Calvary Road Baptist Church


Luke 17.1-5 

I am in Luke chapter 17, where the narrative places the Lord Jesus Christ and His apostles in Perea, which is on the East side of the Jordan River, due East of Jerusalem and Jericho. As to time, the Lord Jesus Christ has not yet been notified that Lazarus is sick. Of course, he would then die, and the Lord Jesus Christ will raise him up from the dead.[2]

Here in Luke chapter 17, our Lord gives His disciples direction in four areas that are related to Christian service; being careful to give no offense, being careful to take no offense, exhortation to exercise your faith and a very brief parable about an unjust steward. As we stand to read from Luke 17.1, we will stick to the first two of our Lord’s cautions; to give no offense and to take no offense: 

1  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.

5  And the apostles said unto the Lord, Increase our faith. 

Luke 17.1-3 records our Lord’s warnings against giving anyone offense. In verse 1 the disciples are warned of the inevitability of offenses: 

“Then said he unto the disciples, It is impossible but that offences will come: but woe unto him, through whom they come!” 

What exactly is an “offence”? The Greek word used here is skandalon, which originally was the bate-stick on a trap used to catch small animals.[3] The derived meaning of the word as used in our text is that action or circumstance that leads someone else to act improperly or to adopt erroneous beliefs. In other words, it refers to tempting someone to in some way sin. Thus, we see that an “offence” as the Lord uses the word is not the sense in which would use the word in our day.[4] To be “offended” in our day is to have your feelings hurt, to develop resentment, or to foster anger.[5]

The Lord Jesus Christ is here informing His disciples that there is no possible way to guarantee that you will not be tempted and enticed to commit sins. This also means that there is no possible way for you to escape the temptations and the enticements to turn your back on the Christian faith, to apostatize. The challenges will come, be they from enemies or friends, foes or family. Notice, however, that the Lord Jesus Christ pronounces woe upon you if you are the one who does the enticing, who does the tempting. Keep in mind that the Word of God very definitely assigns personal responsibility for every sin you commit to you and you alone, but that the enticement you are exposed to is in itself a sin that will be harshly judged, as Luke 17.2 points out. In other words, make very sure you are not the one who entices someone else to sin.

Next, in verse 2, the disciples were warned of the punishment: 

“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.” 

The specific punishment is not stated, although the severity of the punishment is very effectively communicated. The mental image is of a grinding mill in which grain is finely ground using a large circular stone with a flat bottom that is turned upon another stone using a pole attached to a donkey. As the donkey turns the millstone the grain is ground to flour. Imagine, then, that large donut-shaped millstone hung around your neck before you are tossed into the sea. What chance have you of avoiding death by drowning? None whatsoever.

Hereby the Lord Jesus Christ not only warns of the punishment for offending a little one but since judgment and punishment is proportional to the severity of the crime that has been committed, we see how extremely serious any sin is which lures or entices a little one to believe that which is untrue or to do that which is wrong. Be careful who you follow and be careful the direction you lead those who follow you. The reference to “little ones” in Luke 17.2 may be an allusion to new disciples who need instruction,[6] or perhaps to children. Understand that Christians are free. We have liberty. But there is a law that is higher than the law of freedom. That higher law is the law of love. For love, we must not offend “little ones,” be they little children or Christians who are less mature than we are.

Beloved, be careful that you give no offense. Exercise great caution so you will not offend anyone who looks up to you, who sees you as an example, who follows the trail in life that you blaze. By offend, I mean entice them and tempt them to behave or believe wrongly by your example or your exhortation.

Next, be careful to take no offense, Luke 17.3b-4. Notice how ready you should be to forgive anyone who sins against you who is repentant, something you cannot do if you take offense in our modern sense of the word and hold a grudge. 

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. 

If you take Luke 17.1-4 all together, you see implied in the passage a back and forth between you and others, sinning and forgiving, sinning and forgiving. What does this show us? It serves to remind us that being a disciple of Jesus Christ was not then, and is not now, a matter of isolating yourself from other people. Though you must come to Christ by yourself, and the Spirit of God typically brings a sinner to a strong sense of his aloneness in his lost condition, once you are joined to Jesus Christ the plan of God for your life is to live in the midst of, to serve alongside, and to constantly interact with, other Christians. The book I am preparing for publication shows that this cannot occur in the Christian’s life outside the context of the Christian congregation, the Church.[7] Since Christians have sinful natures and are not perfectly sanctified this side of heaven (sinless perfection is an impossibility), the interaction between believers will certainly result in offenses, both the giving and the getting of offenses. Thus, Luke 17.1-3a warns against offending, and Luke 17.3b-4 warns against being offended. The notion of isolating yourself so you will neither be offended nor offend others is not a Scriptural option.[8]

There are three important considerations related to being the kind of Christian who does not take offense, who is relatively immune from being offended, and who therefore is less likely to be overcome with bitterness and a grudge-holding, unforgiving spirit. First, be sure to rebuke the believer who sins against you: 

“If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him.” 

