Forgiveness, Faith, & Duty
This lesson examines three important topics that Jesus addressed in the beginning of Luke 17. Join us as we consider the wisdom of God on forgiveness, faith, and duty.

Jesus Christ declared to His disciples:

"It is impossible that no offenses should come, but woe to him through whom they do come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea, than he should offend one of these little ones. Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, 'I repent,' you shall forgive him" (Luke 17:1-4).

Jesus first speaks in general about offenses (i.e., stumbling blocks) and indicates that they will come. This is not because it is God's will that they should come but because the wickedness of men makes them inevitable. One would be foolish to look for a day on Earth in which there will be no offenses; rather, he should make sure that he is not the cause of any of them.

The Lord then states that it would be better for one to drown by being tied to a millstone (i.e., a large stone usually moved by a strong animal) and thrown into the sea than it would be to lead others astray by one's words, actions, or influence. Specifically, Jesus cautioned against offending the "little ones" (i.e., new converts or beginners in the faith; cf. I Pet. 2:2). However, causing anyone to stumble--regardless of his or her spiritual maturity--will bring a great woe upon the culprit. Jesus' words here underscore just how terrible of a sin it is to cause any of God's children to stumble. It is one thing to ignore one's own duties to the Lord and end up going to hell, but it is quite another to be a stumbling block to someone else and pull them down to destruction with you!

Jesus gives a warning in Luke 17:3 - "Take heed to yourselves." Not only must His disciples beware of being stumbling blocks, but they must also understand their responsibility to forgive. "If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him." Certainly when such a rebuke is given it should be delivered kindly, in a manner that will encourage repentance and not more sin (cf. Gal. 6:1).

This verse makes it clear that true forgiveness is conditioned upon repentance and therefore cannot precede it. Colossians 3:13 reiterates this truth in stating that we must forgive others as (i.e., in the manner in which) Christ forgave us. Of course, Christ demands that we repent if we desire forgiveness (Luke 13:3). However, this is not to say that we shouldn't always possess a disposition that desires to forgive others. We must not let hatred and resentment develop in our hearts even if the one in error never turns from his sin. Thus, in order to truly forgive someone on a personal level, the offender must repent. But, if he never comes to repentance, we must guard our hearts against bitterness and animosity. It should be observed that although the Lord did exhibit a longsuffering attitude while on the cross (e.g., "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do" - Luke 23:34), we know that His petition was not actually fulfilled for any one of them until the offenders repented and were baptized over seven weeks later (cf. Acts 2:38).

Some may be tempted to state that it would be wise to personally forgive others prior to and without their repentance and thus eliminate the need for church discipline. To do this would be a serious mistake, for if God does not forgive the brother who persists in sin (cf. Acts 8:22; I John 1:9), then what right do we have to treat him as if he has not sinned? As long as he continues in his rebellion against God, I should love him, be compassionate toward him, and not be resentful toward him. However, to continue in fellowship with him as if nothing is wrong would defeat the scriptural purpose of withdrawing fellowship (i.e., to encourage the individual to repent). Certainly as Christians we should have hearts large enough to love even those who have done us wrong. We should desire that they be forgiven. However, when one congratulates himself for forgiving even those whom God has not forgiven, he shows his contempt for the righteousness of God as well as his failure to comprehend the terribleness of sin. Let us always bless those that curse us, do good to those who hate us, and pray for those who persecute us (cf. Matt. 5:44), but let us never presume to forgive those whom God holds guilty of sin!

