Well finally after a summer break, we return to the gospel of Luke and chapter 17. We have long awaited the beginning of this chapter, and jumping back into it we enter again the teaching of our Lord Jesus in the final months of His life as He approaches Jerusalem to die and rise again. He's been on this journey since chapter 9 verse 51, which tells us that He set Himself to go to Jerusalem. He will arrive in the 19th chapter and verse 28 where it says He is going on ahead, ascending to Jerusalem; so from chapter 9 to chapter 19, the final months of Jesus' ministry as He approaches Jerusalem.
And during this time, His focus is on teaching the gospel of the kingdom in the broadest sense and He does that to very large crowds of people. He is not moving in a direct line to Jerusalem. It wouldn't take Him that long to get there, not months, only a matter of a few days. The land of Israel is small. But He is traversing the land, back and forth, up and down, town, village, city, countryside; everywhere He can go to preach the gospel of the kingdom, to perform miracles, to cast out demons, to lay convincing evidence that He is the Messiah who brings the message of salvation and the offer of the kingdom.
And along the way He does draw massive crowds. In fact, in the 12th chapter of Luke's gospel and verse 1, we read, "So many thousands of the multitude had gathered together that they were stepping on one another." And the language here would indicate that there were multiple tens of thousands of people that came to hear Jesus. He is speaking to those crowds and we see that in the flow of these chapters in the chronicle of these last months of His ministry, preaching to the widest possible audience in the land of Israel the glorious gospel of salvation and the kingdom of God, salvation by God's grace through faith in Him.
At the same time, His focus narrows, even when there is a great crowd, to two particular groups of people. And He goes back and forth between directing His teaching at the disciples, those who were His followers whom He was preparing for future ministry, and the Pharisees and the scribes who were the guardians of the extant Jewish religion. They were the purveyors of the reigning theology of Israel that dominated the land and the minds of the people because they had plied their religion in the synagogues. And there was a synagogue in every place where there was even a small group of Jewish people. And so it is that Jesus' focus is directed on the one hand at the disciples and on the other hand at the Pharisees. The Pharisees were the marked false teachers, false religionists against whom He shows the contrast of true discipleship. Everything they were, He wanted His disciples not to be. Everything they were not, He wanted His disciples to become. And so, these two groups are juxtaposed against one another. And what He says to His disciples is point and what He says to the Pharisees is counterpoint. It's as if all His instruction to His disciples has a vivid, ever-present illustration that by its clear antipathy underscores His point.
The Pharisees predominantly could be said to be marked by pride. They were very proud of their religious achievement and attainment. That is not to say they were all equally proud, or that they were all all the time proud, but they were basically marked by pride. They loved chief seats. They loved to take the high place in the synagogue. They loved to be at the main table at the banquet. They loved to be called names of dignity and honor. They loved to be seen as exalting themselves above the people. Everything they did, whether it was their praying, or their fasting, or their giving, any kind of behavior, even the way they moved around, even the clothing that they wore, all manifested this self-exaltation, this pride. They had achieved spiritual knowledge. They had achieved a relationship with God. They had merited by their religiosity and their self-righteousness acceptance with God. And they were the paragons of religion. They were the true guardians of that which was divine. They were the ones who had the right to teach the Scripture.
They were aided, of course, by their partners, the scribes, who were the scholars that came alongside the Pharisees and did the study and the...developed the system of theology that they taught and pervade. You have then a very clear contrast in the final months of Jesus as He goes back and forth between these two groups. And you only need to just scan back a few chapters to see statements like, "And He said to the Pharisees, and He said to the disciples, and He said to the Pharisees, and He turned to the disciples, and He was with the disciples, and He was at the home of a Pharisee." He goes back and forth. It's almost as if...Jesus is always, of course, center stage. He's always the main person. And there's this crowd. But in this crowd there are these two groups and they cannot help but overhear what He says, in most cases, to the other. When He's teaching the disciples, the Pharisees are ever-present, always there looking for something for which they could trap Jesus and find a reason to execute Him. And when Jesus is speaking to the Pharisees, in many of those cases there are disciples there who are hearing that. And so there is this point and counterpoint that's going on as on the one hand Jesus calls those who have come to faith in Him to a life that is the opposite of what the Pharisees demonstrate. And if their life could be summed up as the manifestation of pride, pride about their achievements spiritually, pride about their attainment in terms of knowledge, pride about their position as leaders among the people, then what He calls for is the opposite: humility. The defining character of the Pharisees is pride. The defining character of the disciples is to be humility.
