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Last week we began our series on the Sermon on the Plain, the name for Jesus’ teaching in Luke 6. We looked at the first part of it – the blessings and the woes. In these, Jesus, speaking to his disciples, comforts the afflicted – by giving four blessings to the faithful, and he afflicts the comfortable – by giving four woes to the unfaithful.

This teaching forces each of us to ask:

  • Am I with the ones who are suffering for faithfulness and will be blessed?
  • Or am I with the ones who have compromised their commitment to Jesus in order to gain the world’s favor and will be judged?

Today we move to the second section – focused on dealing with enemies – 6:27-36.

Jesus’ instructions on loving enemies

There are two sets of four commands here:

vs. 27-28 vs. 29-30
1. love your enemies
2. do good to those who hate you
3. bless those who curse you
4. pray for those who abuse you
1. to one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also
2. and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either
3. give to everyone who demands from you
4. and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back

All of these commands call us to love our enemies. But there are differences between the first four commands and the second four. I want to take just a few moments to flesh this out, because it has a big impact on how you put this into practice in real life.

  • The first four commands instruct us to return good for evil. We respond with love even when someone harms us.
  • The second four instruct us to yield to the enemy. We are to give what is demanded, and more.

These are different instructions.

Let’s take this example – You are being robbed . . ..

1. Under the admonition of the first set of commands you must simply love the robber, do good in return, and pray for him. As long as you return good for evil, you have a great deal of freedom to choose different options. You could refuse to give up anything, you could try to stop or disarm the robber. Or you could call the police, if your goal isn’t just to punish him. As long as you also show love to him, and act with his best interests in mind, not just yours, you’re fine.

2. But under the admonition of the second set of commands you must yield to the robber, give whatever is demanded and more, and never ask for anything back.

Do you see the difference? You can’t apply both sets of instructions to this case at the same time, because they give different answers.

What does this tell us about these two sets of commands? It tells us that they are speaking to different situations. In Scripture the command to yield (from the second set) is given in relation to authorities, for instance the government. And we are taught to submit even if they are an enemy to us (1 Peter 2:18-23; Romans 13).

Also, each situation in the second set is best seen as the action of an authority:

  • An authority figure who slaps to put someone under them in their place. This was a common custom of the day. It’s not a fist fight, it’s a way of pulling rank.
  • A creditor who takes the coat given in pledge for a loan by court authority. It’s not someone just stealing your coat. There is a legal procedure taking place.
  • The last two sayings picture the requisitioning demands of an occupying government, as the Romans did in Jesus’ day. For instance a soldier could come and say, “Your horse is needed by the Emperor” – and take it. When it says in v. 30 – “give to everyone who demands from you,” it’s talking about this, not, for instance, a beggar on the street. (The word “ask,” sometimes translated as “beg” is best translated as “demand” in this context, since you really don’t have a choice.) Also, when it says, “and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back,” it’s talking about this, not ordinary theft. Often items were not given back, even though they were supposed to be given back.

So the second set of commands deals with enemies who are authorities. And we are to yield to them. This is, in my understanding, what biblical nonresistance means. It’s the combination of the command to submit to authorities and to love our enemies. When you put these two together, you get nonresistance.

Now yielding doesn’t exclude other options, for instance fleeing (Matthew 10:23) or appealing to a higher authority for relief (Acts 25:10ff) or standing your ground and taking the consequences. But since Jesus doesn’t talk about these here, I won’t go into them for now.

The first set of commands deals with regular enemies – your neighbors, evildoers, robbers. And we are to love them and return good for evil.

My aim is that next week we will get into some of the practical realities of loving enemies. But my goal today is simply to help us understand what Jesus’ instructions mean here.

Next, Jesus gives us –

A key principle

v. 31 – “And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.” This is the so-called golden rule, which tells us how to act toward others.

The usual standard that people employ is – how has so and so treated me? And then you respond accordingly. If John does good to me, I’ll do good to him. But if he wrongs me, I’ll get him.

If you put this into a principle it would be the opposite of the golden rule – As others have done to you, do so to them. This is the standard of “an eye for an eye” or to put it positively, “a favor for a favor.” You act towards others based on how they have acted toward you.

