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Don’t be Like the Pharisees

• Greg Boyd

In this section of Luke, Jesus gives four distinct teachings that on the surface seem unrelated. But when taken in context with each other, they highlight four different aspects of how we are to live in Christian community with one another.

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First teaching: Luke 17:1-2

Greg reviewed three ways to understand who the “little ones” are and what “stumble” might mean.

  • Some think that “little ones” refers to new believers and causing them to “stumble” would mean causing them to sin.
  • Others agree that “little ones” refers to new believers but say that causing them to “stumble” would mean causing them to fall into false teaching.
  • Finally, Greg thinks that “little ones” refers to the “underdogs” Jesus has been talking about like Lazarus, the prodigal son, the crippled, blind, lame, diseased, prostitutes, tax collectors, etc. and causing them to “stumble” can refer to any way we might put obstacles in the path of these “little ones” as they are drawn toward the kingdom of God.

Greg’s point so far is that Jesus was instructing the disciples to be different than the Pharisees who put obstacles in the path of the poor and oppressed, created rules that excluded many from their gatherings and generally judged folks all around them. Rather than behave in this manner, we are to remember that every single person was worth God dying for, and we are to treat them as such. We are to see our own sin as a log and theirs as a particle of dust.

Second teaching: Luke 17:3-4

In this passage, Greg focused on the context and what obeying this text might look like. The context was one of covenant relationships—probably in house churches. These instructions are not a license to go out and start rebuking everyone you see misbehaving; rather, this teaching is a command to love those you are in covenant with enough to speak the truth in love to them. Once you have spoken the truth in love, it is up to them to repent not just for their own sake but for the health of the whole covenant community that they are a part of. When people do repent, we are commanded to forgive them, not just for their sake, but for our own and that of the community.

Third teaching: Luke 17:5-6

The apostles respond to Jesus by asking that he increase their faith so that they can love in the way Jesus is describing. Jesus acknowledges that it seems impossible, but with God, it can be done.

Fourth teaching: Luke 17:7-10

The punch-line in vs. 10 is clear: we do not expect rewards for doing what we are supposed to do. Those who do good things with the hope of being rewarded are trying to gain worth from their actions rather than simply expressing with gratitude the obedience that flows from being transformed by the power of God.

Briefly, then:

• do not cause others to stumble

• forgive others when they sin against you and the community

• trust God and have faith that the Holy Spirit is moving in and through your community

• have the humility to realize that doing these things is what we are supposed to be doing as Christians- they are not things we do to gain God’s favor- they are expressions of who we are as new creations in Christ.

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Topics: Community, Discipleship, Forgiveness


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Focus Scripture:

  • Luke 17:1-10

    Jesus said to his disciples: “Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come. It would be better for you to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around your neck than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble. So watch yourselves.

    “If a brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying 'I repent,' you must forgive them."

    The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!"

    He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it will obey you.

    “Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, 'Come along now and sit down to eat'? Won't he rather say, 'Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink'? Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? 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.' “

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