We’ve been spending a great deal of time discussing discernment matters and pointing out false teaching (and even some false teachers). While this is exceedingly important I don’t want to overlook the need for Christians to understand their call to forgive is just as strong as the call to repent. Today, let’s look at what Jesus taught concerning temptation, rebuke, repentance, and forgiveness.
In researching a couple of rather heavy blogs that are in the works, I came across a passage that really caught my attention and I thought it would be an excellent way to pause some of the other research for a bit. Our primary text will be short, but we will explore other texts to better understand how this passage works out in our day-to-day lives.
Luke 17:1-4 (ESV) | Temptations to Sin
1 And [Jesus] said to his disciples, “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! 2 It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin. 3 Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents,forgive him, 4 and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”
This portion in Luke is part of a series of parables and lessons taught by Jesus beginning roughly in Luke 15. Before we dive into the individual elements of this text, I want to reference Matthew 18 for clarity on who the “one of these little ones” was.
Matthew 18:1-7 (ESV) | Who Is the Greatest?
1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2 And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them 3 and said,“Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, 6 but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. 7 “Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes!
The two passages capture the same event, but in neither case do we have a verbatim account of all that Jesus said and did on that day (John 21:25 (ESV) “Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.”); rather, what we have in Scripture is that the Holy Spirit recalled in the minds of the writers and inspired them to record for our eternal benefit.
Temptation to Sin
Jesus makes absolutely clear here that temptations to sin are going to come. In Matthew, we see Jesus add that in-fact the temptations to sin are necessary. It was necessary even in Jesus’s case where we see that immediately following His baptism the Holy Spirit led Him into the wilderness to be tempted.
Matthew 4:1-3 (ESV) | The Temptation of Jesus
1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”…
Jesus faithfully resists the devil (the tempter) and remains free of sin. I bring this up because while Jesus clearly teaches that temptation is bound to come, and is in-fact necessary, the sin is not. Why is the temptation necessary? I believe the answer to that question can be found in the first and greatest commandment:
Matthew 22:36-38 (ESV) 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment.
The temptation to sin, once faithfully resisted, becomes a demonstration of a love for the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind. Jesus is the only person who fulfilled the Law, to include the first and greatest commandment. He never wavered, He never faltered. In His perfection, He offered Himself as the Lamb of God, the ultimate sacrifice as payment for our sin. And in Him, by His Grace, a way was made for us to demonstrate our love for Him whenever we resist a temptation to sin. When we succumb to temptation and sin, then we are guilty of sin and must confess the sin and repent from it and ask for forgiveness in the Name of Jesus Christ.
Woe to the one…
The problem of sin is not limited to the one committing the sin. The one through whom the temptation to sin manifests itself bears extra responsibility. When Christ pronounces a “Woe” it’s no small matter.
Matthew 11:20-22 (ESV) | Woe to Unrepentant Cities
20 Then he began to denounce the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent. 21 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you.
Tyre and Sidon will fare better on the day of judgment than Chorazin and Bethsaida… that is indeed a case for woe. Similarly, the one through whom temptation comes, causing one of the little ones to sin, is indeed woefully damned. The Sovereignty of God means that God’s Will shall be done in the earth, and He can use anyone, even those who don’t know Him to accomplish His will. We’ve seen that God used Balaam (an unbelieving practitioner of divination) to turn what would have been a curse against Israel into blessings, and we’ve also seen God bless and use King Cyrus to restore Israel and Jerusalem after the Exile into Babylon. However, Jesus makes clear that while temptation to sin will take place, the tempter is never doing the Will of God and bears a heavy burden of guilt. God does not compel men to tempt other men; rather, He knows the hearts of men and uses their actions and deeds to bring about His Will, and punishes those who reject God in the process. Balaam and Cyrus did not follow God, they continued in their sin and were rightfully judged by God. Jesus warns that it would be better to die than to be the cause for temptation for another believer’s sin. This thought is carried throughout the rest of the New Testament as we see time and time again the warnings against false teachers, false prophets, and doctrines of demons. We can see this concept fully in the Garden of Eden.
