Observations from today’s readings and today’s S-WOD, Tuesday, 11 August 20:
Today, Jesus talks about practical living in a sinful world:
Luke 17:1, 2 — And he said to his disciples, “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin.
We live in a sinful world, and others will sin against us. However, we must be very careful not to respond to sin with sin, adding to the sin environment, escalating the situation, provoking even more sin from those who offend us, and leading others further away from the love of Christ. We must address sin, but we must do it in a loving way that encourages peace and reconciliation through Jesus —
– Luke 6:27-36 — But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them. “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.
– Luke 5:43-48 – “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
– Romans 12:14-21 — Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
– Proverbs 10:12 — Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses.
– Proverbs 17:9 — Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends.
– 1 Peter 4:8 — Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.
Jesus said, “It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin.” Little ones can refer to actual children but most of the time in the New Testament, “children” refers to “the children of God,” with an emphasis on the immature who still still have a lot of growing up to do and are impressionable – “Brothers, do not be children in your thinking…. I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children.” (1 Corinthians 14:20; 1 Corinthians 4:14)
Immature children in the faith who haven’t grown up in love often act ‘childish’ and do inappropriate things. If you respond to ‘children’ in a childish way, you only promote their bad behavior and reduce yourself to their level. Not only do you add to the problem, you become part of the problem, and if you a mature disciple of Christ who should know better, you make yourself far guiltier than they are – a blind guide – “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come.”
Luke 17:3, 4 – “Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”
This is pretty clear – first, watch your own behavior, but still rebuke those who are sinning (for their sake, not yours), ready to forgive them every time they ask for it. Don’t act as if someone is a worse sinner than you. Don’t act as if you are not totally dependent on grace too. In your total dependence on grace, you have no right to withhold grace from others, nor do you have the right to withhold the truth which is often a healing medicine bitter to the taste. God expects you to both humbly rebuke and forgive. Love calls for both. Jesus said, “For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth…. I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.” (John 18:37; John 12:46) Use every offense as an opportunity to demonstrate the power of the Gospel in your life and as an opportunity to share the Gospel with others.
Luke 17:5 — The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”
It is hard to forgive unconditionally and return only good for evil, to love our enemies. In response to Jesus’ words, the apostles exclaimed that they needed more faith to do it. Jesus replied, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” I think Jesus is rebuking the apostles by saying even the smallest amount of faith is more than enough faith – you don’t lack enough faith, you lack enough desire. The apostles weren’t afraid to forgive, they were too prideful to forgive; it wasn’t more faith that they needed, it was more humility, obedience, and love. Like the rest of us, the apostles wanted to be treated fairly, and when mistreated by others, they wanted justice. How often do we want those who offend us to receive justice while we hope to receive grace when we offend? How easy is it for us to lose sight of the grace we have received in Christ? Shouldn’t we rejoice that God doesn’t give us what is fair? Amazed by grace, shouldn’t we want to demonstrate that grace to others and share our hope in grace by sharing the Gospel?
Luke 17:7-10 — “Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’”
Jesus reminded the apostles that unconditional forgiveness and graciousness was the job description, their most basic duty, by no means above and beyond the call of duty. Perhaps this was a gentle way of saying, “Quit your whining…. Be grateful that you have been afforded the opportunity to serve God in this way.” Consider how hard you have worked and how much you have suffered in life to get the things you wanted or to do things you really wanted to do. Now consider how hard it can be for you to overlook relatively minor offenses by others. The problem with on the spot forgiveness is not that it is really too costly or that God hasn’t empowered you to do it; rather the problem is you really don’t want to forgive because pride is in the way; for a moment you forget that you are an “unworthy servant.” Put things in perspective – “In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” (Hebrews 12:4) Don’t lose sight of the grace you have received through the blood of Jesus.
“Cross” Fit S-WOD (Spiritual Workout of the Day) – 11 August 20: Make sure your heart is right before you challenge others, and make sure your intent is reconciliation as an ambassador of Christ. Make the most of the opportunity to demonstrate and proclaim the Gospel.