A lot of Christians claim to be spirit-filled, but how many really are grace-filled? When our political leaders are bombarded by Christians with accusations where is the grace? When Christians fight over picky issues of doctrine where is the grace? When church members criticize each other and denigrate church leadership where is the grace? When ordinary people with all their foibles and weaknesses do not find a safe haven in local churches where is the grace? Luke 17:1-10 says that occasions to stumble and criticize and sin are bound to come. Is one small step towards becoming grace-filled Christians simply learning to forgive always? Can we forgive our national leaders, our local leaders, our church leaders and each other? Can we show grace instead of bitter rancor and cynical criticism? Where is the forgiveness? Where is the grace-filled Christian?
What happens when church traditions stand in the way of the Gospel or tempt people to sin? What about the tradition of mandatory celibacy in some churches? Does it tempt people to sexual sins? What about traditions that place an obstacle course in the way of the Gospel and stunt church growth? Can denominational administration be so heavy handed or pedantic that it tempts local churches to rebel? Can music be so tradition bound that it insults the tastes of moderns who are frustrated and tempted to leave? Can denominational disciplines be so burdensome that they create more problems than they solve? Grace-filled Christians must learn to forgive those over them in the Lord. In Luke 17:1-10 Jesus warns that sorrow awaits those who cause temptations and that those who are frustrated by such human weakness ought to forgive.
How many times have we heard criticisms leveled at the Christian community. A frequent critique is that somebody was not acting like a Christian. These are usually made by people in or outside the Church who seem to assume that Christians are supposed to behave in a certain manner. Misconceptions about Christianity are common even in the Church. Christianity judged by outward appearance or behavior can be a form of legalism. Real Christianity has a lot to do with a change which occurs on the inside, in the heart. Naturally, certain behaviors will become evident after a change of heart. Anyone can put on an act. However, real Christianity is not an act. It includes some characteristics which are impossible to pretend for long, such as forgiveness. In order to forgive, a measure of faith is required (Luke 17:1-10).
Some Christians want the buzz of miracles and signs and wonders. They look to hyperbolic statements such as those found in Luke 17:1-10 where Jesus describes how little faith it takes to move a tree. However, they don’t look at the context in which those statements are made. A form of naive and immature Christianity makes outward signs and visible miracles a measure of faith. Real faith is not in observable things but in things not seen (Hebrews 11:1). It is so easy to forget warnings about an evil and adulterous generation that seeks after a sign (Matthew 12:39). The comment about faith to move a tree comes right after Jesus’ challenge to forgive seven times a day. Forgiving others is hard. It is not natural. A real miracle that requires uprooting is unforgiveness in our hearts.
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In Luke 17:1-10 we read that things which cause people to sin are bound to come along. The original Greek uses a word for a trigger mechanism in a trap. Temptation is like that. If we allow ourselves to be led into a dangerous situation, it can be almost a foregone conclusion that we will sin. Lying is like that. Adultery is like that. Stealing is like that. Murder is like that. We are all guilty of shading the truth, having lust in our hearts, stealing time from a boss or glory from those who should be honored and harboring hatred, which the Bible describes as the same as murder. We so easily use words or actions to entice or incite others to sin or lose faith. However, if we do it leaves us a heavy burden of sorrow.
The Hebrew Sheol and the Greek Hades are often used to describe the place of the dead. They are used in different contexts to mean the grave or a place of torture. Another Greek word, Gehenna pictures a fiery place of punishment. These are the three words most often translated as hell. Ancient Jews believed in both annihilation and eternal suffering. The ancient Greeks believed in an immortal soul and a place of eternal punishment. There are lot of popular myths about heaven and hell. Theologians are more cautious about describing our eternity. Jesus removed the curse of death. When the elect die, their spirits will go to where God is, in heaven. The Bible does not thoroughly discuss what happens in the intermediate state between death and the resurrection. However, the saints will ultimately be with God for eternity.
One Christian may support the capitalist right, while another may lean to the socialist left. Yet, neither of those modern political ideals fits exactly what God gave ancient Israel. One brilliant economic model is found in Leviticus 25. It is neither a form of socialism, with big government and large public ownership, nor is it unbridled capitalism, where large corporations dominate trade and prices. It is a radical departure from both of those modern systems. It speaks of a jubilee and regular, equitable redistribution of some assets but not others. It does limit the twin evils of big government and large corporate greed. Ancient Israel’s idealistic system has never been applied by any government since, and yet there are still principles of faithfulness in unrighteous mammon that we can apply, even though we may have very little (Luke 16:1-13).
Labels: Luke 16