“Forgiveness, Faith, and Service”
Sunday, February 23, 2020:
Commentary (UGP Curriculum)
Lesson: Luke 17:1-10;
Time of Action: 30 A.D.;
Place of Action: Probably Perea, a region east of the Jordan
Golden Text: “Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him. And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him” (Luke 17:3-4).
I. INTRODUCTION. Faith is not stagnant. Instead, after its seed is planted by God in His children, it grows and increases in proportion to the care and cultivation we give it. The more we read and reflect on who God is and what He has promised, the more our faith grows. In this week’s lesson, we find Jesus giving His disciples some difficult warnings to follow, but He lovingly reminds them that they have the beginnings of the faith that they need to live for Him.
II. BACKGROUND FOR THE LESSON. This week’s lesson is a continuation of Jesus’ teaching that included the parables of the lost sheep (see Luke 15:3-7), the lost coin (see Luke 15:8-10) and the lost son (see Luke 15:11-32). This teaching took place in the presence of a number of publicans and other sinners, scribes and Pharisees, and Jesus’ disciples (see Luke 15:1-2: 16:1). After those parables, Jesus taught His disciples with the parable of the unjust steward and the proper use of money (see Luke 16:1-13). Of course, the Pharisees heard Jesus’ teaching and became offended, because they were greedy and covetous. This caused them to further ridicule Him (see Luke 16:14-17), but Jesus was not bothered by their mocking. He continued to teach about divorce (see Luke 16:18), and He told the story of Lazarus and the rich man (see Luke 16:19-31); both teachings were no doubt directed at the scribes and Pharisees. Jesus then turned to His disciples with the teaching given in our text. This is where our lesson begins.
III. FORGIVENESS DEMANDED (Luke 17:1-4)
A. The reason why we must be careful about offending others (Luke 17:1-2).
1. (vs. 1). Our first verse says “Then said he unto the disciples, It is impossible but that offences will come: but woe unto him, through whom they come!” After addressing the Pharisees about divorce and giving the story of the rich man and Lazarus, Jesus then turned to His disciples and said to them “It is impossible but that offences will come.” In other words, Jesus was saying that it was ridiculous to think that we will not experience “offences” or stumbling blocks that can lead us to sin, because they will surely come. These stumbling blocks Jesus referred to are temptations and traps that are set to lure a person to sin. Jesus then followed that statement saying “but woe unto him, through whom they come!” Yes, things will be done to offend us and even cause us to stumble and sin, but Jesus’ words of warning are to those who are responsible for causing someone else to stumble or sin in their Christian life. The word “woe” when used in the Scriptures can refer to overwhelming sorrow, grief, disaster, or tremendous calamity. Jesus made it very clear that one or all of these things will fall upon the person who is guilty of causing another person to stumble and fall into sin (see Matthew 18:7-8). Again, this warning was particularly for the scribes and Pharisees who taught their converts their own hypocritical ways (see Matthew 23:13-15). We must always remember that the person who teaches others has a very serious responsibility (see James 3:1).
2. (vs. 2). This verse goes on to say “It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones.” For the person who is guilty of offending or causing someone to sin, Jesus declared that “It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea.” The truth is that those who lead others into error are at risk before God. Jesus gives a picture of an execution with a concrete block tied around the necks of the condemned as they are “cast into the sea.” A “millstone” was a large, heavy stone used at the top of a grinding mill. It was a millstone that crushed Abimelech’s head in Judges 9:53. This is a picture of severe judgment. Note: Jesus’ words describe how serious He considers this sin to be. As Jesus’ disciples, we must be careful that neither our words nor our actions or attitudes lead others into sin. For sure, sinning is serious, but causing others to sin is even more serious. So, Jesus issues a warning: a Mafia-style death is better for the one who leads others into apostasy. Knowing this should cause us to take Paul’s words to the church at Rome very seriously: “Let us not therefore judge one another anymore: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumbling block or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way” (see Romans 14:13). Jesus declared that this greater judgment is reserved for those who “should offend one of these little ones.” The words “little ones” refers to God’s children or Christians, particularly those who were still young and immature in the faith. They were new believers who probably included newly converted publicans and other sinners. Caring for God’s children is like baby-sitting: the responsibility is great because the children are precious in their parents’ sight. Children need attentive care, and teaching carries special responsibility (see James 3:1). There’s no greater sin than to lead Christ’s “little ones” or His believers into sin (see Mark 9:42), because it’s a serious violation of the law of love (see Matthew 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-34; Luke 10:25-29).
B. How to practice forgiveness (Luke 17:3-4).
1. (vs. 3). This verse goes on to say “Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him.” The phrase “Take heed to yourselves” means to watch yourselves or to be careful. It can refer back to verses 1 and 2, or to what Jesus was about to say regarding human relationships. When referring back to verses 1-2, Jesus was warning His listeners to be careful not to cause anyone, especially spiritually immature believers to sin. Ministers and teachers in particular, must be very careful not to say or do anything that may discourage weak Christians. It’s necessary that these leaders use great caution, and speak and act very considerately. Jesus then said “If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him.” The word “if” here can also mean “since” because it is inevitable that people will “trespass” or sin against us as well as others. Jesus declared that when that happens we are to “rebuke him.” To “rebuke” does not mean to point out every sin we see. Here it means to bring sin to a person’s attention with the purpose of correcting and restoring him or her to God, and to their fellow humans (see Galatians 6:1). Note: When a brother or sister does sin against us, we should lovingly “rebuke” them in private. The rebukes should be personally directed, since they are personally experienced (see Matthew 18:15-20). Jesus is not suggesting that we should appoint some kind of underground righteousness squad to watch for sin. Instead, when people wrong one another in the flow of relationships, they are to sort things out. Unfortunately, when people sin against us we tend to feel hurt, carry a grudge and maybe tell someone else what happened to us. But at such a time, we must do as Jesus commands and take heed to ourselves lest our spirits are provoked, and we speak unadvisedly, and rashly vow to get revenge (see Proverbs 24:29; I Thessalonians 5:14-15). We must not be judgmental because our goal is always restoration (see Galatians 6:1). Having given us the authority to personally “rebuke” anyone who has wronged us or anyone else, Jesus then says “and if he repent, forgive him.” The word “repent” means to have a change of mind that leads to a change in one’s direction in life. In repentance, we express godly sorrow and turn away from sin and toward God. Jesus said that when the person repents or demonstrates that they are sorry, we are to “forgive him.” In Jesus’ parable of the two debtors (see Luke 7:40-42), He uses the term “forgive” to mean “to cancel a debt.” Once a debt is cancelled, the debtor is free and clear. Note: We are commanded that when a person repents we are to “forgive him” or her, cancelling their debt so to speak, and then be perfectly reconciled to them. Sin should be rebuked, but repentance should be greeted with forgiveness. We should be quick to move on once the wrong is acknowledged. Most importantly however, we must remember that if we don’t “forgive” those who have wronged us, God won’t “forgive” us when we wrong Him (see Matthew 6:14-15). Just as there is a commitment to righteousness, there should also be a commitment to restore relationships promptly.
2. (vs. 4). This verse says “And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him.” Jesus expanded on His teaching about forgiveness by declaring how we should respond when the same person has sinned against us repeatedly. He said “And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him.” Jesus’ use of the words “seven times” does not refer to an actual number, but to any number of times. On another occasion, in response to Peter’s question of how many times should he forgive a brother who sins against him, Jesus said “I say not unto you until seven times: but seventy times seven” (see Matthew 18:21-22). In other words, Jesus was saying that no matter how many times the same person sins against us, if he or she says “I repent; thou shalt forgive him.” Unfortunately, it’s not in our human nature to do this, and it even sounds impossible. However, when we live in faith, we can do whatever God asks or commands. We are not suppose to keep a running total of the number of times a person offends us and when they reach that number stop forgiving them. There is no limit to forgiveness for the Christian. Note: Whatever the sin that is committed, if he or she repents, we are commanded to forgive them. It’s not a request, but God’s command! We are to forget the hurt, and never think of it again, much less upbraid the person about it. However, if he or she does not repent, we must not carry malice for them, nor consider revenge. Neither do we have to be as free and familiar with them as we once were. If the person is guilty of a sin, to the detriment of the Christian community which he or she is a member of, they should be gravely and mildly reproved for the sin, and upon their repentance, received back into fellowship and communion again. The apostle Paul calls this kind of attitude forgiveness (see II Corinthians 2:4-11).
IV. FAITH EXPECTED (Luke 17:5-10)
A. The amount of faith needed (Luke 17:5-6).
1. (vs. 5). This verse says “And the apostles said unto the Lord, Increase our faith.” There are many teachings in the Bible that are harder to obey than others. It appears that as far as the disciples were concerned, Jesus’ teaching about forgiving over and over and over again, was one of those very difficult things to do. Here the disciples are called “apostles” which means “sent ones,” which made them Prime Ministers of State in Christ’s kingdom. Yet they acknowledged the weakness and deficiency of their “faith,” and saw their need for Christ’s grace to improve it. Therefore, they “said unto the Lord, Increase our faith.” In essence, they were asking Jesus to provide whatever was necessary to complete whatever was lacking in their “faith.” These men had put their “faith” in Christ for salvation, but now they wanted to grow in their “faith” in their everyday walk of life.
2. (vs. 6). This verse says “And the Lord said, If ye had faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye might say unto this sycamine (sycamore) tree, Be thou plucked up by the root, and be thou planted in the sea; and it should obey you.” The disciples’ request for increased “faith” was real. They wanted the “faith” necessary for the radical forgiveness that Jesus was teaching. Jesus responded to His disciples’ request for more “faith” with an illustration. He said “If ye had faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye might say unto this sycamine tree, Be thou plucked up by the root, and be thou planted in the sea; and it should obey you.” In other words, Jesus was saying, “you don’t need more faith; you need to use the faith you have.” Jesus was assuring His disciples that they didn’t necessarily need a greater amount of “faith,” but rather a greater confidence in the power of the Lord to respond to them. Besides, every believer is given a measure of “faith,” enough to trust God for everything (see Romans 12:3). He never promised anymore than that measure of “faith” He originally gives us because it is enough to move mountains. Simply put, “faith” is complete dependence on God and a willingness to do His will. The amount of “faith” isn’t as important as the right kind of “faith” which is “faith” in our all-powerful God. Even “faith” the size of a “mustard seed” would be enough if we exercised greater confidence in God. Jesus is not concerned about the amount of faith, but about its presence. God can work with even a little “faith.” Note: The “mustard seed” was among the smallest seeds in Israel (see Matthew 13:31-33), while the sycamore tree (Greek), probably a black mulberry tree, lived up to six hundred years. It had a very large root network to draw up nutrients from the ground. Jesus is saying that a little “faith” can do surprising things. Merely through a spoken word faith can pull up a tree with a large root system and hurl it into the sea. Of course, Jesus’ statement is a picture of faith’s power. It’s similar to Jesus’ remark about a camel’s ability to go through the eye of a needle. Don’t worry about how great your “faith” is; simply apply what God has already given you and watch it work. The disciples’ and our main responsibility is to trust God. The lesson for us here is very simple. We don’t need more “faith;” we need simple and earnest “faith.” God is the object and source of genuine “faith,” even the weak mustard seed type. And nothing is impossible with God!
B. The evidence of faith in practice (Luke 17:7-8).
1. (vs. 7). In this verse Jesus went on to say “But which of you, having a servant plowing or feeding cattle, will say unto him by and by, when he is come from the field, Go and sit down to meat?” To complete His lesson on faith, the Lord presented an example of what genuine faith looks like. Out of that kind of faith should come service. In essence, Jesus was asking His disciples “Which of you who has a servant plowing or tending sheep will say to him when he comes in from the field, ‘Come at once and sit down to eat?’” The point of this question was to show the relationship between the servant and his master. Of course, the master wouldn’t tell his servant to sit down and eat after tending the cattle. The ancient household servant was responsible for many activities, from working the fields to preparing the meals. An ancient servant’s work was never finished until he had done everything the master required of him. Such is also the case here. Jesus paints a picture of a servant coming in from a long day of farming or shepherding, only to be asked to prepare the owner’s dinner which was also his duty.
2. (vs. 8). Jesus continued to say in this verse “And will not rather say unto him, Make ready wherewith I may sup, and gird thyself, and serve me, till I have eaten and drunken; and afterward thou shalt eat and drink?” Jesus then posed another question. Instead of the master asking the servant to sit down and eat only after tending the cattle, Jesus asked wouldn’t the master say “Make ready wherewith I may sup, and gird thyself, and serve me, till I have eaten and drunken.” In other words, when the servant finished tending the cattle, he still had to prepare himself to serve his master food and drink. Once the servant completed that task, then and only then could he “eat and drink” or prepare his own meal. The servant will not get a meal until the master is served. The point here is that the servant will not be rewarded with his own meal until he has completed all of his duties. Note: The point Jesus was making is that we are all God’s servants, and as servants, we are bound to do all we can for His honor. All of our strength and time are to be used for Him; for we are not our own, nor should we act on our own, but at our Master’s will (see I Corinthians 6:19-20). As God’s servants, we must fill up our time serving Him, and He has given us a variety of work to do (see Romans 12:3-8; Ephesians 4:7, 11-16). We ought to make the completion of one service the beginning of another. The servant that has been plowing, or feeding cattle in the field, when he comes home at night still has work to do; he must serve at his master’s table. No servant expects that his master should say to him, “Go and sit down and eat” before the day’s work is finished. As believers, we have made ourselves bond-slaves to Jesus, and whatever He asks of us is both our privilege and duty to do. If we are careful to finish the work God gives us, and do it well, then like the servant, our reward will come in due time (see I Corinthians 3:12-14; II Timothy 4:7-8; Revelation 22:12) .
C. The expectation of practical faith (Luke 17:9-10).
1. (vs. 9). This verse says “Doth he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I trow not.” Jesus now posed another question. After the servant finishes all he has to do, does the master thank him simply because he did the things he was commanded to do? Jesus answered His own question. He said “I trow not” which means “I think not.” The master would not “thank that servant” for simply doing what was expected of him. Tending the fields and feeding his master were parts of the servant’s job description and what he was being paid for. Jesus’ point here was that God is not obligated to reward us. If He rewards us, it’s only because He wants to. However, we shouldn’t assume that Jesus was supporting an unappreciative attitude or behavior on the part of the master. The lesson for believers today is that genuine faith, not more faith, will lead God’s servant to accept his or her position in life and trust God for the outcome each day. Note: In Jesus’ time, servants were to do what was expected of them without any extra attention. Likewise, God’s children should serve and obey Him willingly just because that’s what He expects from those who are in His family. As we exercise genuine faith in God, it’s possible for us to keep doing what He expects of us not matter what!
2. (vs. 10). In our final verse, Jesus said “So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do.” Like the servant in His parable, Jesus said when His servants have done everything that they have been commanded to do, they still have to admit that “We are unprofitable servants.” In other words, they haven’t done anything to be rewarded for. Rewards come for doing things above and beyond what is expected. Our attitude should be that God does not need us to serve Him, and that serving Him is our duty for which He is not obligated to reward us. This is because as Jesus said in the last phrase of this verse, “we have done that which was our duty to do.” We have only done what God expects us to do.
V. Conclusion. This week’s lesson teaches that the amount of our faith is not the issue. The issue is our complete confidence in God. So, how do we grow in that confidence? The answer is found in Romans 10:17, “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” Most likely, not one of us doubts God’s Word and His promises, but we sometimes lose sight of them in difficult circumstances. When we face difficulties or struggle with doubts, let’s simply go back to God’s Word, the Bible, and renew our confidence in what God has promised us. Let’s also not forget the power of prayer during those times. This lesson also teaches us to keep being careful not to cause others to stumble, and to be forgiving of those who sin against us. We must keep exercising faith in the God who is able to do everything that needs to be done, and faithfully serve Him in whatever capacity He has enabled us.
***The Sunday School Lesson, Union Gospel Press Curriculum; The Bible Expositor and Illuminator***