Luke 17:1-19: The Importance of Faith, and Some of Its Various Marks

1Jesus said to his disciples: "Things that cause people to sin are bound to come, but woe to that person through whom they come. 2It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin. 3So watch yourselves.

"If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. 4If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, 'I repent,' forgive him."

5The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith!"

6He replied, "If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it will obey you.

7"Suppose one of you had a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Would he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, 'Come along now and sit down to eat'? 8Would he not rather say, 'Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink'? 9Would he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? 10So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, 'We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.' "

11Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 12As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy[a]met him. They stood at
a distance 13and called out in a loud voice, "Jesus, Master, have pity on us!" 14When he saw them, he said, "Go, show yourselves to the priests." And as they went, they were
cleansed. 15One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16He threw himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.

17Jesus asked, "Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?" 19Then he said to him, "Rise
and go; your faith has made you well."

Main Points

A. Those who entice God's people to commit acts of sin will be condemned.

"woe" - a pronouncement of judgment (Lk 6:24-26)
"millstone" - heavy upper stone of a grinding mill. Having one of these around one's neck, and then being thrown into the sea, would ensure one's demise, since drowning is quite a certainty! Yet, Jesus states that this situation is "better", presumably because it does not have eternal consequences.
"little ones" - true believers, i.e. those who have genuinely humbled themselves like little children

These individuals may lead Christians astray either by teaching false doctrine (Rom 16:17; Gal 1:8-9; 2 Co 11:4-5, 13) or leading them into evil attitudes or behaviour (Jude 4, 17-19;
Rev 2:20-21). They may have no association with Christianity. Yet, they may not only have this association, but may even profess to know God personally, and even be leaders (Mt
; Ac 20:29-30).

"So watch yourselves" - even genuine believers, particulary those who become leaders (as Christ's apostles would), are warned by Jesus against becoming evil in this way.

Self-reflection question: What attitudes or behaviours do I encourage in my fellow believers, or in those under my care? Are these attitudes godly or ungodly?

B. Disciples of Christ must always forgive those who are repentant, no matter how much the latter has sinned against the former.

"If your brother sins" - referring to an individual act of sin. We can't see what's in each other's hearts.
"rebuke him" - sin can't be overlooked; God calls His people to be holy as He is holy (1 Pe 1:15-16). Of course, rebuke could be subtle or stern, depending on the situation.
"if he repents, forgive him . . . seven times." "In Judaism it was considered honorable to forgive three times; the disciples, as part of the new covenant community, were to exceed that standard." (ESV Study Bible, p. 1992). Forgiveness towards the repentant is to be unlimited (Col 3:12-14).
"A man's wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense." (Prov 19:11)

Self-reflection question: Have I held a fellow believer's sin against him or her in any way? Even if I may have "formally" forgiven him/her, do I still find that my heart is bitter towards
him/her through the looks I give, the actions I do and/or the words I say?

C. God can do great things through even the smallest amount of faith.

"you could say to this black mulberry tree..." - simply an idiom used to communicate that God can accomplish amazing things through the faith of His people. It is not grounds for a
believer to think of him/herself (or of God, for that matter) as a performer of magic, or fantastical activity.

It should be kept in mind just what the disciples were crying out for: the faith to constantly forgive others. "Apparently the apostles thought great faith would be needed to be so
forgiving. Jesus points to what even small faith can bring about. More important than the quantity of faith is the object of faith - a great and powerful God." (New Geneva Study
, p. 1637, emphasis added).

Self-reflection questions:
-Do I know God's promises from Scripture?
-Do I believe them to be true?
-Do I demonstrate my faith through prayer? And do I wait on God to answer my prayers, even if everything around me seems to suggest that He won't ("hoping against hope")?

D. A Christian's obedience should never be motivated by a belief that God is indebted to him or her (for He isn't), but rather simply by the fact that he/she belongs to God, and is therefore simply doing what God has commanded.

At this point, some may be troubled by an apparent contradiction that they find between Jesus' words in verses 7 to 10, and what He says in Lk 12:37: "It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. I tell you the truth, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them."

What's going on here?

We must recall that when certain subjects come up from the mouth of Jesus, He (and other individual Bible authors, for that matter) does not necessarily treat them in an exhaustive manner. Recall, when we were looking at Luke 16 last week, that verse 18 in this chapter did not give the whole teaching on the topic of divorce and remarriage.

And so, in Chapter 17, verses 7 to 10 are not all that God's word says about servanthood. "This text...should not be left by itself when it comes to the theme of service, for God does honor faithful service (cf. Lk 12:37). The balance is important, because the servant needs to appreciate what his duty is, while God is clear that service well done is honored. God rewards those who serve without thought of reward." (Bock, NIV Application Commentary: Luke, p. 441).

Nevertheless, we shouldn't lose sight of the main thing Christ is driving at in verses 7 to 10, which is simply that God is never our debtor. He owes us nothing, but we owe him
everything. "What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?" (1 Co 4:7)

Self-reflection questions:
-What goes through your mind when God has given you the grace to please Him in some way?
-Do you thank Him, or do you think, "Woww...I did pretty well here...the LORD's got
to take note of this"?How do you feel when you don't immediately see a positive result from something important you've done for the LORD?

E. True disciples of Christ can be found among individuals who are often cast out by God's people.

In this instance, of course, it's important to realize that by casting out those with leprosy, Jews were only fulfilling God's command as given in Lev 13:46. However, it's easy to
imagine that such an action would be accompanied by great contempt, especially - in light of what we've already seen - on the part of the Pharisees and law-teachers (see also Lk

People such as lepers - and, indeed, any who are considered outcasts - might indeed be in a pitiful state, but what we tend not to realize (and what the Gospel of Luke continually
makes us aware of) is that these people are aware of their pitiful state, and cry out to God in mercy as a result.

Self-reflection questions:
-Is my prayer life marked by a "crying out" of helplessness and self-impoverishment that was found in these lepers?
-Have I ever considered carrying out some sort of ministry to the kinds of people that I tend not to associate with?

F. True disciples of Christ are marked by taking God at His word, and by praising and thanking Him too.

True faith takes God at His word, and acts accordingly. Note how Jesus does not heal the lepers right then and there - but commands them to show themselves to the priests, as if to say, "this is a test for you, to believe whether I will heal you or not." Recall that the centurion invites Jesus to give him such a test back in Lk 7: 1-10, and Jesus responds by saying, ""I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel."

True faith marvels in the goodness and glory of God. Jesus told the one person who returned to give thanks and praise to Him that his faith has "made him well" (i.e., saved him).

The fact that this person was a Samaritan must have given pause to any of Luke's readers who believed that God showed favour to the Jews to the exclusion of others.

Self-reflection questions:
-Are my praise and thanksgiving sincere?
-Are they limited to the Sunday morning service?
-Or are they to be found in many moments during each day of the week?
-Are you thankful for the gift of God's Son only at Christmas time? Or during every month of the year?