Luke 17: 1 – 10
After a series of parables and teachings with His disciples, the Lord drew a couple of principles with respect to offending or being offended, a pertinent and recurrent issue in our relational world. The purpose was to highlight to His disciples the significance of being consistent in their spiritual walk, as erratic conduct would be a blight on the name of their Lord. Given the human predilection to sin, it was perfectly understandable that Jesus counselled against offending anyone. Causing a new or weaker believer to sin was specifically referenced as unreservedly reprehensible, and it would be preferable for such a one to die a violent death than to face a much more severe punishment later (v.2). The teaching point was to live in a manner to not lead others to sin. He then turned the coin over and encouraged mutual accountability, where if someone sinned against them, they are not to take offence and must forgive when the offender repented. In fact, forgiving several times a day, if necessary! The emphasis was on restoration, without which it can be as deadly to the life of a community as the presence of sin. The disciples were aghast at Jesus’ attitude. To understand what the gospel represented was to realize that Christian ethical and moral standards are impartial and required a practiced and lasting attitudinal change. Their request for more faith (v.5) belied their conflicting motivation, which earned them a further rebuke. The Lord’s reply was simply that they already had sufficient faith to forgive anyone who repented; just do it! As Christians, we need to be reminded repeatedly that graciousness is not optional for a servant (which is brought out in the ensuing parable) as we have been purchased and we are no longer our own (1 Cor 6:20; 7:23), and our principal aspiration is not to be the source of an offence.
Then followed a short parable to underline His point of a farmhand’s duty to his master. Some background information may help here: in the New Testament context, a person who went into debt and unable to liquidate it, would usually indenture himself as a labourer to his creditor, and work till his debt was discharged. However, the debtor-servant was not completely without any rights. The alternative available was to have the debtor incarcerated indefinitely till someone paid his debt (Matt 18:23-35). This farmer-servant relationship mirrored that of God to man – of allowing God to be God. The servant attitude focuses the believer on God’s sovereignty over him; inferring that He owes us absolutely nothing, not even a good life. Furthermore, a servant obeys everything he is told to do without questioning, irrespective of their feelings or thoughts, reservations or conditions (v.10), where obedience is not a matter of merit seeking but of duty, although God honours faithful service. The gospels exemplified several of these absolute obedience stories: the cleansing of the ten lepers, the Centurion’s faith, the feeding of the five thousand, and the Syrophoenician woman. A Christian is therefore a person who has accepted that it is his duty to discover how he can serve his Master to the best of his ability.
Although servanthood is just one aspect of our relationship with our Creator, it is a significant feature as it transforms our attitude and impacts the spirituality of our duty to God, and not listening to our Lord and getting this right inevitably crimps our relationships. Jesus explicitly modelled faithful servanthood to His Father (John 5:19). Roger Olson, a theology academic, observed, “No truth is more pervasive in Scripture and Christian tradition than this one—that real freedom is found in obedience and servanthood. And yet no truth is more incongruent with modern culture. Here we stand before a stark either-or: the gospel message of true freedom versus the culture’s ideal of self-creation, autonomy, and living “my way.””