Duties of a Disciple

June 20, 2021 Speaker: Jeff Breeding Series: The Gospel according to Luke

Passage: Luke 17:1–10

Duties of a Disciple

If you wanted to capture the spirit of American evangelicalism, you couldn’t do much better than an old country song by George Jones and Tammy Wynette called, “Me and Jesus.” Yes, I’m surprised as you are that I’m about to quote a country music song in a sermon. Never say never, I guess. “Me and Jesus” – you may have heard it before. The chorus goes like this:

“Me and Jesus we got our own things doing / Me and Jesus we got it all worked out / Me and Jesus, we got our own things going / We don’t need anybody to tell us what it’s all about.”

If you wanted to capture the spirit of American evangelicalism, you couldn’t do much better. By and large, evangelicals are a “Me and Jesus” people. As long as me and Jesus are good, then everything is alright. I don’t really need the authority of a church or pastors. I certainly don’t need any tradition. And most of all, I don’t need anyone else. As long as I’m doing my part, Jesus will do his part and give me what I need. “Me and Jesus” – that’s American evangelicalism in simplified summary.

But it doesn’t take long to figure out that “Me and Jesus” Christianity fails to fit with the New Testament. Our passage today in Luke 17 is a good example. As you heard in our reading, this text is a collection of Jesus’ teaching on discipleship, and from the start is clear that Jesus disagrees with George Jones. Discipleship is about far more than just you and Jesus. Discipleship, by definition, involves the believing community – the body of Christ – the church. As we follow Jesus, we do so arm-in-arm with other believers, so that our discipleship is tied up, at least in part, with the spiritual well-being of others, and vice versa.

What’s more, discipleship, according to the New Testament, is not primarily about what Jesus can do for us – as though Jesus becomes our servant and we the master. At its core, discipleship is servanthood. To be a disciple is to be bound to Jesus, to his Word, and to his people. We serve him, not the other way around.

In these ways, then, we would have to say that George and Tammy got it quite wrong. Christianity is not a “Me and Jesus” kind of faith. It’s more of a “Me and Jesus and his church” kind of faith. Discipleship, according to the New Testament, is a call to servanthood, where Christ is Lord and where we serve him in his church.

And that is what we see in Luke 17, friends. It can be hard to find a coherent theme in these verses. They read more like a collection of wisdom sayings. But perhaps the theme is simply discipleship – the duties we have toward one another and toward the Lord Jesus Christ. In fact, Jesus uses that word duty at the end of the passage, in v10. That’s a word that has gotten a bad rep in some ways, but duty is an honorable word. It is a virtuous thing to do one’s duty and to do so for the right reason.

So, taking off from Jesus’ word in v10, I’d like us to consider from this text three duties of a disciple. Instead of thinking only about me and Jesus, let’s consider our duties toward one another and toward Christ. There are three.

Disciples Must Pursue Righteousness Together

Duty #1, from vv1-4 – Disciples must pursue righteousness together. From the start, we see that this passage is focused primarily on discipleship. Notice the audience in v1 – “And Jesus said to his disciples.” You may recall from chapter 16 that Jesus had been dealing with the Pharisees, rebuking them for their love of money and their failure to believe the gospel. But now, the focus shifts, as Jesus begins once more to instruct his disciples.

  And the aim of Jesus’ instruction is to provide his disciples a biblical framework for dealing with sin and temptation. In fact, Jesus’ first statement is that temptation is inevitable. Notice how Jesus puts it, v1 – “And Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Temptations to sin are sure to come.’” There you have it, brothers and sisters. There is no such thing as perfectionism in the New Testament. Until we see Christ, we will face temptation. It is the common experience of the Christian.

But Jesus then goes in a surprising direction. He connects the fight against temptation with our responsibility to other believers. Notice the rest of v1 – “And Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come!’” In other words, the reality of temptation does not mean we can live thoughtlessly or carelessly toward other people. The certainty of temptation is not justification for disregarding the spiritual well-being of other Christians. Yes, temptation is common, but we ought to be very careful that we are not the cause of that temptation. This is a mark of Christian maturity, brothers and sisters – to have a careful approach to both our conduct and our teaching as believers.