And as the 17th chapter opens, humility is really the subject here in this kind of context that I just demonstrated to you. Humility is what this is about. The word never appears here in any form, but it really is the theme because what Jesus says to His disciples in verse 1 and to the apostles in verse 5 and following defines the essence of humility. There are four things that our Lord says in this section. He says to His disciples, you are to restrain from offending. Humble people restrain themselves from offending others. Second, you are to be ready to forgive. Humble people are eager to forgive. Thirdly, you are to recognize your weakness. That is manifest clearly in the statement of the apostles, “Increase our faith.” And fourthly, you are to reject honor as unworthy servants.
This is all the absolute antithesis of the Pharisaic religion. The Pharisees had developed scandalous spiritual hindrance to an art form. The Pharisees had no thought of forgiveness. They had nothing but contempt and disdain toward sinners. They despised sinners. They wouldn't associate with sinners, even so much as to teach them the law. They wouldn't even allow them in their houses. They wouldn't have a social occasion in which the people in the category of sinner were ever anywhere near them. They had nothing but disdain for those people, mercilessly, without grace, and they offered them no forgiveness. Thirdly, they had no interest in recognizing their own weaknesses. That would be, in a sense, a self-confessed statement about one's spiritual failure. They wanted to exalt themselves. And, fourthly, they were eager to receive honor from everyone they could get it from all the time.
And so, in this opening section in chapter 17 we have a contrast between the classic, manifestly obvious conduct of the Pharisees and the scribes, and what Jesus wants out of His disciples. And it is markedly humble, as opposed to the pride that characterized the religious leaders.
In Scripture, God has said frequently, He hates pride. He resists proud people. He punishes proud people. In Proverbs 3:34 the Scripture says, "God gives grace to the humble. But God is hostile, in opposition, to the proud." That clear statement, unmistakable truth is repeated twice in the New Testament. It is repeated by James, the brother of our Lord, in James chapter 4 and verse 6, and it is repeated by Peter the apostle in 1 Peter 5:5. "God gives grace to the humble but is opposed to the proud." And again that juxtaposes false religion with the true. Pride leads the list of attitudes that God hates. Proverbs 6, Proverbs 21, God hates pride. It's the top of the list in Proverbs 6. On the other hand, humility heads the list of attitudes that God loves. God hates pride, He loves humility. In fact, in Proverbs 16:18 pride goes before destruction.
Luke understood this and records for us the emphasis that our Lord placed upon it. Go back the 14th chapter for a moment. All of this is foundational to our looking at the text before us. In Luke 14 and verse 11 our Lord says, "For everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled and he who humbles himself shall be exalted." Apparently our Lord said this a lot. A lot of things that are recorded in the New Testament He said a lot more times than they are recorded. Remember, He's preaching every day virtually all the time, over and over again, all these years of ministry and months, and this was a very important statement for Him to make clear. He said it again as recorded by Luke in chapter 18, verse 14, middle of the verse, "For everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, but he who humbles himself shall be exalted." And He was constantly addressing that because of the flagrant pride and self-exaltation of the dominant religious force in Israel, which had then infected the people. Pride, religious pride, spiritual pride was a huge issue. It always is among those in false religion. And so our Lord says God is going to humiliate the proud and exalt the humble.
When Jesus began to preach the gospel and to preach entrance into His kingdom, the issue was to humble yourself, to step down from your proud perch of religious pride and achievement and satisfaction and works-righteousness and to humble yourself. That's why He launches His evangelistic preaching by saying, "Repent." And the dominant sin to repent of is the sin of pride. And so He says, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, the ones who know they are spiritually destitute, spiritually bankrupt." He uses language in Matthew 5 that means abject destitution, not just having a little but having nothing so as to be a beggar. You must understand what Isaiah said, that all your supposed righteousness is filthy rags. Or as the apostle Paul says that there is nothing in the flesh that you can do to please God. It is impossible, Romans 8:7 and 8. So you realize and recognize and confess a spiritual bankruptcy. He went on to say, blessed are those who mourn over that condition." "Blessed are the meek” who know they have no power in themselves to change that. "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness,” knowing they don't have it and can't earn it and need someone to dispense it to them. Jesus continually called for this total humiliation. It's essentially what He meant when He said, "If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, follow Me." Total self-denial, defined later, that's Luke 9, in Luke 14, "Hate your father, your mother, your sister, your brother and your own life." But this is a hard sell in a culture like the culture of Israel, where spiritual pride dominated. We have a little of that today in a culture where self-esteem is the pervasive social construct. And what the Bible calls for always is humiliation, self-rejection, self-abasement. The prophet in the Old Testament, Micah, chapter 6 verse 8, said, "And what does the Lord require of you but to walk humbly with your God."