But Jesus gives us a different, higher standard. To say it in a slightly different way – treat others based on how you want to be treated. The idea here is that, just as you want what is good, so  give what is good to others. Let this be your standard.

This is the principle behind all eight statements in the first section we looked at. They set aside an eye for an eye and work according to the logic of giving what you want to get. This principle teaches us to love and do good to all, even if they don’t deserve it.

Some provocative questions

In vs. 32-34 Jesus asks three questions that show that the “eye for an eye” standard is not an adequate one.

  • “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.”

Jesus is saying, everybody loves and does good to those who love and do good to them. This is just an expression of the standard of an eye for an eye, or a favor for a favor. You don’t get any credit or reward for this. Even sinners do this. The term “sinner” is used to speak of people who are acknowledged to have failed to live according to God’s will.

Jesus’ point is that if this is the best you can do, you’re doing nothing more than what sinners do. His challenge is, do you live by a higher standard of conduct than sinners?

After the questions comes –

An exhortation

– to live according to the higher standard that Jesus is teaching. v. 35 – “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return . . ..” Put aside an eye for an eye or a favor for a favor, and simply love and do good to all, no matter how they treat you.

A concrete example here is loaning money to an enemy who is in need (if you can). Jesus indicates that if they are unable to pay it back, we are to forgive the loan.   Love and do good to all, no matter how they treat you.

The result of obedience

v. 35 – “. . . 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.” It’s not easy to love enemies, as we’ll talk about next week. But Jesus indicates here that it’s worth it. If living by an eye for an eye brings no reward, as we just saw, loving enemies does bring a reward. Specifically, “your reward will be great.”

And then he goes on to talk about being sons of the Most High. The idea here is that a son acts like their father. And since –

  • God is “kind to the ungrateful and the evil” – v. 35
  • God’s sons should do the same

To be a son of God is not about gender, it is about a certain social or religious status. It is to be an inheritor of your Father’s blessings. And both women and men can act like the Father and thus show that they have the status of inheritors.

But the specific test here is – Do we love our enemies, like our Father does? If we do, we will inherit the blessings of the kingdom.

We end with v. 36, which is the center point of the whole Sermon on the Plain, and sums up this teaching on loving enemies. “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” Again, like Father, like son. The Father is merciful to evildoers. And as his children, we are to be merciful as well.

William Higgins

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rewritten

We are looking at five steps that you can take to overcome sin in your life; to deal with areas where you are really struggling to do God’s will. And we are up to Step 5. When you are in a time of testing – endure.

Endurance has to do with the ability bear up under hardship for a long time. Other words might be persistence, fortitude, stamina, or patience. We need all this because –

Satan tries to wear us down in a time of testing

Even if we are successful at first, he continues to press us to give in so that we will fail – so that he can accuse us of sin before God and seek our condemnation. So we think we are doing fine, but then we realize that the struggle has really just begun. Satan is persistent in tempting us to sin and we must be more persistent in fighting this.

Here is an example for us to work with. A fellow student offers to let you cheat. But decline, and you feel pretty good about it.

But then as you go through the year, you find out that the class is a lot harder than you thought. You know you can get the answers – your classmate is more than willing, But you don’t. You just work extra hard.

And then you fall behind because you had to leave town for a week for a family emergency. And you don’t know if you can catch up. And it’s possible that you will fail the class. And if you fail the class you won’t graduate on time and with all your friends. So you think – ‘I didn’t want to cheat before, but it’s not my fault I’m behind and the stakes are really high now.’

The temptation lingers even as the circumstances increasingly  pressure you to make the wrong choice.

The message today is, whatever the test, however long it goes on, and however hard it gets –

Don’t give in!

