity. So strong was this resolve that he once said, "I desire so to conduct the affairs of this administration that if at the end, when I come to lay down the reins of power, I have lost every other friend on earth, I shall at least have one friend left, and that friend shall be down inside of me." Similarly the lack of it is a great loss to others.

    (b) Callous. The judge neither feared God nor cared about men. v2. He was hard-hearted and indifferent to the suffering of others. The poor widow had the great misfortune of coming to a man who was contemptuous of those in distress.

    Some of the greatest injustices have been committed or permitted by men and women who are callous. One only has to think of the plight of Jews in Nazi Germany or prisoners of war in the hands of the Japanese to appreciate the extreme unlikelihood of a callous magistrate dispensing justice to a poor widow.

    Last week the results of an inquiry into the many cases of neglect and unnecessary deaths at Mid-Staffordshire hospital were published. Perhaps even more disturbing than examples of nurses' lack of care was the way administrators callously disregarded the complaints of concerned relatives.

    (c) Self-centred. The unjust judge only grants the persistent widow's request because she was beginning to make his life a misery. He realised that her persistence would eventually wear him out! All the magistrate was interested in was his own well being. He was utterly selfish.

    You cannot expect much of selfish people. They will rarely be of help, will often let you down and be an unfailing source of disappointment. A person who is selfish may be polite, agreeable, nice, charming - but will do damn all! You will not find them doing the time-consuming, difficult or dirty jobs within the church.

    (d) Venal. The magistrates appointed by the Romans were known as robber judges. If one of them tried your case a bribe facilitated a favourable verdict.

    This seems to be the way things are going in Britain. We are told banks can only retain 'good' staff by paying them huge bonuses. If that is the case the bonuses are little more than bribes. Many people work hard all their lives without being paid a bonus of any sort. What is their motivation??


    (a) Righteous. The psalmist writes: Your throne, O God, will last forever and ever; a sceptre of justice will be the sceptre of your kingdom. You love righteousness and hate wickedness. Ps45v6and7.

    God is committed to the right. He hates the wrong. Our God is always on the side of righteousness. What an incentive to pray for justice and not give up!

    (b) Compassionate. God is the loving father in the parable of the Prodigal Son. (See exposition on Luke15v11to32) But you, O Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness. Psalm86v15. Surely God's tender love for us is a great inducement to persist in prayer.

    (c) Generous. God is not mean spirited! He is not sparing with his blessings. God loves to give us good things. James wrote: Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. James1v17.

    (d) Concerned. I love the passage in Isaiah: Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! Is49v5. God cares for his people, more even than a mother cares for the new born baby on her breast. What an incentive to follow the advice of Paul and pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. Eph6v18.

    I can think of no better way to conclude this section than with the wonderful words Paul wrote to the Romans: He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all - how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things. Rom8v32. Do we need any further encouragement to pray and not give up than this?

(C) An effective campaigner.

The widow succeeded against all the odds. Jesus tells us: "For some time he (the magistrate) refused. But finally he said to himself ... 'I will see that she gets justice.... .'" v4and5.

The qualities that made her an effective campaigner:

(1) Her conviction.

The widow was convinced of two things: the rightness and necessity of her cause. Recently the British actress Joanna Lumley has campaigned on behalf of the Ghurkhas who served with the British Army. It was very obvious that Joanna Lumley was fully persuaded that the Ghurkhas had been treated most unfairly and the British Government should remedy the situation. Elizabeth Fry worked tirelessly for prison reform especially for women because she found the inhumane treatment of convicts intolerable.

We will only persist in fervent pray if we are of the same mind as the widow in the parable. When Nehemiah heard that the wall of Jerusalem was broke down and its gates burned with fire he described his reaction in these words: When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven. Nh1v4. Before Queen Esther went before King Xerxes to plead for the very survival of her people she gave Mordecai these instructions: "Go gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish." Esther4v16and17. Who can doubt that prayer accompanied the fasting.

