Many people here have served in the military. According to the U.S. Army recruiting Web site, “Basic Training lasts only nine weeks, but you’ll remember those nine weeks for the rest of your life. You’ll spend your time learning what it means to be a soldier. And when it’s over, you’ll discover some amazing things about yourself. Your mind will be sharper, your body will be lean and hard, and you’ll be more confident than you’ve ever been before.”
A friend of mine who served in the army has some interesting stories about basic training. He once told me about a surprise inspection of their barracks. If they passed inspection, they would get a weekend pass, but if they didn’t, they would have to stay and clean all weekend. My friend and 37 others passed inspection–but two didn’t. Those who passed were ready to celebrate until they found out the two’s failures meant everyone failed and therefore everyone would be spending the weekend cleaning. You can imagine how everybody felt toward those two soldiers. Now, the drill sergeant did not do this to be cruel but rather to teach them that they were a unit and not just individuals.
The same is true in the Christian life. It is impossible to be a lone ranger Christian. We are responsible for one another. In Luke 17:1-10, Jesus shares what I call basic training for disciples. Please stand for the reading of God’s Word.
Jesus said to his disciples: “Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come. 2 It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble. 3 So watch yourselves.
“If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. 4 Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.”
5 The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”
6 He 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 has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? 8 Won’t he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? 9 Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? 10 So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”
If you are a follower of Jesus, these words are for you. In this passage, Jesus gives four important keys to becoming a stronger disciple.
1. A DISCIPLE NEVER PUTS A STUMBLING BLOCK IN OTHERS’ SPIRITUAL PATH
It’s bad enough when you personally commit a sin, but Jesus said if you cause someone else to sin, it’s even worse. And heaven forbid, don’t you dare lead a little child into sin–you’d be better off to take a short rope attached to a huge rock, tie the rope around your neck, and toss the rock into the deepest part of the ocean. Those are strong words by Jesus!
We live in an age when there is an increase in sexual abuse of children. Child pornography is growing at an alarming rate and the internet has become a means to spread this vile disease. What do you think is going to be God’s judgment upon people who are so wicked they enlist innocent children in such activities? Jesus said they’d be better off dead. They are wicked people. They lead others into drug use or prostitution. Unless they repent of their sin, surely the hottest place of hell will be reserved for them.
Child pornography and drug abuse are simply the most extreme examples of causing someone else to sin, but there are other ways to cause others to sin. Remember, the Bible teaches there are different kinds of sin: anger, pride, bitterness, gossip, unforgiveness, worry, prejudice–the list goes on. These are sins of the attitude we find so common among Christians.
Most children learn to sin from their parents. The Apostle Paul warns parents in Ephesians 6:4 to “not provoke your children to wrath, but to bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” Don’t “provoke to wrath” means we shouldn’t lead them into a sinful attitude of anger. Few parents would ever physically poison their kids, but many have poisoned their children’s minds and attitudes. If your behavior causes someone else to embrace sin, Jesus said you need a short rope to tie around your neck and a big rock to throw in the sea.
The word Jesus uses for “cause someone to sin” is the word skandalon, from which we get our word scandal. It means to entice. If you entice someone else to sin or put a stumbling block or barrier in someone’s life causing them to trip up, it’s a terrible scandal in God’s eyes.
Paul warns us in Romans 14:13 to “stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind to not put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way.”
People are always watching you, especially your children. How many of you parents have ever taken your kids to the beach and as you walked down the beach you turned around and there was your child walking in the footprints you’ve left in the sand? Or if you like to ski, you’ve seen your children stepping in the prints you left in the snow? We must be careful we never do anything to cause another to stumble or sin. The Bible says we should avoid even the appearance of sin.
In military basic training, could you imagine the chaos if soldiers kept tripping each other up while they were marching? But that’s what a lot of Christians are doing. There are many ways you can make someone stumble. If another believer sees you do something or hears you say something that doesn’t fit the Christian life, they may think it’s okay, so they step into sin from your example. Nothing we do or say is totally neutral. Jesus said we are either “gathering for Him or scattering people away from Him.” Every word, every action we produce either has a positive or a negative impact on others.