What this means is that we keep repeating the previous two steps:

  • Step #3: You keep your mind focused on God’s will. This is the battle of the mind. When you are tempted to rationalize giving in, for instance, to cheat, you use the Scriptures to keep you focused on God’s will. You could think on Ephesians 4:25 which says, “put away falsehood.” It teaches us that we are to be people of honesty and integrity. And then you tell Satan to leave you in the name of Jesus.
  • Step #4: You keep receiving strength from the Spirit to do God’s will. This is the battle of the heart. When you are tempted to give in, to choose what is wrong, for instance, to cheat, you look to God for help to do what is right. And so you deny those desires of your flesh that would lead you to sin – (your desire not to fail, your desire to graduate on time and with your friends).

No matter how long the test lasts, you don’t quit thinking what is right, and choosing what it right. This is what endurance means.

Other Scriptures use different imagery to speak of the same reality. For instance we are to resist Satan and his enticements. 1 Peter 5:8-9 says, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brothers and sisters throughout the world.” James 4:7 tells us simply to “resist the devil.” We resist his lies and we resist his pressuring us to choose the desires of the flesh.

Also, we are to stand our ground. Ephesians 6:10-13 uses military imagery to make this point. “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. . . . Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore . . ..” Notice we are not called to take any ground. We only need to stay firm and not give in, in terms of our Christian faithfulness. Satan can only defeat us if we quit; if we stop standing our ground.

How long must we endure?

Mark 13:13 talks about testing and speaks of enduring “to the end” – or until the test is over. You endure until your difficult circumstances change, or until your desire of the flesh to sin is gone, or until you die – as was the case with Jesus, who was faithful unto death.

Having the right perspective

Going through trials, testing and temptation is not easy! Scripture tells us that It “always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time” – Hebrews 12:11 (NRSV). And so we need to have the right perspective on this.

What we must remember is that, although Satan wants us to fail, God uses testing for our own good. God wants us to grow in righteousness and in character. God allows us to be tested “for our own good, that we may share his holiness” – Hebrews 12:10. Such testing, when endured “yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” – Hebrews 12:11.

Although Satan uses testing to condemn us and exclude us from God’s blessing, from God’s point of view, as Paul said, testing “is intended to make you worthy of the Kingdom of God” – 2 Thessalonians 1:5.

Because we know that God uses testing for our own good, we can have joy even as we struggle; mixed in with our pain and sorrow. As James says, “Whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy” – James 1:2. God is working in your life. God is making you more and more like him.

Encouragements to endure

Now, remaining faithful in times of trial is talked about a lot in Scripture. And there are many promises and words of encouragement to us in this regard.

First of all we learn that if we fight back, Satan will flee. James 4:7 says, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” He doesn’t have unlimited access to us, but must eventually yield.

We also learn that God watches over us in testing. 1 Corinthians 10:13 says, “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” God has regard both for how much we can take, he does not let us get in over our heads, and he provides a way out for us.

After a time, God will renew and restore us. 1 Peter 5:10 says, “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.”

Finally, our endurance will be rewarded. Galatians 6:9 says, “Let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest-time, if we do not give up” (NRSV). 2 Timothy 2:12 says, “If we endure, we will also reign with him,” speaking of the life to come. And James 1:12 says, “Blessed is anyone who endures testing. Such a one has stood the test and will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.” (NRSV).

It’s hard to go through testing, but we can overcome and we will be blessed.

Once again I want to illustrate this step with –

The examples of Peter and Jesus

– as they were both tested when Jesus was arrested and taken off to die.

Peter’s failure. He sinned. He denied that he knew Jesus in order to save his life. As Jesus said in Mark 8:38, “Those who are ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” Peter was ashamed of Jesus. This is, perhaps, the worst thing you can do as a Christian. When Peter realized what he had done “he broke down and wept” – Mark 14:72.

Jesus’ example. He endured his time of testing. He endured through arrest, beatings, mockery and crucifixion. He endured even when the test was so hard that he cried out from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” – Mark 15:34. Jesus endured, faithful to God – and this is the key phrase – until the end. Not for part of it or for most of it, but until the end. Mark 15:37 says, “Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last.”

And as the Scriptures teach, he received God’s blessing for enduring. Jesus was raised from the dead and seated at the right hand of God as Lord of all things. As Hebrews 12:2 says, “for the sake of the joy set before him Jesus endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God” (NRSV).