Let me give an example of what this might look like. I remember hearing a Christian brother say once that he was careful not to talk about sports when this one particular friend was around. That might sound strange, considering how often guys talk about sports. Why would he do this? Well, it’s because his friend was a recovering gambling addict, and in the past, he would wager primarily on sports. And so, out of love for his brother, this Christian was careful to steer the conversation in different directions. He was careful to not be the cause of temptation in any way. You see, he understood the seriousness of Luke 17. Even on things that we might think are no big deal, we ought to be looking out for the spiritual health of others. Mature Christians understand that the fight against temptation means being careful how you relate to your fellow believers. It is a serious responsibility.

If we are prone to downplay the seriousness of this responsibility, then Jesus cuts us off with an inescapable illustration. Notice the graphic language in v2 – “It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin.” Friends, that is some kind of responsibility. It would be better to die than to lead a fellow Christian away from the Lord. That phrase ‘these little ones’ likely refers to new believers. And the reality is that newer Christians often are like sponges – they’re ready to soak up anything, either good or bad.

And Jesus is saying, friends, that we have a responsibility to these little ones. We have a responsibility to look out for our fellow Christians, regardless of where they are on the road of discipleship. Indeed, that responsibility is so serious, Jesus said it would be better to drown than to lead one of his sheep astray.

It all comes together in a summarizing command. Notice the first clause of v3. What is the takeaway from Jesus’ instruction at this point? How should we go about our Christian lives? Jesus tells, v3 – “Pay attention to yourselves.” Friends, the point of that command is to be careful about how you live. That certainly includes fighting temptation in your own life, but it also includes looking out for others – not being a source of temptation to any fellow believer. The fight against sin is so serious, I should carefully guard my life and my doctrine.

But there is the reality that sin will occur, even between two Christians. What do we do then? How do we respond to our fellow believers when we do fall into temptation and sin? Well, Jesus tells us. In v3 the Lord outlines the two basic responses that we ought to have toward our fellow Christians. Notice what Jesus says – “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.” Rebuke and forgive – those are the two basic responses we have toward our fellow Christians.

Now, what does it mean to rebuke a fellow Christian? This is often a misunderstood and misapplied aspect of discipleship, so let’s try to think clearly at this point. The idea is to correct something with the purpose of bringing it to an end. That’s key, brothers and sisters. Rebuke is not aimed at calling someone out. Rebuke is not intended to shame or put someone down. Rebuke must not occur on the basis of hearsay or assumption. Rather, Christian rebuke, at its core, is aimed at restoration and repentance. When sin is against us or when sin is observed by us, we rebuke in order to help our brother or sister grow.

So, just mark this down, friends. Christian rebuke is not a call-out, which means you can’t rebuke someone online or in anger or through a text message. Rebuke, according to Jesus, is a display of love. If our aim is not restoration, then we’re not offering rebuke as Jesus defined it.

But rebuke is not the only response to sin. In fact, it’s not even the most important or common response. Forgiveness is the most important response, and that’s where Jesus goes next. Again, v3 – “If you brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.” So, Jesus is referring to instances of sin between two Christians. This is a fact of life in a fallen world – not only will we sin, but we will often be sinned against. What do we do then? In short, we apply the gospel. As those who have been forgiven by God, we must be willing to forgive those who sin against us.

And Jesus is quick to point out that forgiveness must have the ultimate priority in the church. Rebuke is necessary at times, but forgiveness is necessary all the time. Notice the centrality of forgiveness in v4 – “and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” Friends, what a clear and powerful picture. The gospel calls us to be quick, not slow, with forgiveness. The gospel calls us to believe the best about our brothers and sisters, not critically or cynically question their genuineness. Even if its seven times in a day, forgive them.

Does that make you a little uncomfortable, as though you are taking on some level of vulnerability in the process of loving another Christian? Does that sound like a high standard? Well, good – because it is! This is the standard of the gospel, brothers and sisters. As God forgave us in Christ, so also we must forgive.

So, note how Jesus has given us the basic outline for dealing with sin in the church. We have two basic response – we rebuke in hopes of seeing repentance, and we forgive when repentance is present. Rebuke reminds us that sin cannot be ignored, but forgiveness reminds us that sin will not have the final word. We are a gospel people, first and foremost, so the standard for our lives together must be to pursue righteousness together, applying the gospel at every step of the way. My primary concern is not only with avoiding temptation in my life, but also to be careful how I live with others. This is our duty as disciples – to pursue righteousness together.

Disciples Must Encourage Christ-Focused Faith

Like we said a moment ago, this is a high standard, isn’t it? A high calling from our Lord. How can we live this way? What must we possess and display that enables us to live this way? Our second duty provides the answer. Duty #2 comes in vv5-6, and here we see that disciples must encourage Christ-focused faith.