There is more than a grain of truth in this humorous poem:

      "The proper way for man to pray," said Deacon Lemuel Keyes;
      "The only proper attitude is down upon his knees."
      "Nay, I should say the way to pray," said Reverend Doctor Wise,
      "Is standing straight with outstretched arms with rapt and upturned eyes."
      "Oh, no, no, no," said Elder Snow, "such posture is too proud."
      A man should pray with eyes fast-closed and head contritely bowed."
      "It seems to me his hands should be austerely clasped in front.
      With both thumbs pointing to the ground," said Reverend Doctor Blunt."
      "Last year I fell in Hodgkin's well headfirst," said Cyril Brown.
      "With both my heels a-stickin' up, my head a-pointing' down;
      And I done prayed right then and there; best prayer I ever said,
      The prayin'est prayer I ever prayed, a-standin' on my head."

(2) Her motivation.

The widow wanted both justice and justification. She wanted a wrong to be righted and she also wanted to be declared in the right. These are incredibly powerful motivators. On Feb 25th 2010 there was an item in the Daily Telegraph on Professor Paul Buckland entitled, 'Victory for professor in 'dumbing down' fight.' Prof Buckland had failed 26 of his 60 second-year conservation science students at Bournemouth University. He was pressurised to change his decision but refused. Eventually someone else was brought in without specialist subject knowledge and upgraded 10 of the worst students. Prof Buckland resigned saying that the universities' actions were an affront to his integrity and an insult to those students who had worked hard.

An employment tribunal backed Prof Buckland's claim that the action of the university was in clear breach of his employment contract but the decision was overruled by the Employment Appeal Tribunal. However Prof Buckland refused to give up and three Court of Appeal judges ruled that the university was inexorably in the wrong. In other words the professor was vindicated or justified. That is what he fought for.

Christians who are sacked, suspended or otherwise discriminated against because of their faith need to fight their cases and the church must persist in prayer for them so that they receive justice. We should also persevere in prayer for persecuted Christians in other countries. Our motivation should be great!

Perhaps Luther's puppy has something to teach us about motivation:

When Luther's puppy happened to be at the table, he looked for a morsel from his master, and watched with open mouth and motionless eyes; he (Martin Luther) said, 'Oh, if I could only pray the way this dog watches the meat! All his thoughts are concentrated on the piece of meat. Otherwise he has no thought, wish or hope."

Are we hungry for justice - justice for our brothers and sisters in Christ who are being treated unfairly?

(3) Her character.

The widow was persistent. She was determined and resilient. The lonely woman didn't allow setbacks to deter her. She didn't worry about being an embarrassment nor was she quashed by a hostile reception. I don't suppose the unjust judge spoke to her very kindly!

Jesus tells us: "And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, 'Grant me justice against my adversary.'"

The woman succeeded because the magistrate realised she was the stronger character. She wasn't going to give up and to keep refusing her request was ultimately going to be more trouble than it was worth. He said to himself: "'Because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see she gets justice, so that she won't eventually wear me out with her coming.'" v5. The judge actually uses a term taken from boxing training that means: to the point of total exhaustion. (See exposition on 1Cor9v19to27 for an explanation.)

Nearly all successful campaigners against injustice need great determination and persistence. It is worth reading the article in the Daily Mail about Yvonne Hossack the solicitor who campaigned to keep 80 old people's homes open notwithstanding bitter opposition from local authorities. (See Daily Mail article)

Moses required courage a persistence to secure the release of the Israelites from Egypt. After the Plague of Darkness, Pharaoh said to Moses: "Get out of my sight! Make sure you do not appear before me again! The day you see my face you will die." Ex10v27. But Pharaoh did have to see Moses again and he did have to let God's people go.

It took determined, committed, persevering prayer to rid Europe of Nazism and to discredit communism in the Soviet Union.

We need the three great qualities possessed by the widow if we are to persist in prayer and not give up.

(D) A successful outcome.

The woman of the parable received justice. Eventually the judge said: "I will see she gets justice." The widow had shown she meant business; she had stuck to her guns and would not give up. So the unjust judge finally concedes to her demand for the sake of peace and quiet. In this he was no better than some parents or schoolteachers who give in to whiney children just to shut them up. There are other ways to shut children up and I used most of them when I was a teacher!

God is not like some weak school teacher who succumbs if he is bothered long enough! If that is the case why does Jesus encourage us to persist in prayer - to "always pray and not give up?" This question is not very well dealt with by the commentators. Here are my suggestions:

(1) Our prayers are not always answered straight away.

