The scripture reading from Luke this morning (Luke 17:1-10) deals with faith. The Bible contains a lot of scriptures pertaining to faith but this one contains the words of Jesus Himself and what Jesus has to say about faith. And what He says is very short and simple. Well, actually, perhaps not so simple. What we read in this brief passage seems to indicate that the disciples, having good intentions, wanted Jesus to “increase their faith.”
This sounds like a very dedicated thing to do. Looking at what Jesus had said to them just before their request for Jesus to increase their faith shows that they were truly concerned about whether they were really fulfilling the things Jesus was admonishing people for not doing, or in some cases what they were doing. So perhaps a Good place to start is to consider what Jesus said that made the disciples so self-conscious.
Jesus begins by telling them that, “Temptation to sin is sure to come”. This includes everyone, even the disciples will be tempted to sin. But Jesus goes on to say, “..But woe to him by whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone was hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea, than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin,” And Jesus goes even further. “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.”
So this is essentially what Jesus said: First: Temptation to sin will come. Second: Woe to him by whom it comes. Third: Rebuke the sinner and forgive the sinner if he repents. So after all of these words and thoughts the disciples seem to be very concerned about their own strengths and they quickly request of Jesus, “Increase our faith.”
Well what was their primary concern? Could it have been: “If my brother falls into temptation and sins against me will I have faith enough to rebuke and forgive him?” But I have neglected a few additional words that Jesus spoke. Prior to his statement to rebuke and forgive your brother who sins against you he said, “Take heed of yourselves.” Take heed to yourselves.
In these words Jesus is emphatically putting the burden of His words directly upon those who were listening. “Wow”, they seem to be thinking,” If my brother sins against me will I have sufficient faith to rebuke and forgive him?” And so they proclaim to Jesus, “Increase our faith!”
Now at this point I feel I need to give you a little lesson for reading and interpreting scripture. We have been reading during our worship ship what is called the Liturgical Reading for the week. A lot of churches, including other denominations, are reading this same scripture on Sunday morning. This morning our reading began at Luke 17 verse 1. That is what you heard read this morning. But according to the calendar I used that lists the Liturgical Reading, we should have started our reading at verse 5 rather than verse 1.
Verse 5 starts with: “Take heed of yourselves:” followed by a semicolon that is then followed by: “If your brother sins ….” So what this scripture seems to be saying is that we should take heed of our-selves as to how we should act if our brother sins against us. But I couldn’t help but to wonder why the disciples were so concerned about that so that they would actually ask Jesus to increase their faith.
As I read this passage I thought they should probably be more concerned over the fact that Jesus said, “Temptation is sure to come and woe to him by which it comes.” Again, wow, I hope temptation never comes to someone through me the disciples should have been thinking. Would I rather have a mill stone around my neck and be cast into the sea?
Here there seems to be some real reason for concern. More-so than, ‘how will I react to a brother who sins against me.’
Our reading came from the RSV Bible. I thought I would check some other versions to see how the same scriptures were recorded. The KJV has a colon after ‘Take heed of yourself, making it a part of what follows. (If a brother sins).
But Interestingly enough, the NIV Bible at verse 3 reads ‘So watch yourselves’ instead of, “Take heed of yourselves.” and ends with a period. This makes it a part of what precedes it. ‘You should have a mill stone around your neck so watch yourself.’ Likewise, the New English Version reads, “Pay attention to yourself! An exclamation mark follows therefore also making verse 3 a part of what precedes it.
So this lesson in studying the scriptures shows that it is important to look at what comes before, and what follows the scripture being studied and then, and only then, can we understand the context and meaning of the scripture. Had we began our reading at verse 5, as the Liturgical Calendar suggested, we would have missed the entire intent of what Jesus was saying. Remember also that the original Greek writings did not include any punctuation – WE added all of that.
And just exactly what was he saying? Jesus was very serious when He explained to the disciples that temptation was sure to come. Therefore, ‘Pay attention to yourselves’, or, ‘so watch yourselves’, or ‘Take heed of yourselves.’
Why? “Because temptation to sin is sure to come.”
This is what got the disciples so anxious about their own capabilities. Not ‘how will I treat my brother if he sins against me’ but rather, “Can we handle temptation when it comes. Maybe we can’t. Increase our faith” they ask Jesus.
So then we now come to the familiar scripture, “If you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this sycamore tree, ‘Be rooted up, and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey.
Jesus is trying to explain to the disciples that He can’t and won’t give them more faith. But didn’t that seem to be a valid request? But Jesus is telling them, “Even a little faith is enough.”
To explain this Jesus spoke of a servant who came in from the field. Did the master say to him, “Come sit down and I will prepare supper for you. Of course not! The master said, “Now prepare my supper.” Jesus is explaining to the disciples that faith is something a person must work on themselves. Like a servant. Supper isn’t something the master gives to the servant. That would be like someone receiving their reward without really working for it.
“No” says Jesus. “But listen. If you have even a little faith, even like a small mustard seed, you can do all kinds of things.” Just a little faith is enough to know what must be done. Just a little faith is enough to know how to do it. A little faith is enough to have desire to resist a temptation. A little faith is enough to resist sin. A little faith is enough to resist having a mill stone wrapped around your neck and being cast into the sea. And then we depend upon the strength of our Savior Jesus Christ through the filling of the Holy spirit to carry us through.
And, following that your faith will grow. Step by step your faith will increase. This is of far greater worth, to watch your faith grow through your own actions than to simply have it given to you.
In all things, ‘Take heed of yourself.”