Let me end by encouraging you to –

Endure in times of testing

Keep your mind focused on God’s truth, and keep receiving strength from the Spirit to do God’s will. It is worth it!

The same Jesus who endured to the end and was raised to new life; who knows how all this works from experience, says to us, “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” – Revelation 2:10. Just as he was faithful unto death and was blessed, so if we are faithful, he will bless us with life everlasting.

William Higgins

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We are up to the sixth letter in our series on the seven letters to the churches in Revelation. Today we look at what Jesus has to say by the Spirit to the church in Philadelphia, and also to us.

Philadelphia was about 28 miles southeast of Sardis. It was founded the second century BC. It was called the gateway to the east. It was a conduit that helped spread Greek culture eastward. It was famous for it grapes, frequent earthquakes and volcanic soil.

The situation in Philadelphia

They are suffering. v. 8 – “I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.” v. 10 – “. . . you have kept my word about patient endurance.”

In these verses we see that they are marginalized. They have “little power.” “Patient endurance” speaks to persecution. This is a theme in the book of Revelation, that we must endure persecution. We also learn that they are faithful in the midst of this. Jesus says that they have “kept my word” twice, and they have “not denied my name.”

If we ask, ‘Why are they suffering?’ it’s the same as we saw in Smyrna, and other cities, the demands of Emperor worship. Some cities, especially in Asia Minor at this time, competed to see who was the most loyal to their government. One way to do this was to emphasize and require worship of the emperor. For instance offering up incense to the emperor and calling him a son of God; or the Lord and ruler of the world.

As we have seen, by Roman policy, Jews were exempt from this, because of their faith in one God. The early Christians saw themselves, rightly, as simply a form of Judaism. But because of conflict over the confession of Jesus as Messiah, Christians were put out of some Jewish synagogues. They were denounced, as it were, ‘you aren’t Jews,’ and so were now subject to persecution, including death, for refusing to worship the emperor.

All of this is the background to the language of Synagogue of Satan, as we saw before in Smyrna. v. 9 – “those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie . . ..” Just as some Jews had said of the Christians, ‘they say that they are Jews and are not,’ so Jesus says of them, ‘they say that they are Jews and are not, but lie.’

To be a Jew is to be on God’s side. But they are acting like God’s “adversary,” who is Satan. This is what the name Satan means. They are falsely accusing Christians and exposing them to persecution.

So the Christians in Philadelphia are in a difficult spot. They have been put out of the synagogue by unbelieving Jews, and are enduring persecution from idolatrous Gentiles.

Jesus’ message

There are no words of criticism or judgment. Rather Jesus has words of encouragement for them throughout the letter.

First of all, although they may be put out the door of the synagogue, Jesus gives them an Open door. This is the background to the key and door imagery in this letter.

v. 7 – “The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens.” Jesus is the one who has the key of David. This comes from Isaiah 22:22, words spoken to Eliakim, the new steward of the house of David, under Hezekiah. “And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David. He shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open.” The one with the keys, has control over who gets into the king’s palace.

This is then applied to Jesus, as David’s son and the Messiah. He has authority over who is a part of the people of God and who gets into the kingdom of God, not the unbelieving Jews of the synagogue.

Jesus is saying, they put you out and marked you as excluded from God’s people, and from the blessings of the age to come. But “I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut.” -v. 8. These are powerful words of affirmation.

Next, Jesus tells them that They will be vindicated. v. 9 – “Behold, I will make them come and bow down before your feet and they will learn that I have loved you.”

This comes from several Old Testament texts that refer to the Gentiles acknowledging that Israel, the people of God, do have God’s blessing. For instance Isaiah 60:14 says, “The sons of those who afflicted you shall come bending low to you, and all who despised you shall bow down at your feet; they shall call you the City of the Lord, the Zion of the Holy One of Israel.”

But now this gets turned around and is applied to non-believing Jews acknowledging that these Christians are a part of God’s people.

They will be vindicated in that those who humbled them will themselves be humbled. Those who marked them as rejected, will learn that Jesus accepts and loves them.

Jesus also tells them that they will be Kept from the hour of trial. v. 10 – “Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth.” There is a word play here. Since they have kept Jesus’ word, he will keep them from trial.

