Intro: Luke 17:1-3 – Then He said to the disciples, “It is impossible that no offenses should come, but woe to him through whom they do come! 2 It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones. 3 Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.
How difficult is it to be a Christian?
There may be two, seemingly contradictory, answers to this question.
1) In one sense we would say that becoming a Christian is easy. The commandments to be obeyed are simple and clear. Believe, repent, confess, and be baptized. We often “package” the gospel call in such a simple format, and it leads to the conclusion that these simple commands are all that God expects. Jesus does say that his yoke is easy, and his burden in light.
2) But there is another, more provocative answer that seems to contradict the first answer. Serving Jesus is hard. Possibly the hardest thing. The life of the Christian is described as a battle to be fought, a long race to be run that demands self-discipline and endurance.
Jesus told his disciples that they had to choose Jesus over their own families (Mt. 10:37). He spoke about amputating hands and plucking out eyes in order to avoid sin (Mt. 5:29). In the end, Jesus demanded the highest price we can give – our own lives – to be saved (Luke 9:24).
I. “7 times in a day” (v. 3-4) –. The disciples could not imagine that God would require them to be so forgiving (7 times in one day!) No current rabbinical interpretation would have demanded such. Most of us would struggle with twice in a lifetime.
A. God does ask us to do some difficult things. There are times when God’s commands seem too difficult or even impossible for us. The modern religious world has a perception about God that has convinced many otherwise. Some excuse themselves on this basis alone. “I know what that passage says, but that is too hard.” “A loving God would not expect that of me.” Some expect Christianity to be instinctual. It must come naturally. If a call to compliance is does not feel right or seem right to them, then it must not be what God really demands.
1. The difficulty of a command does not lesson our responsibility to obey it. Matt 19:16-22 – Now behold, one came and said to Him, “Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” 17 So He said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.” 18 He said to Him, “Which ones?” Jesus said, “‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not bear false witness,’ 19 ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'” 20 The young man said to Him, “All these things I have kept from my youth. What do I still lack?” 21 Jesus said to him, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” 22 But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. As long as Jesus’ commands fell in line with his expectations and perceptions he was ready to do more (what else?). But when the specific command impacted a cherished aspect of his life (his money), it was too hard. (consider this event in the context of our discussion on the image of slavery. All that he had included slaves, and the power to command them.)
2. His commitment to follow Jesus was compromised. But notice that Jesus was willing to demand the most difficult thing for him. Why? Because it was what was best for him. (Does the alcoholic have to quit drinking completely? Would you demand that the drug addict stop taking drugs?)
a. Consider marriage in this context. Marriage is hard. (that is not a reflection on my wife) Marriage requires one to make difficult choices – keep promises. witnessed two weddings taking place yesterday on the beach at the same time. I contemplated whether the four “stars of the shows” understood what they were getting themselves into. Probably promising to love one another and be faithful to the marriage. Yesterday may have been the easiest day they will ever have to keep that promise. How long would they stay together? Statistics say not long:
1) In America, there is one divorce approximately every 36 seconds. That’s nearly 2,400 divorces per day, 16,800 divorces per week and 876,000 divorces a year.
2) The average length of a marriage that ends in divorce is eight years.
3) But many today are willing to make the promise until things get tough. (I heard a respected commentator recently say …. “we all know that the best thing that can happen to a rocky marriage is for the two people to divorce”). What does Jesus say? Matthew 19:6 – 6 So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.” Malachi says God hates divorce. According to Jesus, divorce and remarriage constitute sin (with the exception of unfaithfulness).
i. But what if your husband is a no-account bum and will not work?
ii. What if your wife is belligerent, disrespectful and wasteful? Maybe God will not be so strict in your case.
iii. Would Jesus demand that you remain is an unhappy relationship?
iv. Would He ask something so difficult?
B. Measuring the need for obedience. When the importance of obedience is measured in the context of how much it will cost me or how hard it is for me, I have lowered the holy standard of God. Hebrews 5:7-8 “who, in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear, though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered”
1. How do you measure the obedience of Jesus? Consider Paul’s statement in Phil 2:8-9 – “And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” He obeyed even when it was the most difficult thing to do – a matter of life and death – to the point of death. God sometimes requires the doing of things that are not easy. The test of true faith is whether we obey when it is hard to obey. Repentance is difficult. It requires a commitment to God and as such it is always a test of faith or trust in God.
II. “Increase Our Faith” (v. 5) – The apostles obviously thought they could not easily obey Jesus’ command concerning forgiveness. They needed more faith. Jesus would have to do something special so they could obey this command. But notice Jesus answer: Luke 17:6 – If you have faith as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.
A. There were several times when Jesus was willing to acknowledge that His disciples needed more faith. But not here. Why not? (They could certainly use stronger faith) Because the lesson here was focused on the activation of their present faith not getting more of it. y recognized that they had some faith.