"And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, 'I repent,' you shall forgive him" (Luke 17:4). Some have often wondered what should be done when someone (especially habitually) comes to us individually or perhaps publicly before the church to say, "I'm sorry," and then goes on living much the same as before. Should we forgive such a one? Yes! Jesus plainly says that if the offending brother says he repents, then we must accept such. Why? Because we don't know the brother's heart like the Lord does (cf. I Sam. 16:7). We may grow weary of the "offend-repent-do it again" cycle, but we simply do not know if our brother's subsequent life will show fruits worthy of repentance (cf. Matt. 3:8), even if he has failed to produce such one hundred times before! We must give our brethren the benefit of the doubt unless there is solid evidence that they don't really mean what they're saying when they repent. For example, suppose "Zacchaeus" steals my watch and my car and then comes to me and says he is very sorry and that he has repented of the wrongs he committed against me. He then refuses to give back my watch and my car. Must I accept his "repentance" and forgive him? No! I have proof (i.e., solid evidence) beforehand that he has not truly repented (cf. Luke 19:8).

"And the apostles said to the Lord, 'Increase our faith.' So the Lord said, '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. And which of you, having a servant plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, "Come at once and sit down to eat"? But will he not rather say to him, "Prepare something for my supper, and gird yourself and serve me till I have eaten and drunk, and afterward you will eat and drink"? Does he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I think not. 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"'" (Luke 17:5-10).

The apostles ask Jesus to increase their faith. They likely make this request in order to be better able to fulfill the difficult commands Jesus had just given them.

Jesus' response clearly indicates the greatness of faith. One is able to accomplish great things, even with just a small amount of genuine faith. This fact is still true today even though the age of mortals performing miracles has ceased (cf. I Cor. 13:8-13).

Jesus is not trying to teach that having a little faith is sufficient. Perhaps His intention is for His followers to realize what faith can do (even small faith, like their own), and thereby encourage them to grow in faith. Today, Jesus' disciples increase in faith by studying God's word (cf. Rom. 10:17), and as one's faith grows he will certainly be less offensive and more forgiving. It should be noted that Jesus used a mulberry tree as His example here because it was distinguished as a tree with deep roots (and thus, not easily uprooted).

Jesus begins His parable of the unprofitable servant in Luke 17:7. In context, Jesus probably speaks this parable to prevent some from drawing a false conclusion about miraculous works of faith. Even if one could uproot a tree and plant it in the sea by speaking to it, such a one still would not deserve salvation, and thus he shouldn't be filled with pride over this accomplishment. The same can be said regarding one who time-after-time forgives his penitent brother. Doing such is nothing to be boastful about for it is one's duty as a disciple (cf. 17:10).

Although there would be nothing wrong with a master treating his servant in the exceedingly gracious manner Jesus described in 17:7, such should not be expected. The reason why masters have servants is so they will serve them! Masters have a right to give orders, and when they speak, servants are to obey promptly. After they fulfill their master's desires, then they are permitted to attend to their own needs. No special thanks will be given to a servant for doing what he was commanded to do.

"So likewise you" - Here Jesus makes the application in Luke 17:10. In this parable, the servant represents those who serve God, their master. We are obligated to serve our loving Master. In fact, He created us to serve and glorify Him (cf. Eccl. 12:13). God is not obligated to thank us for doing what He has commanded us to do. He expects our priority to be serving Him, and not ourselves.

The phrase "when you have done all those things which you are commanded" does not imply that anyone is perfectly obedient. Even Paul, as great as he was, hadn't reached perfection (cf. I Cor. 9:27; Phil. 3:12). Jesus' point is that even if one could accomplish "all," he would still be a servant, specifically, an "unprofitable" one. God's faithful servants are not completely unprofitable (cf. Matt. 25:23), but relatively so. In consideration of all that we, as servants, cost God, our Master, it is easy to see how accurate the description "unprofitable" is.

Faithful servants of God must always keep a humble and grateful attitude, realizing that even after we have obeyed God to the best of our ability, we have only done our duty and not exceeded it in any way. It is God's hand of grace that lifts us up to eternal life, and no one can earn his or her way to heaven because no one obeys perfectly (cf. Rom. 3:23; Psa. 143:2)! Additionally, the servant must know what his master wants or else he cannot serve him faithfully. This is an important truth for servants of God (cf. II Tim. 2:15; Hosea 4:6).

Thank you for listening, and may the Lord bless you as you strive to do His will.