Notice several things about this third-class conditional statement, meaning it is not presumed someone will sin against you, but if he does you have a very clear responsibility: First, the person you are dealing with is a brother. That is, he or she is a disciple of Christ.

Of course, that means you have dealings with Christians, real dealings. It is presumed by the Lord Jesus Christ that you will interact with other Christians in a meaningful way, and not resort to something like Christian isolationism, showing up at Church only once a week and making sure to keep everyone else at a safe arm’s distance. Keep in mind that Christians are required to like each other and to prefer one another, Romans 12.10: 

Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another.” 

When you embrace Christ, you are embracing Christ’s followers, and when you reject Christ’s followers by preferring the company and companionship of unconverted people, you are rejecting the Lord Jesus Christ at the same time.

Next, this whole matter has to do with a trespass. In other words, the issue has to be somewhat more important than the behavior you do not particularly agree with or happen to like. The offense has to rise to the level of a trespass, the overcrossing of a Scriptural boundary by that person. He has to be doing something wrong, not just doing something you do not like or do not agree with. Furthermore, the offense has to be against you. To be sure, there are times when you may legitimately address a sin that has been committed against another person. But, generally speaking, you need to let other people deal with their issues and settle their disputes.[9] Be cautious about functioning in the role of self-appointed spiritual police officer, unless you are protecting one of your children or unless you occupy a position of spiritual leadership.

If a brother in Christ has trespassed against you, the directive requires you to rebuke him. Notice that you are not given the option of reacting depending on your mood or reacting depending on whether or not you feel anger welling up inside you. Your feelings are not to be the criteria by which your actions are determined. Rather, it is the sinning disciple’s behavior that determines what you do. He sins against you, you rebuke him. It is as simple as that. No drama. No pent-up rage to unleash in a firestorm of bitter invective. Keep it simple. “Charles, you told me you would take care of that before you went home yesterday, and you didn’t. It took me two hours to fix the mess you caused by not keeping your word. If you are going to have any credibility as a Christian, you need to learn to keep your word.” See? Very simple. Very straightforward. Very manly in its directness, actually.

The Greek word for “rebuke” is the word epitimaoo. The word refers to sternly warning someone.[10] So you see, there is no room here for the wimpy apologizing approach that is so common today, where the offended party seems to be sorry to have to bring it up that he was done wrong. No. Obedience to this command requires looking someone directly in the eye and telling him that he has done you wrong, perhaps by enticing you to do wrong and that he needs to do something about it.

Next, forgive the brother who repents when you have rebuked him: 

“If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him.” 

Does there appear to be a decided lack of drama here? That is because there is a decided lack of drama here. This tendency to wait until you get mad to correct your children, or to wait until you are filled with frustration before you deal with a trespass, is utter nonsense. We need to deal with sin cleanly, efficiently, and without the emotionalism that pollutes so much of life.

If you wait until you are furious before confronting someone who has sinned against you by tempting you to sin, then your emotion will only increase the likelihood that the sinning brother will react to your anger with his defensive anger. But if you look at him directly, calmly rebuke his sin against you, then you are far more likely to get the desired response . . . from a real Christian: “Joe, please forgive me. I completely forgot about that commitment. Whatever you want me to do to fix any problem I caused, just name it and I will take care of it by tomorrow at the latest. Will that be okay? Wow, I am really sorry.”

Keep in mind that your cue that the person you rebuked has repented will have to be a great deal more than him saying that he is sorry. Repentance is far more than saying you are sorry. Repentance will result in wanting to clear up the problem that was caused or repairing the damage resulting. So, when someone says that he is really sorry and offers to do something to make it up to you, don’t you dare tell him, “Naw, don’t worry about. I’ll take care of it.” For his benefit and yours, you allow the repentant person to fix whatever he broke when he sinned against you, be it property or a relationship.

When that happens, if that happens, you are obligated to forgive. When that happens, if that happens, your privilege as a Christian is to forgive. Remember Ephesians 4.32: 

“And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” 

Your willingness to forgive sins committed against you is directly related to the forgiveness you have received from God. If you cannot forgive, or if you will not forgive, you quite simply are not a Christian.

Finally, in Luke 17.4, we see that our Lord insists that we keep forgiving fellow Christians: 

“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.” 