1. Jesus tells them that even if their faith is small (as a mustard seed) it is enough to do difficult things. In that sense, God has already given them the strength to obey His difficult command. They just need to utilize the faith they had. “you can say” (v. 6)
2. We sometimes defend our disobedience by voicing our need for a stronger faith. Some relish in their weakness because it creates a rationalization for their continued disobedience to a command that they clearly recognize and understand. “That’s just the way I am.”? “I haven’t grown that much yet.”We may see others obey God in the hard things and think, “I wish God would give me the strength He has given him. Then I could overcome my sins too.” This attitude is really a form of dodging responsibility. If we convince ourselves some commands are so difficult only a special gift of faith will allow us to obey, we can believe it is not our fault if we disobey. It is God’s fault.
a. Jesus did not perform some miracle, giving them a stronger faith. He did not even repeat the command. He seems to imply to them that their faith will grow (as a mustard seed) and be sufficient for the test, if they activate their faith through obedience.
• Note: I am convinced that this illustration (mulberry tree planted in the sea) is different than the one found in Mt. 17 (say to the mountain, move here.) This picture of the effect of their obedient faith depicts more than just an unusual miracle. A tree planted (not tossed, or moved) into the sea. A tree was intended to grow, but this was not the expected place to find a growing tree (in the sea) and who could plant one there? The mustard seed faith they already had would grow and cause God’s work to flourish in a place it did not grow before – the gospel among the Gentiles, and the whole world.
B. But we do not want to be misunderstood. We need to pray to God for spiritual strength or faith.
1. In the model prayer, Jesus demonstrated we should pray for God to deliver us from evil (Matthew 6:13).
2. In Gethsemane, Jesus told His disciples to pray lest they enter temptation (Matthew 26:41).
3. Paul prayed that the Ephesian church would be enlightened and strengthened in the inner person, Eph. 1:17-18; 3:14-16
III. Read the rest of the text: Luke 17:7-10. – The last words of Jesus here are parabolic. He teaches an important lesson about obedience through an illustration that they could all understand (not so easy for us).
A. v. 7 – And which of you, having a servant (doulos). Jesus’ audience could relate to this situation. The relationship that existed between a slave and master was enough to force the right conclusions in the parable.
B. There were certain expectations inherent in this scenario. We might describe this as the duty of the slave. The slave had a duty to serve the master at all times. The slave was never to be put ahead of the master. He had to fix his master’s meal before he could eat himself.
1. According to Strong’s Enhanced Lexicon, this slave is one who “gives himself up to another’s will” and one who is “devoted to another to the disregard of one’s own interests. Jesus is the Master; We are the slaves. Being a servant creates a sense of duty. This realized duty becomes a viable and vital motivation for obedience.
2. v. 9 – Does he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? What is the anticipated answer to Jesus’ question? NO. Although we know we should all be thankful to those who help us, this was not the case when you were a slave. You did not work because your Master was so appreciative of your hard work. You had a duty, and many masters did not say thank you.
3. Jesus’ words were not intended to promote a false humility or to deprecate any person. This same Jesus told His disciples that He no longer considered them servants, but friends (John 15:15) because He had not held back the truth from them. But these friends were slaves when obedience or disobedience was in view. No matter how difficult the command, they were called by duty to obey Him without question.
4. Why should children obey parents, wives submit to husbands, husbands put the needs of their wives first, employees give a full day’s work, Employers treat their employees with fairness? Each of these roles has a duty to fulfill. We are all servants of God and to be submissive to each other.
a. Why do you think there are so many marriages falling apart? Because too many husbands and wives do not have a sense of duty in their marriage.
b. Why do so many bosses find it difficult to get good help these days? Because few people have a sense of duty on the job.
c. Why are so many churches foundering? Because too few Christians have a sense of duty for Christ’s work.
C. How do we regard our obedience to God’s word? – Unprofitable slaves. vs. 10 – So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.'” The Biblical Illustrator makes this point about Jesus’ words here: “The one thing on which our Lord wishes to concentrate our attention is not the spirit in which God deals with His servants, but rather the spirit in which we should serve God — not what God thinks of our work, but rather how we should regard it ourselves.”
1. Jesus is warning against an attitude of self-congratulation that mitigates against true obedience and duty. When the disciples were able to plant trees in the sea, and do great works, it would be a temptation to turn the attention to themselves. When we have done our duty we should not commend ourselves as more than unprofitable servants. (Notice that Jesus says even if we did all that the Master says – who has done that?) When we obey we have simply done what we should have done. What was our duty to do.
2. When we obey God, we must not view ourselves as special. We must not think we are better than other Christians. We must not believe people should look up to us. We must not think we offer such a great deal of service that God is lucky to have us on His side. We must not become like the Pharisee in Luke 18:11-1211 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men — extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’
3. Jesus words indicate that God is not profited by my obedience (even if it were complete). God is Holy and Glorious if no obeys Him.
4. If we obey Him in a true spirit of humility and seek His glory, He will exalt us, even though we do not deserve it. 2 Corinthians 10:18 – 18 For not he who commends himself is approved, but whom the Lord commends.
Conclusion: Luke 17is kind of harsh. It is a reality check. I look at the service I render and realize it is weak, flabby and self-centered. It is difficult when God tells me to quit whining and get busy doing what it is my duty to do. I want to be told I may not that bad, and God really does not hold me completely accountable. God wants obedience, not excuses. What are we giving Him?
The apostles asked Jesus to increase their faith. He said they did not need their faith increased; they needed to increase their faithfulness – to live in the harness and do their duty. When we are faced with difficult commands, we must do that as well.