14 Do all things without complaining and disputing, 15 that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, 16 holding fast the word of life… (Philippians 2:14–16, NKJV)
Murmuring and grumbling is the “complaining” we are commanded not to do in this passage. It speaks especially of a secret displeasure that is not openly declared. Yet, as is the nature of whispering, such mutterings rarely remain private. They have the potential of erupting into open disputes that tarnish the “blameless and harmless” character we are to possess and present to the world. As “lights in the world” we cannot be complainers and hope to influence the lost. We ought to learn from Israel’s example and refuse to “complain, as some of them complained, and were destroyed by the destroyer” (1 Cor. 10:10). Israel’s history in the wilderness was marked by repeated complaints that angered the Lord and that destroyed many, many lives (Num. 11:1; 14:1-38; 16:1-5). Instead of being a complainer, be a fixer. Instead of murmuring behind the scenes about a problem, become part of the solution. Rather than generating disputes that undermine effectiveness in a church, in the home, or at work, illuminate the path of peace and spiritual progress by “holding fast the word of life.” When we do that, we will not be complainers, we will be lights in the world.
22 Listen to your father who begot you, and do not despise your mother when she is old. 23 Buy the truth, and do not sell it, also wisdom and instruction and understanding. 24 The father of the righteous will greatly rejoice, and he who begets a wise child will delight in him. 25 Let your father and your mother be glad, and let her who bore you rejoice. (Proverbs 23:22–25, NKJV)
As we honor our mothers this Mother’s Day for their loving devotion and tender care, it saddens us to know of mothers who do not love their children, and of children who disrespect (despise) their mothers. When we were young our mothers taught us good words of truth, wisdom, instruction and understanding. A mother’s wise words of truth do not dry up as she grows older. A godly mother is a vessel from whom blessings flow into the lives of her children (2 Tim. 1:5). Far from discounting, disregarding and despising your mother, show her respect and loving regard by listening to her and by seeking her advice. Yes, you are an adult who will make your own decisions, and you should always hold to God’s truth. That is as it should be. But, shouldn’t your bond with her get stronger with age? So, honor your mother today with cards, calls and gifts – she will love that. And, honor her every day with kind words and gratitude for her undying love for you. This will lift her heart and gladden her spirit more than you know. By doing so you will be a wise child who pleases the Lord.
9 Does he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I think not. So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.’ (Luke 17:9–10, NKJV)
Followers of Jesus want to grow in their faith to reach spiritual maturity. This growth of faith comes as we feed on the word of God and live by its truth (Heb. 5:12-14). By using the word of God we grow and are strong in Christ. Even so, in today’s passage, the Lord explains our faith will increase when we obey the duty of faith. Just as a servant obeys his master out of duty and without merit, our obedience to Christ expresses full submission to Him. We merit nothing by our obedience (we cannot earn our way to heaven) – we are “unprofitable servants” doing our duty (v. 10). Our faith in Christ compels our obedience to Him. It is our duty to obey His word, and we freely and willingly do so. Such submissive obedience shows we trust the Lord instead of ourselves. We do His will in His way precisely because we trust His way is right and good. That kind of faith grows as we fulfill our duty before the Lord. You see, saying and not doing is not faith (Lk. 6:46; Jas. 2:17). Doing our duty as servants increases our faith in the Lord.
7 And which of you, having a servant plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and sit down to eat’? 8 But will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare something for my supper, and gird yourself and serve me till I have eaten and drunk, and afterward you will eat and drink’? (Luke 17:7–8, NKJV)
Jesus continues to explain how to increase our faith as He answers the apostles’ request to “increase our faith” (Lk. 17:5). We cannot fail but see that Jesus explains there are things we must do for our faith to grow. Faith is powerful when it is active (Lk. 17:6-7). Furthermore, faith grows when faith serves. We are servants of God and of one another, not masters. Our duty is to serve the will of God, not ourselves. Faith does not elevate us to a place where we demand the Lord serve us. He is the Teacher and Lord, who willing served the Father’s will for our salvation. Now, our faith compels us to be servants (Jno. 13:13-17). That includes the service of forgiving others and being careful not to become offenses (snares) to them (Lk. 17:1-4). Servants of Christ live by faith, doing His will from the heart. The servant heart is fertile ground that bears the fruit of the Spirit by holding fast to God’s word and living as a servant (Lk. 8:15; Gal. 5:22-26). Thus far, Christ has said our faith will increase when we 1) Trust the power of faith (Lk. 17:6), and when we 2) Offer the service of faith (Lk. 17:7-8). What He will say next adds a third item to this list of how to increase our faith.
5 And the apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.” 6 So the Lord said, “If you have faith as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” (Luke 17:5–6, NKJV)
The apostles understood they would need faith to forgive others and avoid being offenses (Lk. 17:1-4). Their request for Jesus to increase their faith did not go unanswered. The Lord explained to them how to increase in faith (Lk. 17:6-10). Please note, the Lord did not promise to send them an “enabling grace” to empower them with the ability to believe. Since faith comes by hearing, and hearing God comes from His word, we can expect our faith to increase as we rely on His word to lead us (Rom. 10:17). We must trust the power of faith for our faith to increase (v. 6). We must practice our faith, trusting God’s will is fulfilled in us as we put our faith into action (Phil. 2:12-13). Little faith can accomplish great things because Christ dwells in our hearts through faith (Eph. 3:17-20). We devote ourselves to the power of faith when we obey His word. Jesus said, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him” (John 14:23). To increase in faith, use your present faith to do what Christ commands. In the context of this passage, that means start forgiving the way Jesus said to forgive (Lk. 17:3-4). Faith activates our obedience, showing we trust the power of faith.
