Luke 17: 1-10
One day Jesus said to his disciples, “There will always be temptations to sin, but what sorrow awaits the person who does the tempting! 2 It would be better to be thrown into the sea with a millstone hung around your neck than to cause one of these little ones to fall into sin. 3 So watch yourselves! “If another believer sins, rebuke that person; then if there is repentance, forgive. 4 Even if that person wrongs you seven times a day and each time turns again and asks forgiveness, you must forgive.”5 The apostles said to the Lord, “Show us how to increase our faith.” 6 The Lord answered, “If you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘May you be uprooted and thrown into the sea,’ and it would obey you! 7 “When a servant comes in from plowing or taking care of sheep, does his master say, ‘Come in and eat with me’? 8 No, he says, ‘Prepare my meal, put on your apron, and serve me while I eat. Then you can eat later.’ 9 And does the master thank the servant for doing what he was told to do? Of course not. 10 In the same way, when you obey me you should say, ‘We are unworthy servants who have simply done our duty.’”
Luke 17 gives us interesting insight into faith and forgiveness. When you first read though these verses they seem to be disconnected from each other, a seeming hodge-podge of various instructions randomly thrown together. Christ starts with the seriousness of sin, then moves on to talk about the small seed of faith and finishes with service. Yet as we study these verses we see that they are not random and the request for more faith right in the middle of their conversation in verse 5 is the connecting point. This request for faith comes in response to Jesus teaching about forgiveness and reveals the disciples and also our lack of understanding about faith. In order to look at Christ’s response to their request for more faith we have to go back and look at the catalyst, what triggered their request.
Jesus starts by warning us about the seriousness of sin, that we are responsible for our actions and our words, that sin doesn’t just affect us but it causes others to stumble. Then Jesus says “so watch yourselves.” So often we read verses like these and forget that they are for us, instead we think, “God’s going to get those people who cause others to stumble” but we don’t stop to think whether we ourselves are guilty of doing it. Are you guilty of reading God’s word with a “for others” focus? We would all do well to watch ourselves in this regard. After Jesus has made it clear that we are all susceptible to sin and that we need to first watch ourselves he then goes on to talk about the response of rebuking, to repent. Jesus reminds us of the goal of rebuking, to bring about repentance, not so we can feel right. The purpose of rebuking is always right living, so often we use rebuking as a tool for self-satisfaction. We all seem to have an inborn desire and meter for fairness. When we are wronged we often choose to use rebuke as revenge. Instead of using God’s ways for His glory we reduce them to weapons for self-gratification.
Jesus then says “If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.” Here Jesus is dealing with another one of our hang-ups when we are hurt, how much do I have to forgive! Not only are we tempted to use His ways as our weapons but we are also tempted to reduce His commands so that we don’t have to repeat them. Jesus reminds us of two things, we need to be accountable to each other and we need to be forgiving. Today in our self-serving world we fight accountability, we want to do what we want when we want and we don’t want others to get in the way. But Jesus teaches us that what we do does affect others, that we are called to live in the context of community not a cave. Jesus is talking about God’s gift of grace, giving something that is not deserved and the ministry of mercy, not giving something that is deserved. So what does this have to do with faith? Here is where it gets interesting, after hearing the heaviness of sin, stumbling and submitting to forgiveness the disciples request and increase in faith. It’s as if the disciples feel themselves failing under the weight of forgiveness and say we don’t have enough faith to cover this. Their response to hearing about an increase in forgiveness is to ask for an increase in faith. Forgiveness challenges our faith, do we really believe what we say we do, and if we do our faith will free us to forgive. In part two we will see Jesus response to their request for an increase in faith and it’s here that we learn more about what faith really is. But today where are you at, does forgiveness leave you floundering in your faith?