“Growing Together in Love” - Luke 17:1-4

Middle School is a very awkward time for children. Children start to experience a lot of changes to their body as they transition to adulthood. Inevitably there are always one or two children who are taller than everybody else. They hit their growth spurt early and tower over their classmates. The challenge of hitting their growth spurts early is that often their coordination did grow as fast as their body. They are tall and encouraged to play sports like volleyball and basketball, but their lack of coordination inhibits positive production. They have grown in height, but need to grow in coordination. In many ways we all are like overgrown middle-schoolers; our Christian coordination does not match up with our Christian calling. We have been declared holy, righteous and perfect in Jesus Christ, but we stumble and fall as we try to grow into our new identity in Christ.

The best thing about middle school is that it ends, while the best thing about our growth into our new identities in Christ is that it never ends. We will always being growing up to be like Jesus. We are alive in Christ therefore we will grow. We are alive so we will grow, but we are never called to grow alone. God has called us to the body of Christ, the church, so that we could grow up into Christ. Paul writes in Ephesians 4:13-16 that gifts were given to the church to help them grow,

until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

God wants us to grow and He wants us to grow together. We are going to look at one exhortation that Jesus gives His disciples in ways we are called to grow together.

Grow Together in Love - Do Not Tempt Others to Sin
Luke 17:1-4,

And he said to his disciples, “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! It 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. 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.”

There are two aspects from these verses which we are called to grow in love. First, we grow together in love by not tempting others to sin, and secondly, we grow in love by forgiving others when they repent of their sin. Both these aspects of love are vital for a healthy growing community of disciples.

So first we must examine how to grow in not tempting others to sin. Jesus starts his exhortations by reminding us all that, “temptations to sin are sure to come.” In our fallen world, we will never be free from temptation. Temptation is a strong urge or desire to do something wrong or unwise, and we all experience these temptations. Even Jesus Christ experienced temptations while on earth, Hebrews 4:15,

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.

And because Jesus overcame temptation we read in Hebrews 2:18,

For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
Jesus is able to sympathize with our temptations and He is able to help us with our temptation because He never fell to temptation. Through faith, we have been given the Spirit of Jesus to fight and overcome temptation. That being said, we are still going to have to face temptation, but we must avoid being those who bring temptation.

Jesus gives a strong warning to those who bring temptations. Any time Jesus uses the word “Woe,” we must listen.

Woe to the one through whom they come! It 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 of these little ones to sin (Luke 17:1b-2).

Jesus says it would be better for you to die than to lead others into temptation. (We should not think of “little ones” as merely children, but little ones in reference to God which would include adults.) The image is very clear which is why Jesus finishes with this exhortation, “Pay attention to yourselves!” This is crucial for the life of the church. Jesus is challenging us to love our neighbors. If we do not pay attention to ourselves, we may be leading others into sin which hurts both them and us. This is not a light matter. Jesus is speaking of eternal consequences.

In order for us to understand how to pay attention to ourselves, we must heed Paul’s similar exhortation to Timothy, 1 Tim 4:16,

Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.

The Holy Spirit encourages us to keep a close watch or to pay attention to 2 categories: our lifestyle and our teaching. So I believe you can lead people into temptation by encouraging them to sin by what you believe and by how you live. If you believe and teach something contrary to the Scriptures, you are leading others into sin. The Scriptures are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ likewise false teaching will make you ignorant of salvation (2 Tim 3:15). We must know the Bible. This is why all of our corporate gatherings are centered on the teaching of the Word of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ.

