Do you think God asks us or commands us, to do things that are impossible to do? Consider the state of the church – that group of people who claim faith in Jesus. Is the church today a sanctified, set apart, holy people, living in the world but not tainted by it, serving God with whole-hearted devotion and obedience to His commands? What is your honest estimation, both of the church as a whole, and of your own life personally?
This is a challenging question. I know there are areas in my own life – my attitude, thoughts, actions, motives – that often need a spiritual check-up and readjustment to God’s perfect standard. And if we’re honest, we can’t deny that much of what claims to “be the church” (those who profess faith in Jesus) have turned to worldly things, diluting the message of the gospel and the idea of a called-out people. Our misinterpretation of God’s grace has blurred the lines between holy and unholy, good and evil.
As I read Luke 17, it doesn’t seem that Jesus is quite as tolerant as we are. Speaking to His disciples, He addresses two issues: stumbling blocks (causing others to sin because we sin) and faith to forgive others when they sin against us.
Luke 17:1 – He said to His disciples, “It is inevitable that stumbling blocks come, but woe to him through whom they come.”
Woe is the Greek word, ouai, a declaration of grief or denunciation. Jesus used it against cities who saw his miracles but rejected Him regardless, many times toward the scribes and Pharisees for their hypocritical behavior, as a warning to those who receive their reward in this world with no concern for eternity, and here, as a strong word of caution against being a stumbling block, especially to His “little ones” (literally young or immature in faith). Jesus knows that as fallible human beings, we are likely to do things that bring Him shame and influence others to fail in their devotion to Christ. Left to ourselves, we will sin, and that sin will influence. This strong warning against being that person leads me to believe it doesn’t have to be…nor ought it to be this way. (Stay with me, before you conclude I’m teaching we can be perfectly sinless.)
Just after this, Jesus addresses the issue of forgiving our brother or sister when they do sin.
Luke 17:3-4 – Be on your guard! If your brother sins rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, “I repent,” forgive him.”
The disciples responded like we would…it sounds impossible to forgive someone that many times! They immediately see what they need to forgive so abundantly: “Lord, increase our faith!” (17:5)
Then Jesus draws these two lessons together with a question. He first tells us a tiny amount of faith (as small as a mustard seed) is enough to command a tree to be uprooted and cast into the sea (surely an impossible thing!). Then He poses the question. A man’s servant has been plowing all day or tending sheep. Would the master call the servant in, ask him to sit down to eat? Of course not. Instead, he would tell the servant to prepare his meal first and serve the meal, and afterward, he would be free to sit down. He concludes:
He does not thank the slave because he did the things which were commanded, does he? So you, too, when you do all the things which are commanded to you, say, “We are unworthy slaves; we have only done that which we ought to have done.” (Luke 17:9-10).
Immediately after these verses, Luke tells the story of the ten lepers Jesus healed. Remember? Ten were healed, but only one came back and fell at Jesus’ feet in gratitude. Jesus said, Your faith has made you well.
- Real faith in Jesus (tree-moving faith) is a result of gratitude because we know how much we needed His healing touch. We understand how hopeless we were, held captive by our sin, and how great is His love and mercy and grace that forgave us.
- Because we recognize our own sin and are truly grateful for God’s forgiveness, we humbly, readily, and freely forgive others when they sin against us. We offer forgiveness because we’re a forgiven people.
- And because we know the pain and hurt sin causes, we strive for holiness in our own lives. We avoid, at all costs, being a stumbling block to others, lest we cause them to sin.
These are the actions of the unworthy servant of Christ who is only doing what he ought to do.
It’s not impossible to live wholly devoted to Christ. It really comes down to our attitude toward sin. Do we excuse our sin because we know we can access grace? Do we really understand that we are accountable to God for causing others to sin? Do we withhold forgiveness because we’ve forgotten the healing we received? While we won’t be sinless until God takes us home, Jesus expects us to sin less, forgive more, and be grateful for what He’s done for us.
It’s just what we ought to do.