3 “Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. 4 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.” 5 And the apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.” (Luke 17:3–5, NKJV)
Having just warned His disciples about being an offense that undermines another’s faith, Jesus immediately applies His warning to how we treat a brother who sins against us. It takes faith to apply what Jesus taught, and His apostles supplicate Him to increase their faith. When sinned against, we must go directly to the person and warn them their sin, and call them to repent. If they will, it is our obligation to forgive and renew the relation strained by the sin. More than that, we must have faith to repeatedly forgive, fully and freely, when the one who sins against us comes to us with repentance on his lips and in his heart. Faith to do so is increased by remembering this is exactly how God in Christ forgives us. “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph. 4:32). God forgives us repeatedly and completely when we repent, confessing our sins to Him (1 Jno. 1:9). He does so without hesitation, without reprisal, without animosity. If we will not do the same, we become the very offense (snare) to that person’s faith which Jesus warned against here (Lk. 17:1-3). Truly, great faith is needed to forgive others as God forgives us. Be like God. Forgive others, because He has forgiven you.
1 Then He said to the disciples, “It is impossible that no offenses should come, but woe to him through whom they do come! 2 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.” (Luke 17:1–3a, NKJV)
There is a clear connection between the last two chapters (Luke 15-16) and the warning Christ now gives against spiritual offenses. Jesus had exposed the duplicity of the Pharisees and scribes who complained against His compassion toward sinners (Lk. 15), and then scoffed at His call to serve God instead of riches (Lk. 16). These lovers of money were in positions of religious power, but their teachings and practices were offenses to others. The word “offenses” (v. 1) is the Greek word skandolon, and means “the stick in the trap that springs and closes the trap when the animal touches it” (A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures on Matt. 5:29). We set traps for animals, but these people set spiritual traps that capture souls. Such offenses can take the form of religious leaders (like the Pharisees) whose doctrines and practices are false, yet who hide their hypocrisy at the expense of others. They are sheep in wolves’ clothing. (Jesus previously warned of their leaven in Luke 12:1.) Leading others into sin is itself a sin that does not go unseen and unpunished by God (Lk. 17:2). Disciples must heed Christ’s warning and not set snares by which others sin (v. 3).
30 And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.’ (Luke 16:30–31, NKJV)
It is the devil’s deception that suggests only an extraordinary experience can persuade a sinner to repent. The rich man thought it would take a miraculous visitation from the dead of Lazarus to convince his brothers to repent and thus avoid the torment in which he was engulfed. But, Abraham reminded him they had Moses and the prophets to persuade them. The person who will not believe God’s message in the inspired Scriptures will not be persuaded to repent even if one arises from the dead. After all, that is exactly what Jesus would later do. Yet still, in spite of His empty tomb, most people refuse to believe in Him. Why? Because they do not love the truth, and prefer the pleasures of sin (2 Thess. 2:10-12). The word of God amply persuades the person with a good and honest heart to repent (Lk. 8:15; Acts 17:11-12). The hindrance to repentance and salvation is not for lack of a miraculous visitation. The problem is a hardened, closed heart that refuses to receive God’s truth (read Acts 28:23-28). And so, the question comes to each of us. Will we be persuaded by the gospel of Christ to repent, so we can join Lazarus after death? Or, will we refuse to be persuaded, keep living in sin, and find ourselves in torment with the rich man? We answer that question every day.
27 Then he said, ‘I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house, 28 for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’ 29 Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ (Luke 16:27–29, NKJV)
Previously, the rich man had called out to Abraham to send Lazarus to him with a drop of water to relieve his torment (Lk. 16:24). Now, he begs Abraham to send Lazarus to his brothers to bear witness of the torment awaiting them unless they repent (Lk. 16:28, 30). It is important for us to hear Abraham’s answer. The answer was “no,” he would not send Lazarus to them. The man’s brothers had God’s Scriptures to persuade them to live according to God’s will. The same principle is true today. The present truth – the gospel of Christ – is how God persuades sinners to repent and be saved. God does not send messages from the dead to the living. The living word of God, the inspired Scriptures, testify of the “place of torment” and of the place of comfort that awaits beyond the grave. We must hear and follow the word of God that was spoken and written by the apostles and prophets of Christ. This is how God speaks to us today (Heb. 1:1-2). This is how God persuades us to live so as to reap rest, not torment, when we die.
And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us. (Luke 16:26, NKJV)
Abraham continued his explanation to the rich man why it would be impossible for Lazarus to relieve him of the tormenting flame in which he found himself. Not only was the man’s torment the just outcome of his greedy life, but also there could be no passing back and forth between the flame and the place of comfort. A great gulf is fixed (set fast) in Hades between Abraham’s bosom and the flame of torments that prevents any such passage. The truth is unmistakable – there are no second chances after death. Whether it is 1) The Catholic concept of purgatory (cleansing to allow for passage into the presence of God), or 2) The Hindu and Buddhist concept of reincarnation and the transmigration of souls, or 3) The Latter-day Saints’ belief that the gospel will be preached and received in the next life – all these doctrines are refuted by what Jesus said in Luke 16:26. Death comes once, then judgment (Heb. 9:27). God will judge what we did in the body in this life on Judgment Day (2 Cor. 5:10). We must not live as if we will have another chance to do God’s will after we die – we will not. Now is the day of salvation (2 Cor. 6:2). Yesterday is gone and tomorrow may never be. Therefore, today is the day God gives you the opportunity to trust and follow Him (Matt. 6:33-34; Jas. 4:13-17).