Now, many want to see this as a key passage about the end times, but it’s not. This is a promise to these specific people concerning a test that will affect them, not some later time after they are dead. Perhaps this refers to new pressure to coerce worship of the emperor under Domitian? This would affect the whole known world of these believers; the Roman empire. (Colossians 1:5-6 also uses the phrase “whole world” in this way.) They have already experienced some of this and been faithful, but the worst is yet to come. And Jesus is saying that they will be kept from this.

Finally, he tells them to Remain faithful. v. 11 – “I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown.” Jesus is coming to reward them. The reward is a crown. In Greek athletic contests the winner receives a wreath or crown.

If they fail to finish the race or are found to cheat, their crown can be seized. But if they “hold fast,” if they keep enduring, they will keep their crown. They will be overcomers.

Jesus speaks to us

v. 13 says, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Do we have ears to hear what Jesus is saying to us in this letter?

1. Rejection and ridicule (or worse) should be expected as a follower of Jesus. There was nothing wrong with these believers that they experienced this. It is because they are living faithfully. And so they are models for us.

Paul says in 2 Timothy 3:12, “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” Peter says in 1 Peter 4:12, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.”

It should be seen as unusual not to experience some of this. What does it say about us, if we are not experiencing some ridicule and rejection for our faith?

2. If you’re faithful to Jesus, it doesn’t matter what others say about your salvation. The Christians in Philadelphia were marked as rejected by some synagogue leaders. But Jesus affirmed his acceptance of them.

In the same way, others may say you are excluded, or even act to exclude you. But this doesn’t matter. All that matters is what Jesus says. And when Jesus opens the door for us – no one can shut it!

Not only are we in – a part of God’s people and of the kingdom of God – Jesus promises that we will be like pillars in God’s temple forever in the kingdom.

3. God can spare us testing. In Smyrna, where other faithful believers were experiencing persecution, they were told to expect more testing. In Revelation 2:10 Jesus says, “Do not fear what you are about to suffer. . . for ten days you will have tribulation.” But those from Philadelphia will be spared. As Jesus says in  v. 10, “I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming . . ..”

So God does at times spare us from testing. And this is why Jesus teaches us to pray, “Lead us not into testing, but deliver us from the evil one.” And we are to pray this, so that God will hear our prayer and have mercy on us.

4. You don’t have to be strong to be faithful as a Christian or as a Christian community. They weren’t from the biggest, most important town. They had “little power” as it says in v. 8. But they kept Jesus’ word. They did not deny Jesus. And they patiently endured difficulties.

And this faithfulness is acknowledged by Jesus. This is a very warm and encouraging letter, and the one in which he tells them that all will know that, “I have loved you” (v. 9).

We too may feel weak, small, insignificant. But we can still be faithful to Jesus and know his affirmation and love.

_____________

As we end lets remember Jesus’ words of encouragement for faithfulness: v. 12 – “The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name.”

May we be among those so blessed in the final day.

William Higgins

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We have looked off and on at Luke 17:3-4 about forgiveness and repentance and going to the one who has sinned, bringing in Matthew 18:5. Now we look at some additional teaching from Jesus on forgiveness, that comes after these verses. I will share this with you as two short sermons.

Does forgiving others seven times in a day require you to be super-spiritual? Luke 17: 5-6

We start with v. 5 –

“The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’”

This verse picks up from v. 4 where Jesus taught the disciples to forgive seven times in a day. The apostles must have thought – ‘That’s impossible!’ ‘Who can do this?’ ‘You would have to be super-spiritual; you would have to have great faith to do this teaching.’ And so their response is to ask Jesus, “Increase our faith.”

This is similar to the objection they raise when Jesus teaches them about divorce and remarriage. “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry” – Matthew 19:10. And it is also similar to their response to Jesus’ teaching on wealth. “When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, ‘Who then can be saved?’” – Matthew 19:25. So also here, Jesus tells them something that seems impossible to them, and they react to it.

Jesus’ response comes in v. 6.

“And the Lord said, ‘If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this Sycamore tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.’”