Pride was the sin that got Satan thrown out of heaven. Pride was the sin that got Eve and Adam thrown out of Eden. And pride always is the dominant force in sin because every sin you commit that violates God's will and God's law and God's glory is an act of personal rebellion and personal behavior against God and therefore it is an act of pride. If pride leads the list of vices, then humility leads the list of virtues. And so our Lord is constantly talking about humbling yourself, about lowliness, about self-denial and self-hatred and self-sacrifice and submission and obedience. And He has a living illustration of the very opposite right there for all to see as He speaks of this.
His call in this section...go back to 17...is built around a very strong statement. Verse 3, "Be on your guard.” Be on your guard. We're just going to look at the first four verses this morning. But the key statement in these verses is, "Be on your guard." That reaches back to the verses before and forward to the one after. It is a warning. It is a warning. “Beware” would be a way to translate it. In fact, the same Greek phrase, prosechete heautois, is elsewhere by the New American Standard translated...translators translated, "beware,” beware. And we understand what “beware” means. That means there is imminent danger. You see a sign that says, "Stay off the grass," there's no imminent danger. But if you see a sign that says, "Beware," you understand that there is a potential for serious danger, and that's why this is translated the way it is in most other cases. Matthew 6:1, "Beware," same terms, "Beware," and in that case as in many cases it is directed at the effect of the Pharisees. For example, in Matthew 6:1, "Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them." That's exactly what the Pharisees did. And so there in the Sermon on the Mount at the very beginning of His ministry, Jesus says you have to beware, with implied warning of imminent danger, of behaving like Pharisees behave. Beware of practicing your righteousness before men. Beware of being a hypocrite. In Matthew 7:14 Jesus said in the same Sermon on the Mount, used the same terms, "Beware of false prophets who look like sheep but...and look like shepherds, but are really ravenous wolves. They want to rip and shred you." And He's talking again about the false religious leaders. In Matthew 10 and verse 17, same terms again, "Beware of men who will hand you over to the courts and scourge you in their synagogues." And who were the dominant leaders in the synagogues? Those who were under the tutelage of the Pharisees. Beware of false religious leaders, they're going to lead you astray, they're going to tear you to shreds, they're going to persecute you. Beware. You don't want to follow them as your example. You don't want to follow them as your model. Here the expression is the same. Some translations, I think New King James or others may say, "Take heed." Here is "be on your guard." It's the same as "beware," a strong warning because Pharisees and scribes, for that matter, all false teachers pose deadly threats. Danger is ahead, Beware.
They were dangers because they led people astray. They led them astray as to their theology. They led them astray as to their understanding of Scripture. They led them astray as to their behavior. They led them astray every way you could lead people astray. They set an example of hypocrisy and they proclaimed wrong theology: salvation by works and ceremony. And yet they were confident of their own spiritual strength and confident of their own adequate righteousness, so confident that they thought they were entitled to honor at all times from all people wherever they went. And so this corrupted form of religion built on pride is the opposite of what the Lord wants out of His followers and out of us. And so, juxtaposed against the ever-present Pharisees and scribes, Jesus said to His disciples, verse 1...and here having been talking to the Pharisees, verse 14 of chapter 16...He's been talking to the Pharisees till the end of chapter 16. He now shifts to that second focus and speaks to the disciples. That's not to say that the Pharisees weren't there and it's not to say that the disciples weren't there when He was addressing His words to the Pharisees. Again it's point and counterpoint all the way. And He wants to say to them, here is the kind of behavior I want to see from you; restraint from offending anyone, contrary to the Pharisees; readiness to forgive, contrary to the Pharisees; recognition of weakness contrary to the Pharisees; rejection of honor, contrary to the Pharisees. There is a dominating humility manifest in this kind of behavior, even though the word isn't used here. This text runs from verse 1 down through verse 10 where Jesus deals with these four features, these four marks of true humility. We're just going to look at a couple of them this morning.
