The Christian and Other Believers
Jesus’ teaches his disciples:
After talking to a mixed audience Jesus now focuses his teaching on his disciples
A serious context:
Discussion on heaven and hell. Sin is a major determinant here which explains just why Jesus went on to speak about sin to his disciples.
The reality and seriousness of sin:
Occasions for stumbling are inevitable/opportunities for sinning will come – becoming/being a disciple of Jesus changes radically the disciple’s relation to sin but does not remove sin entirely from his life.
There are two types of people in the world saints and sinners. We all began life as sinners, rebels against God, and wanting to do things ‘our way’. As sinners we sometimes did good or saintly things but until we became Christians we remained what we fundamentally always were sinners. The Christian used to be a sinner but by faith in Christ has been set apart for God and thus has become a ‘saint’. The difference between a saint and a sinner is primarily one of status and not one of performance. Sadly, Christians still do sin but when they do they are behaving out of character. In a very real sense the Christian is no longer a sinner but a saint who sometimes sins.
So if you are a Christian you must not imagine that sin will never be a trouble to you again. You cannot freewheel your way to heaven.
The second part to what Jesus has to say is that in addition to the Christian being susceptible to slipping into sin the Christian by his behaviour may cause other believers to sin. The importance of this is underlined by the illustration that follows.
Man with a millstone (what this is) round his neck – what would be the outcome for such a one if thrown into the sea? Total loss.
Yet that man would be better off than the one who caused one of Jesus’ precious disciples to sin!
This story given to underline just how serious sin is and so challenges our easy going and even flippant attitude towards sin as though it’s not so big a deal.
So how should the disciple conduct himself:
"Pay attention to yourselves..."; "watch what you do..."; "be on your guard...";
This at once sounds a warning sound – it is a call to action – the life of the disciple is not a passive life but involves a mental and a moral alertness that must influence personal behaviour.
There are different aspects to this:
1. Being aware of the possibility of personal fall into sin
2. Making efforts not to be the cause of others doing so
That understanding does not exhaust the meaning of Jesus’ words. The Amplified Version puts it like this:
"Pay attention and always be on guard [looking out for one another]!"v.3.
The disciple is not then simply to be concerned about himself and his own behaviour but also of that of his fellow disciples. That this is indeed true will become obvious as Jesus continues to instruct his disciples.
A NOTE OF WARNING
Yes, Jesus is teaching in a certain measure that "I am my brother’s keeper" – I have a right and a proper responsibility to fulfil towards him.
No, Jesus is not legislating for a "snooper’s charter" ie. for an unhealthy nosiness into the affairs of others.
We will need much wisdom to tread the middle path!
Christians make mistakes: the disciple who "pays attention" will be confronted by others sins – what is he to do?
Scenario one – he observes sin but is not personally implicated
Scenario two – he is sinned against
Scenario three – he is repeatedly sinned against
Repeated forgiveness to be offered each time there is repentance
Isn’t this just the way are treated and the way we want to be treated by our God?
The apostles respond to Jesus:
"increase our faith" Why? Because what Jesus requires of them is far from easy and they feel overwhelmed by it all.
If the apostles, that set of Jesus’ closest followers, found it difficult we shouldn’t be at all surprised if we find it difficult too.
As the apostles ask for increased faith they are basically asking for help and this sets a great pattern for us all to follow. We do not become Christians by our own unaided efforts and we should not imagine that we continue in the Christian live by our own unaided efforts either.
Jesus encouraging answer:
What is necessary is not more faith real faith, however small it might seem to be – the mustard seed is exceedingly small – will be capable of accomplishing extraordinary things.
Jesus uses another illustration this time about a mulberry tree. Jesus doesn’t intend us to try to do strange things like telling a tree to move from one place to another. The illustration is meant to teach that seemingly impossible things are not when one has faith in God. The "seemingly impossible" things in view here are of course the abilities to:
Watch/pay attention to yourself
Rebuke/reprove in a helpful manner
To forgive and to go on forgiving
No-one reading the Bible would ever say that living the Christian life is an easy business but then we are not in it alone! So if you are a Christian this morning don’t feel overwhelmed by the instructions Jesus gives but put the faith you have firmly in him and he will help every step of the way. And should we make mistakes and fail along the way let’s not be tempted to throw in the towel but rather go back to him again. He who instructs his followers to forgive, forgive and forgive again the repenting sinner will certainly forgive us too!
If you are not yet a Christian I want you to realise how important it is for you to become a Christian. If sin is such a serious matter that those who have been saved by grace through faith in Jesus still need to take such care about sin in their own lives and in the lives of others – how much more serious is your state. Your sin has not yet been covered by the blood of a Saviour but remains firmly charged against you. You may have sinned over and over and over again but Jesus will still take you but you must come to him in this life for pardon if you would know heaven in the next.
May God write his word on our hearts.