Overview: Luke 17:1-4 is the text I will cover in this post and it deals with the following subjects, temptation, sin, offenses, rebuke, forgiveness, judgment and repentance. I will briefly be looking at all of them, however the one I really want to zone in on is repentance and forgiveness.
When someone does us wrong we have a tendency to hang by the neck awaiting for an apology, then when it finally does come along, depending on how close the relationship is, we often want to punish the offender by holding out on the forgiveness side of things. Have you ever stopped for a moment to wonder why that is? Perhaps it’s because we have been hurt so badly that we naturally want to hurt back?
When the one who has wronged comes to their senses and humbly offers an apology it then puts the offended in the power seat, does it not? Is that not an offense in and of itself? Let’s look and see what Jesus has to say about it.
Luke 17:1-4 ESV And he said to his disciples, “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin. Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”
Temptation To Sin: (1. the temptation), Jesus was no stranger to temptation yet He was without sin, but who was it who tempted Him? Satan did of course. You remember, he took Jesus to the top of a mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and then he asked Jesus, who was very hungry at the time, to turn stone into bread and he then whisked Him off to the top of the temple and challenged Him to jump and receive help from the angels. Of course Satan, being the Bible scholar that he is, twisted the scriptures in every way in order that he might cause Jesus to stumble and so enter into sin.
Satan, as we know, is as damned a spirit-being as could possibly be. Why is this important you might ask? The reason it’s important is because Satan is the perfect model of a tempter and Jesus is telling His disciples that whoever tempts others to sin will be as condemned as Satan is. It would be better that they had never been born, is the language He used in reference to Judas Iscariot (Matthew 16:24). Oh yes, Jesus does say that temptation to sin will come (see also James 1:14 “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire“) but we are to be extra careful that we do not cause others weaker than ourselves, or with less liberty than we have, to sin against their conscience. We must remember that what Satan had asked Jesus to do was not sin in and of itself, for all of those things would have been perfectly proper and acceptable for Him to do if they had been within God’s will and plan and not the Devil tempting schemes. If He had gone ahead and performed those tricks for Satan Jesus would have been obeying the devil’s tempting voice to do something that was perfectly fine for Him to do on any other occasion. Sin is not always doing things that are morally wrong, but it’s also yielding to the temptation of the devil when we know that it’s not the will of God for that time or place.
(2. the consequence of the tempter) The picture of someone being hurled into the sea is not one of love and tenderness but rather of aggressive judgement. Yet Jesus adds an additional element to it, a Millstone, hung around the neck before they are cast into the deep blue sea. Seriously? You have to ask yourself, isn’t it enough just to be made to walk the plank? I mean, why such harsh and drastic measures? I think what Jesus is saying is that the millstone, which weighed in the hundreds of pounds, was to make good and sure the offender would never make it back to shore, in fact it would secure their seat at the bottom of the ocean pretty fast. Yet, as horrific as that punishment sounds, this would not even come close to the horrific punishment that awaits all tempters.
(3. really important message), We know this is of utmost importance and that Jesus wants us to ponder long and hard on this weighty subject, for He immediately adds, “Pay attention to yourselves!” He’s warning His disciples of the slippery slope, giving them a clear picture of what is to come for those who engage in tempting others to sin. In light of this, I for one am very thankful for the doctrine of grace and how the God of the universe offers complete forgiveness to all who hide themselves in Christ, for those who do not justify their actions but instead run to him in repentance and trust.
Rebuking Your Brother: This is one of those statements that either make people rub their hands together in delight at the thought of being justified to rebuke another, or on the flip-side of the coin it can cause others to cringe, the ones who will grab at the “judge -not-lest-you-be-judged” card at first sign of any godly rebuke. Yet, both of these positions are unbiblical. There is indeed a right and godly way to rebuke a person who professes to be a brother or sister in Christ, however, it should be done with “fear and trembling” and not with a self-righteous, power trippin’ ego. The reason for rebuke must always fall within the proper guidelines of God’s Word for legitimate use.
Jesus makes it unquestionably clear in this text, the only situation where rebuke is applicable is if someone sins against another and the offended lovingly rebukes the offender in order to produce repentance and restore the damaged relationship.
Repentance and Forgiveness: If the offender comes to you and repents, Jesus’ command is that we must forgive them. Is there any situation that would justify unforgiveness? If there is, Jesus doesn’t leave room for it. Obviously there are some offenses that are much more difficult and seemingly impossible to forgive at all let alone at the drop of a hat. But still, is it not our duty as believers to forgive those who have sinned against us? Are we not as debtors to Christ obligated to forgive our debtors?
It’s all in the “Lord’s Prayer” when Jesus tells us to pray this, “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors”. This is literally saying, “Forgive me of my sins in the same way that I forgive others who sin against me”. You see how important it is to forgive? Let’s look at Christ who is ripped to utter shreds, onlookers could not even tell if He was a human being. As He hung on the cross with nails pounded through His hands and feet and thorns as long as your fingers stuck into his head, He was mocked, spit at, punched in the face repeatedly and yet He prayed for His killers, His abusers, His executioners, and the religious zealots who snarled at Him as He wheezed for another breath. This is the God of the universe, Creator of all things that we’re talking about here and He has every right to tell us that we need to forgive.
