What Does It Mean to Compel Them?
When Jesus told the parable of the Great Supper in Luke 14:23, the master said to the servant, “Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.” Many translations use the words compel them, but when we look at standard dictionaries’ definitions, these words certainly seem overly strong.
C.S. Lewis explains in his book Surprised by Joy, how these words and this translation has been twisted over time. The words “compel them” actually imply divine mercy. He says,
“…the words compelle intrare, compel them to come in, have been so abused by wicked men that we shudder at them; but, properly understood, they plumb the depth of the Divine mercy.”
C.S. Lewis goes on to say,
“The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men, and His compulsion is our liberation.”
Adam Clarke’s commentary also says,
“Jesus simply meant His servants should prevail on [those invited to the Great Supper] by the most earnest entreaties.“
“Just like the Latin words, cogo, and compello, compelle intrare mean to ‘prevail on by prayers, counsels, entreaties, etc…’ No other kind of constraint is ever recommended in the Gospel of Christ.“
What both C.S. Lewis and Adam Clarke are saying is this passage was twisted by the wicked men who instigated the inquisitions. They used it to fulfil their own agenda, instead of relying on the Holy Spirit to show them what the phrase truly means. Instead of appealing in love, and by example to those they wished to convert to Christianity, they instead used force, browbeating, extortion, bullying, intimidation, and strong-arm tactics in trying to forcefully drive people to make a public profession of Christian faith. They even went as far as torturing and killing those who refused to be intimidated into submitting to this ungodly process.
The problem was these men wanted people to convert to a national form of religion for political gain. They had no spiritual concern for those they tried to bully into subjection, and tried to use this scripture (Luke 14:23) to justify their brutal methods.
Let me make it very clear: God was in no way, part of any of this.
Instead, we look to other verses in the Word of God for clarity about the meaning of “compel them.” The great apostle Paul says it like this: “we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20.) The Latin origin of this word, implorare, means, “invoke with tears.” We can clearly see from this verse, we, the believers, are to shed tears of compassion and intercession for those who are lost and in need of Christ’s saving grace. In no way should we ever try to force them to shed tears of fear by threat of violence.
In Matthew 28:16-20 Jesus gave us the Great Commission:
“16 Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had appointed for them. 17 When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’ Amen.”
It is easy to see that the parable Jesus used in Luke 14:23 is related and pivotal:
“Then the master said to the servant, ‘Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.’” [emphasis added]
From this we can see, in a sense, compelling people – through sharing the gospel by earnest imploring, and living by the example of love – to come into the kingdom of God, is the very fabric from which the braided net of the gospel is woven. I believe Jesus used the words “compel them” intentionally, as an active statement, emphasizing the utmost importance of bringing others into God’s kingdom. Because eternal separation from God is the furthest thing from His will.
It also puts into perspective how we should read all the other scriptural references made to convincing and persuading people to enter the kingdom. While other soul winning scriptures may include a more passive approach, “compel them to come in” leaves us in no doubt of our duty as followers of Christ with regard to fulfilling the Great Commission. Only, it means compel them by love, not force.
The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges says it well: “The compulsion wanted is that used by Paul the Apostle, not by Saul the Inquisitor.” This statement sums up the essence of Christ’s meaning, echoed by a similar sentiment from Bengel: “It was in altogether different ways that Saul, when mad with zeal for Judaism, compelled men, and Paul the servant of Jesus Christ compelled men.” We cannot be preaching a gospel that permits the use of violence in the hope of reaching those in need of Christ’s love and peace. A house divided against itself will fall!
Friends, the bottom line is we do need to compel people into the kingdom of God – that is, implore and do anything we can in love, to ensure their eternal salvation. Because our enemy is doing everything he can in hatred, to compel them to remain out of the kingdom.
-  Surprised by Joy, pp. 263-264 C.S. Lewis © Chivers Press, Bath, 1998, Published by arrangement with HarperCollins Publishers Ltd.
-  From Adam Clarke’s Commentary, Electronic Database. Copyright © 1996, 2003, 2005, 2006 by Biblesoft, Inc. All rights reserved.
-  Ibid
-  implore |imˈplôr| verb [ reporting verb ] ORIGIN early 16th cent.: from French implorer or Latin implorare ‘invoke with tears.’
-  Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
-  Bengel, Johann Albrecht. “Commentary on Luke 14:23”. Johann Albrecht Bengel’s Gnomon of the New Testament. “http://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jab/view.cgi?bk=lu&ch=14. 1897.
-  Paraphrase of Mark 3:25; Luke 11:17 New King James Version® Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson.