Offenses, Faith, and Duty
Stumbling Blocks (Luke 17:1-2)
People being whom they are, it is inevitable that some person will cause another person to fall away from the faith. The fact that it is bound to happen does not excuse the one who causes it to happen. As Jesus had taught earlier in Galilee (Matthew 18:1-7), God is not going to lightly punish a person who causes another person to forsake the way of righteousness.
Forgiveness (Luke 17:3-4)
Offenses don’t come just by causing someone to go off into sin. It can also occur when someone in sin is not warned of his sins or is prevented from returning. We must be on our guard not to cause either type of offense.
When we are aware of a brother in sin, it is our duty to warn him of his danger. Love demands this of us, for no one should want to see a brother he loves ending up in hell. Ezekiel was told that it was his duty to warn the wicked (Ezekiel 3:17-21; 33:2-9). The word of warning might make a different in that person’s life. But regardless of the reception of the warning, whether a person is warned is the responsibility of the person who sees the problem and he will be held accountable as to whether that warning was given.
While delivering a warning is definitely are responsibility of preachers and elders due to the nature of their duties, it is also a duty of every Christian (James 5:19-20). Interestingly, under the Old Law a refusal to rebuke a brother’s sin was equated to hatred of that brother (Leviticus 19:17).
Jesus illustrated this numerous times. He was not shy about pointing out the flaws in other men when it was needed. At times problems were addressed one-on-one, as Jesus did with Nicodemus (John 3:10; Matthew 18:15), but on other occasions the flaws were addressed publicly (Mark 12:12; Luke 20:19). Whether privately or publicly addressed, the message does not change, though many try to void a message if they feel they were “preached at.” People need to be warned of the dangers of sins even if such makes them uncomfortable.
But an equal danger comes when a person who has turned from his sins is not forgiven. This is a trap that the Corinthians fell into (II Corinthians 2:3-8). Strangely I seen so many twist this simple concept. They stumble over themselves to offer forgiveness to a person who has not repented of his sins; yet, when a person has gravely wounded them but then later repents of his sins, they withhold acceptance of that person. Oh, they might udder words to say “I forgive you,” but they never release the debt caused by the sin; thus, proving by their actions that their words were a lie. Generally people are quick to forgive sins committed against someone else, but more reluctant to forgive as the sins become more personal.
Most people have no problem forgiving a person of a sin once in a while, but when faced with repeated sins and repeated turnings, they begin to doubt the sincerity of the one claiming to have left his sins. The core of the problem is that people cannot read the hearts of other people. We cannot see their motives or their thoughts. But this problem slices two ways, we cannot assume that just because this is the seventh time a person has sinned and repented that this time he isn’t sincere. We must take a person at their word and let God judge their motives. Yes, there will be times that we will be “taken” by someone’s insincerity, but that is better that ruining a person’s faith who has sincerely repented but was turned away (Colossians 3:12-13). As with warning, our own salvation depends on our willingness to forgive (Matthew 6:12, 14; 18:35).
Faith (Luke 17:5-6)
Such obligations stunned the apostles. They realized they need a great deal more trust in God to accomplish what the Lord commanded them to do.
Jesus pointed to a nearby tree, a sycamine (though sometimes translated as a sycamore or mulberry). It is a fig-bearing tree about the size of a mulberry tree. Like the mulberry, it is a “nuisance” tree that grows wildly and has deep roots making it difficult to remove. If a person had the smallest imaginable grain of faith, they could tell the tree to uproot itself and plant itself in the Mediterranean and it would happen. Obviously, none among men have that ability and the implication is that is how little we really believe the teachings of God.
The apostles thought that with more faith they could accomplish the commands of Christ. Faith is necessary, but in this case if they wait for enough faith, they would never fulfill the commands.
Duty (Luke 17:7-10)
Instead, Jesus directs them to consider the role a servant fulfills to his master. He is given the hard tasks, such as plowing fields or caring for the sheep. Yet, after a hard day’s work he doesn’t get to come home and relax. Instead, the master expects him to prepare a meal and serve it. Only after all the other work is done is he given a chance to eat himself. And, despite all the hard work, the servant doesn’t get thanks from his master because each of those things are exactly what a person expects from a servant in his position.
There are going to be commands from God that we will find hard to follow. We might not feel like doing them. We might not fully understand why it is necessary. We might rather be doing something else. But like a faithful servant, we do what we asked to do, even though it doesn’t lead to a pat on the back and praise from our Lord. But that is because following God’s commands is what is expected of a Christian. Doing what God told us to do isn’t a great feat of faith or an quality of superior righteousness. It is our duty, which too often we poorly perform (Psalm 143:2).
Thus at the end our day (our life), we might be reward with our meal (heaven), but it comes by our Master’s grace, not by our personal merit (Romans 11:35). None of us can do more than God expects of us (Ephesians 2:8-10; Romans 11:6).