Number one, humble people are restrained from offending others. "He said to His disciples, 'It is inevitable that stumbling blocks should come, but woe to him through whom they come. It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to stumble." Wow, that's pretty strong language. He says to His disciples, "You do not want to offend one of these little ones."
Who are these little ones? Well Matthew 18 is a parallel instruction from Jesus in more detail than this. And there He says, "These little ones who believe in Me." Believers. Not talking about children, not talking about infants, He's talking about believers. And they were all spiritually young. Now remember, Jesus has just been teaching the gospel of the kingdom for the first time through His ministry. For some of these people they're just now hearing it and understanding it and embracing it and believing it and they are spiritual children. They are little ones in terms of their spiritual development. He's very protective of His little ones. In fact in Matthew 18 He says, do not belittle any of My children, My little ones for whom the angels of heaven have such concern that they watch My face all the time in order that they can pick up My concern and be dispatched to the aid of these little ones. In Matthew chapter 18, in fact, you have a...an even broader statement of this same issue, well worth reading. Listen to what our Lord said on that occasion. Verse 6, Matthew 18, "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it is better” that means it is to his advantage, “for him that a heavy millstone be hung around his neck and that he be drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks for it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come, but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes." And then in verse 10 He says, "See that you do not despise” or belittle or show disdain for “one of these little ones." They are so precious to Him that it's like a shepherd. “If a man has a 100 sheep and one of them goes astray, doesn't he leave the ninety-nine on the mountain and go and search for the one that is straying? It turns out that when he finds it, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than the ninety-nine which have not gone astray. Thus it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones be devastated.” How you treat other believers is a very important thing to God.
By the way, this same instruction is recorded also in Mark chapter 9, verse 42, repeated on these three occasions because of its importance. I also want to add to it, this is the first instruction ever given to the church, Matthew 18. The church is first mentioned in Matthew 16, instruction comes in chapter 18, and the first instruction is a warning not to lead fellow believers into sin. And He's talking to disciples here, not to Pharisees. He's talking to believers about their conduct. We know that because of its parallel in Matthew 18 that involves the church. It's in Matthew 18 that He says when you're dealing with issues among yourselves, tell the church. So we know this is inside behavior, this is life in the church. These are being considered as believers. Verse 5, this group of disciples even includes the apostles themselves.
So here's a warning and it's a warning to a life of humility that begins with never doing anything to cause another believer to stumble.
Well let's look at it in a little more detail, verse 1, "It is inevitable.” It is inevitable. That is a very interesting expression. The Greek... It's only here, by the way, in the New Testament. We call that hapax legomena, the only time it says this. Anendekton, it... It really comes across in the Greek like this: It cannot but be, that there's no other way, it is this way, it has to be this way, it can't be any other way. “It is inevitable that stumbling blocks come." We live in a fallen world. We live in a corrupt world. We live in an imperfect world. And there will be stumbling blocks. The word stumbling blocks," skandalon, “scandal” comes from that, offenses. Originally it meant a bait stick in a trap. Set a trap, pull the lid of the trap up, connect a stick, put the bait on the stick. When the animal grabs the bait, the stick is released, the trap is closed, the animal is caught. That's a skandalon. It's a trap. We know we live in a world of traps. We know we live in a world where people are going to be offended. God's little ones, God's children, believers, are going to be offended. And by offended, trapped, harmed, hindered. That's what it's talking about. The world is full of stumbling blocks. They're all over the place, to seduce us directly into error, to seduce us into heresy and false understanding of the Scriptures, false understanding of God and Christ, to seduce us in false understandings of how we are to live our Christian lives. And there are scandalous temptations laid out there to directly or indirectly drive us toward sin. There are all kinds of bad examples and there are all kinds of things that lead us away from righteousness. The world is just filled with them and we, of all generations, are exposed to them in a way that prior generations have not been. There was a time, you know, in the world when you had to see the sinner do the sin to see sin. And now you can see the sinner sin at home, pumped into your house on your TV. You can read the ugly details of the sinner and his sin in a book or a magazine or a paper or other media exposure. But there was a time when you had to see the sinner sin to know the sin occurred. But now you can experience it constantly in a barrage of images. It's a different world and there are all kinds of seductions to evil. It's inevitable that they come.