If you are new to church or here visiting, have you ever wondered why Christians love the gospel so much? Ever wonder why Christians gather 3, 4, or 5 times week to hear about Jesus Christ? For us, it is quite simply the greatest news we have ever heard. The Bible says that we were dead in our trespasses without hope and without God. We deserve eternal death for our sin against an eternal God. Yet while we were still sinners, Jesus died for us. He died for us. Let that sink in. The God we offended and spurned in our sin, came and died…for us… so that through his resurrection we could inherit the promise of eternal life and forgiveness of sin. It is the greatest news ever heard. We make it our life to share this good news with the world. And this good news is only revealed in the Bible, so we must pay attention to our doctrine because if give the wrong news it ceases to be good and ceases to give people eternal life and the forgiveness of sin. This is what Paul says when he implores Timothy to watch his teaching for by persisting in this, we will save ourselves and our hearers for eternal destruction. We also save ourselves from the woe that comes with leading the little ones to sin.

Although doctrine is important, it is not the only way we can lead people into sin. We can lead people into sin by endorsing ungodly behavior or practices. There are four Scripture passages that help me govern my media consumption (music, television, movies, etc.) and lifestyle so that I will not tempt the little ones to sin: Romans 1:32, Philippians 4:8-9, Matthew 22:36-40, & Romans 14:13;19. Let us look at each one briefly.

Romans 1:32 – “Though they know God's righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.” Romans 1:18-32 gives a laundry lists of sin that displease God, but ends with this verse where God’s people, who know that those who practice such things deserve to die, give approval to those who practice them. Do the television shows, movies, books, and social media you consume give approval to what God hates? If it does, repent and change your practices to fit the next verse.

Philippians 4:8-9 – “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” Do your activities and media pass the Philippians 4:8 test? We are commanded to think about these things. And notice the promise at the end of the verse the, “the God of peace will be with you.” Is it worth it to skip some form of entertainment to be able to obtain the peace of God?

Matthew 22:26-40 - “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
All of life can be seen through these lenses. How does (fill in the blank) help me love God and love my neighbor? If these are the greatest commandments, then we should work hard to obey them. How does that facebook or twitter post show love to my neighbors? Does it show a love for God? How does your criticism of the government, the church or your spouse show love to my neighbors and a love for God? Two simple questions can revolutionize how we live: Is this loving towards God? And is this loving towards my neighbors?

Romans 14:13;19 – “Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother; So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.” This is an application of the second greatest commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves. Paul provides the principle that I will choose to lay down my freedoms in Christ so that I will not put a stumbling or hindrance in the way of a brother. As Christians, we should desire peace and mutual upbuilding more than anything for we are called to be one as Jesus and the Father are one. Unity is not optional. It is so important that God wants you to lay down your rights so others will not be tempted to sin. Love does not seek its own way.

These principles are extremely important in the life of the church for if we function properly everyone will grow together and be built up in love.

Pay attention to yourselves. Pay attention to your doctrine and pay attention to your life because if you don’t you may lead others to sin. And if you lead others to sin (knowingly or unknowingly), it would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were cast into the sea. Beloved, we must grow together in love. We have a diverse congregation. We have people coming from different generations and different cultures. There are some of you who desire more reverence and formality in our service in regards to dress and demeanor, while there are others who desire a more informal and casual approach. How are we going to grow together in love if we come with all sorts of different preferences and expectations of each other? The key is in Jesus’ words, “Pay attention to yourselves.” Ask how does my dress love my neighbor? How does the time I arrive at church love my neighbor? How does the way I greet people love my neighbor? How does the way I sing love my neighbor? How does my attitude towards others who do what I disapprove of love my neighbor? As we come together in worship, we can find unity, but only if everyone pays attention to themselves and seeks to build others up in Christ through words and deeds.

Grow Together in Love - Forgive Those Who Repent

The second aspect of growing in love together is to forgive those who repent of their sin. Temptations and sin are going to happen in the body of Christ. We have to fight on the front end not to lead others to sin, and we have to fight on the backend to forgive those who sin against us. Luke 17:3-4,

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.”
There are several principles in these two verses that should guide our view of forgiveness. First, it is the responsibility of the body of Christ to rebuke those who are in sin, “If your brother sins, rebuke him.” In Matthew 18:15-18, Jesus makes a similar remark about going to your brother who sins, but there it is going to your brother who sins against you while here the statement is more general. Rebuking those in sin is act of love. James 5:19-20,

My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

Rebuking is an act of love that can save people from death.

