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Bible GenevaContinuing a study of the passages from Luke’s Gospel which have been omitted from the three-year Lectionary for public worship, today’s post is part of my ongoing series Forbidden Bible Verses, also essential to understanding Scripture.

The following Bible passages have been excluded from the three-year Lectionary used by many Catholic and Protestant churches around the world.

Do some clergy using the Lectionary want us understand Holy Scripture in its entirety? You decide.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur (sermons cited below).

Luke 17:1-4

Temptations to Sin

1 And he said to his disciples, “Temptations to sin[a] are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! 2It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin.[b] Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”

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These first four verses of Luke 17 give us important lessons about sin, forgiveness and humility.

Jesus urged His disciples to disregard the Pharisees’ system of legalism and hypocrisy. The Pharisees talked about divine law and imposed an onerous burden on ordinary Jews, however, with the help of their colleagues the religious lawyers, found numerous loopholes for their own religious observance. Their elitist system allowed them to ignore the spiritual health of what they might have called ‘the lesser orders’ and possibly caused countless souls to be condemned for eternity.

Yet, as John MacArthur tells us, even the Old Testament pointed to salvation through imputed righteousness not meritorious works. He explains (emphases mine):

Genesis 15:6. Abraham or Abram believed God, and it was imputed to him as righteousness. Because he believed, God credited His own righteousness, completely alien to all of us, to Abraham. Psalm 103:17, “The loving kindness of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting…listen to this…and His righteousness to children’s children.” He just keeps giving His righteousness to every generation of people who believe in Him.

How were you saved in the Old Testament? You were saved in the Old Testament by believing in God as sovereign Creator, all-holy Judge, understanding, therefore, your own sinfulness and repenting of it before God. Acknowledging the fact that salvation could come only on the basis of sovereign grace, because it couldn’t be earned. Embracing the fact that God is a forgiving God by nature. You come to Him offering nothing but your faith, no works whatsoever, realizing that if you were ever to enter into the presence of God and be considered righteous, it’s going to have to be because some alien righteousness is credited to your account. God will accept you on that basis until He can make you fully righteous in His presence.

Furthermore, as God forgives our sins, our responsibility is to forgive others. The Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) says:

forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

In the first verse of Luke 17, Jesus speaks against the Pharisees’ condemnation of Him and His ministry. It is also a warning to unbelievers and believers today. If we cause others to disregard Christ as our Saviour through our words and actions, we, too, will be condemned.

That can include all manner of sin which detracts from the Christian message. MacArthur says that the Greek word used there was skandalon, from which we get ‘scandal’, which originally referred to a baited trap:

When the animal grabs the bait, the stick is released, the trap is closed, the animal is caught. That’s a skandalon, it’s a trap. We know we live in a world of traps. We know we live in a world where people are going to be offended. God’s little ones, God’s children, believers, are going to be offended. And by offended, trapped, harmed, hindered. That’s what it’s talking about. The world is full of stumbling blocks. They’re all over the place, to seduce us directly into error, to seduce us into heresy and false understanding of the Scriptures, false understanding of God and Christ, to seduce us in false understandings of how we are to live our Christian lives. And there are scandalous temptations laid out there to directly or indirectly drive us toward sin. There are all kinds of bad examples and there are all kinds of things that lead us away from righteousness. The world is just filled with them and we, of all generations, are exposed to them in a way that prior generations have not been. There was a time, you know, in the world when you had to see the sinner do the sin to see sin. And now you can see the sinner sin at home pumped into your house on your TV. You can read the ugly details of the sinner and his sin in a book or a magazine or a paper or other media exposure. But there was a time when you had to see the sinner sin to know the sin occurred, but now you can experience it constantly in a barrage of images. It’s a different world and there are all kinds of seductions to evil. It’s inevitable that they come.

Our Lord tells us that it would be better to be drowned with a heavy stone around our neck than to cause others to sin (verse 2). Divine punishment will be that severe. MacArthur explains:

The one who sets the offense in motion is guilty before God…guilty before God. It’s a serious thing and God considers it a serious thing … It’s better to stop him now by an execution than to let him keep doing this because if he is a non-believer, he is only going to incur greater damnation, a hotter hell. If he’s a believer, he is only inviting greater chastening and forfeiture of eternal reward. Better that he be dead. Better that he die a horrific death now than to continue to offend and therefore accumulate ongoing damnation.

Why did Jesus choose drowning in this warning? Because it was a Roman import. The Jews were not only terrified of this method of punishment but also considered it as one for Gentiles. Therefore, Jesus’s words have added impact. MacArthur notes:

The Romans did that. The Jews did not do that. In fact, the rabbis taught that drowning was for Gentiles, not for Jews at all.

