The Danger of Taking Others With You
When Jesus was on the earth, teaching in Palestine, the Pharisees were constantly on the fringe of every audience listening to Jesus - but most of them were not listening to learn; they were listening to criticize. They did not like Jesus; considered Him to be a threat to the religious and political power they enjoyed. So they would gather in the audience; they would be there, and they would listen - but not with good and honest hearts. There were but few exceptions to this.
Also, if you read carefully in the accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, I believe you will see that the Pharisees not only condemned Jesus - they sought to influence others to deny Him. They would act and speak and react to Jesus in such a manner as to cause others to reject Him. So, it was wrong for these men to attack Jesus, and find fault with the spotless Son of God; but it was also serious and contemptuous for the Pharisees to deliberately subvert the faith of others, and cause people to stumble.
Jesus spoke directly to this in Luke 17:1-4, where He said ...
It is impossible that no offenses should come, but woe to him through whom they do 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 offend one of these little ones. Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, 'I repent,' you shall forgive him.
It is one thing, to decide you will reject the Son of God and live in sin. It is one thing to make your own choice to be lost and die without Christ. This is about taking others with you, in that fatal journey away from God and into eternal punishment! The unbelieving Pharisees were guilty of this. But they do not stand alone under this charge. This was written for us as well and we cannot afford to take it lightly.
In the first two verses there is a warning to offenders. In the next two verses there is teaching about how to handle offenders. All of this is teaching we need.
Jesus said, It is impossible that no offenses should come. Sin is a fact. We know that. We believe we have sinned; our guilt was part of what brought us to Christ, to be saved. We have read passages like Rom. 3:23, where Paul said that all sin and do fall short of the glory of God. And we do not dispute that. We struggle with temptation - we see others around us everyday who sin; we are convinced that the devil is alive and well and working to seduce souls. So, no arguments are necessary here; I need not offer proof to anyone in this readership - sin is a fact in the human race.
Well, if anybody knew that Jesus knew it well. When Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil - as He survived that assault without sin - He was certainly aware of the work of the devil and the reality of sin. One of the first things Jesus ever said was: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." In His "sermon on the mount," He said things like, "broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who so in by it." He said, "Beware of false prophets." And He said - the man who doesn't hear and obey is like the man who built his house on the sand, "and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell..." Jesus knew about sin. In John chapter eight He said to His enemies, "You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do." Sin is a fact in the human race and
Jesus knew that well.
That's why He said, "It is impossible that no offenses should come." If the devil is doing his work; if people are guilty of sin THIS WILL HAPPEN; this is inescapable. Some who are involved in sin will involve others in sin! Some who are careless and defiant will cause others to stumble. As I implied earlier, some will not only rush to eternal damnation themselves, they will take others along with them and Jesus speaks about that here.
And to make his point, about how bad this is, Jesus said this: woe to him through whom they do 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 offend one of these little ones.
Jesus gives us this picture so that we will know how bad this is; how serious it is to cause someone to stumble. Jesus knew this would happen - but He said, "woe to him" who is guilty of this!
Yet, He goes further by giving us this dramatic picture: It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea. I do not believe Jesus is recommending suicide. I do not believe he is telling us to try and figure out who might do this in the future, and go throw them in the Gulf of Mexico today. No, that's not it. These words were spoken and written to impress us with HOW SERIOUS AND TRAGIC THIS IS to cause somebody to stumble.
I ought to read this and be afraid. I ought to read this and be so impressed by it, that I conduct myself with greater care and diligence, lest I cause someone to stumble. I ought to read this and know how much Jesus cares for each little disciple; each one of us mean so much to Him. He is stern and explicit when He warns those who might cause offenses.
This is like what Jesus said over in Matt. 13:40-42 ...
Therefore as the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of this age. The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.
How very careful we should be in what we say; in our general demeanor; in how we act and react; in our general example and influence -- lest we offend one of these little ones. All things that offend will be cast into the furnace of fire.
What does this mean? It means, if I become depressed, or bitter or discouraged - I not only need to use the word of God to deal with my condition, I need to be very careful what I say to others and how I behave lest I offend one of these little ones. This means, when I go through a period of doubt - I need to keep my mouth shut. Perhaps there is some tragedy or cause of grief in your life and your emotions are so charged, you may over-react; you may say more than what needs to be said ... BE CAREFUL.