If Jesus tells us to rebuke others in sin, then how do we avoid becoming a legalistic sin-policing church? 

 First, we should invite rebuke and correction of ourselves. We should have people in our lives where we can regularly ask for correction so we can grow together in love. Second, we must pay attention to our own sins before we go to our brothers. Jesus says in Luke 6:41-42,

Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother's eye.

We look at our own sin then we go to brother in who is in sin. In doing this we are heeding Jesus’ command to pay attention to ourselves and protecting our souls from wandering from the truth. Lastly, in remembering our sin, we remember the cross of Jesus Christ that paid for our sin. We are sinners and we need a Savior. Jesus’ blood was spilled and body was crushed because of my sin. He had to die for me. Recognizing Jesus’ death on my behalf produces humility and grace in me before I bring a rebuke to my brother. As we are changed by the love of God in Christ Jesus, we will bring that love in our rebuke of our brothers and sisters.

We rebuke those in sin, and Jesus continues,

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.”

Notice after our obligation to bring back the sinner, we are called to extend forgiveness to the repentant. However, forgiveness is only extended to one who repents. Repentance is to change one’s mind about sin and turn back to God. It is an inner decision that results in an outward action. True repentance will always show itself in concrete actions. Our forgiveness is modeled after God’s forgiveness. We all have sinned against God and the only way we are forgiven is if we repent of our sin and put our faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ. The forgiveness of God has no limits in repentance. In repentance, our sin is cast as far as the east is from the west. We are completely and totally forgiven on the basis of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. When we sin it grieves God and when we repent it brings God great joy. God is always ready to forgive. He is standing at the door waiting to embrace us. He is like that father who seeing his son a far way off and runs to him and throws his arms around him.

As God stands ready to forgive, so should we. As there are no limits in God’s forgiveness with repentance, there should be no limits to our forgiveness with repentance. The key is repentance. If there is no repentance, then there is no forgiveness. We must always be ready to forgive. We can anxiously wait and long to extend forgiveness, but there must be repentance. Our world has confused forgiveness as many have in the church. We cannot offer unconditional forgiveness. Our world thinks that we should give forgiveness without repentance, but God doesn’t give forgiveness without repentance. He extends the offer and is ready to forgive, but people must repent in order to have forgiveness. God offers conditional forgiveness on the basis of repentance. We always extend the offer, but people must repent. If people do not repent, they must pay for their own sins. Jesus offers his life to pay for their sins, but they must accept his offer. They must repent and submit to Him as Lord and Savior. As we extend forgiveness, we are modeling the great love of God given to undeserved sinners through Jesus Christ. People do not deserve our forgiveness, but we do not deserve God’s forgiveness. And yet, he freely sent his Son, the righteous for the unrighteous to bring us to God. God did not wait to extend forgiveness to us, but he came and died offering it freely to all.

We all have an inherit sense of justice for when we are sinned against our hearts cry out, “Justice!” to be administered for us. This is given to us by God who has given us justice on the cross. We are able to forgive when others repent because Jesus has promised to give us justice either in applying his death for the repentant sinner or in applying his wrath to the unrepentant sinner. God will give us justice. We cannot cheapen God’s justice by giving full forgiveness without repentance. Our hearts must be free from bitterness and hatred towards the offending party. Hebrews 12:14-15,

Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled;
God has called us to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 6:44). We love them by treating them with grace and mercy and praying for their repentance. If we forgive the sinner without repentance, we are not modeling how God forgives. But if we are embittered and full of hatred towards the offender, then we do not understand God’s readiness to extend the forgiveness of the cross of Christ to the sinner.

We live in a fallen world with temptation and sin. Temptations are bound to come and sinners are going to sin. God has called us to grow together in love. This can only happen when we grasp the great love of God for us in Christ Jesus. This love is not humanly possible it takes an act of God. So we must pray that God would grow us in understanding the great love of God in Christ Jesus. Let’s pray.

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

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