Certainty In Uncertain Times: Luke 17:1-10 – Living as Unworthy Servants

Grace For The Journey

Several weeks ago, in my quiet time reading, I came across this quote by Harry Blamires, an author who began writing at the suggestion of his friend at Oxford, C. S. Lewis.  In this quote, Blamires is responding to the statement sometimes made by Christians who say, “Oh, I could never do that.  I am not worthy for such a task.”  Here is what Blamires writes, “To ask, ‘Am I worthy to perform this Christian task?’ is really the peak of pride and presumption.  For the very question carries the implication that we spend most of our time doing things we are worthy to do.  We simply do not have that kind of worth.”

Have you ever reasoned this way?  When asked to do something at work or at school, take on a special project, perform a certain task, or, when asked to do something at church, teach a class, serve on a committee, preach a sermon, or volunteer for something, have you ever responded this way: “Well, I am really not worthy to do that?”  Blamires exposes the flaw in our thinking.  None of us is worthy to do anything.  We do not spend the majority of our time doing things we are worthy to do.  We are not “worthy” to do anything.  This is the point the Apostle Paul makes in 1 Corinthians 3:7, when addressing the similarities between Christians who “plant” the evangelistic message and those who “water” the evangelistic message.  He writes, “So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase.”  Neither he who plants, nor he who waters “is anything.”  None of us is worthy to do anything.

Why?  Because we are sinners by nature and sinners by choice.  Because . . .

Apart from God’s redemptive grace that awakens us

From the death of our spiritual condition,

Dead in trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1),

We are without hope.  We are wholly dependent

Upon God’s grace to come to us and to make us alive.

For the rest of our days we will always and forever be dependent upon that grace of God.  None of us is worthy to do anything.  We are unworthy servants.

This is thrust of our Lord’s teaching here in the opening verses of Luke 17 . . .

We are unworthy servants,

Wholly dependent upon

God to do anything.

This passage is addressed to Christians.  It is one of those passages given to self-inquiry and the material may be arranged under four main questions we are each to ask of ourselves. 

I. Am I Causing Anyone To Sin?

Verse 1 says, “Then He said to the disciples, ‘It is impossible that no offenses should come, but woe to him through whom they do come!’”  Note how the verse begins, Jesus said this “to the disciples,” to Christians, “It is impossible that no offenses should come.”  The word, “offenses” here translates a Greek word that means, “things that cause people to sin.”  We get the word “scandal” or “scandalous” from this word.  Broadly used it means, “Anything that would cause another person to sin.”  The idea is, “Do not be a stumbling block to another, do not cause another person to stumble in his or her faith.”  That is, we live in a fallen world and there are stumbling blocks everywhere and we are all tripping over them – BUT – and note this, the “BUT” it is emphatic . . . that means it should be in all caps or we should underline it, “But woe to him through whom they do come!”  In other words, If you cause anyone to sin it is really bad news.  How bad? 

Verse 2 tells us, “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.”  The “little ones” there at the end of verse 2 is a reference to believers, particularly new believers.  In the parallel passage in Mark 9:42 Jesus says, “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea.”  A millstone was used for grinding grain and they varied in size.  They had a hole in the middle of them so Jesus says, “If you cause anyone to sin it would be better for you to have one of these big stones placed around your neck and for you to be thrown into the ocean.”  In other words, if you cause someone to sin it is better for you to die suddenly, suffering merely immediate physical consequences than to have to stand before God and face eternal spiritual consequences.  The point . . .

Anything is better than doing harm to souls.

It is no wonder that the Bible warns us in James 3:1, “Let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment,” because you can do harm to souls by misusing Scripture.  Are you a teacher of the Word?  Has a friend asked you about a matter the Scriptures address?  Are you counseling your friend correctly, based upon the clear teaching of Scripture?  A friend asks you for counsel about abortion, homosexuality, or divorce & remarriage, are you counseling them according to the Scriptures?  Or are you harming their soul by causing them to sin?  It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck, and you were thrown into the sea, than that you should cause anyone to sin.  Strong language?  That is what Jesus says.

Even indifference to the training of new Christians can harm their souls.  If our church does not take seriously the matter of strengthening the family through proper Christian discipleship our passivity may harm their souls by leaving them theologically vulnerable.    We must continue to challenge Christians to not think of Sundays as merely an event or an entertaining get-together, but as a reminder that we are to be in the Word every single day, growing in our faith in our homes, in our places of work, in our school, or at our leisure, learning and becoming more like Jesus Christ.  Indifference to the training and treatment of new Christians can leave them biblically vulnerable.

Now what is true about our influence upon Christians is also true about our influence upon non-Christians.  Are we causing them to sin?  Is our behavior pushing people further away from Christ or drawing them closer to Christ?  Does the language we use at work or school serve to build people up or tear them down?  Are we consistently the same person Monday through Saturday that we are on Sunday? 

Question one: Am I Causing Anyone to Sin?  Question two . . .

II. Am I Forgiving Others Limitlessly?

Verse 3 says, “Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.”  The phrase “Take heed to yourselves” may also be translated, “Watch yourselves.”  It points both back to the verses preceding as well as forward to the statements Jesus makes next.  The idea is do not watch someone else’s self.  Watch YOUR self.

The Jesus goes on to say, “If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents forgive him.”  If a Christian brother or sister sins against you, what are you to do?  You are to go to that Christian brother or sister privately and rebuke him.  That phrase “rebuke Him,” is a rebuke that is tied to forgiveness.  Read it again there in verse 3, “If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.”  The rebuke is tied to forgiveness.  Unless your rebuke is tied to forgiveness, it is an unbiblical rebuke.

f someone sins against you, hurts your feelings, speaks ill of you, or in some other way offends you, what are you to do? 

