The Book of Luke, Obedience To God Is What Is Required - Lesson 191
In the first four verses of chapter 17 our Lord Jesus Christ has made it very clear that we are to be our brotherís keeper.
Being your brotherís keeper does not mean that you are to keep him for yourself but it means you are to endeavor to keep him for God.
And in doing this we are to take our brotherís sin very seriously and do everything possible to bring him back into a state of right living for God.
We are never to become a stumbling block to our brother but instead we are to aggressively seek to restore any brother who has fallen into sin or has sinned against us.
We are not to hide ourselves from rebuke, nor fear the giving of rebuke, but we are to rebuke in order that repentance and forgiveness have opportunity to come about.
The spiritual mind is always aimed toward repentance and forgiveness, repentance and restoration of a brother to the flock of God.
And there is to be no end to this forgiveness for if your brother sin against you seven times in a day and repent each time you are to forgive each time without question.
The response of the apostles was less than positive to this command of Christ for as we see in Luke 17:5-10, Öthe apostles said unto the Lord, increase our faith. 6And 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.
7But 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? 8And 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? 9Doth he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I trow (to believe, think, or suppose) not. 10So 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.
We see in our passage today that this command of our Lord to have unending forgiveness brings the apostles to a place where they declare that repeated forgiveness of an offending brother is an impossible task given their current amount of faith for they declare ďLord, increase our faithĒ.
In declaring this they are saying they cannot possibly obey this command without the Lordís increasing their faith.
They conclude that such repeated acts of forgiveness would require great faith, much more faith than they possess.
But stop and think here Ė Is this the time to ask for greater faith?
Or could it be that they are passing the buck back to Jesus Christ.
Are they simply saying that they cannot do this unless God gives them something extra to do it with even though he has commanded them to do it?
Are they evading this issue by making this excuse so as to take the easy way out.
For we see no commendation or praise from Jesus to them for this request to increase their faith.
And we also see that Jesus does not give them more faith so that they can forgive unendingly.
Most preachers would jump for joy to hear one of their flock call for increased faith.
But most preachers are not like Jesus Christ!
You would think that Jesus would respond favorably to such a seemingly spiritual request but his reply does not indicate that at all.
For Jesus Christ responds to their plea by first bringing up that only a tiny faith can do great things and then he brings up the subject of obedience of a slave to his master.
Now the apostles, the twelve disciples hand picked by our Lord, seemed to be from the outward, very sincere in their request.
They concluded that within them there was something lacking that would not permit them to comply with their Lordís command regarding unending forgiveness.
But according to the response of Jesus Christ this is not true for faith does not seem to be the problem but simple obedience is the problem.
By Christís response faith is not lacking here on the part of the disciples but obedience to the word of God is lacking.
God gives commands and he expects obedience but we return to him with the command to give us more faith.
There may be a time where more faith is needed but most times it is a reluctance to obey that keeps us from serving God.
So is their request for more faith a proper request here?
From what Jesus says the answer is no.
For Jesus first response concerns how great a deed can be accomplished with just a small amount of faith.
He tells them that: 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.
The apostlesí request to increase their faith implies that what Jesus required regarding unending forgiveness demanded great faith, and that their supply was deficient.
But Jesusí answer was that it took only a very little quantity of faith to achieve incredible feats.
With the quantity of faith equivalent to that of a mustard seed, one of the smallest seeds, they could uproot a tree and transplant it into the sea.
Jesusí answer then seems to question their assumption that they had too little faith.
Does it really take great faith to forgive your brother once or even seven times in a day, Jesus implied?
Had not they already exercised their faith as they were sent out to preach the kingdom of God with the power and authority to heal and to cast out demons as we learned in Luke 9:1?
Now in spite of that which had already occurred they find that they do not have sufficient faith to forgive in accordance with Jesusí commands.
But as we see in Christís response the deficiency that they have is not in the quantity of faith as he points them to their true problem which is a reluctance to exercise simple obedience.
For in verses 7-10 Christ provides us with a lesson on obedience.
We see in this lesson the normal course of things in a master-slave relationship.
The normal course of things is that the master gives commands and the slave obeys those commands; its as simple as that.
The master is not obligated to have gratitude towards a slave that obeys, nor to explain why he gives such an order but the slave is to simply obey and do his duty.
Jesus says to the apostles: 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? 8And 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? 9Doth he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I trow not. 10So 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.
This lesson is a hard lesson to swallow for we are not used to a master-slave relationship.
We are used to equality relationships and any relationship where authority seems to take advantage of underlings generally brings out in us discontent and even resentment.