You’ll notice that in v5 the apostles ask Christ to increase their faith. That may seem like a random request, but there’s a connection here with vv1-4. Pursuing righteousness together is a high calling. To rebuke and forgive is not an easy standard within the church. And I’ll contend that the apostles sense the weight of that calling, which is why they ask, “Lord, increase our faith!”

And on the one hand, this is a commendable request. It is always good to recognize our need to grow in faith, and it is always good to ask Christ to supply what we lack. Those are commendable things for a Christian. But on the other hand, there is a way to think about faith that actually puts the focus in the wrong place. There is a way to think about faith that focuses too much on us and not enough on the Lord Jesus. We get caught up in the amount of faith we have or the perceived strength of our faith, and pretty soon, we find that in the name of faith, we’re actually more focused on our ourselves! Instead of trusting in Christ, we slowly begin to trust in our faith. And friends, that’s why I would say is happening with the apostles here. They hear the high calling of discipleship, and they get caught up in their own experience of faith.

So, notice Jesus’ answer, which is both a rebuke and an encouragement. V6, Jesus’ reply shifts the focus – “And the Lord said, ‘If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.’” Now, what is that about? Jesus is telling the apostles, “You’re focused on the wrong thing.” They are concerned with the amount or the strength of their own faith, and Jesus is saying, “That’s not the point. Even the smallest measure of genuine faith can do remarkable things in the kingdom of God.” In other words, don’t focus on your experience of faith. Don’t get locked in on how your faith feels to you. Rather, remember that genuine faith, even in small measure, looks to what God can do, not what you can do.

Friends, this is always the trap when it comes to understanding faith, so it is important that we be clear. The strength of faith comes from its object, not its subject. Who you trust is more important than how you feel about your ability to trust. That’s why faith that focuses on Christ, even in the smallest measure, is able to do far more abundantly than we can ask or imagine.

You see, that’s the point of Jesus’ image in v6. Does commanding trees to be uprooted and replanted sound impossible? Yes, of course. Do you know what else sounds impossible? Forgiving your brother or sister who sins against you seven times in one day. That seems impossible too. I don’t know how I can do that! I must need to get stronger faith! And Jesus comes in to say, “Yes, but not like that.” Faith that relies on Christ, even in the smallest measure, is able to do remarkable, astounding things – even things like forgiving your brother or sister seven times in one day.

So, how does faith get stronger? How do we increase our faith, to use the apostles’ language? Surprisingly, we strengthen our faith by not focusing on our faith. Faith grows the more we see Christ, the more we treasure Christ, the more we rely on Christ and less on ourselves. Brothers and Sisters, this is why we preach the gospel every Sunday at Midtown Baptist. This is why we so consistently try to put Christ on display in our singing, praying, and preaching. It’s because we are convinced that faith grows stronger the less we look inward and the more we look outward, to Jesus.

So, I’ll say again what I have said now for nearly ten years in this pulpit – Faith feeds on the Word of God. Faith feeds on the Word of God because the Word of God gives us Christ. Listen, I may be a pastor, but my faith feels feeble most days. And if I focused on my experience of faith, I’d probably give up. But that’s why I need the Word of God, brothers and sisters – because the Word gives me what I most need. Not a greater experience of myself, but a greater vision of Christ, the One on whom my faith rests.

If your faith seems feeble to you, do the counter-intuitive thing and stop thinking about your feeling of faith. Focus on Christ, through his Word and through prayer, and you’ll find that God is faithful to sustain you and to enable you to do far more than we can ask or imagine.

Along that line, friends, this is also how you help a fellow believer whose faith is weak. Talk more about Christ than you do about anything else. By all means, listen to how he or she is doing. Seek to understand their experience and their place in life. But when it comes time to speak, aim with all your might to speak about Christ. It is good to understand where we’re at, how we’re feeling, what we’re thinking. That kind of self-understanding is good, to a degree. But for faith to grow, that self- understanding has to be followed with what is true about Christ.

This is part of the mystery of the gospel, friends. What is true about my identity in Christ is more powerful than how I feel. It is more powerful than what has happened to me, or what I am struggling against. Indeed, who Christ is and who I am in him is the most real thing about me. So, as you seek to encourage one another, by all means listen and seek to understand. But when the time comes to speak, speak first and foremost about Christ. That’s how faith is encouraged and strengthened, brothers and sisters. It is our duty to one another as disciples – we encourage Christ-focused faith.

