The Christian life has responsibilities, both toward God and toward other followers. As we think today through a brief list of four quick teachings, a common theme is to be generously others-oriented. And since we each love ourselves a great deal and have much primary concern for self, this requires a constant challenge to look away from the mirror and to see God and others in the circumstances of life.
Regarding those with a simple faith …
Luke 17:1 – Jesus said to his disciples: “Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come. 2 It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble. 3 So watch yourselves.
Jesus is speaking again to his disciples, though others are surely nearby. It is inevitable that in a fallen world there are going to be occasions where a person’s faith will be challenged, and they will stumble. The mature follower is able to more successfully roll with these upsets, understanding the nature of the fallout of sin’s consequences. But none should be the causal agent of inciting these episodes of doubt that could draw people of a simple faith from a strong trust in God, leading them to stumble.
Regarding forgiving others …
Luke 17:3b – “If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. 4 Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.”
It is difficult to forgive the habitual offender! If you get sick of it, just take an introspective moment to consider how much habitual forgiving God has done for you! So the teaching is to be generous in forgiveness, though also caring enough for others to speak out about sin in their lives. Then forgive when they repent, because, chances are pretty good that they’re going to have to do the same for you someday.
Regarding depth of faith …
Luke 17:5 – The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”
6 He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.
The natural response about faith is to quantify its potential effectiveness by the amount of faith possessed. And whereas possessing copious quantities faith is a fine attribute, the Scriptures in various places speak to the content of faith over the weight of faith. The amount of faith that could be measured by that of the smallest seed is more than enough to move a tree with the greatest of roots… out of the ground and into the sea.
The best illustration of this that I know (not sure if I made this up at some point in the past or heard it elsewhere) is that a person with great amounts of faith when walking on thin ice will likely fall through, whereas the one possessing fearfully weak faith on thick ice will be fine. Let us keep our faith in God.
Regarding faithful service and duty …
Luke 17:7 – “Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? 8 Won’t he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? 9 Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? 10 So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”
Here is a story for capitalistic Americans. We are very works-focused and rewards-oriented. You work, you do your duty, you get justly compensated. That’s the system. Surely God works this way also, right? Not exactly, though God can be relied upon as faithful toward us. But like the old one-liner about Christian work – “the rewards are out of this world,” we must remember that, as sinners saved by a magnificent grace (favor extended to us when wrathful judgment would have been appropriate), we are servants who should not be weary of our duties. Nor should we expect special treatment.
So in it all, let us understand that there is a great body of work to be done by serving God and serving others. It does not always go swimmingly well, but let us not be weary in the tasks and opportunities that come to us this day and throughout this week.