Luke 17:1-4 “Then said he unto the disciples, It is impossible but that offences will come: but woe unto him, through whom they come!2 It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones.3 Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him.4 And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him.”
Faith, according to the scriptures, is for overcoming! “..and this is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith.” (1 John 5:4) In the text we are studying now (Luke 17:1-10) faith is for overcoming a number of things; love of money, offences or obstacles put in our paths to thwart ministry, and the “sycamine tree” of bitterness and unforgiveness. The backdrop for Jesus’s teaching here to his apostles is what you find in the previous chapter, Luke 16. In Luke 16:1-13 the Pharisees are listening to Jesus teaching his disciples about the significance of non-possession, that is, being free from the love of money. In Luke 16:14 we see the Pharisees, who were covetous (lovers of money), mocking Jesus about his teaching where He instructs the servants to be good stewards over the wealth they have been given and to be careful not to hoard it, but to distribute it to the poor while they had the opportunity while still alive. Then when they depart this life they will be received into everlasting habitations by the very poor they ministered to while alive on earth. Jesus responds to the Pharisees mockery with the story of “The Rich Man and Lazarus” in Luke 16:19-31. In this story Jesus warns the Pharisees of the eternal torment awaiting them for choosing to love mammon (money/things) over loving God and having pity upon the poor. This brings us to Luke 17 where Jesus begins with a warning to his disciples that there will be offences put in their pathway of ministry by the religious elite because of their love of money and hatred of the truth. The Greek word here for offences is “skandalon” which is defined as stumbling block or obstacle. Woe to those who cause the offences and would hinder someone from hearing the truth. It would be better that they were cast into the sea with a millstone around their neck. This is speaking metaphorically of being cast into the sea or abyss of fiery torment. Then Jesus warns the apostles that they are to take heed among their own ranks to be watchful concerning trespasses and how they respond to them. For as sure as offences will come from those without the church, trespasses will come from our brothers and sisters in Christ. Jesus commands us that we are to forgive the repentant brother as often as he repents, even endlessly (Matthew 18:22).
Luke 17:5-10 5 And the apostles said unto the Lord, Increase our faith.6 And the Lord said, If ye had faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye might say unto this sycamine tree, Be thou plucked up by the root, and be thou planted in the sea; and it should obey you.7 But which of you, having a servant plowing or feeding cattle, will say unto him by and by, when he is come from the field, Go and sit down to meat?8 And will not rather say unto him, Make ready wherewith I may sup, and gird thyself, and serve me, till I have eaten and drunken; and afterward thou shalt eat and drink?9 Doth he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I trow not.10So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do.
This brings us to the apostles famous request, “Lord, Increase our faith”. The apostles were feeling the gravity of all they were being called to do, and the many spiritual battles that were about to ensue. They sense their need for one particular spiritual quality that will enable them to overcome, faith. Jesus responds by letting them know that they can overcome with the smallest amount of faith, a faith as a grain of mustard seed. A mustard seed is that smallest of grains. Jesus is saying that each and every believer has within them the ability, the faith, to overcome the un-forgiveness and bitterness that can follow the offences and the trespasses. Jesus gives us a metaphor of how we can pluck up by the roots the bitterness and un-forgiveness that has planted itself deep in the soil of our hearts (Hebrews 12:15). And how we can cast out this devilish wisdom (James 3:14-16) from our hearts, and cast them into the sea which is the abyss. Take note that Jesus guides us on how to express this faith to overcome the rooted bitterness in us. We must “say unto the sycamine tree. Be thou plucked up by the root, and be thou planted in the sea; and it should obey you.” (Luke 17:6) Faith speaks to the tree of bitterness, “Bitterness, I pluck you out of my heart, and I cast you into the sea to drown and never to be replanted in my heart.” I would like to introduce a little ditty to encourage one another with when we are battling bitterness and un-forgiveness, Let us say to one another, “Put the Tree in the Sea”. The sycamine tree is a kind of Mulberry tree, possibly a Black Mulberry, common in the Middle East and prominent in lower Galilee. The sycamine tree has an enormous and very deep root system and is nearly impossible to dig out of the ground. You can cut the tree down to ground level, but the tree can live on because of its deep root system accessing water. This imagery was not lost on the apostles, nor should it be lost on us. The sycamine tree of un-forgiveness must be plucked up by the roots and destroyed in the sea/abyss. Another feature of the sycamine tree is that the silk worms would feed on the leaves and form nests in the branches. This shows us that when we are embittered there are worms that eat at us constantly. I say, “Put the Tree in the Sea”.
Jesus finishes his lesson on plucking up the un-forgiveness by faith by instructing them that this “life of forgiveness” is their duty as servants. They are to say (referencing the parable of Luke 16:1-13), “We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which is our duty to do.” We are not to live for mammon as the Pharisees (the religious elite) do, we are to live a life of sacrifice and self-denial, spending all including ourselves (2 Corinthians 12:15), caring for the poor.
A NOTE ON BIBLE STUDY:
Faith is often a very misunderstood bible subject. It is important to study each reference in the bible according to its immediate context first, then its context within the particular book of the bible the passage is in, then study the reference in light of the entire bible. Let us be “a workman that needs not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)