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Unworthy servants

 Characteristics of Christ’s disciples

 Scripture Readings

  • Psalm 57
  • Luke 17:1-19

Introduction

Dear brother and sister in Christ,.

The idea of personal responsibility in our world has been replaced with playing the blame game:  I am making mistakes, but it is someone else or my circumstances which led me to do it.  It is never me.

To forgive is to show weakness.  Just this week there was a very interesting discussion on TV, and the person interviewed said exactly this.  Never forgive, but use spin to get you out of trouble and make it look that you do not need to ask forgiveness.

Self-esteem is highly regarded.  Depending on something other than yourself open you up for criticism of being weak and indecisive.

If you want to become the doormat of society, show that you are a servant.  To get to the top means that you should use whatever means, even it means that you purposely trample on others to get to the top.

The worse thing to do in climbing the present day corporate ladder is to thank others for helping you getting there.  You might sometime do it after you have reached the top, but you certainly do not show gratitude on the way there.

But things are so different in the Church of Christ. In following Christ and serving Him in his Church and in this world, members of his body must display opposite characteristics. They are looked upon as fools.  And yet, when these characteristics are genuine and sincere, the body of the Lord, his Church, indeed becomes very attractive.

Turning to Luke 17 we see Christ giving his disciples training for their task.

Watch yourselves

In the first three verses of chapter 17 Jesus teaches us that we live in a sinful world where temptations cannot be avoided.  “Things that cause people to sin are bound to come.”  It is only in a perfect world where temptations to sin do not exist.  It all started in paradise.  The only difference between Adam and Eve’s choice and ours, is that that had the capacity to say no; we don’t – sin is in our blood, our minds, our very nature is drenched in sin because of their disobedience.

In desperation one might say, well if I have no choice, then so be it.  Did Doris Day not sing:

Whatever will be, will be
The future’s not ours, to see
Que Sera, Sera
What will be, will be.

Someone will be a stumbling block for me and cause me to stumble, and I will be a stumbling block to others – this is just how it is.  Life happens, and life is not supposed to be easy!  I will always have someone else to blame for my problems.  If I get angry and swear, it’s just so because he or she provoked me; if a fail, it’s so because my father never succeeded in anything – he set a bad example.

Jesus has a complete different teaching than this world: “Woe to that person through whom they [the stumbling] come.”  Christians know they are responsible for their deeds and must own up to the consequence of their deeds. As disciples of the Lord we can act in such a way that we create stumbling blocks for fellow Christians.  In Psalm 69 David prays to God:

Lord, the Lord Almighty, may those who hope in You not be disgraced because of me; God of Israel, may those who seek You not be put to shame because of me. (Psalm 69:6, NIV)

The Corinthian church had many problems, one of them being that many of them were “puffed up” – they considered themselves spiritually advanced compared to others.  The boasted that they were free in Christ and that they could use their freedom as they wished.  In the process, those who were newly added to the fellowship stumbled by the behaviour of those who boasted in their freedom.  So Paul gave this warning:

Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols? So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall. (1 Corinthians 8:9–13, NIV)

Our Lord in Luke 17 had a stern warning:

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. (Luke 17:2, NIV)

There was a big and a small millstone in those days.  The big one had a hole in the middle though which the pole which was then strapped to a donkey.  The donkey walked around and around, making this stone to roll smaller ones on the wheat to mill it into flour.  Our Lord referred to that big heavy stone which already had a hole in the middle.  Let’s say what is in mind was to put this large stone over the head of someone and them dump them into the ocean – there is just no chance of survival.  It sounds unmerciful and cruel, but our Lord is weighing up the consequences for one of his disciples who carelessly put stumbling blocks before the rest of the Christian family, more so the little children.

That’s why He warned:  Watch yourselves. O, that we would develop a sensitivity for our actions.  David prays:

Set a guard over my mouth, Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips. (Psalm 141:3, NIV)

So, members of the church of our Lord Jesus Christ are, in the end and ultimately, one another’s keepers, but it is important to watch oneself.

Forgiveness

The sum of the Gospel lies in the fact that we are forgiven because of God’s love for sinners.  This then leads logically to the fact that those who are forgiven by God should forgive and love one another. John writes:

Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And He has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister. (1 John 4:20–21, NIV)

Our Lord taught us to pray, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  Paul says, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. (1 Corinthians 13:4–6, NIV)

He who loves, forgives.  And there are no limits on how many times he needs to forgive.  It is no weakness to forgive, and it is no weakness to admit you are wrong and ask for forgiveness.

