Few pictures in Scripture are more graphic than Jesus’ warning to his disciples in Luke 17:1,2. “It is impossible that no offenses should come, but woe to him through whom they do come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea, than he should offend one of these little ones.”
Jesus also shows us how to treat those whose sin is dangerous: “If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him (Luke 17:3).” That’s the Gospel, the Good News, because Jesus died for our sins, we can be forgiven and have eternal life. When we forgive even those who have sinned or have tempted others to sin, we are acting like Jesus.
Jesus’ suggests that we should be more afraid of causing someone else to sin, than we are of committing a sin ourselves. The difference in the two outlooks may be subtle, but it is substantial. Is it possible that even our efforts to stop sinning can be selfish when we focus on ourselves?
Jesus continues by saying that even if someone sins against us seven times in one day and repents seven times, we must still forgive them (Luke 17:4). To forgive someone seven times in one day for the same sin is not easy, but it depends on our nature, our attitude towards others. To put any limits on forgiveness could be a position we take for some personal advantage. If we judge rather than forgive, we are not acting like Jesus. Satan is the “accuser of the brethren (see Zechariah 3:1, Revelation 12:10). Only forgiveness provides a way to heal and restore someone.
What about Jesus’ command to rebuke a sinner before we forgive him? How can we rebuke without provoking that person to anger? First, we should remember that the purpose of a rebuke is to produce repentance; the purpose is not to pronounce judgment. Also, our rebuke should be motivated by our desire to forgive and restore a relationship.
As you read Luke 17, ask yourself how a rebuke motivated by a spirit of forgiveness will differ from a rebuke offered in a spirit of judgment. How can you become an ambassador of forgiveness to even the most offensive sinners and restore them?
Douglas Jacobs, D.Min.
Professor of Church Ministry and Homiletics
School of Religion, Southern Adventist University