In other words, this is something the Lord Jesus Christ expects and insists upon from His people. One aspect of belonging to Jesus Christ entails the habitual granting of forgiveness to other Christians. This does not mean you as a believer are to be mindless or a pushover, so that every time someone does you wrong and says “Sorry,” you are obligated to say, “Oh, that’s okay. God bless you.” That lunacy is a caricature of real Christianity. The Lord Jesus Christ demands that repentance be genuine. This process of rebuking and then forgiving is supposed to benefit the sinning person, who is a Christian brother remember, not to allow him to take advantage of you.

These instructions related to not taking offense are profoundly necessary for any child of God who wants to be effective in service to Christ because we are all sinners. We will sin against each other. So, we need to put into practice these disciplines of rebuking and forgiving, as well as being humble enough to accept rebukes and to be willing to repent of our sins. If you are so cowardly that you will not rebuke someone who sins against you unless you first become angry, then you are needlessly escalating conflicts that could easily be managed otherwise. On the other hand, if you are so proud and full of bluster that you cannot admit sinning and do the necessary repair work to preserve friendships and a collegial spirit, then you will never amount to much as a Christian.

To recap, in Luke 17.1-3a the Lord Jesus Christ warned against giving offense to little ones, and that we had better be careful. In Luke 17.3b-4 He sets forth the means by which we avoid being offended, by rebuking those who sin against us, by then forgiving those who sin against us, and by demonstrating the habit of forgiveness. And will not someone you rebuke for sinning against you is less likely to sin against you in the future?

What, then, was the immediate reaction of the apostles to our Lord’s demand that they genuinely and truly forgive people again and again, so long as they repent? I am quite sure they imagined they would soon be taken advantage of by people. Verse 5 begins, 

“And the apostles said unto the Lord.” 

They could have, and on so many occasions did, turn and consult with one another. But on this occasion, they realized that they were not up to the task, they had insufficient resources, and that they were overwhelmed in the face of an important duty. It is understandable, therefore, that they would then plead, 

“Lord, Increase our faith.” 

Two things to note here: First, the apostles sought greater faith. The word , where we get the word prosthesis, means “to add to, to give in addition, to increase. It involves increasing the substance rather than adding a new substance.”[11] The apostles knew that they were in need and that what they needed they could not themselves provide; more faith. Keep in mind that these men have already seen the importance of faith. In Luke 7.50 the Lord Jesus Christ told the woman who had washed His feet with tears, wiped His feet with her hair, anointed His feet with ointment, and then kissed His feet, 

“Thy faith hath saved thee.” 

Then there was the time the disciples were in the storm-tossed boat while the Master slept. When they were overcome with fear for their lives and roused Him 

“saying, Master, master, we perish.”[12] 


“said unto them, Where is your faith?”[13] 

Thus, faith is important, not only at the beginning of your spiritual life but also to sustain that same life. Faith is integral to forgiving and to being forgiven. 


You may not think so now, but there will come a day in your life when you will need to forgive or to be forgiven. I think of those times when I have sought your forgiveness, so I know what I am talking about. It may be when you discover that your spouse has been unfaithful to you and seeks your forgiveness, or when you betray a lifelong friend and need his forgiveness. No matter how outwardly successful they appear to be, they are the most miserable of people who neither grant nor seek forgiveness. We are sinners. We continually sin against each other. You sin against people, and people sin against you. How, then, can you establish meaningful relationships with your spouse, with your children, with your family members, or with anyone else, unless you both forgive those who sin against you and seek forgiveness from those you have sinned against?

The problem, of course, is that when someone has sinned against you there rises a feeling of betrayal that leads to mistrust and disillusionment. How can you forgive her for what she did to you? How can you ever trust him again?

Allow me to answer those questions related to forgiveness by pointing out three simple concepts: 


Your requirement is to forgive. You have to forgive. It is necessary to forgive. So long as the one who sinned against you seems repentant, seriously sorry and willing to make amends, you have no choice but to forgive. Why should you forgive? Let me provide you with four reasons: 

#1  You should forgive because the One you profess to be your Savior commands that you forgive. How dare you claim Christ to be yours while steadfastly refusing to obey His command to forgive? How dare you?

#2  You should forgive because you need forgiveness yourself as often as not. There is, you see, a law of sowing and reaping, Galatians 6.7-9: 

7  Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.

8  For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.

9  And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. 

So, if you ever want to, or expect to, be forgiven you will recognize the need to be forgiving. 

#3  You should forgive because your willingness to forgive reflects strongly on your own experience of God’s forgiveness. Ephesians 4.32: 

“forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” 

#4  You should forgive because you have a conscience and because the indwelling Spirit of God is grieved should you disobey your Savior’s command to forgive. What spiritual Christian wants to live his life with a seared conscience, and indwelt by a grieving Holy Spirit? No one. 