2. A DISCIPLE FORGIVES QUICKLY – AND OFTEN
It’s sad, but sometimes Christians can be extremely rude and cruel to other members of the Body of Christ. Someone once said Christianity is the only army that shoots its wounded. How do you react when another disciples sins against you?
The only way to maintain good relationships with other believers is to be willing to quickly forgive others when they hurt you. For some people that’s a hard thing to do. C. S. Lewis wrote, “We all agree that forgiveness is a beautiful idea until we have to practice it.”
Can you think of an example right now of when another Christian sinned against you by doing or saying something that deeply hurt you? If you can’t think of anyone that’s good because it proves you have probably done a good job forgiving them! But others of you are thinking of people and occasions when you’ve been wounded. What do you do?
Jesus gave a simple procedure to be followed. This procedure is for believers only; it won’t work if the person who sins against you is not a follower of Jesus. This is a procedure for two disciples to follow.
Step one in this procedure is the SIN itself. A Sunday school teacher was trying to teach her class about God’s forgiveness. She was talking to them about what it means to confess your sins so you can be forgiven. As she concluded, she asked them, “Now, boys and girls, what must you do before you can be forgiven?” One boy finally said, “Well, before you can be forgiven, first you’ve gotta sin!”
Before you initiate this procedure, make sure the other person has really sinned against you, not just said something or done something you didn’t like. There is a difference between being “sinned against” and just having your feelings hurt.
But if someone has disobeyed the Word of God in relation to you, then you’re ready for step number two: you should rebuke them. If that person is truly listening to the voice of God, you may be able to skip this step, because the Holy Spirit will convict them of their sin without you rebuking them, and they will come and ask for forgiveness without being rebuked.
We often think of the word “rebuke” as a loud, powerful statement as in “I rebuke you in the name of Jesus!” That may be appropriate when you are talking to demons, but when you are dealing with people you must be gentle in your rebuke. If someone sins against you, you should go to them privately and lovingly point out the error. When you do, it’s like you put the ball in their court and they need to respond.
The third step in the process is repentance. After you have lovingly confronted the offending person, they should be willing to repent. Repentance involves far more than simply saying, “I’m sorry.” It involves a change of mind that produces a change of behavior.
If you are the person who has sinned against another disciple, and they lovingly rebuke you, how would you respond? If you are carnal, you’ll say something like, “Who are you to tell me what I’ve done is wrong!!?” Or you’ll start looking for something in their life to point out as sin.
However, if you are walking in the Spirit, you’ll say something like, “I’m so sorry. Will you please forgive me for what I did? I assure you it won’t happen again.” Once you have sinned against someone, you can’t “unspill the milk,” but you can certainly offer to clean up the mess. An important part of repentance is making restitution. The best way you can tell if someone has truly repented is if they offer evidence by making restitution.
The final step in the procedure is forgiveness. You should be willing to offer them full and complete forgiveness–and not just once, but many times. Over the years, I’ve been disturbed to hear Christians say, “I’ll never forgive him/her for what he/she did to me.” That’s a dangerous thing to say because Jesus also said, “If you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive you” (Mt. 6:14-15). The only person who can afford the luxury of unforgiveness is the person who doesn’t need to be forgiven!
Forgiveness is not a feeling or an emotion–it is a choice. It is your decision to not want to punish that person for what they’ve done to you. To forgive means to “cancel the debt” or “set one forever free from the obligation.” Our forgiveness should be a reflection of the forgiveness God offers us. He places our sins behind our back and remembers them no longer.
I’ve heard people say, “Well, I’ll forgive them, but I won’t forget it.” If you actively choose to continue to remember what that person has done to you, you haven’t truly forgiven them.
When another believer has wronged you and has repented, you must forgive them. In other words, you must “choose to not think about it anymore.” You may object, “But I can’t forget it.” Forgetting is passive, but choosing to not remember is an active task.
If someone hurts you, and repents and asks you to forgive them, you should choose to not think about it any longer. If you keep bringing up what they have done over and over again, it’s a sign your forgiveness is not complete. I will admit I have struggled with this in the past.