Lets look at what this means. First, we are dealing with proverbial imagery here:

  • A grain of mustard seed was proverbial for something really small.
  • Despite most translations (mulberry tree), Jesus seems to be referring to the sycamore tree, which was a large, deeply rooted tree that was used in proverbs as well, to talk about something that is difficult to move.

In this case, the idea is to speak to it so that it is uprooted and planted into the sea. This would be a spectacular sight! Mark and Matthew, in other contexts, have a similar saying where you speak to a mountain and cast it into the sea. This saying (and the others) is not meant to be taken literally. It is a proverb. It speaks of doing the impossible. Jesus means – if you have even the smallest faith, you can do the impossible. 

On another level, Jesus is addressing a misconception about faith in v. 6. The apostles don’t understand the way that faith works. You don’t sit back and wait until you get enough faith so that it seems easy. You act on the faith you have – in the midst of it being difficult. And that’s how your faith grows. So their question is a bit odd. They don’t need to receive something. They need to do something with what they have already received.

Putting all this together, Jesus’ answer to the apostles is this: To do the impossible (or what seems impossible to you) all you need is to act on even the smallest amount of faith.

With regard to the difficulty of forgiving someone  seven times in one day, you don’t need to be super-spiritual, or have unusual faith. You just need to act on the faith you have.

This teaching, in these verses, has to do with forgiving others seven times in a day. But it certainly applies to lots of things Jesus teaches, which seem really hard to us: Not seeking wealth, but giving it to the poor; not worrying about our economic future, but trusting in God to provide; practicing nonresistance and loving our enemies; not judging others or speaking angry words that tear others down; being faithful in difficult life circumstances; or fulfilling a special calling that God has given to you.

The message to us from these verses is that – yes, what Jesus teaches is hard. It may seem impossible to us. But if we exercise the little faith that we have and step out – we can do it.

Does forgiving others seven times in a day qualify you for special recognition? Luke 17:7-10

This passage connects with the preceding verses of Luke 17 in that it addresses the apostles’ misunderstanding that only the super-spiritual can practice forgiveness in the way that Jesus teaches. The implication being that people that can obey such hard teaching would deserve special recognition from God. The logic goes like this – you would have to be super-spiritual to forgive someone seven times in one day. And those who are so super-spiritual would surely deserve something special from God in terms of reward.

We begin with v. 7

“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?’”

We are dealing with the culture of that day where household slaves were not uncommon. In this case we have a farmer with one slave who does both outside and inside chores. The question is, after the slave has worked outside all day, will you stop and feed him? Will you do something special for him for doing his work? The answer is clearly expected to be “no” in this context.

Vs. 8-9 say,

“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?”

In this context, the slave does not gain credit for doing what he is supposed to do, which is to work hard. He worked outside all day and then has to come inside and cook for his master before he can relax and eat.

Even though he does this hard work, there is no social obligation or debt created on the part of the master so that the master would say, ‘You have worked hard, let me give you some special recognition.’ Working hard is what slaves do.

Then comes the punch line in v. 10 –

“So you also, [you are slaves to God] when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’”

God doesn’t owe us any thanks or any debt when we do what he tells us to do, even if it is hard. In fact, even if we obeyed God perfectly all our lives – which none of has done or will do – God would still not owe us anything. We are still only doing what are supposed to do in the first place.

The specific application here is, do you get special recognition for forgiving others seven times in one day; for being supposedly super-spiritual? No. You are only doing what you are supposed to do as God’s slave!

Again, this teaching, in these verses, has to do with forgiving others seven times in a day, but it certainly applies to lots of things Jesus teaches – which seem really hard to us: Not seeking wealth, but giving it to the poor; not worrying about our economic future, but trusting in God to provide; practicing nonresistance and loving our enemies; not judging others or speaking angry words that tear others down; being faithful in difficult life circumstances; or fulfilling a special calling that God has given to you.

The message to us from these verses is that when you start stepping out in faith and are doing the impossible on a regular basis – don’t think that you deserve special credit from God. Don’t get a big head. You are only doing what you are supposed to do.

William Higgins

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