So, you see, you need to forgive, to avoid being eaten up with the spiritual cancer of bitterness and a seared conscience. 


It is extremely difficult to forgive someone who has wronged you, who has embarrassed you, who has betrayed you, who has wounded you, and who has tempted you to sin. If you simply do not forgive your betrayer, you identify yourself as a lost person. It is only those who have never experienced the forgiveness of their sins who refuse to forgive the sins of others when forgiveness is properly sought. But when a sinner knows the delight, the joy, the release, the glory of sins forgiven through faith in Jesus Christ, then he sees the value of, and recognizes the benefit of, forgiving someone who has sinned against him no matter how grievous the sin happened to be.

But there is a difference between seeing the value of forgiving someone and being able to forgive. Knowing that you should forgive someone who has betrayed you is not the same as being able to forgive your betrayer. The fact of the matter is that there are some sins you simply cannot forgive.

Turn to Romans 5.6, and I will show you why you sometimes cannot forgive someone who has sinned against you: 

“For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.” 

Romans 5.6 describes unsaved people. Now read Romans 6.19, where Paul describes believers: 

“I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh.” 

“Without strength” in Romans 5.6, and “infirmity” in Romans 6.19, translate the same Greek word, asthenia, which means weak or impotent.[14] What does this mean? It means we do not possess the moral strength or spiritual fortitude to forgive really serious sins committed against us, though our Lord Jesus Christ says we must. 

Which Results In YOUR REQUEST 

Your ability to forgive someone who has seriously sinned against you must come from outside you. You will never possess the inner might, the spiritual strength, the moral courage, the necessary freedom from the influences of your sinful nature and its pride, to truly forgive really serious sins that have harmed you, wounded you, stung you, and left you feeling hurt and betrayed.

Those are precisely the sins that you must forgive, Christian, if you expect to obey your Savior, preserve your testimony, and enjoy the peace of God in your heart and mind. Enough of this guilt and misery that the unsaved carry with them throughout life. Away with the guilty conscience and the sour countenance.

That is why the apostles cried out to the Savior, “Increase our faith.” We cannot do this ourselves. We do not have the resources, the strength, the humility, the graciousness, the wisdom, or sufficient love within ourselves to forgive others. How can we trust someone who has shown us he is untrustworthy, who has betrayed us, who has done us harm? We cannot trust that individual, but we can trust you, Lord. Oh, Lord, our faith in you needs to be strengthened. Our confidence in you needs to be shored up. Our trust in you needs to be reinforced. 

There is no way two people can love each other, live near each other, interact with each other, serve alongside each other, enjoy each other’s company, or in any other way commune, without being able to forgive each other. You see, we sin . . . against each other. So, apart from being able to forgive, we would soon become estranged from each other. We might even become enemies. But if the sins that are committed are serious, as they often are, we find that we have not the resources to forgive and to be forgiven unless we resort to God. Only He gives us faith to forgive. But He only gives faith to forgive those who have already been given faith to be forgiven.

There will come a day when you sincerely want to be forgiven when you feel the desperate need to be forgiven. You’d better hope and pray that person whose forgiveness you need is a Christian or the faith he needs to forgive you will be out of his reach. Someday you will be in a position to forgive someone who desperately needs your forgiveness, and truly wants your forgiveness. However, unless you are already a child of God, already forgiven yourself, you will neither want nor be able to forgive, ending forever that once-valued relationship, be it a marriage, a friendship, or some other cherished relationship.

There is a link between faith and forgiveness that cannot be broken. Without faith in Christ, there is no real forgiveness. Therefore, my friend, I urge you to consider the claims of Christ. And having done that, I urge you to come to Christ for the forgiveness of all your sins.


[1] This series of sermons draws heavily on information found in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia article “Forgiveness”

[2] John 11.1-44

[3] Leon Morris, Luke: An Introduction And Commentary, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999), page 279.

[4] Bauer, Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, (Chicago, Illinois: The University of Chicago Press, 2000), page 926.

[5] Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary, (New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1996), page 1242.

[6] Darrell L. Bock, Luke Volume 2: 9:51-24:53 - ECNT, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), page 1385.

[7] “The Church Of Jesus Christ: 28 Things Every Christian Ought To Know” by John S. Waldrip, published by Classical Baptist Press, 2018.

[8] Hebrews 10.25

[9] Proverbs 26.17

[10] Fritz Rienecker & Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key To The Greek New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Regency Reference Library, 1980), page 191.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Luke 8.24

[13] Luke 8.25

[14] Fritz Rienecker & Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key To The Greek New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Regency Reference Library, 1980), pages 359 and 362.

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