But what if the person does not repent? Go ahead and forgive them anyway; at least you have done your part in the procedure, and you are only accountable to God for your role.
When God forgives us, He doesn’t keep bringing up our sin–but the devil keeps trying to make us aware of our own sin and the sins others have committed against us. That’s why the Bible calls him the “accuser of the brethren.”
There is a story about little Johnny who was trying out his new slingshot at his grandparents’ farm one day. He aimed at one of their ducks and to his surprise and horror, the stone flew straight at the duck and it fell over…it was dead. He was mortified. He panicked and hid the dead duck in the woodpile. That’s when he noticed his older sister, Ann, witnessed the whole thing.
After lunch, Grandmother asked Ann to help with the dishes and she said, “Oh, I think Johnny wants to help with the dishes instead.” Then she whispered to Johnny, “Remember the duck?” The next day, Grandpa offered to take Johnny into town and Ann said, “I think Johnny wants to stay here and do my chores and let me go into town, don’t you?” And her look said it all, “Remember the duck.”
After several days, Johnny couldn’t stand it any longer. He went to his grandmother and confessed to the whole dirty deed. His grandmother hugged him and said, “I know Johnny, I saw the whole thing from my kitchen window, and because I love you, I forgave you then.” He said, “But why didn’t you tell me?” She said, “I was just waiting to see how long you’d let your sister make a fool of you!”
That’s what God must surely say to us when we continue to worry about our forgiven sin. He says, “Because I love you, I have forgiven you, so don’t let the devil make a fool out of you!”
3. A DISCIPLE EXCERCISES FAITH
Faith always operates within the realm of the impossible. Faith is the secret weapon of the Christian life.
I want to share with you three verses in the New Testament that are what I call the ABC’s of faith. “A”, what is faith? The answer is in Hebrews 11:1, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” If you ever say, “I’ll believe it when I see it,” that’s not faith. Faith always says, “When I believe it, then I will see it.”
“B”, how do you get faith? The answer is found in Romans 10:17, “Faith comes by hearing the message and the message is heard through the Word of Christ.” The only way to get faith and strengthen faith is from hearing, and reading the Word of God.
“C”, how do you know when you really have faith? James 2:17 says, “Faith by itself if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” If you just say you have faith, but you don’t ACT on your faith, your faith is dead.
You cannot be a disciple of Jesus without exercising faith. Without faith, it is impossible to please God.
4. A DISCIPLE DEMONSTRATES FAITHFULNESS
When a good soldier does the job he has been trained to do and ordered to do, he doesn’t expect to get a medal. He does his job simply because that is what he is supposed to do. His response is, “I’m just doing my job, sir.”
Jesus said a servant of the Lord shouldn’t expect to receive accolades or special recognition. We obey because it is our job. If you are serving the Lord for the reward or recognition you may receive, you have the wrong motive.
A true servant serves because it is his duty; he even claims to be an unworthy servant. God’s reward for good service is more service. We are to serve the Lord with gladness simply because we have been saved and we love the Master. Here is the discipleship principle: The master has every right to demand complete obedience from his slave, but the slave has no right to demand anything from his master.
As a disciple of Jesus, you must not only have faith, you must demonstrate faithfulness. Do you know the difference? Faith can be exercised in moments of need, but faithfulness is a continual process of being an obedient servant of the Lord. You cannot call yourself a disciple if you are not faithfully serving the Master in some spiritual capacity.
As unworthy servants, we shouldn’t expect any accolades in this life. But if we are obedient servants, one day, we will hear Jesus say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
Alexander the Great was a brave and brilliant general. One of his officers appeared before him to stand for charges of insubordination and cowardly behavior. Alexander the Great asked the officer, “What is your name?” The officer replied, “Sir, my name is the same as yours, sir! My name is Alexander, sir!” The general stared at the officer and shouted, “Alexander? Then either change your name, or change your behavior!”
As Christians, we cannot be called disciples of Jesus unless we are willing to follow His orders. We must change our name or change our behavior.