Summary: As Jesus discusses Christian living we can’t help but ask him to increase our faith as he faithfully assesses our lives with his law and gospel.
It’s tough to live as a Christian in this world. It’s tough because it’s not always so clear what path is right and what path is wrong. Even when the choice is clear it’s not always so easy to make the right one. When I’ve made the wrong choice it’s not always easy to admit my sin to God. Nor is it easy to admit that as a sinner there have been many times that I’ve been responsible for bringing pain and anguish into my life and into the lives of other people.
In the text for this morning Jesus is talking to his disciples about what it means to live as one of his followers in this life. As we listen to what Jesus says to his disciples of the first century we hear his words ring true for us his disciples of the 21st century. We listen as he urges his disciples of all time to deal with sin seriously and as he assesses their lives honestly. As we listen to Jesus discuss Christian living we too will be moved together with Jesus’ disciples in the text to urge our Savior to: Increase our Faith!
As Jesus talks to his disciples he tells them that as his disciples he wants them to deal with sin seriously. Just listen to the serious way in which he speaks: “Things that cause people to sin are bound to come, but woe to that person through whom they come. 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” (Luke 17:1,2). The sin Jesus is addressing is the sin that occurs in the lives of each of his disciples. Jesus is telling his disciples to conduct themselves at all times and at all places in a way that is God-pleasing and appropriate. Why is that important? Because people will be watching, and some of those people may be young in the faith or new to the faith. Should those people observe the disciples living recklessly or speaking carelessly it could become a stumbling block to their faith. As Jesus speaks this serious threat against those who cause others to stumble in their walk of faith he shows how serious he is about dealing with sin. Jesus wants each of his disciples to remember this threat whenever their sinful nature flares up tempting them to be hasty with their words or irresponsible in their actions.
Jesus also wants his disciples to deal seriously with the sins of others. Jesus tells his disciples to be ready to rebuke other people’s sins. The word “rebuke” carries the idea of a frank but gentle admonition, in other words, politely tell the person what he has done wrong. Jesus wants his disciples to rebuke other people’s sins with the goal of leading them to repentance. Jesus is so insistent on this goal that he says, “If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him” (Luke 17:4). Of course, Jesus isn’t setting a limit at 7. He’s making this strong point: always be ready to seriously deal with sin however often it occurs – by pointing it out, leading to repentance, and pronouncing forgiveness.
Jesus’ admonition still applies to us today. We too must be diligent as we seriously deal with sin. As a congregation we need to be on guard against sin in our own lives that becomes a detriment to those who are new in the faith. Jesus’ words are a reprimand to our lazy flesh that isn’t concerned about doing all we can to welcome new Christians into our presence and make them feel a part of our Christian family. Jesus’ warning also keeps us on guard against traditionalism. Traditionalism is a stubborn insistence on doing things the way we’ve always done them just because that’s the way we’ve always done them, without carefully considering how well those things serve us as a congregation. Of course we cannot change what God’s Word teaches us – God doesn’t give us the right to do that. But there are many things that he leaves to us to decide in our Christian freedom to serve the needs of our congregation. In those things that we are free to change we need to be open and willing to change if a change would better serve the current needs of our congregation, which includes the needs of those who may be new to our congregation.
Jesus’ words also help us deal seriously with sin in others. As much as we wish we would never have problems in our congregation we are reminded that such a dream isn’t possible on this side of heaven since we’re all sinners. But what Jesus makes clear is that it is possible for us to handle sin seriously and correctly especially within our congregation. When one of our fellow Christians sins against us – our response should not be to stew over it, or backstab, or hold a grudge. Jesus directs us to frankly yet gently point out that person’s wrongs with a desire to lead that person to repentance so that we might have the great pleasure of assuring them of forgiveness. As people whom God has graciously forgiven unconditionally we want to make it our goal to share that same type of forgiveness as we interact with one another.