But just because it's common...You might say, "Well, this is the world we live in. It's the way it is. What am I going to do about it?" Look, it's inevitable that they come, but look at verse 1, "Woe to him through whom they come." That doesn't change culpability. That doesn't change guilt. The one who sets the offense in motion is guilty before God, guilty before God. It's a serious thing and God considers it a serious thing. And it says this, it would be better for him — the one who offends, whether he's in the world or in the church, whether he's a non-believer or a believer — “it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to stumble.” It's better to stop him now by an execution than to let him keep doing this, because if he is a non-believer, he is only going to incur greater damnation, a hotter hell. If he's a believer, he is only inviting greater chastening and forfeiture of eternal reward. Better that he be dead. Better that he die a horrific death now than to continue to offend and therefore accumulate ongoing damnation. You know, hell is a relative experience. There are degrees of punishment. Even in the case of a believer, you don't want to be incurring greater and greater discipline from God and the loss of eternal reward.
Now what is He talking about here? Now remember who's juxtaposed. He's talking here about the kind of example that's being set by these Pharisees. They are the primary offenders here. They are. Go back to chapter 12 verse 1. "He began saying to His disciples, first of all, ‘Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees which is hypocrisy.’” Beware. It's...It's the Pharisees that are the target of these “bewares,” those who had a false righteousness, those who persecuted the preachers of the truth; all those uses of beware and they drive, for the most part, at the behavior of the Pharisees. Beware of those who teach lies and live deceptive, hypocritical lives as well.
When we talk about stumbling here, causing a little one to stumble, it takes me back again to...I think it's the 7th chapter of Luke and verse 22. Jesus responds to a question by some disciples of John the Baptist who are kind of concerned. Is Jesus really the Messiah? John's in prison, things aren't going well. There's not a great response to Jesus either. And so these followers of John the Baptist want to know if Jesus is the Messiah. And so they come and ask the question in verse 20, "Are You the expected One, or do we look for someone else?" And Jesus cured many people of diseases, afflictions, evil spirits, granted sight to many who were blind. And so in verse 22, "He answered and said to them, 'Go report to John what you've seen and heard. The blind receive sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear. The dead are raised up. The poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who keeps from stumbling over Me.'" That was the big stumbling point. And why were they stumbling over Jesus? Because the Pharisees were spreading lies about Jesus every opportunity, every occasion they could. They said Jesus is not the Messiah; He is not the expected One. They said that Jesus in fact does what He does by the power of Satan. They damned Jesus as satanic. It...It was not just that they caused people to stumble by their hypocrisy, their spiritual sham which set an example, making hypocrisy legitimate. It wasn't just that they treated people with disdain and contempt who were beneath them and therefore legitimized pride and hatred. It wasn't just that they set examples of sinfulness and failed to set patterns of righteousness and patterns of holiness. It was that underlying that was contempt for the truth. It's in the context of false religion that all this is said. They were putting hindrances in front of people, making them stumble over Jesus. Everywhere Jesus would go, they showed up. I told you that they were in every crowd, spreading their lies through the crowd: "He's not the Messiah. He's not one of us." And plotting to destroy Him and spreading the world that He did what He did by the power of Satan. They weren't just causing people who believed in Him or were desiring of believing in Him to fall into patterns of sin like them. They were causing them to reject the truth concerning Christ. This is the primary issue, I think, in this text. They had a different religious system. They had a system of works-righteousness, of legalism and ceremony, earning favor with God by your merit. And anybody who wasn't at their level, they treated with total contempt. They wouldn't even teach them the law.
Matthew 23 lays this out in detail. They were producing sons of hell by their religion, worse sons of hell than they were, causing people to turn from Christ to stumble at the point of Jesus Christ. So Jesus says, "Blessed is the one who doesn't stumble over Me." Well the Pharisees were just heaping up stumbling blocks in front of everybody they could who was moving in the direction of Christ. You don't want to do that. You do not want to hinder people's spiritual progress in the gospel. “It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to stumble." Better dead than to cause one, emphatic, one person to be hindered in their spiritual progress, better dead. “Woe,” that's an Old Testament word for curse, damnation, destruction. Anyone who puts any hindrance in someone's spiritual progress who belongs to God will receive severe divine judgment. It would be better to die a horrible, tortuous death by drowning. The language is very vivid. It would be better means it would be beneficial, it would be to your advantage to die so that you don't accumulate more eternal wrath and you don't accumulate more of God's chastening discipline. You'd be better off dead. You'd be better off to go to hell right now and take what's coming. You'd be better off to go to heaven right now than to diminish that eternal reward by continuing to be a hindrance.
