Jesus is speaking to the disciples. Luke 17:1 says, “Jesus said to his disciples…” The disciples are the insiders to Jesus teaching… Jesus is challenging the disciples to grow, to put into practice what it means to be a follower. BELIEVE IT and LIVE IT. Jesus was speaking to the first disciples ~~ he is also talking to His followers today.
Who is the insider today? Anybody who wants to make a commitment. (e.g. The Druze) The invitation to follow Jesus Christ is open. To make a commitment to Jesus is to say, “Lord change me. I want to be a different person, I want to be who you want me to be. This truth is captured in the first three words of Luke 17:3: “So watch yourselves.”
“Take heed to yourselves” is another translation (RSV). Don’t make excuses, but take responsibility for your attitude, your decisions. How many people do you know who have anger issues and have no intentions of changing, but simply say something like, “That’s me, I can’t help it.” Yes you can. You can do something about your anger, you can do something about the way you treat people, you can learn to not feel sorry for yourself so much. “Watch yourselves,” is the way Jesus says it. When you make a commitment to follow Jesus Christ, you are giving Him permission to change you. If you are discouraged with yourself take a day and ponder those three words from the lips of Jesus, “So watch yourselves.” Jesus always wants better for his disciples. All of us are a work in progress being molded by the Lord.
One of the foundational/radical teachings for disciples is how to handle forgiveness. You can change the way you practice forgiveness in your life! READ Luke 17:3-4. Apparently we are bad at handling forgiveness ~ Jesus says we can do better. Jesus is giving us insight in how to become forgiving people so we can grow in our commitment to Him. Faith in God has a lot to do with how we interact with people that are close to us, people that hurt us, people we don’t understand. It says, “If your brother sins against you…” A brother or sister hurts you… lie, steal, gossip, abuse, ignore, takes you for granted… This is reality. Recently I was asked about a person considering a new relationship after leaving a hurtful relationship. I’d put this verse on my list: have you forgiven the past hurt, if not, you are not ready…
3 parts of forgiveness: REBUKE, REPENT, FORGIVE.
When you are hurt, REBUKE. Confront. Rebuke is a general word, every situation/ relationship is different. It’s not like every time somebody offends me I must yell at them. In some cases you can talk directly, others are more frustrating, perhaps a person in a position of authority. By using the word REBUKE Jesus is saying be honest. Some people blame themselves no matter what (I tend to fall in that category), somehow we think it’s my fault and I deserved it. That’s not healthy. Even if you cannot talk to the offender because of the relationship, don’t take blame when it is not warranted. Many counselors spend careers talking to people about not personalizing the things that happen to them. REBUKE, refuse to own unjust behavior towards yourself…Perhaps “REBUKE” equally applies to yourself….
The next words further the teaching of full forgiveness, “And if they REPENT….” If they say they will change, if they make a commitment to stopping the behavior…. If there is no desire to repent, (which is a huge problem in our world), people that keep on abusing people, robbing, stealing, shouting, demanding, non stop disrespectful bad behavior, that is a different topic than is covered by these words. Jesus is describing a situation in these verses in which there is some desire to change. For what its worth, I think that if a person sins against another, and they refuse to repent/change, you can still forgive the person but you may not ever be able to trust them again. Full restoration with another includes acknowledgment of the sin (rebuke), changing the behavior (repent) and then the one who is offended having the grace to try again (forgiveness).
Wouldn’t it be great if we had no need for Luke 7:4 READ. In an ideal world Luke 7:3 is all we need. Many pop articles imagine Luke 7:3 works… Repent and forgive and we all live happily ever after. That only happens in fairy tales and the minds of immature disciples. The real world is messy! That seems to be Jesus point. After you forgive, after you give people another chance, they often will still mess up. This is radical forgiveness… over and over and over allow others to change. Jesus cares about us as disciples, he wants us to be forgiving people because the other person needs it and so do we! Forgivenss changes us. I’ve always liked the saying, “Unforgiveness is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”
Forgiving also does something for the other person, because it keeps the door open. As long as a person shows any sign of wanting to change, keep that door open. It’s hard because how many times can you keep getting hit in the gut? How long must you put up with bad behavior. Jesus is saying as his follower, keep the door open, don’t give up on the people in your life, even those that hurt you… Forgiveness does NOT mean everything will be the same as it was before, the dynamics of the relationship may never be the same, but you are not hurting yourself by holding a grudge and you are blessing the other person to thrive under God as person that is loved by God.
