Luke 17:1-4

The Disciple’s Humility and Gratitude
Luke 17:1-4
Intro: Historians tells us that King Louis XII was cast into prison and kept in chains before eventually rising to the throne of France. The story is also told that upon his ascension to power, his close advisors urged him to seek deadly revenge by every means of violence. Responding to their entreaties, Louis XII prepared a scroll listing the names of all the enemies who had committed crimes against his royal person. Beside each name he inscribed a cross in red ink. Surely the men who committed these crimes would have to die! Word of the king’s blood-red hit list soon reached his enemies, who assumed the crosses meant they were dead men, so they fled for their lives. But then Louis XII clarified his true and surprising intention. He said, “The cross which I drew beside each name was not a sign of punishment, but a pledge of forgiveness extended for the sake of the crucified Savior, who upon His cross forgave His enemies and prayed for them.” The flight of the king’s enemies reminds us how unexpected it is to find forgiveness. When people are wronged, they do not want to offer forgiveness; they want to exact revenge. So it is always surprising when someone offers full and free forgiveness. When people do this, it is almost always because they themselves know what it means to be forgiven. What Louis XII offered his enemies was the same kind of grace he had received from the crucified Christ. He had the faith to forgive.

Jesus’ audience shifts again to His disciples. He addresses them with what seem to be four independent sayings (vv. 1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-10). Christ gives very demanding instructions with the two subjects He addresses in today’s text. He distresses us with the gravity of sinning against a brother/sister, and He disturbs us with how we must treat someone who sins against us. Both the first and second teaching have to do with living together in the body of Christ. How do we get along in the church? In the Christian fellowship two kinds of difficulty will arise often, threatening the harmony of our community. 

Jesus’s Outrageous Values

Luke 17:1 Then He said to the disciples, “It is impossible that no offenses should come, but woe to him through whom they do come!  

Jesus warns the disciples that Christian community will inevitably be a flawed community but not a false community.

This is a strong warning about the “great sinfulness of putting stumbling blocks in the way of other men’s souls.”

Here Jesus instructs us about the peril causing others to sin. Woe to us if we are the ones who do the tempting – especially if we tempt the children of God!

“offenses” = scandals, hindrances, temptations to sin (lit. the bait-stick of a trap, [the cheese in a mousetrap]), luring into apostasy

1 John 2:10 He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him.

Here in Luke Jesus is referring to something that causes people to fall down spiritually, something that leads them sinfully astray. 

The possibilities are endless. These offenses could include persecutors who seek to make believers renounce their faith in Jesus, or it could point to deviant doctrine by false teachers, or to those enticing believers into gross sin that severs their fellowship with Christ.

It happens when our attitudes and our actions set a poor spiritual example. 

We do it when our complaining spirits cause others to be discontented in the church. We do it by speaking evil words that unfairly influence someone else’s opinion. We do it by dragging out arguments to the point of provoking angry responses.

Of course, they have to take responsibility for their own actions. But woe to us if we make it easier for them to sin, or more difficult for them to be godly!

In a fallen world it is realistic to expect people to influence others to do evil. It is also natural to hold those same people responsible for such influence.

Jesus did not specify what woe will befall us if we fail to heed this warning, but the comparison He makes is frightening. 

Luke 17:2 It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones. 

Leading God’s children astray is a very great sin.

“millstone” – heavy, disk-shaped stone used for grinding out the grain; typically, so large that it required a beast of burden to move it; “unwelcome necklace of death” dragging him down to the depths.


The image of being tossed into the sea with a millstone around your neck was hyperbole meant to alarm.

It is better to be dead than a false guide! A violent, horrible death is preferable to causing harm to even one of these “little ones.”

It would be more desirable than meeting the judgment of God for such wickedness. 

Nothing apparently so enrages Jesus as someone trying to pry one of His disciples loose from Him, destroying their faith.

Every Christian should be encouraged by these words because they show how Jesus regards His own people.

One difficulty grows out of the fact that not all members have the same level of life experience and spiritual maturity. There are always “little ones” according to Jesus.

“little ones” – young/new believers, especially those who are barely noticed

Not even “one of these little ones” should be seduced away from Him.

The foolish actions and careless words of more mature believers could cause one of these new to the faith to stumble and fall.

1 Cor 8:9 But beware lest somehow this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to those who are weak. 
1 Cor 8:10 For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol's temple, will not the conscience of him who is weak be emboldened to eat those things offered to idols?
1 Cor 8:11 And because of your knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died? 
1 Cor 8:12 But when you thus sin against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. 
1 Cor 8:13 Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.

There is a law higher than the law of freedom – the law of love.

In the local church, disciples of Jesus must consider the spiritual welfare of one another. We must be willing to give up non-essentials when the opportunities present themselves, so that we do not cause one of Jesus’ “little ones” to stumble.

Far from causing someone else to sin, the disciple of Christ will courageously oppose it.