The language is so strong. The word "millstone" here, this is a massive stone that had a smaller stone on the top that was turned by an animal, turned by an animal. This is a massive stone; tied around somebody's neck would take them to the bottom fast. And the Jews hated the idea of drowning. They thought that drowning someone was...was a horrific kind of punishment. They didn't do that. The Romans did that. The Jews did not do that. In fact, the rabbis taught that drowning was for Gentiles, not for Jews at all. Jesus says, you'd be better off drowned now on the spot, instantly, than to keep doing what you are doing. To hinder the faith of a believer, to hinder the understanding of a believer, to hinder the life of a believer in spiritual progress is a horrendous and enormous crime. To mar his grasp of the truth, to blight his knowledge of God and Christ and the Spirit and the Scripture, to damage his growth to Christ's likeness by lies or sin is so bad that you'd be better off dead now. That's one of the reasons James says, "Stop being so many teachers; theirs is a greater condemnation." If you're going to teach, you better be teaching the truth because if you're teaching something that hinders true spiritual progress, you're compounding your judgment.
So back to the point: Humble people consider others first out of love and unselfish goodwill. They don't do that. They pursue the truth with a passion so that they might truly represent the Word of God so that they do not put an obstacle or a hindrance in someone's way. They live a godly life. They set a pattern of righteousness. They restrain even their liberty in Christ. They don't abuse their liberty, which can cause others to stumble, as Romans 14 lays it out for us, and 1 Corinthians 9. We do not offend. We don't live our lives in an offensive way. We seek to set a godly example and always to speak that which is absolutely true so that we may aid this spiritual growth of others and not hinder it.
Secondly, and I'm just going to introduce this, but I'm going to really develop it next week, humble people are restrained in offending, and secondly, they are ready to forgive. We don't want to cause people to sin, but when people do sin, not from our example or hindrance, but when they do sin we are also eager to forgive. Look at verse 3, "Be on your guard. If your brother sins, rebuke him. If he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day and returns to you seven times saying, 'I repent,' forgive him."
Now the first point would indicate that we have a hatred of sin, whether it's sin in terms of heresy or whether it's sin in terms of behavior. We hate it. We don't want to teach anything that is contrary to the Word of God. We don't want to live anything that is contrary to the Word of God. We want to teach the truth and live holy lives. So we take a strong position against sin. But that needs to be balanced off because we're dealing in a world of sinners. We all are still fallen creatures. We still sin and we have to have even on the one hand though we hate sin, we have to on the other hand have an attitude of grace toward the sinner. And so, humble believers do not give offense. But neither do they take offense. Humble believers do not sin against others, but neither do they hold a grudge when others sin against them. We don't lead people into sin. But we do lead them out of sin. When Jesus taught us how to pray in Luke 11:4 He said, "Forgive us our sins for we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us."
The transition here is easy. We hold up a standard of holiness in what we teach and what we live. We are in some ways intolerant of sin. But at the same time we are marked by forgiveness. But that's not all that's here. There is something else here first, verse 3, "If your brother sins, rebuke him." We don't cause others to sin, but when they do we are always available lovingly to confront that sin because we care. So we beware of offending and we beware of being indifferent to the sins of others. The Pharisees, they didn't care about the sinners. Remember chapter 15 verse 1? The sinners were coming near to Him to listen to Him and the Pharisees and scribes began to grumble. "This man receives sinners and eats with them." They didn't care about people in sin. They didn't care about rebuking them, restoring them, reconciling them, helping them. They didn't care about that at all. They weren't eager to restore them in love as Paul tells us to do in Galatians 6:1. But we do. We don't lead people into sin. We lead them out of it. And that starts with rebuke. Rebuke is epitimaō, to allege as incrimination. Hence it means to censure or to reprimand, with the idea of a strong warning, a strong warning.