This means when you talk to folks about the Word of God; when you are responding to someone's question; when there are temptations to involve yourself in gossip or anything like that you stop and remember what the Lord said! It would be better to drown than to cause someone to stumble.
The next part of this is about how to handle offenders. In verses 1 & 2 - there is a warning to us; we are to be careful not to offend. In verses 3 & 4 - there is instruction to all of us about how to handle offenders; here it is ...
"Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, 'I repent,' you shall forgive him."
There are four simple words here, right in the middle of this passage and every individual in this audience ought to pay attention to this and take it seriously:
TAKE HEED TO YOURSELVES! It is easy to take heed to others.
Without much effort at all we can fall into the habit of examining other people;
watching other people; talking about other people. We can become hyper-sensitive
to offenses; we can focus so much on others we never ponder our own path. The
Lord said: TAKE HEED TO YOURSELVES!
Right in the middle of this passage that mentions offenses and rebuke issued to offenders - Jesus says something important: TAKE HEED TO YOURSELVES! I hope each one of us will do this. I need to take an inventory of my life; I need to examine myself. I need to ponder my own pathway; monitor my own attitude; watch what I do and say, lest I offend God and take others with me into sin! Take Heed To Yourselves.
Now the next part of this begins with the word "if...." This introduces a contingency; that means, here is something that might happen. Jesus describes a situation & then tells us what to do when this happens. This is so simple -- He describes what might happen ... and then tells us what to do when
Listen to Him ...
If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.
There are all kinds of things we are tempted to do when a brother sins against us. We may be tempted to respond by sinning against him' it sounds immature ... and it is: He sinned against me ... I will sin against him!! That's wrong.
Or - when a brother or sister sins against us - we may be tempted to express our repulsion to everybody, except the perpetrator. Now, when I put it that way, it really sounds unwise. It is and it ignores what the Lord said we ought to do. In fact, I am making things worse when I express my anger to everybody, except the perpetrator.
There is another typical response, that also ignores what Jesus said; that is, to say nothing and do nothing and just hold the grudge within. First, that approach is in direct disobedience to what Jesus said. Second, that approach will probably make you sick or miserable. Third, when you finally give vent to this grudge - there is no telling how you may react. Fourth, if someone is guilty, they need to know and repent!
There are all kinds of things we are tempted to do when a brother sins against us. BUT HERE'S WHAT WE OUGHT TO DO -- Listen: If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. Can you do that? Of course you can. Jesus doesn't require the impossible; it may be difficult and emotionally challenging ... but this can be done. If your brother sins against you - you can go to him and rebuke him. And if he repents, Jesus says you must "forgive him."
The attitude forgiveness is based on should be in your heart constantly, even immediately after the offense. God is ready to forgive us all the time. We ought to be ready to forgive the offender.
Jesus describes a situation then He tells us what to do when this happens, and I believe we can do this, and we must do this.
Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.
Now there's one more thing here we need to study. Suppose you are with Jesus personally, and He is telling you this ... and you can talk with Him about this instruction.
He says ... If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And you might want to say to Jesus, something like this:
"Well, you are right Lord ... and I'll do that. When my brother sins, I'll rebuke him ... and if he repents, I'll forgive him But I'm not just going to keep doing this ... over and over again, Lord ... I have my limits you know!"
What if God took that approach with us? Where do you think we would be? What if God said to us, "you sin against me once or twice, and I'll forgive you when you repent .... but when you get to sin #4, #5 and on and on ... FORGET IT!"
What if God took that approach with us? Think about it! Do you want God to be as stern with you, as you are toward others? Do you want His mercy to be limited to a specific number of offenses? Then after that - no forgiveness??
Well of course we all know the answer! We want God's mercy. We need His grace. We depend upon His patience with us. And whenever we sin and repent - we want His forgiveness. Shouldn't we extend to others - the mercy know we need from God?
Well, that's what this is about, where Jesus said:
Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, 'I repent,' you shall forgive him."
Is there anything in this text that is difficult, or that is subject to some long, complicated debate? I don't think so, do you? And if I am a believer - a Christian - a follower of Christ, this is the instruction I will follow; this is the care I will exercise toward others --- this is the duty I will perform.
Finally let me say, THIS IS NOT HYPOTHETICAL; this happens in real life. The question is not, WILL THIS EVER HAPPEN. The question is, WHEN THIS HAPPENS - WILL I OBEY THE LORD?
By Warren E. Berkley
From Expository Files 7.3; March 2000