Luke 17:3 Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.  

By and large we do not believe this. What do I mean?

What was the first emotion you felt when this verse was read? Eagerness or reluctance?

“Rebuke someone in the church about how he/she sinned against me? Are you serious? I could never do that. That is way too confrontational. It is also judgmental. No way.”

Lev 19:17 You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall surely rebuke your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him.
Lev 19:18 You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.

Personal infractions are an ever-present danger in the church. And reconciling can be costly work.

1 Cor 12:26 And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.

Instead of following Jesus’ instruction to personally challenge the offense, what does the person who has been wronged typically do? (a) inform the pastor hoping he will deal with it (b) discuss with several friends over coffee for prayer purposes (c) tell a therapist to get it off your chest, locking it away under confidentiality agreements

By not following the imperative of the Lord Jesus, the opportunity for repentance is stolen away from the offender. 

We sin against those whom we interact with most.

Having an attitude like Christ Himself makes the difference between restoring a sinning brother or being alienating from him.

Phil 2:5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: 
Phil 2:6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 
Phil 2:7 but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant NIV

Let’s suppose we will give Jesus a hearing. What is the Lord saying?

There is a right way and a wrong way to confront sin.

What does rebuke NOT mean?
scold, condemn, humiliate, defeat, insult, demean, lord over, put into place, ream out, tell off

What does rebuke mean? 
simply disclosing a wrong done

We must go to another with courage, not timidly, willing to say what needs to be said, no matter what the cost. However, we must go gently, not in a judgmental or superior spirit, demonstrating the tender mercy of Christ.

Gal 6:1 Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. 
Gal 6:2 Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

We must go to one another humbly, not in pride, having already repented of our own recent sins. We must go to one another affectionately, not harshly, showing how much we love our brother or sister in Christ.

And we must go to one another prayerfully, not impulsively, asking God to glorify Himself through our attempts at reconciling.

But we must go to one another to bear the burden of those trapped in sin.

Do we care enough to confront? Are we godly enough to do it with Christ-like compassion and concern?

A biblical rebuke shows you have the courage to confront an offender without gossiping to your neighbor about him.

It does mean that though we must be compassionate, we cannot be weak in delivering the truth. We cannot be indifferent to sin, but this does not mean we will bear a grudge. 

If the offender repents, the believer must forgive him. And his forgiveness must be without limit.

Luke 17:4 And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, ‘I repent,’ you shall forgive him.”

As important as it is not to give offense by causing others to sin, it is also important not to take offense when other sin against us.

An unforgiving spirit is an offense in the fellowship of the church. It is a “scandal” than can only be avoided when sins are counted against the offender, but forgiven.


For Jesus’ disciples, forgiveness is not to be an irregular occurrence but an ongoing practice.

Let’s avoid any silly notion that this verse is meant to be a math problem. It does not establish a specific number of times to forgive. 

Instead, it shows the principle of being generous in forgiving others.

Luke 23:34 Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”

Psalm 86:5 For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive, and abundant in mercy to all those who call upon You. 

Surely Jesus wants us to have a willing and forgiving heart toward someone who has done us wrong, even before we can offer, formal, reconciling forgiveness.

Surely He does not want us to hold on to a grudge and harm ourselves and many others with bitterness.

From the world’s point of view, forgiving someone of the same offense 7 times in a day would seem preposterous. It would cast doubt on the genuineness of the sinner’s repentance. But that is not our business as disciples. 

Our business is to reflect our Master by generous forgiveness. He is telling us to forgive and forgive and forgive.

This is not to deny that people need to be held accountable for their actions by those in spiritual authority so that they can break the cycle of sin.

Nor is it to deny that there is a proper place for justice, or that when someone else has sinned against us, it may take time to rebuild trust.

But Jesus wants us to have a heart of forgiveness – a heart like His.

Our problem with Jesus’ word here is that we are often too spineless to rebuke and too resentful to forgive.

Matt 6:12 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.

This is the only right response for those who have themselves been forgiven.

Jesus’s standard is wholehearted readiness to forgive.

Jesus requires of us both courage to rebuke and compassion to forgive. 

As usual, the Christian life demands both guts and goodness. 

In this context, the Lord Jesus assumes there will be regular offenses within the community of faith – we are people who need to practice rebuking, practice repenting, and practice forgiving.


Cyril of Alexander compared forgiveness to the work of medical doctors. We should “imitate those whose business it is to heal our bodily diseases,” Cyril said, “and who do not care for a sick person only once or twice, but just as often as he happens to become ill.” When a patient has some sort of illness, the doctor will provide the necessary cure. What happens if the person suffers a relapse later, or comes down with a different disease? Will the doctor claim that he has already treated the patient once, and that should suffice? Or will he examine the patient again and prescribe another cure? So it is with the soul-healing work of forgiveness: however many times someone comes to tell us they are sorry, we are to say, “I forgive you.”