Luke gives a principle, "If your brother sins, rebuke him." Matthew gives the process. The process is if your brother sins you go to him. If he repents, you gain your brother. It's over. If he doesn't repent, you take two or three with you so that you can confront his sin again and confirm his response. If he still doesn't repent, you tell the church and the whole church goes to call that person back. That's the concern that holy people have for the debilitating sins that find their way into the lives of the fellowship. This is done out of love. You that are spiritual restore such a one in love, Galatians 6. We don't sit by and watch some sinner go off into a pattern of sin without caring.
So Luke gives the principle. Matthew gives the process. And if they don't hear the church, then it says, "Treat him like an outcast and a tax collector." Treat him like someone who doesn't belong. Maybe they don't. Maybe their profession of faith was only hypocritical. Turn them over to Satan, 1 Corinthians 5 says, they'll learn not to blaspheme. Turn them over for the destruction of the flesh that their spirit may be saved. There comes a point when we put them out because a little leaven leavens the whole lump. Their...Their sin will produce rot in the church and we put them out. This is a pattern of dealing with sin that's laid out in the Scripture repeatedly. If somebody is teaching heresy, we're told in Titus 3 you reject them. If somebody doesn't accept the instruction of the Word of God and obey it, 2 Thessalonians 3, you confront him and deal with him and reject him, but admonish him, not as an enemy but as a brother. In 2 Corinthians 13 Paul says, I'm going to come and I'm going to confront every sin that I find there that's ongoing and I'm not going to do it in a willy-nilly way, I am going to confirm it in the mouth of two or three witnesses, I'm going to follow the Matthew 18 pattern, but I'm going to deal with the sin. Why? Because I love you and I know that sin doesn't bring good to you or to the church.
This is loving confrontation. Not every sin is to be confronted, please. Love covers a multitude of sins. We don't want this to go berserk. It's those sinful patterns, it's those sins that are destructive, long-term pattern. It doesn't mean that every time you say a thoughtless word or every time you fail to do something you ought to have done or you have a slip up here or there, somebody has to set confrontation in motion. No. We'll talk about that next time. Love covers a multitude of sins. But there are some sins that love can't cover; it has to uncover. There are some sins for which forgiveness is completely unconditional. You give it from the heart; you don't even bring it up. Lots of things. You couldn't live in a marriage. I can...my...I've giving my wife's testimony. She couldn't live with me if she had to confront every failure in my life. This would be a rather dominating feature of life. Love covers. You couldn't do that with a dear friend, you couldn't do that even with your children, or children with parents. You couldn't do that in the fellowship. But there are some sins that affect the life in a turning sense that send it in a new direction and impact the church, and those have to be dealt with. And for those kinds of things, forgiveness becomes conditional. And that's what he's talking about. It's those kinds of sins that you rebuke that must be repented of. And so verse 3 says: "And if he repents, forgive him." And there you have those conditional kind of sins where we will not forgive until there is repentance. From the heart you may forgive, but there will never be restoration and reconciliation until there is repentance.
So sometimes forgiveness is conditional in those categories of sins where it affects the church, where it affects the life direction, where it is an ongoing sin, where it is a pattern of sin, where it is publicly visible. And how generous are we with this forgiveness? Verse 4, "If he sins against you seven times a day and returns to you seven times saying, 'I repent,'” do what? Forgive him. You say, "Wow! That's a lot of forgiveness." Yeah, well you get a lot, don't you? You get a lot? You think you get seven a day from God? I think I could easily reach seven most days real fast. We receive this boundless forgiveness from God. It's almost embarrassing to confess our sins because it's the same list and He is fully eager to forgive and we are to forgive the same way. We don't hold grudges. We don't look on people with disdain. We don't belittle them. We confront them out of love. And we are eager to forgive. As eager we are...as we are to confront, that's equally how eager we are to forgive.
There's a lot more to say about this and so next Sunday we're going to do a little excursus off this text and I'm going to talk to you about Christian forgiveness and the essence of it. In the meantime you could get the book I wrote called The Freedom and Power of Forgiveness and read it and know everything I'm going to say next week. OK? But it will still be a wonderful experience to worship the Lord with us. Let's pray.
Father, thank You again for the truth; so clear, so penetrating, so powerful. Thank You for Your precious Word, how it lives and how we are thrust into the very setting where our Lord is teaching and feel like we're there, hearing it from His own lips. The Word lives, and may it produce in us that which honors You. We thank You in Christ's name. Amen.
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