This is obviously the case otherwise Jesus would not need to tell us to persist in prayer. This calls into question the NIV translation: And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you he will see that they get justice, and quickly." v6to8.

The NIV gives a misleading impression and one that conflicts with our experience. Religious persecution lasted several years in Russia and many Christians perished in the Stalinist labour camps. In China house church pastors were imprisoned between 20 and 30 years before release notwithstanding the prayers offered for them.

The Authorised Version in this instance provides a better translation: "And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them? I tell you that he will avenge them speedily."

I think this means God bears a long time with the oppressors. This was the case as far as the Egyptians were concerned. God gave them many opportunities to let his people go. Only as a last resort did the angel of death pass through the land.

God prefers to use natural processes - even though they may take a long time and prolong the suffering of his people - to miraculous intervention. But often in the end he does avenge his own people speedily. After the angel of death passed through the land of Egypt Pharaoh couldn't get rid of the Israelites quickly enough. Nothing is more remarkable than the sudden disintegration of the Soviet Union and the collapse of communism. It is truly amazing that so many Eastern European countries obtained their freedom so quickly and so peacefully. Another event that was totally unexpected and almost miraculous was the sudden peaceful end of aparthied in South Africa.

(2) We need to show that we are in earnest.

A wise parent will not satisfy a child's request for something expensive, like a piano, computer or horse, if it is frivolous, flippant or made on a whim.

Laura Ingalls Wilder writes about her future husband, Almanzo, in her book, 'Farmer Boy'. When Almanzo was 8-years-old he was not allowed to handle his father's young horses and colts. He loved the colts and especially Starlight. One day Almanzo found a purse full of money and received a 200 dollar reward. In the evening his father and mother discussed his future because the village wagon maker had offered to take Almanzo as an apprentice. Mr Wilder looked at his youngest son and asked him what he wanted to do.

"Take your time, son. Think it over," Father said. "You make up your mind what you want."

"Father!" Amanzo exclaimed.

"Yes, son?"

"Can I? Can I really tell you what I want?"

"Yes, son," Father encouraged him."

"I want a colt," Almanzo said. "Could I buy a colt all my own with some of that two hundred dollars, and would you let me break him?"

Father's beard slowly widened with a smile. He put down his napkin and leaned back in his chair and looked at Mother. Then he turned to Almanzo and said: "Son, you leave that money in the bank."

Almanzo felt everything sinking down inside him. And then, suddenly, the whole world was a great, shining, expanding glow of warm light. For Father went on: "If it's a colt you want, I'll give you Starlight."

"Father!" Almanzo gasped. "For my very own?"

"Yes, son. You can break him, and drive him, and when he's a four-year-old you can sell him or keep him, just as you want to. We'll take him out on a rope, first thing tomorrow morning, and you can begin to gentle him."

When Almanzo's father knew he was in earnest he quickly and gladly met his heart's desire.

The story of the Exodus illustrates vividly why God delayed in responding to the prayers of his oppressed people. God could only lead them out when they were desperate to leave Egypt. There is no way the Israelites would have left their gardens by the Nile unless they were in earnest about escaping the bondage of Egypt. As it was there were times when they wished themselves back among the melons, garlic and cucumbers.

God will often only answer our prayer when we are ready for an answer. Sometimes we need to be chastened, humbled and corrected in preparation for God's response. The Israelites needed to spend 40 years in the wilderness before they were ready to enter the Promised Land. The Jews had to spend the full 70 years in exile before they were fit to return to Judah - never again to forsake God for idols of wood or stone.

I can remember Mr Ernest Oliver telling the congregation at Brockley that he and his wife spent many years waiting in India for the opportunity of going as missionaries to Nepal. God used that time to prepare the Olivers for Nepal and to prepare Nepal for the Olivers.

(3) God wishes to include us in what he is doing.

God could work alone to achieve his will but does not chose to do so. He prefers to work in co-operation with men. We see this throughout the Old Testament - especially in Exodus, Joshua, Judges, Nehemiah, Esther and Ezra.