First, check your attitude. 

“Take heed to yourself.”  Ask yourself, “Am I a Christian?  If so, do I love that person?  Am I willing to forgive that person? “ Unless your rebuke is tied to forgiveness it will not help.

The next thing you do is to approach your brother or sister privately.  This is implied in verse 3, “If your brother sins against you, rebuke him;” that is, “Go to him, not to someone else.”  It is helpful here to read Jesus’ words in Matthew 18 15, as they are germane to this discussion, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone …”

Much of the trouble in churches today is because of the failure to do this.  If your brother or sister sins against you, go and tell him or her their fault between you and your brother or sister alone.  Rather than doing what is biblical, people are running off all offended and telling others how they have been offended.  Christian, if another believer hurts you, upsets you, or does you wrongly, do not you go telling someone else.  Lovingly approach the person who wronged you.  It is what Christians do.  J. C. Ryle said, “To say that of a brother behind his back which we are not prepared, if needful, to say before his face, is not the conduct of a true servant of Christ.”

Perhaps one of the disciples would say, “Well, this is all fine and good if someone sins against me once in a blue moon.  I think I am probably spiritual enough to forgive anyone once.”  But Jesus goes on in verse 4, “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.”  That is . . .

We must forgive others without limit. 

We must forgive others limitlessly.

That is the point behind what Jesus is saying.  In Matthew 18:22 He says, “Seventy times seven.”  Both mean the same thing, “There is no limit to forgiveness.”

And note that there is no option here.  Jesus says in the last four words there in verse 4, “You SHALL forgive him.”  In other words, you WILL forgive if you are My disciple.  You WILL forgive if you’re a Christian.

So Christian wife, if your husband sins against you, you SHALL forgive him.  Christian husband, if your wife sins against you, you SHALL forgive her.  If your fellow church-member sins against you, you SHALL forgive him or her.  Quit running around like a child whose feelings are always hurt, crying to everyone else.  Go lovingly to the person who caused you the hurt, honor that person by talking to that person ALONE and forgive that person.  How?  As God in Christ forgave you,  The Bible says in Ephesians 3:32, “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.”

We must be prepared to forgive others the way the father forgave the prodigal son two chapters ago.  Too many professing Christians are more like the elder brother in the parable.  They really do not want to forgive.  Someone said . . .


Is not a feeling,

It is a promise.

It is a promise not to bring it up again, not to bring it up to others, and not to bring it up to myself.  You cannot always forgive and “forget.”  You may forget, but you may not.   

I would encourage you to write those three things down . . .

1)  Forgiveness is a promise not to bring it up again to the person.

2)  Forgiveness is a promise not to bring it up to others.

3)  Forgiveness is a promise not to bring it up to myself.

 Question 1: Am I Causing Anyone to Sin?  Question 2: Am I Forgiving Others Limitlessly?  Question 3 . . .

III. Am I Living By Faith?

Verse 5 says “And the apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith.’”  This talk about forgiveness has really struck a chord with the Twelve!  They want more faith.  But . . .

The amount of faith

Is not as important

As the right kind of faith

Faith in an all-powerful God.

We studied this several chapters ago when we were studying “Great Faith.”  Great faith is not a result of my effort, like, “I’m going to close my eyes, clench my jaw, and really, really, really believe so that will have great faith.”  That is not great faith; that is just great energy! 

Great faith is not

Faith inside me,

But faith outside me. 

It is not the size of

Your faith that matters;

What matters is the size

Of the One in

Whom your faith rests. 

It is not that we must

Have great faith so much

As it is that our faith

Is in a great God.

The question is, “Am I living by faith?”  Does my faith rest in the great God who has made Himself known to me in the Person of Jesus Christ.  If I believe in Him, the size of my faith does not matter.  I can have faith as small as a mustard seed and I am going to be okay. 

That is what Jesus says in verse 6, “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.’”

The size of one’s faith does not matter,

The size of the One in Whom

Your faith rests is what matters. 

We do not need “more” faith.

A tiny seed of faith is more than enough if it is alive and growing.

Remember that the immediate context here is the matter of forgiveness.  You need only believe in Jesus Christ to be able to forgive others.  We are not to read verse 6 as though faith were to be used to put on a show for others.  Faith is complete and humble obedience to God’s will, a readiness to do whatever He calls us to do, such as forgiving others limitlessly.  You can do that.

Question 1: Am I Causing Anyone to Sin?  Question 2: Am I Forgiving Others Limitlessly?  Question 3: Am I Living by Faith? 

Question 4 . . .

IV. Am I Serving The Lord Dutifully?

The whole point of these last four verses

Is to illustrate that we are merely

Servants doing what Jesus calls us to do.

We do not deserve anything for doing these things . . .

  • We do not deserve special recognition for not causing others to sin.
  • We do not deserve special recognition for forgiving others limitlessly.
  • We do not deserve special recognition for living by faith. 

We are merely doing our duty.  We are Christians.  This is what we do.  Jesus says in verses 7 through 10, “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.’”  You see . . .

If we forgive others limitlessly,

If we live by faith,

If we love,

If we witness,

If we evangelize,

If we tithe,

We deserve no

Special recognition

For these things.

We are servants . . . It is our duty to do these things.

There is no room in the Christian life for boasting.  There is no room for self-exaltation or self-righteousness.  We are servants of Christ.  We are merely doing our duty.  It is not that God does what WE say, we do what HE says.  Many professing Christians insist that God do what THEY say.  We are the slaves and He is the Master.  We do as He says.  He rescued us from sin.  We do what HE says.  He granted to us eternal life.  We do what HE says.  We are merely servants.

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

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