Let’s start with a little quiz. What is the difference between a person who enjoys life and a person who doesn’t? What is the difference between a person who is a good worker and one who is a real chore to be around? What is the difference between the person who grows from tough times and those who are crushed by them? The answer is the same in every situation . . . it is attitude.
I’m sure you have heard the wise statement: It is not the circumstances of life that dictate happiness . . . it is how you respond to or interpret those circumstances. Attitude is important to our enjoyment of life.
This morning we are going to talk about the right attitude for a Christian. Our focus is going to be a short parable in Luke chapter 17:7-9. One of the difficulties of the parable is trying to discern how verses 7-9 fit with verse 1-6, if they do. Commentators and teachers disagree. I think the verses are related. I want to take some time at the beginning of the message to show you how the parable fits in its context.
A Warning. Jesus begins his discussion with a word of warning.
Jesus said to his disciples: “Things that cause people to sin are bound to come, but woe to that person through whom they come. 2 It 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. 3 So watch yourselves.
The warning seems to come in two forms. First he warns us that things that cause us to sin will come our way. We will encounter people and situations that will become stumbling blocks to us. It is reality and we should come to grips with this reality.
The second warning is, “Don’t be one of those people who cause others to stumble!” It is bad enough to sin. But if we lead others to stumble and sin we will be held accountable. Please let this sink in. We have a responsibility to consider how our actions are going to impact someone else. This raises some very good questions,
How often do we encourage gossip by sharing a juicy tidbit or prying for more information?
How often do feed another’s anger?
How often do we knowingly push someone toward temptation or to abandon their values? (“It won’t hurt you”; “Just try it one time”; “No one will ever find out.” “What’s wrong, are you chicken?”)
How often do we imply that “little sins” (lying, cheating etc.) are no big deal if it involves sports, business, and relationships?
We have an obligation to consider the impact of our actions. When we cause another to sin we bring judgment on ourselves.
A Command. Notice the threefold command that comes next.
“If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. 4 If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”
If someone sins (perhaps in causing us to stumble) we are to rebuke the person. In other words we are to point out the sin (with gentleness and a desire for reconciliation) that another committed against us. Think about how hard this is. If you are like me, I would rather grumble, complain, and feel resentment than actually go to the person and explain the offense!
The second step in the process is for the person who has been confronted to repent. To repent means to have a genuine sorrow that is based in a true awareness of the pain of their actions. This is more than glibly saying, “I’m sorry”. It means to understand and feel sorrow for your actions (and not just for getting caught). I bet you can think of someone who has not repented toward you. But the more important question is, have you gone to that person and honestly explained the offence or the sin you feel was committed? It is unreasonable to expect a person to be repentant if they do not know that they offended you.
The third step is, once the person repents (which will happen most of the time), we are to forgive them. We are to do this EVERY TIME. It doesn’t matter if the same offense is committed seven times in one day . . . if they repent . . .we are to forgive.
Now let’s be honest. We will have a hard time believing someone is truly repentant if they continue to commit the same offence again and again. But our job is not to look for loopholes . . . it is to obey.
After hearing this command,
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.
In context the request makes perfect sense. This idea of rebuking and forgiving is very hard. The disciples believe that if they are going to be able to do these things they will need more faith than they presently have. Aren’t you glad that request is in the text? I am. It reminds me that the disciples saw forgiveness as something difficult just like I do.
But what are we to make of the response of Jesus? Jesus tells them, “You have plenty of faith.” He points says if we have just a speck of faith we can command a tree to be cast into the sea and it will happen.
Now, lest you go out and try to start clearing the trees on your property with your speck of faith, understand that Jesus is speaking in hyperbole (or exaggeration). He wants us to understand that we can do great things with just a little faith. The things that we do will be in accordance with God’s will. I think God likes trees.
Now we have reached the real issue, our parable. What does this story have to do with the discussion about forgiveness and faith?
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’? 8 Would 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’? 9 Would he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do?
Jesus was telling the disciples that what they needed was not more faith . . . they needed to obey. They needed to stop trying to negotiate with God and do what He says . . . even when it is hard. The first step in faith is to obey. I think this is the whole point of the parable. Let me make two additional points.
We are Servants of the Lord
We are to adopt a servant mentality in our relationship with the Lord. It is our job to do, not demand. We are the servant, He is the Master. As the old saying goes, “there is only one God . . . and you are not Him.”
We recoil at the idea of being a “slave” or “servant” we think of one who has been subjected against their will. We think of forced servitude. But that is not the kind of servant we are before the Lord. We willingly and gratefully serve the Lord. It is our honor and our joy to serve our great God. He has done such great things for us. To serve Him is the greatest act we can be involved in. We trust His wisdom, His goodness, and His plan. We know that when we serve and obey Him we are traveling the road of wisdom and life.
One of my favorite shows is the television program, West Wing. I love the glimpse into the workings of the White House. In one episode the line that was repeated over and over by the White House staff was this one, “I serve at the pleasure of the President of the United States”. This declaration was their way of saying they were willing to do whatever it was that the President needed. They would stay late and come in early. Their job was to serve and it was an exhilarating service because they felt they were serving in one of the greatest capacities possible.
That’s the way you and I should feel. We serve at the pleasure of the Lord God Almighty. We can’t serve at the pleasure of the “Lord Almighty” if it has to fit into our schedule. We can’t serve at the pleasure of the “Lord Almighty” if it has to be within our comfort zone, or according to our plan for our life. No! We serve the Lord . . . period. What He asks we will do. Where He sends we will go. What He commands, we will obey. This is the proper attitude. This is the way we should approach every day of our lives.