Disciples Must Commit to Humble Servanthood

The final duty of a disciple comes in vv7-10, and we will close with this. Disciples must commit to humble servanthood. These final verses give us the right framework for thinking about faithfulness in the Christian life. Jesus uses an analogy involving a servant and a master. His point will become clear in v10, but the analogy is important. Notice how Jesus builds his point.

V7 – Jesus asks a rhetorical question that envisions an unlikely scenario – “Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table?’” So, the imagined situation is a role reversal, where the servant becomes the master, and the master serves the servant. And Jesus’ point is rather obvious – no master would do that. No matter how faithful the servant has been, he always remains the servant.

And so, v8 makes that plain – “Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink?’” That is the proper situation, isn’t it? The servant remains in his role, which is to serve the master. And that service does not put the master in the servant’s debt. This is key, friends. Notice v9 – “Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded?” Again, the answer is plain. No, the master does not thank the servant for fulfilling his role. Now, don’t overread Jesus here. He’s not saying that those with authority can be rude to others, and neither is he saying that God dismisses his people with cold indifference. That’s taking the analogy too far. Rather, Jesus’ point is that faithfulness does not put the master in the servant’s debt.

Then comes the application, v10 – “So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’” There are a couple of significant points to note from this application. First of all – as we’ve already noted but we need to say it plainly – faithfulness does not put Christ in our debt. When look out for others – when we resist temptation – when we rebuke and forgive our fellow believers – when we have done all that we are commanded, even then we have only done our duty. We have been faithful – praise God – but that faithfulness does not make Christ our servant. He is the Lord, and we are the servants. He is the King, and we are the subjects.

And that that is good news, brothers and sisters. Only the Lord Jesus has the beautiful combination of goodness and power that enables him to rule all things for God’s glory and our good. It is part of God’s grace to us that Christ is never in our debt. When we have done all we can, we are still only servants who stand on nothing but grace.

Secondly, we ought to note that obedience is the standard for servants. We could say it more strongly – faithfulness is measured in obedience. To be a faithful servant is to obey the commands of Christ. Listen again to Jesus – “when you have done all that you were commanded.” Who’s in charge? Christ. And what is our required response? Obedience to his commands. To be faithful to the Lord is to obey his Word, by faith.

Think of the Great Commission, brothers and sisters. It is anticipated here in v10. What are we, the church, commissioned to do? Make disciples of all nations by baptizing them and teaching them to do what? Obey all that Jesus has commanded. There are many worrisome trends in the church today, but one is the downgrading of obedience. But it’s baseline faithfulness, friends. Our identity as servants ought to wake us up to the centrality of obedience.

Finally, we ought to note the wonder of the gospel that shines out from v10. Some people read v10 and think that Jesus sounds like a miser or a crank – as though God only wants servile people who cower before him. But nothing is further from the truth, friends. In the gospel, God has given us every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. In the gospel, God shares with us the immeasurable riches of Christ, who is the Son of God. Indeed, in the gospel, we too become sons of God through faith in Jesus Christ. Are we servants? Yes – but servants who have to come to share in the riches of grace!

And so, notice how this changes our perspective on obedience. We obey Christ not to put him in our debt or earn his favor. We’ve been given all that we have by grace. Rather, we obey Christ because we have been captured by the wonder that is his gospel, and the power of that gospel is so incredible, it creates willing obedience in the hearts of his servants.

The end result, then, is this remarkable re-shaping of duty in the Christian life. This is what I’ve been driving at through this sermon, so I hope you catch it. It is our duty to commit ourselves to humble servanthood, where we devout our lives to obeying Christ and serving his gospel. But that duty is not drudgery. It is a delight, for in Christ, we do not have a taskmaster who begrudgingly responds to us. We have a Savior who willingly gave his life that we might have life. We have an Older Brother who humbly embraced the poverty of human flesh that we might receive the riches of his glory. Brothers and Sisters, give me that duty any day, and I’ll gladly commit my life to it. It is duty, yes – but it is duty that satisfies the soul beyond anything this world can offer.

Aren’t you glad that Christianity is not simply a “Me and Jesus” kind of faith? I know I am. What kindness of God to not only save us from sin, but also to unite us together with the family of God in the gospel. Our duty is to pursue righteousness together, so may God make us a holy people. Our duty is to encourage Christ-focused faith, so may God make us a church full of encouragers. And our duty is to commit ourselves to humble servanthood, so may God produce us in the gladness of obedience. And may God do all of this to the praise of glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. Amen. Let’s pray.

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