Harmony of the Gospels

(25) Lessons on Service, Faith and Influence
Luke 17:1-10

Jesus Instructs His Disciples on Forgiveness

(Luke 17:1-2)  Then said he unto the disciples, It is impossible but that offences will come: but woe unto him, through whom they come!  It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones.

At this point Jesus began to instruct His disciples more fully as the time drew near for going to the cross.  Note that He is speaking directly to His disciples.  The Pharisees had been treating the tax collectors and sinners who crowded around Jesus with contempt.  He warns the disciples against having a similar attitude that might cause the outcasts who had turned to Jesus for refuge to stumble.  But regardless of how hard they try, He tells them that temptations are bound to come, but by God’s grace it is possible to prevent one from being one of the tempters.  And a wrong attitude on the part of a disciple could easily cause the disliked one to sin by returning evil for evil. 

Even though the offences are sure to come, Jesus warns, “woe to him through whom they come.”  

Millstones were circular stones used for grinding grain. Some were small enough for women to use; others were so large they required an animal’s strength to operate.  With such a stone hung around the neck, and then to be cast into the sea made drowning a certainty.  Those who call themselves Christians, but live in a way that causes scandal or discourages one of the Lord’s “little ones” from serving Him, their punishment will be more severe.

(Luke 17:3-6)  Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him.  And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him.  And the apostles said unto the Lord, Increase our faith.  And the Lord said, If ye had faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye might say unto this sycamine tree, Be thou plucked up by the root, and be thou planted in the sea; and it should obey you.

Jesus spoke here of one believer sinning against another believer. If the one who committed the wrong repented, the believer wronged was obligated to forgive him and not bear a grudge. The number of times he was to forgive his brother was unlimited.  But the apostles could not believe that a habitual offender could be forgiven.  To forgive as Christ says requires strength from above.  And believing that such strength will be given to them in answer to their prayers, requires more faith than the disciples feel they now have.  That is why the disciples asked, “Lord, increase our faith.”  They knew that they would never be able to practice such forgiveness as this, unless they had more faith.  Christian faith is God’s gift, and it is centered in Christ, believing that God’s Word in Him will be fulfilled.  Faith in God’s pardoning mercy will enable us to get over the greatest difficulties that lie in the way of our forgiving our brother. When people sin repeatedly, giving up on them is easy; but we must forgive them and trust God to work in their lives. We must be stepping stones and not stumbling blocks.

It takes faith to do your duty, whether it is caring for a sick friend or preparing a meal.  It takes faith to do the extraordinary, like moving a mountain.  Asking God for anything, even for a sycamore tree to be uprooted and cast into the sea, will be accomplished, provided it is God’s will. We may never ask with assurance for anything that is outside of God’s will (I Jn 5:14). To pray in the will of God we must have His Word abiding in us (Jn 15:7), because only His Word informs us with certainty regarding His will.  With God nothing is impossible, so are all things possible to him that can believe.


Jesus Instructs His Disciples on Faithful Service

(Luke 17:7-9)  But which of you, having a servant plowing or feeding cattle, will say unto him by and by, when he is come from the field, Go and sit down to meat?  And will not rather say unto him, Make ready wherewith I may sup, and gird thyself, and serve me, till I have eaten and drunken; and afterward thou shalt eat and drink?  Doth he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I trow not.

This short parable of service, which is addressed to His disciples, reveals what our attitude should be when we have done all that God has commanded us to do. Instead of being proud we are to be humble enough to consider ourselves as useless, because we have simply done our duty.  Compare what we are to say of ourselves with what Christ says to His faithful servants at the Judgment Day, “His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord” (Mt 25:21).  What the parable is picturing doesn’t happen here on this earth, in fact the very opposite takes place here.  The essence of the parable is found in verse 9.  The slave who only carries out his master’s orders has not earned any right to his thanks.  The story is a cure for self-pity and our pride and imagined sense of merit.

It’s clear here that we are dealing with the owner of a small farm.  This farmer has only one servant.  Actually, the word used here is better interpreted “slave.”  A slave’s work is done as a matter of everyday activity; it is only when he goes beyond the line of duty that he deserves a special commendation.

Let me make an application of this passage.  There are people who believe that because they try to follow the Sermon on the Mount and are good neighbors and try to love people, that someday God is going to pat them on the back and say, “What a fine person you are.  You have earned your way to heaven.”  If you keep the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount, which you cannot, you are doing only what you are supposed to do.  Do you think you would receive salvation for that?  Friends, that’s what you’re supposed to do as one of His creatures.  We need to recognize that salvation is a gift; you cannot work for it.  Keeping God’s Law is a duty.

(Luke 17:10)  So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do.

Whatever we do for Christ is no more than what is our duty to do.  We are duty-bound to serve Him by that first and great commandment of loving God with all our heart and soul.  Our works are not grounds for any reward in this life.  In this life, we receive grace and goodness from God, not rewards.  The best servants of Christ are still called unprofitable servants. 


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