Yes, there will be times that we need to rebuke one another, as the Lord said. That’s when I don’t jump on my high horse and gallop off; that’s when I thank my brother that he has pointed me to repentance – or he will end up with the millstone around his neck.  But if does rebuke me and I stubbornly do not heed, I am the one with the millstone around my neck.  The true brother will rebuke, show the right way in all Christian humility, even pray with the other, and forgive – over and over again.  That’s is exactly what God does in Jesus Christ.  His Spirit rebukes us, we should repent and ask for forgiveness, and God forgives.  He loves, that’s why He forgives – and He requires the same of us.

Trust, obey, believe

By now the disciples of our Lord, as they listened to Him, probably said to themselves, “To do what the Lord requires, is calling for a lot of faith.”  So they asked, “Increase our faith!”

Have you heard that people sometimes say that they do not have a faith as big as others?  I always wonder what they mean by this.  If only they could see into my heart.

We don’t have faith in ourselves.  Faith is not what gets us do wonderful things.  Someone said that one thing he does not believe in is his faith; what he is sure of though, is God.  The faith that God puts in his heart is not a faith to believe in himself, but to believe in God.  Then, and only then, God can do the impossible, not becasue of us, but in spite of us.

Faith is not something abstract. Faith ultimately boils down to how I live.  The Christian lives in obedience to God, he trusts in God, and has no trust in himself.  It is only when he lays everything on the altar that God starts to work through him.  It is when we become fools in the eyes of the world by taking God on his word, that God start using us.

John Short, the Australian missionary which is presently detained in North Korea, went there with the purpose of spreading the Good News of the Gospel.  His wife is adamant about the fact that he was quite aware of the risks involved, even hard labour for the rest of his life.  We need to pray for this humble servant of the Lord, and we should follow his example of trusting and obeying God.  But someone wrote this about him:

John Short is a well-meaning fool. Nobody goes into a place like North Korea and starts handing out pamphlets espousing Christianity expecting to get away with it.  What possessed him to go to North Korea to spread the word of the Lord is something only he can explain. Sadly, it was always going to end in grief.There is every chance that, in a week or so, he will all but be forgotten by the Australian media – and public. But is it our fault or his? I argue he has to take the blame entirely. There are some things that are achievable in life. Going into North Korea hoping to convert its trampled citizens to Christianity is not one of them.

I admire Mr Short.  History is full of examples of men and women who did foolish things in the eyes of the world, but God used them mightily.  Paul went with the same Gospel as Mr Short to Rome and demanded to see the Caesar.  He got locked up where he wrote most of the letters we have in the New Testament today.  Was he a fool?  No, he was just a man with faith like a mustard seed: he trusted and obeyed God. The rest is history.

Be a servant

The world we live in might look at servanthood as a weakness.  In the Kingdom of God is a strength.  Paul understood that when he said:

That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:10, NIV)

Our Lord tells of the man who had the servant who worked all day in the field. When his master then asked him to prepare supper and serve him, he did so even before he looked after himself.  And should he think by himself at least his master should thank him for his service?  No!  This all seem so unreasonable, but the Lord concluded this parable with these words:

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.’ ” (Luke 17:10, NIV)

O, this spirit of duty would change the face of the church.  I give myself to the Lord, to his work and to his people, all the way watching over myself praying to God that I will not be a stumbling block to anyone, always forgiving because I am forgiven, loving because I am loved, therefore I am just doing my duty.

Paul writes in Galatians 6

Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, for each one should carry their own load. (Galatians 6:1–5, NIV)

Why are we duty bound?

There were ten lepers.  It was a terrible thing to have leprosy.  You were kept from having communion with anyone else but lepers. You would never feel the touch of a loved one, and your food would delivered while you were at a distance.  All the while, chances are that you are going to get worse, even end up being disfigured and ugly.  From the verses in Luke 17 we learn that in this state Jews and Samaritans were counted as being on the same level, whereas healthy Jews and Samaritans despised one another.

Jesus healed them, becasue He had pity on them.  He restored their lives and they could go back into the community, back to their homes and loved ones. The Samaritan, he who understood what it meant to be despised, to be the outcast, to be nothing, turned around and thank Jesus.  Like a slave he threw himself at the feet of Jesus.  Our Lord said, “Your faith has made you well.”

The faith Jesus talked about his disciples should have, the forgiveness only He could give, the servanthood He talked about is displayed in the Samaritan.  The others were healed, but they understand nothing about being a servant of Him who healed them.  That’s why they did not thank Him.

Conclusion

Watching out how we live in the presence of fellow believers, rebuking and forgiving one another over and over again, trusting and obeying God in everything, serving Him with a heart that says, “I am only doing my duty” – all because we are made righteous and were cleansed by Him who had pity on us – these are the characteristics of disciples of the Lord Jesus.  When these things are evident in how we conduct our business in Christ’s Church, God is glorified.  Where He is glorified, his church grows.

May God be merciful to us.  Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 23 February 2014

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