Jesus encourages us to pray because by so doing we enter into a partnership with God. God desires to work in partnership with us so much that he is often unwilling to act before we pray. When we pray for a particular outcome we actually encourage God to get on the case!

Nehemiah prayed earnestly before he acquainted Artaxerxes with his concern for the walls of Jerusalem. He then recorded: "And because the gracious hand of my God was upon me, the king granted my requests." Nh2v8.

I am certain this is why revivals and success on the mission field are so closely linked with prevailing prayer. God displays boundless grace in making us partners in all he undertakes. This important truth should galvanise our prayer life.

(4) God works under constraint.

God is very careful of our freedom. Without freedom of choice and action we do not have real significance. God's respect for man's freedom puts him under a constraint. It means:

    (a) God will not begin to intervene in the affairs of men until asked. Many years ago now at a fair in Langres (N.E. France) I saw a small-boy, try without success, to drive a dodgem. He was stuck against the boards and was black in the face with rage. His plump, middle-aged, worried father stood and watched. He couldn't help until his wilful, spoilt son finally appealed to him for assistance. Only then could he climb into the dodgem alongside his son and get him moving. This is often the way of it. An experienced teacher cannot help a young assistant until he is invited to do so. A mother would be foolish to meddle in the affairs of a newly married daughter unless asked for advice.

    (b) When God does intervene at the request of his church the process towards achieving a desired outcome may take time. This is because God rarely overrides man's free will. He is not coercive. So, religious freedom in Russia and China did not come about all at once. William Wilberforce's campaign to abolish the slave trade was protracted. The abolition of apartheid in South Africa took many years.

(5) God wants to share our pleasure.

Jesus encourages us to persist in prayer in order to experience satisfaction, gratitude and joy for answered prayer. This won't happen if we give up too quickly.

On leaving the army Roger Simms was hitchhiking home when he was picked up by a business man called Mr Hanover who lived in Chicago. As they journeyed and chatted together Roger, a committed Christian, felt compelled to talk to the handsome, well-dressed, middle-aged business man about his faith. He kept putting it off but eventually found the courage to talk about the way of salvation. He challenged Mr Hanover to accept Jesus as his Saviour. To Roger's astonishment the Cadillac pulled over to the side of the road and the businessman bowed his head and received Christ into his life. It was, by his own testimony, the greatest thing that ever happened to him.

Five years later Roger needed to go on a business trip to Chicago. He remembered and found the business card Mr Hanover had given to him on that eventful journey home. Roger decided to pay him a visit at his place of work. When the young man arrived at Hanover Enterprises the receptionist told him it was impossible for him to see Mr Hanover but he could see Mrs Hanover who was interested in how Roger came to know her husband. So he told her how Mr Hanover had picked him up on May 7th five years previously on the day he was discharged from the army.

Mrs Hanover asked quietly if there was anything special about the journey to explain his visit to Hanover Enterprises. Roger then described how he had shared the gospel with Mr Hanover and his resultant tearful, glad, response to a Saviour's love.

At this point Mrs Hanover's whole body shook with explosive sobs. When she finally managed to overcome her emotion she said, "My husband died in a traffic accident after you left his car. I had prayed for his salvation for years. I thought God had ignored my prayers and so after his death I stopped living for him."

Mrs Hanover gave up believing too soon!

(6) God wants us to exercise faith in him.

You only ask, and persist in asking, help of a person in whom you have some faith. Even the widow of Jesus' parable had some faith in the unjust judge. She must have believed he was capable of recognising the justice of her case and passing judgment in her favour.

I was always saddened during my teaching career when a pupil who had started a course of study with me wanted to give up. This used to happen sometimes with an A level Geography pupil. I used to tell the student, "If you have faith in your teacher and try your best I am sure you will succeed in getting a satisfactory grade. You just need to persevere." Some exercised faith and some did not. I cannot think of any pupil who exercised faith who failed!

God wants us to have faith in him because he knows the value of faith. Persistent prayer is an expression of confidence in God. We need that confidence to finish our journey along the narrow way to life. That is why Jesus concludes the parable by saying: "However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?" Will his people still be praying?

ACKNOWLEDGMENT: some of the illustrations in this exposition were taken from: Christian Globe.