In verse 3, Jesus says the right thing to do is to call a sinner’s attention to his transgressions. If he acknowledges that he regrets them and turns his behaviour around — repents — then we are to forgive him (or her!). MacArthur says that Jesus speaks of persistent, serious sin:

So we beware of offending and we beware of being indifferent to the sins of others. The Pharisees, they didn’t care about the sinners … We don’t lead people into sin, we lead them out of it. And that starts with rebuke …

Matthew gives the process. The process, is if your brother sins you go to him. If he repents, you gain your brother. It’s over. If he doesn’t repent, you take two or three with you so that you can confront his sin again and confirm his response. If he still doesn’t repent, you tell the church and the whole church goes to call that person back. That’s a concern that holy people have for the debilitating sins that find their way into the lives of the fellowship. This is done out of love. You that are spiritual restore such a one in love…Galatians 6. We don’t sit by and watch some sinner go off into a pattern of sin without caring.

However, MacArthur warns that our Lord did not intend us to turn into nagging busybodies:

Not every sin is to be confronted, please. Love covers a multitude of sins. We don’t want this to go berzerk. It’s those sinful patterns, it’s those sins that are destructive, long-term pattern. It doesn’t mean that every time you say a thoughtless word, or every time you fail to do something you ought to have done, or you have a slip up here or there, somebody has to set confrontation in motion. No … I’ve giving my wife‘s testimony. She couldn’t live with me if she had to confront every failure in my life. This would be a rather dominating feature of life. Love covers. You couldn’t do that with a dear friend, you couldn’t do that even with your children, or children with parents. You couldn’t do that in the fellowship. But there are some sins that effect the life in a turning sense that send it in a new direction and impact the church, and those have to be dealt with. And for those kinds of things, forgiveness becomes conditional. And that’s what he’s talking about. It’s those kinds of sins that you rebuke that must be repented of.

Jesus concludes His brief discourse by saying that if someone sins against us multiple times — even in one day — and says that he repents each time, we are to forgive him each time (verse 4). MacArthur explains that if we do not forgive, God will not completely forgive us, even if we are eternally saved:

Until a believer forgives, he remains in a temporal sense unforgiven. While in an eternal sense we are forgiven, that’s in our justification, in a temporal sense we can be in a condition of being unforgiven in our sanctification. In one sense, all my sins are forgiven because Christ paid the penalty in full. But in another sense, as I go through this world and sin, God will not continually forgive me on a parental level, on a temporal level which opens up blessing and joy to me unless I am forgiving others.

No doubt a number of us have a nemesis in our families or at work or both. They’re draining influences. Our spirits fall a bit every time we encounter them. They might hold grudges against us and we against them. These can last for months or years. Alternatively, we might be angry with a certain institution, e.g. church, employer, political party.

This negative energy, MacArthur says, might well be preventing us from reaching peace of mind in our lives. On this subject, he has an interesting observation, which could well be true:

I think there are Christian people who have had their sins forgiven on an eternal sense, but on a temporal sense, they’re not enjoying the rich fellowship that they should with God and they’re undergoing discipline from Him because they don’t forgive others. They carry around bitterness. I think the emptiness in people’s lives, even those who are Christians, depression, dullness, lack of joy is often due to withheld blessing, withheld forgiveness, guilt and chastening from God.

Offline, I know many churchgoers and clergy who have no end of emotional or psychological problems. My better half often asks, ‘How can a churchgoer or clergyman be clinically depressed?’ MacArthur posits that reason, which seems plausible.

Our modern society is an unforgiving one, even though we believers are always talking about peace, unity and reconciliation. (We had more of all three in the old days when we weren’t talking about them all the time.)

Yet, we look in our hearts and are angry.

We are often calm on the outside, but what’s going on inside?

Some Anglicans are angry because we don’t have female bishops in most of the Anglican Communion. Some leftist churchmen are angry because we don’t have a ‘fair and just’ way of life in a fallen world. Traditionalists and modernists scoff or rail at each other’s interpretation of Christianity. Those are just a few church-oriented examples. The list is endless.

We would do well to pray for grace to forgive others and, in turn, be divinely forgiven. This is why I advocate prayer and Bible reading over a primary focus on things that will never be resolved in this world.

That doesn’t mean we should not try to improve the Church and the secular realm. However, if we turn our attention more to our everyday blessings — and learn to forgive others — we would find this task easier.

As Matthew Henry’s commentary for the first few verses of Luke 17 says:

That we have all need to get our faith strengthened, because, as that grace grows, all other graces grow. The more firmly we believe the doctrine of Christ, and the more confidently we rely upon the grace of Christ, the better it will be with us every way

Next time: Luke 17:20-27

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