O.K. let’s be honest. This isn’t the way we approach most of the days and hours of our lives. We are guilty of trying to “fit God in” to our lives. We have obligations, commitments and things we want and need to do. God takes second place or worse. And that is why this parable is so important! God does not exist to serve us . . . . we serve Him!
Management experts tell us that the key to living a productive life is to understand what your purpose is. We must understand our personal mission statement. For the Christian, our mission statement should be, “I serve at the pleasure of the Lord God Almighty”. Unfortunately, more often than not we would agree with this poem,
I’ll go where you want me to go, dear Lord,
Real service is what I desire.
I’ll sing You a solo any time, dear Lord,
Just don’t ask me to sing in the choir.
I’ll do what you want me to do, dear Lord,
I like to see things come to pass.
But don’t ask me to teach boys and girls, O Lord.
I’d rather just stay in my class.
I’ll do what you want me to do, dear Lord,
I yearn for Thy kingdom to thrive.
I’ll give you my nickels and dimes, dear Lord.
But please don’t ask me to tithe.
I’ll go where you want me to go, dear Lord,
I’ll say what you want me to say;
I’m busy just now with myself, dear Lord,
I’ll help you some other day.
—Author unknown, quoted in Croft M. Pentz, Speaker’s Treasury of 400 Quotable Poems
We must adopt the attitude of a servant before our great God.
When we Do What We Should We Are Only Doing Our Duty
The servant in the parable would serve his Master first because that was his job. He understood that it was his job. He didn’t expect a reward for doing what he was required to do.
Is it right for a student to expect extra credit when they simply turn in the required work? Is it reasonable for a person to expect extra pay for doing the work they agreed to do? Of course not. Why do we think God should reward us when we honor Him with our worship? When we give him our tithe? When we obey His commands? When we do these things we are only doing our duty.
And yet, we seem to feel that God should make our day easier or more pleasant because,
We had our devotions
We said our prayers
We went to church
We put money in the plate
We were nice to an enemy
But all of these things are the things we should do. There is no extra merit in these things! When we serve the Lord in these ways we are simply doing our duty. The disciples had no right to expect a medal if they forgave someone who hurt them. When we forgive, when we serve, when we sacrifice we are only doing our duty.
We must put no confidence in the works of our flesh. This is an important point. All around the Christian world the proclaim-ers of grace put their confidence in their ability. This is a very serious problem. We gladly proclaim that we are going to Heaven because of our confidence in what Christ has done for us on the cross. But then we spend the rest of our lives trying to earn God’s favor through our actions.
Our only hope of salvation is God’s grace. We can do NOTHING to earn His favor. Every good deed we do is pleasing to the Lord, but it cannot pay for the bad we do and have done. We cannot save ourselves through our efforts. We must depend on God’s mercy and grace. A grace which He extends freely to all who believe.
Every day we must realize that our salvation, our blessings, our joy are all gifts from a gracious God. We do not earn these things. We receive them.
We must never feel that God “owes” us anything.
The truth is that God does not “need” us. It is true that God has made us a part of His plan. But that is for our benefit, not His. If we were to refuse to help Him He could accomplish His will on His own.
What is the first thing we say when something difficult comes our way? We say, “God, why are you doing this to me?” Do you hear the hidden cry? We are saying, “I deserve better than this!” But that is not true. We can never feel that we are not receiving enough from the Lord. It is all a gift. Every day of life is undeserved. We are servants and we should be grateful to be able to serve in such a capacity.
Do you see how the right attitude will help us find contentment (discontent is feeling we aren’t getting what we deserve)? If we accept all things gratefully from the Lord as a gift we will stop complaining that we don’t have more.
This attitude will help us in the trials. If we trust God, our attitude will be, “Whatever He asks, I will do.” This was certainly the attitude of Jesus and the apostles. When tough times came they didn’t say, “This isn’t fair!” or “Why Me?” They trusted the wisdom of the Lord and said simply, “it is our pleasure to do the Master’s will.”
Don’t misunderstand, God is not an uncaring Master. In fact, he cares more than we can comprehend. He is generous, good, and supportive. When life is done we are told that He will reward us for our faithfulness even though there is no reason for Him to do so. The Master did not have to make provision for us to be forgiven, but He did. We did not deserve His Spirit to comfort, guide, and live within us . . .but He gave it. We could never earn Heaven, but it is promised to all who believe. Ours is a gracious and wonderful Lord and Master. We should serve Him wholeheartedly and joyfully.
When we struggle between what we want to do and what God tells us to do, we should obey the Lord. It’s not always easy, but if He is our Lord (and we trust Him as we say) then we should do what He tells us even when we don’t understand. We should obey even when it is difficult. We should obey, even when it goes against what we want to do. Obedience makes sense.
It is a proper response to His love
It is the wise thing to do (God knows what He is doing)
It is the way that will lead us to the joy and fulfillment we long to find.
The task for the Christian is to learn obedience. We are to be good soldiers. A good soldier obeys first and asks questions later. All throughout basic training the goal is to get recruits to obey and not talk back. They must learn to respond rather than resist. Why? Because it may save their life, and that obedience may save the life of their fellow soldiers. They have to be willing to trust their superior with instant obedience. A good soldier responds to a request with “Yes Sir!”
If we responded immediately to the commands of God we would save ourselves endless heartache. We would sleep better. Our blood pressure would be less erratic. We would have more friends than enemies. And we would grow in our faith and confidence in the Lord because we will have taken the time to taste and see that the Lord is good.
I must confess, I went into my study of this passage scratching my head. I had no idea what Jesus was trying to tell me. I was tempted to just skip over these verses. But after wrestling with these words for a week, I am still scratching my head. But now I’m wondering how in the world the Lord could say something so important in so few words.