But as we consider this, remember that the slave completely belonged to his master and because of this the master could be very demanding of the slave.
No master who had a slave who had been out all day plowing or tending sheep, would welcome home that slave with a hot meal.
Instead, the master would rightly expect his slave to clean up, change his clothes, and then fix the masterís meal.
Only after this would the slave be free to care for his own needs.
And when the slave had perfectly carried out all of his duties for the day, no one would expect the master to come to him, put an arm around his shoulder, and tell him how good a job he had done.
Masters felt no obligation to pamper their slaves, nor to give them praise for slaves were only doing their duty.
Think about this in the light of our military culture.
A soldier receives orders to Iraq which he willingly complies with.
He leaves all that he loves, to go to a harsh dangerous environment where he may not survive or he may return seriously injured or even crippled.
Now none of us would expect that soldier to receive a special note from the President or even his commanding officer expressing the nationís gratitude for obedience to his oath to defend this nationís constitution.
For he is simply doing his duty and for doing your duty there is no praise or anything extra to be expected.
There is never a time when doing right is to be praised for doing right is your duty.
Doing right is expected but praise is given for that which is unexpected.
Military medals are given for a performance above that normally expected but not just for doing oneís duty.
So the principle that the Lord is teaching here is that MASTERS HAVE EVERY RIGHT TO DEMAND COMPLETE OBEDIENCE FROM THEIR SLAVES, BUT SLAVES HAVE NO RIGHT TO DEMAND ANYTHING FROM THEIR MASTERS.
The Lord of course is the Master and the apostles are the slaves.
Christ had commanded them to rebuke and to forgive unendingly.
They had turned this command around and laid their own command at his feet, Lord Increase our faith.
But they, like slaves, are to see themselves as under obligation to obey the Lord completely.
They are to look upon themselves as the slave of this story, completely unworthy of praise, reward, or anything extra while obeying the Masterís commands completely.
They were to see themselves as slaves unworthy of anything from the master.
Why is this?
Because God operates on the basis of mercy and grace.
To a fallen race there is no operating based upon merit.
The disciples found difficulty in granting unending forgiveness because they still operated on the basis of merit and Jesus Christ is teaching that that is not the right operating system.
We see this described in Matthew 18:10, Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. 11The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. 12I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.
13And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. 14I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.
We see here a comparison of two men, the first man puts before God his accomplishments and the second man simply declares what he really is and begs for Godís mercy.
How does God respond?
What brings God to justify one man over another?
Well, of course the answer is that God operates on the basis of mercy and grace and does not operate on the basis of merit.
The Pharisee was speaking to God with an effort to impress himself into heaven and the publican was speaking to God knowing that he had nothing to bring which would impress God enough to get him into heaven.
He knew that in himself he had no worth.
There was nothing about him that could impress God, in fact anything about him would depress God for when God saw him he saw him as filthy rags.
So the publican simply called upon Godís mercy.
God was impressed for Godís operating system for men with a fallen nature is only mercy and grace and the publican used the right operating system to reach God.
The Pharisee, as he prayed thus with himself, kept getting the wrong number as he called upon God for he chose to use the wrong operating system which was his merit.
The disciples in admitting failure in unending forgiveness were basing that conclusion on the merit of the one to be forgiven.
The disciples by asking for more faith admit that in so doing they have concluded that a brother who is so sinful as to have to repent repeatedly and habitually is not worthy of their forgiveness.
In other words the brother lacks merit.
Jesus is telling his disciples that first you are to obey God.
If God commands it, you are to obey regardless of your own ideas.
If you think the offender is not worthy you are to remember your own unworthiness for if you do not, you lift yourself up above your brother.
So this command of Christ does not make sense until you understand your own unworthiness and yet in spite of that unworthiness God is still willing to forgive you!
The thing that Christ is teaching here to us and to his apostles is that we are all unworthy of Godís forgiveness, along with all of the rest of His blessings.
Our brother is also unworthy of our forgiveness but God wants us also to operate on the basis of mercy and grace and not on merit.
The forgiveness which we are commanded to show to others is a matter of mercy and grace, and is therefore unmerited.
We who live by faith must also extend that same grace to others, as God has extended it to us.
Faith is an issue here, but it is not the need for more faith on the part of the disciples as it is to remember the basic principles on which faith operates.
Faith operates in the realm of mercy and grace, not merit for no sinner has merit before a Holy God.
Those who are forgiven much are expected on the basis of mercy and grace to forgive much and not on the basis of merit.