In the late 1800’s the famous poet Sir Edwin Arnold was invited to speak at Harvard. During that seminar there was one memorable sentence that seized upon every hearer. He gave a succinct description of the wars of our past, and of the greatest contest yet to come.
Some have said that it is this very notion that approaches the heart of our present problems in America.
As we’ve been studying the gospel of Luke we have seen again and again that the Lord calls us to engage in this war. Over and over Jesus has laid out for us what it means to be one of his disciples. And we have seen that we have been called to wage war against the devil, and the world. But perhaps the one conflict that Jesus has most focused upon is the war we must wage against our own flesh.
And as we look at our passage today, we understand that Jesus calls us to this battle front once again. You see it clearly in verse three when he says, “Pay attention to yourselves!” He is reminding us that we must be vigilant to fight against sin.
Indeed, that is a great battle because sin is something that we typically like to ignore or let slide. Our natural tendency is to be very lackadaisical in regards to it. Not only do we fail to refrain from it, but afterward we have fallen into it we usually ignore it. We want to brush it under the rug and act like everything is just fine.
But in Christ’s kingdom, that is not acceptable. Christ tells us that as his disciples sin must be dealt with properly. And in this passage he shows us precisely how we deal with it. In sum, he tells us that sin must be acknowledged, admonished, and absolved. There needs to be confession, correction, and compassion.
In verses 1-2 Jesus shows us how important it is for us to acknowledge sin.
I. Sin must be acknowledged [1-2]
Ultimately, it needs to be acknowledged because sin is harmful to others and to us. He says “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom [that temptation] comes! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the see than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin.”
You see how sin can be harmful to yourself. If you do not confess your sins and acknowledge them before God, then you see what is going to happen to you. God is going to punish you. And he is going to punish you in a way that makes being drown in the sea desireable. That’s how bad it will be if you don’t confess your sins.
But you also see how harmful your sin can be to others. He says, “Woe to the one through whom that temptation comes.” The emphasis of this verse is on the other people who are affected by your sin. That’s what makes the punishment so terrible. You are punished because you’ve led others astray.
Essentially, Jesus says that you can become an instrument of the devil. By your lifestyle you can influence others, and you can lead others into sin.
Remember that we talked about this last time. We talked about the Rich man who lived a life of luxury and ease. But when he was in hell, he found himself in agony, wanting to turn his brothers in the right direction. He had led them astray by the way he lived.
You have to understand that there are little eyes watching you all the time. And the way you live may influence those around you.
You moms and dads really need to be aware of this. Your kids will likely follow your footsteps. Why is it that Scripture says that the “sins of the fathers are visited upon the children to the 3-4th generation? It’s because the children typically follow in the footsteps of their parents. They usually adopt the same patterns of sin.
The way you love your wife, the way you talk to your husband, the way you sigh or clench your fist—all of this is in full view of your children. All those acts are in full view of your kids. And you need to be aware that you could be tempting them. They may very well emulate the same kind of disrespect to their spouse when they group up.
How do you stop that though? Is there a way to keep that from happening? Of course there is. It is by openly acknowledging your sin. You are not likely going to be able to stop sinning. But you can confess it. If you have sinned against your wife and it was in full view of your family, then you should not only apologize to your wife, you should pull the kids aside and confess it to them. You should say, “Kids, daddy shouldn’t have said that. I shouldn’t have spoken to mommy in that way.”
Jesus says that we have to go that extra mile. Sin is a serious thing, and if we are going to be followers of Christ, then this is the way we need to handle it. It needs to be acknowledged for the grievous thing that it is and openly confessed.
But not only must there be confession, we also need correction (or confrontation). We need to understand that it is not enough to acknowledge sin. We also have a responsibility to admonish one another.
II. Sin must be admonished.
In verse 3 Jesus says, “Pay attention to yourselves. If you brother sins, rebuke him.”
Now think about this. When someone offends us, what is our normal reaction? For a lot of people, our natural inclination is to storm off or clam up. We naturally shrink away from them. That’s not appropriate, though. Jesus says, if you see a brother in sin, then you need to come to rebuke that person. You need to confront them and address the sin that they have committed.
Now, there are others of you who hear a verse like this and you start licking your lips. You start salivating because you are a little more confrontational by nature. You think you now have a license to jump on anyone’s case.
Some people are just delighted to address someone’s sin. When they get offended they jump all over it. They will say, “I can’t believe you just did that! That is a horrible thing to do! Why I ought to…”
If you are in either of these two categories, then I want you to take note of this word “rebuke.” The word rebuke can be translated “raise the price” and “honor.” You know the passage that says, “Let the elders who rule well be worthy of double honor.” That’ the same root word. (No, it does not mean the elders are worthy of double rebuke. It can mean though that the elders are worthy of double raising of the price. J)
But think about that. When you are rebuking someone, we tend to think of it as a bad thing. It seems so negative. But when we rebuke them, what we are doing is actually a good thing. We are actually honoring them. We are seeking to raise their price. What we are trying to do is increase the value of their character.
When my wife and I moved to Ashland, we had to sell our home in Indiana. As we talked with the realtor, she tried to give us tips on how we could get the most money out of it. She said that if we did a few renovations, then we could increase the value of the home. But of course, you know what renovations entail. It means hammering, peeling off layers of wall paper, applying fresh coats of paint, and it involves a great amount of labor that you’d probably rather not do. But the lady said, if we took the time to give our house that kind of honor, we could raise the price.
That’s essentially what happens when you rebuke someone.