Forgiveness is hard. Forgiveness is messy because people are messy. Yet the Lord emphasizes the need for forgiveness as a way of life for those that commit their life to Him. To be a disciple of Christ is to forgive others, over and over and over again. To not be a bitter person, but to let go of offenses against yourself. You need to be a forgiving person for their sake, and for your own sanity.
Turn to Luke 17:5. Sometimes when I read the Bible I have fun reading between the lines. It allows me to enlarge the story. Jesus is giving insider information to the disciples of what it means to be follow Him. He is teaching about radical forgiveness as a way of life, to keep forgiving and forgiving and forgiving. In my imagination, the disciples are thinking, “I don’t get it… that’s too hard.” Maybe they are having a real problem with their fellow disciples at that moment and they don’t want to talk about the elephant in the room, so like any good politician that is being interviewed, if they don’t like the question, they switch the topic: READ Luke 17:5.
To the disciples, forgiveness is too hard, so they go to what they think is the heart of the matter of becoming better followers of Christ: give us more faith. Isn’t that our natural thought when our world is discouraging, when we feel weak: if I only had more faith. It’s as if Jesus says, “fine, you don’t want to talk about forgiveness as a key to maturing in your walk with God so let’s explore what it means to be a person of faith.” His answer is found in Luke 17:6. READ. The request of the disciples is to increase our faith. The desire is a good desire, however, Jesus says it’s the wrong question.
Some people believe Jesus answer about faith being the size of a mustard seed means they had no faith. Other people have pointed out that the request itself, “Lord increase our faith” is an act of faith because it shows they believe Jesus has the power to enlarge their faith. I’m not sure it matters because I don’t know how to weigh faith on a scale! The point regardless of the exact attitude of the disciples: perfect pure huge faith is not required. Jesus is not looking for super confident unwavering unmovable followers that never doubt, never get nervous, never over extend, never misread the situation, never make a mistake. Faith tiny as a mustard seed is enough --- enough to move mountains, enough to uproot this tree and cast it into the sea. Even enough to overcome if you mess up the forgiveness thing we were just talking about and you keep botching up your relationship with the people you are closest to.
People sometimes say the tree uprooting is not literal. If uprooting the tree serves God’s purposes I say it is literal. The problem is we read a verse like this and even though we think we are spiritual, we tend to define faith something closer to magic! Magic is unexplained control of my whims. Faith is to believe that anything God wants will be done. Magic is about what I want. Faith is about what God wants.
My paraphrase of Luke 7:6: “Lord, if it be your will to uproot this tree and throw it into the sea, I absolutely believe you can do it.” Find out what God wants and believe it will come to pass. That’s faith. Abraham had small faith, or was it huge faith? He believed God would give him a child in his old age, he didn’t get it, he got impatient, he tried to make it happen in his way, but through all the mistakes his mustard seed size faith never quit believing. I have been discouraged by the Las Vegas shooting and the response of the nation. I don’t get it. I even had a rare nightmare that haunted my sleeping hours ~~ war had come to America and it was raining bullets. I, like many people, question God. Yet I think my mustard size faith is enough to believe God knows what he is doing and desire for His will to be done and His purposes to be accomplished.
I don’t think the disciples made the right request when they said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.” I think the better request: “Give me enough, give me just enough so I can hold on, that’s all I need, just enough, just enough faith so I don’t lose my mind, just enough faith so I don’t wither away in depression. All I need is faith the size of a mustard seed.”
The most amazing thing about Jesus is that he accepts disciples that are barely holding on. That’s all he asks. He is not looking for the super-strong, the ultra confident, those that have it all together, super forgivers, but he’s looking for those that have the simplest of faith to keep looking to Him, the imperfect dunderheads like you and me that often mess up. And if all the faith you can muster is a mustered size faith, that is enough to see God’s great work unfold in His kingdom, the most imperfect people of faith will be amazed, perhaps even a tree uprooted and tossed into the sea, perhaps you’ll see people change through forgiveness and reconciliation, perhaps little ones thrive under God.
God wants committed followers of Jesus Christ who are ready to learn, grow, love and live for Him! Last week Chad talked about not being a stumbling block for others, focusing on being authentic instead of hypocrites.
Carefully consider your own conduct as disciples “watch yourselves.” Put into practice radical forgiveness so that you bless others to change and let go of bitterness because of how others treat you. And pray for enough faith. That’s all you need. Amen.