Summary: Faith must be combined with servanthood.
Faith vs. Stones, Trees & Servants
Luke 17:1-10 - Jesus said to his disciples: “Things that cause people to sin are bound to come, but woe to that person through whom they come. 2 It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin. 3 So watch yourselves.
“If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. 4 If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”
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.
7 “Suppose one of you had a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Would he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? 8 Would he not 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 Would 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.’” 1
In the past, when I have viewed this passage, I have only looked at one part at a time. For a message on forgiveness, I would use verses 1-5. For a message on faith, I would use verse 6. For a message on serving, I would use verses 7-10.
That’s not how it was written, though. Luke 17:1-10 was a conversation between Jesus and His disciples. He told them what godly forgiveness was like, they responded by acknowledging their need for more faith, Jesus then said that it only took a little faith to accomplish great things and proceeded to tell them what that looked like.
As the drama of this conversation unfolds, it’s important to recognize the characters in the drama and their relationship to each other. There’s sin (since Jesus is talking about forgiveness, let’s name the sin Unforgiveness), there’s a millstone, there’s forgiveness, there’s a mustard seed, there’s a mulberry tree, there’s a servant and, interacting with all of them, faith.
Unforgiveness & Millstones
We must start by acknowledging that it is not difficult to get offended. It’s not hard to get my feelings hurt. It is hard, however, to forgive. That goes against our nature. It is so natural to get offended and not to forgive that many times we don’t even notice when it happens. We might wake up one day and realize that we are becoming tense. We may find that certain people just get on our nerves for no apparent reason. Then of course are those times we are offended, and rightfully so, but we cant seem to get over it.
The problem comes when we hang on to an offense. It’s not hard to get offended but it becomes really burdensome to carry that offense around with us. If we are not careful, we can quickly become resentful and bitter. To carry that unforgiveness around could be like a millstone hung around you neck.
I would submit to you that the first relationship between unforgiveness and the millstone is this: since the millstone is already there, it is better to be thrown into the sea than to carry it around for the rest of your life. It’s going to kill you anyway. You might as well get it over with before you hurt someone.
Hebrews 12:15 - See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled;2
The second relationship between unforgiveness and the millstone is how it affects others. You might think you can hide your resentment. Of course you might not even try. But unforgiveness doesn’t just affect you. It affects those around you and especially the one who caused the offense. Bitterness, or unforgiveness, is a heavy weight to carry. But equally heavy is the weight of not being forgiven. It seems like sometimes there is nothing worse than hurting someone so bad that they won’t forgive you.
Jesus says that unforgiveness is sin. And he takes that sin very seriously.
Luke 17:2 - It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea, than that he would cause one of these little ones to stumble. (NASB)3