Genesis 3:9-13 (ESV) 9 But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” 11 He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” 12 The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” 13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”
In the punishment that followed, none were spared. Woe to the tempter who causes the little ones to sin. Though all of Creation was fully mature, it was yet extremely young when Adam fell.
This past Monday, we looked at the problem of placing a stumbling block in front of our brethren. It didn’t fit in that topic, but I want to look at how Paul taught this concept in his letter to the Corinthians.
1 Corinthians 8 (ESV) | Food Offered to Idols
8 Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. 2 If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. 3 But if anyone loves God, he is known by God. 4 Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.” 5 For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”— 6 yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. 7 However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. 8 Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. 9 But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? 11 And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. 12 Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.
Wow. So while we who are in Christ, built up in the knowledge of the Scriptures and Maturing in the faith know that since there are no other gods but the One True God, are free to eat any food without it being a sin if we willfully exercise that “right” in such a manner that causes a less mature Christian to stumble then we have now sinned against our brother and against Christ. For Christ died for the weaker brother in the same way that He died for us. Anchoring this in the Luke text, even if our actions in-and-of themselves are not sinful, if they are done to tempt another to sin, then we have sinned. In today’s culture, we may struggle a bit with connecting to the matter of food, but what about drink? How about in clothing or entertainment? Take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.
Rebuke, Repent, & Forgive
Let’s take a look at the closing portion of our text in Luke.
Luke 17:3-4 (ESV) 3 Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, 4 and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”
Now, today the warning, “Pay attention to yourselves”, seems to fit more as an end to verse 2 rather than the start of verse 3. But it could fit just as well at the end of verse 4. Jesus says very plainly that if your brother sins, rebuke him. That’s a command, a prescription, if you will. Rebuke him, out of love. The world would have you believe that a rebuke is the opposite of love. That is patently false. The only way a failure to rebuke sin could be a loving act is if there is no sin, or if there is no consequence for the sin. But we know that sin is clearly defined (the Law) and we know that no sin goes unpunished.
Romans 6:22-23 (ESV) 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Therefore, since we know that the wages of sin is death, we rebuke our brother who sins out of love for him and obedience to Christ. But the rebuke does not mark the limit of our responsibility. Jesus goes right on to say that if he repents, forgive him. Forgive him when he repents. He then says that if your brother sins against you (makes it personal) seven times a day and repents seven times, you must forgive him. While the Luke account records the commandment of Jesus, the Matthew 18 account sheds some light on what Jesus was addressing.
Matthew 18:21-35 (ESV) | The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant
21 Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times. 23 “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. 24 When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. 25 And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. 26 So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29 So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. 31 When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. 32 Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. 35 So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
Once again, we see Jesus flipping things around on us. At the start, Peter thought he was being generous in his guess at a 7 times a day limit for forgiving a brother who sins against us. In the end, Jesus not only declares that there be no such limit, but also stipulates that to the one who will not forgive, his own sin will not be forgiven. We know this to be a common theme since Jesus also taught of the connection between our receiving forgiveness in how we grant forgiveness when Jesus taught His disciples to pray, “forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us”.
As we grow in God’s Word, we will undoubtedly be faced with many temptations. Temptations to sin, temptations to tempt others to sin, and temptations to despise rebuke for our sin. We will also be tempted to be unmerciful, unforgiving… essentially we will be tempted to walk according to the flesh. The truth of the parable of the unforgiving servant is that it is a daily thing for us. For our flesh isn’t just susceptible to sin, it craves it, for it is utterly depraved and fallen. Our flesh wages war against the Spirit. That is why it is so important that we remain in the Word and submit to the Spirit of God rather than our own flesh. We live in God’s Grace every day, and with that truth fully in mind, we must rely on the Holy Spirit to move us to forgive our brother from our hearts every time he repents, regardless of how often or how grievous we perceive his sin to be, for such a sin is minuscule when compared to the mercy and grace we have received from Jesus Christ on the cross. But we must also not allow our freedom in Christ to become an occasion (or a snare, trap, stumbling block, temptation) for the young/weak in the faith to sin. Knowledge puffs up, but Love builds up.
2 Peter 1:5-8 (ESV)5 For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, 6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, 7 and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. 8 For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Amen. May the Lord bless you and keep you firmly in His will,
In Christ Jesus,