There are many teachings and commands of Jesus that are simply difficult to consistently obey. Jesus offers one of those challenges in this section of Luke’s gospel. Jesus begins by letting us know that temptations are going to come. Regardless of how much we grow, how much we read the scriptures, and pray, temptations are going to come. Satan is coming after us. Coming to Jesus and becoming a follower of him does not mean that you will have an easy life. The temptations you are fighting you will still have to fight. Satan is still going to try to exploit your weaknesses and vices.
Don’t Cause Temptations (17:1-3)
But woe to us if we are the cause of the temptation. Jesus says it would be a better deal for us to drown in the sea than cause someone to sin. Anything would be better than what God is going to do to us if we have caused another person to fall into sin. Jesus is opening our eyes to realize that each of us is vulnerable to sin. New Christians are highly vulnerable. Weak Christians are vulnerable. All of us have areas that are difficulties and weaknesses. We need to open our eyes and hearts to understand that you cannot say and do anything you want. Just because you don’t have a problem with something does not mean someone else does not. We need to be very careful what we say. We can say such hurtful things and not realize the amount of damage and faith shaking that is being caused. Too many teachers and preachers of the gospel have overreacted to a misunderstanding, poorly said words, and even false understandings so as to destroy the faith of another. Do we think God is pleased when we ruin the faith of another? We need to be considerate in our dress. Modesty is a problem today and the sin of lust is running rampant. It is a growing sin area for men and women. We need to be careful what we are wearing. We need to watch how we act. Things that we think are liberties and rights can often be used to harm the faith of others. Jesus wants us to understand the seriousness of causing temptations for others. Therefore, we need to pay attention to ourselves. Look at what you are doing! Look at what you are saying! Your own soul is not the only concern, but also the souls of others. Jesus says drowning is a better deal than what we will receive from God if we are a cause for sin.
Correct and Forgive (17:3-4)
Jesus now gives the directions of how we are to proceed in our treatment of one another. If one of our Christian brothers or sisters sins, we are to rebuke that person. Jesus teaches an important principle that we are to share in each other’s commitment to pursue righteousness. We are to be working together in growing our faith. We need to recognize that the word “rebuke” has probably developed too much of a negative connotation in our minds. Many people think of rebuking as yelling at people and being ugly and rude to others. The BDAG lexicon gives the primary definition of this Greek word that is translated “rebuke” as, “to express strong disapproval of someone.” BDAG goes on to say that this is done, “in order to prevent an action or bring one to an end.” This is a great summary of what admonishing one another, rebuking one another, and correcting one another looks like. We teach and preach in order to prevent sinful actions or to bring sinful actions to an end. We are to be involved in each other’s lives so that we can assist one another in growing our faith and steering clear of sin. Christianity is not a private affair.
The hope of our correction is to bring about repentance in the one who has sinned. It is important to observe the order of Jesus’ teaching. Jesus does not say that if a brother sins that you are supposed to immediately forgive them. The reason is that we are not helping the sinner when we do this. If we just forgive, then how with the sinner know he or she has sinned? What good is it? If we care about the person’s soul then we will want to bring about correction so they do not continue of the path that is leading them to destruction. Notice that once repentance has been forged, then we are commanded to forgive. This is the exact same way that God forgives us. God calls us to repentance and when we repent, God forgives us. God does not forgive us first, for that would leave us on the path of sin going to our destruction. In the same way, when our brother receives the correction, we are to respond with forgiveness. Therefore, we need to be willing to go to each other, humbly, prayerfully, and carefully as we seek the spiritual well-being of one another.
Jesus illustrates how we should be desiring to forgive those who sin against us. In verse 4 he speaks of a scenario where a person sins against you seven times in one day. Even if that person wronged you seven times that day, if he turns to you seven times in repentance, then you are to forgive him. Imagine if we sinned against each other that many times in one day. How desirous would we be to forgive? I suppose we would begin to question the sincerity of a person’s repentance. If you are truly sorry and truly repentant, why do you keep sinning against me? But go back to the first verse: temptations are sure to come. We are going to succumb to sin. When repentance is made, forgiveness is immediately given. This means we desire to offer forgiveness and that we have a forgiving heart. Sometimes we want to excuse ourselves from this command because of the nature of the sin. We sometimes think that certain sins are so egregious that we do not have to forgive. But Jesus does not list any sins that do not demand our forgiveness. Egregious, repetitive sin against us is to be forgiven every time the person returns in repentance. We are not to be judges of the heart but forgivers just as God in Christ forgave us (Ephesians 4:30).
Increase Our Faith (17:5-6)
At hearing this teaching, the apostles say the very same thing that I believe we have in our hearts: “Increase our faith.” In other words, this is hard. This is difficult! The apostles recognize that they need to have a greater reliance and trust in God so that they can do the hard things God asks them to do. We need to see the same thing. It takes faith in God to not want to be punitive toward those who sin against us. It takes increasing faith to forgive people who harm us and sin against us. One writer said it well, “Faith enables us to trust God for all the uncertainties of the future, to provide what we need, even if we do not know how God will do it, to get past the hurt of sin and broken promises.” It is a recognition that we need to deepen our faith in Jesus to be the forgiving disciples that Jesus describes. If what Jesus is commanding us to as forgivers seems too great, then it is a teaching to us that we need to grow in our faith. We are being pricked in the heart right now that we do not trust God deeply enough to let these things go. We give these offenses over to God and will not avenge ourselves. We will not retaliate. We will not act like the world when we are wronged. We will not be selfish. We will not harm others in return for how they have harmed us. We will trust in the Lord. We will believe in God’s promises that, by not responding in kind but forgiving when they repent, we will maintain our relationship with our Father and that he will reward us for modeling ourselves after his Son.
Verse 6 contains a great truth for us today. A little bit of faith can accomplish a great deal. We may be looking at our lives and thinking that we cannot be that person. We cannot be the gentle corrector and faithful forgiver that Christ is commanding. A little bit of faith can accomplish a great deal. A growing faith in the Lord will lead to surprising results in a transformed life. We have a song that says these true words, “His power can make you want you ought to be.”