And for those of you who like to shy away from confrontation, this is important to understand. It might not be easy for you to come up to your brother. It might be laborious and extremely difficult. But if you think about it in this fashion (that you are seeking to bring them honor and raise the value of their character) then it puts that correction in a whole different light. You might be more willing to admonish them if you think of it in terms of honor.
And those of you who are more confrontational by nature. Thinking about rebukes as the equivalent of honor will help you know how to address the situation. It might be that it shapes when you address them. Maybe in the heat of the moment—when you are about ready to fly off the handle—may be that isn’t the best time to address the situation. Maybe you need to take some time to allow the situation to cool, and you can come back when you both are in a bit better frame of mind.
Or maybe it is just the tone you use. Or maybe it says simply reminds you that nagging is not appropriate form of correction. Nagging is a form of dishonor.
Confrontation isn’t easy. No matter how you look at it, it is hard. But if you think about it in these terms, then we can be more inclined to do it. We can deal with sin in a Christ honoring way.
But we can’t stop there. We need confession and we need confrontation. True enough. But we must not forget that we also need compassion.
III. Sin must be absolved.
In the rest of verse 3 Jesus talks about forgiving the person who wronged you. You’ll notice how this is taken to the next level here. It is one thing to rebuke someone. It is another thing to actually forgive them.
Sometimes it isn’t hard to rebuke people. If we are offended, we can easily say to someone. “Hey, you idiot! That wasn’t nice!” But we have no intention of actually forgiving them. We just want them to know they are wrong. They hurt us, and letting them know that they are wrong in doing that (and piling up a little guilt on them) is simply our way of getting vengeance.
But Christ wants us to realize that is not what we are to do. Vengeance is not a Christian virtue. But forgiveness is. And as you look at what he says here, you can understand the kind of the forgiveness we are to offer.
Real quickly, I’d like to point out three things about forgiveness.
The first thing you should understand is that our forgiveness needs to be immediate. It says, “If he repents, forgive him.” It is like one follows immediately after the other. As soon as the repentance happens, the forgiveness needs to follow right on the heels.
That’s probably hard for some of you. That’s because you don’t “feel” like forgiving them. You want them to hurt. You want them to suffer a little. After all, they made you suffer.
But remember that forgiveness is not to be based on whether or not you feel like forgiving someone. Forgiveness is a choice. And you can forgive someone even when you don’t feel like it. You want those feelings to come, of course. You want to be reconciled in every possible way so that there is no enmity between you whatsoever. But the feelings can follow the act. Christ said, “forgive,” and you can forgive and repent of your resentful feelings later.
But not only should your forgiveness be immediate, it should be perpetual.
Jesus goes on to say that if he sins 7 times and comes to you and repents 7 times, then you need to forgive him.
Now, of course, if the guy isn’t really repentant, that’s another story. We don’t want you to be gullible. If the guy is a rat and is taking advantage of you, then you tell him to get out of your face. But if it is genuine repentance—If the guy really is sorry for what he has done, then you have to forgive him every time.
Keep in mind that the Rabbi’s said that you only had to forgive someone 3 times. You were supposed to be considered really spiritual if you went that far. But Jesus takes that number, doubles it and adds one!
It’s no wonder that the disciples cry out, “Lord increase our faith!”
That leads to the last thing you have to understand about this forgiveness. It’s not just immediate, it’s not just perpetual, but it is gospel rooted.
Jesus says, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this tree be uprooted and planted in the sea.”
I’ll tell you, there once was a time when I didn’t really understand the point of this verse. When I was young I took this literally and I wanted to put this to the test. I was probably in Jr High or so. Somehow I had come across these words, and I thought I would see just how much faith I had. So I tried excommunicating a tree.
It was a summer day and I was out riding my bike in front of my house. I stopped and looked at the tree that was there in front of my house. It was a lot like those western movies where you have the two guys in a show down. I stared at that tree (and he stared back!). And I told that tree, “Be uprooted and planted in the sea!”
Well, it didn’t move. But that wasn’t going to stop me from believing. I told myself, “God’s timing isn’t my timing. I’m just going to believe that God’s going to do it.” That tree still didn’t budge. However, years later when I came home from college one weekend I noticed it was gone. I thought, “I did it!” and I’m pretty sure it is at the bottom of Lake Erie!
I have since learned that this passage isn’t about whether or not you can condemn maple trees. What its really about is the gospel. If you have faith in Christ, then you can do what is next to impossible. If you really believe that Christ has forgiven you—if you believe that Christ was thrown into the abyss of God’s wrath to atone for the multitude of your sins, then you can do what you could not otherwise do.
Forgiving someone who has hurt you deeply can very hard. Forgiving someone who has hurt you multiple times can be next to impossible. It can be as difficult as a tree pulling itself up out of the dirt and flinging itself into the ocean.
But the gospel changes all that. If you have faith in Christ, and if you understand the extent to which he forgives you, even in the smallest sense, then what seems impossible can in fact be done.
Forgiveness has to be rooted in the gospel. Otherwise you will never deal with sin the way God wants you to.
In hospitals you will always find a container with a funny symbol on it for items that are considered biohazards. These containers are to be used so that the items that are hazardous to people’s lives might not be put in danger. The contents in these containers are always sealed tightly. Special procedures are put in place to make sure that there are no leaks.
You might say that what Jesus says here is his formulary for dealing with the biohazard of sin. Sin is a biohazard. It puts lives in danger. And Jesus gives us these guidelines so that sin has no possibility of seeping out. So therefore, when it comes to sin, let us be mindful to acknowledge it, admonish it, and forgive it.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.