This is not a suggestion that Jesus is recommending, it’s a command that He is issuing. For we were those mockers, those haters and abusers before Christ saved us, the Bible says that we were enemies with God in our hearts by our wicked works. Every sin we have ever committed is a blow in the very face of God, and every offense we have ever partaken in has been recorded in His book to be revealed on the day of our judgment. The disobedience we committed when we were young was disobeying God’s command to obey our parents. All the rebellion toward authority. We have worshiped people and things and therefore robbed God of the rightful worship due to Him. The time we’ve stolen from our bosses, the immoral thoughts and fantasies we’ve had, the men and women we’ve had sex with outside of God’s design in marriage, the material things we’ve secretly desired that belonged to someone else, and the lies we’ve told to escape earthly suffering. Yet after being guilty of all these crimes they are permanently washed away, including the record of our guilt (Colossians 2:14), the moment we repent of our sin and place all our hope in Jesus.
1 John 1:9 tells us that if we confess our sins that He is both Faithful and Just to forgive us of them and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Isn’t that good news? That He’s faithful, meaning that we can trust this text and be confident that He will do exactly as He says. That He’s also Just in the fact that He will not allow any sin to go unpunished and in order to keep a perfectly “Just System” He punished Christ on our behalf. Seriously, if anyone is qualified to talk about forgiveness, it’s Jesus! If a person claims to be a believer and says, “I cannot forgive because you just don’t understand what they have done to me”, clearly they themselves do not understand the vast number of offenses that they have also committed toward God. This is why Jesus says in Mark 11:26, that if we do not forgive those who sin against us, neither will our heavenly Father forgive us, it’s that just that serious.
So if the offender comes repenting and seeking forgiveness, in order to bring legitimacy to our claim of being a “follower of Jesus”, we must be obedient to His command and forgive.
Have you ever been punched in the pride? Well we’re all about to, because instead of leaving this with a one time offense idea Jesus takes it to a whole new level and says that if the same person sins against you seven times each day (do the math, it’s thirty-five times in one week) and every single time they come back to you in repentance, you must forgive them. This is getting super tough isn’t it? It might be easy to forgive once, but seven times in the same day for possibly even the same thing? Wow!
In the time of Jesus it was common practice for the Jews to forgive three times and that was considered over and above the code of expectation. So you can see how radical of a command Jesus was issuing here. He was basically knocking it out of the park by more than doubling what they would have considered a lot already.
Restoration: So why does Jesus do that? Why does He tell us to forgive seven times the same person for possibly the same offense? Is it because He wants you to be the “Bigger Christian”?
I remember when I was a kid the general idea on being the first to forgive was that you were the “Bigger Christian”. I even remember parents telling their children “It doesn’t matter that the other kid is in the wrong, you be the bigger Christian and go forgive them first”. For Real!? Can you imagine what Jesus thinks of that logic, this statement is no doubt one of the best breeding grounds for self-righteousness that there ever was. Jesus does not tell us to forgive so that we can be the better Christian. He commands us to forgive because we have been forgiven of much. Additionally, He is also at work in the heart of the offender and when we forgive without any hesitation or conditions we reflect the unrestrained love and forgiveness that Jesus has already poured out on us for our offenses. Furthermore, if forgiveness be withheld we could very well be the cause of a souls utter ruin.
In 2 Corinthians Paul is dealing with an issue of sin and rebellion in the church, one that had taken place directly against him in fact. The offense to him was personal and there was a biblical rebuke that had taken place, followed by what was likely ex-communication of the leader of the rebellion. He now calls on the body to follow his Christ-like example to forgive the offender. Let’s read what he says:
2 Corinthians 2:5-9 ESV .. Now if anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but in some measure—not to put it too severely—to all of you. For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough, so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him. For this is why I wrote, that I might test you and know whether you are obedient in everything.
Overwhelmed by Excessive Sorrow: When my wife and I first read this text we humbly wept knowing that we had each been guilty many times of withheld forgiveness, thus causing the other person to be overwhelmed by sorrow. There is a point where someone will simply shut down and take the path of no return, the road of eternal anguish, for they sought repentance and received no forgiveness and were grieved beyond recovery.
This Christ-less conduct has been the death of many marriages, and from what can be gleaned in scripture, the transgression of withheld forgiveness is much greater than all other offenses combined for it is the direct cause of another souls’ permanent ruin.
I don’t know who will be reading this post, nor am I qualified to write it. But I do know that it must be written and if you read with a tender conscience God will bring to mind someone whom you have neglected to forgive. Remember, every person is the worst sinner in the world including you and I. We all deserve God’s relentless wrath, yet we have been given his favorable grace, forgiveness and mercy. Now go and do likewise for He commands it.
Grace & Peace,
Preparing The Way