Sunday School Lesson

May 1

Lesson 9

Increased Faith

Devotional Reading: Jeremiah 23:33-24:6

Background Scripture: Luke 17:1-10

Luke 17:1-10

1Then said he unto the disciples, It is impossible but that offences will come: but woe unto him, through whom they come!

2It 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.

3Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him.

4And 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.

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

6And the Lord said, If ye had faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye might say unto this sycamine tree, Be thou plucked up by the root, and be thou planted in the sea; and it should obey you.

7But which of you, having a servant plowing or feeding cattle, will say unto him by and by, when he is come from the field, Go and sit down to meat?

8And will not rather say unto him, Make ready wherewith I may sup, and gird thyself, and serve me, till I have eaten and drunken; and afterward thou shalt eat and drink?

9Doth he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I trow not.

10So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do.

Key Verse

Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him. —Luke 17:3

Lesson Aims

After participating in this lesson, each learner will be able to:

1. List some duties of a Christian as set forth by Jesus.

2. Explain the relationship between growing faith and forgiveness.

3. Identify one way to practice forgiveness on a daily basis.

Lesson Outline

Introduction

A. Keeping Score

B. Lesson Background

I. Protecting and Forgiving (Luke 17:1-4)

A. Little Ones (vv. 1, 2)

B. Offending Ones (vv. 3, 4)

Card Counting

II. Growing and Serving (Luke 17:5-10)

A. Bigger Faith (vv. 5, 6)

B. Enduring Faith (vv. 7-9)

C. Obedient Faith (v. 10)

A Sense of Entitlement

Conclusion

A. Mustard Seeds or Scorecards?

B. Prayer

C. Thought to Remember

Introduction

 

A. Keeping Score

Have you ever wanted to “get even” with someone? If we are offended or mistreated, we may believe we have a right to retaliate, thus evening the score. There is a sense of entitlement here, a belief that bad behavior toward us gives us a right to pay back. Of course, if we really want to stand up for ourselves, our response will be a little greater, thereby “teaching a lesson” to our tormentor. We don’t just get even; we must win.

Lest we think the above is simply the schoolyard attitude of childhood, we should look at what happens in many workplaces. Petty grudges are held for years. Certain coworkers are feared or loathed because they will let no offense, no matter how tiny or unintentional, go by without a negative reaction. Such behavior can be found all the more in the online world of social media, where face-to-face behavioral etiquette doesn’t seem to apply.

At the core of all this is the belief that life should be fair and that we are both (1) the judges of what is fair treatment and (2) enforcers of punishment on those who step over the lines—our lines. We think ourselves to be justified in keeping behavioral scorecards in our relationships. Such score keeping can be found in extended families, marriages, and churches. It should not be.

In this lesson, Jesus addresses the dynamics of relationship offenses. His solid, practical principles that applied to His disciples in the first century AD are vital yet today. These begin with an understanding of our place in the arena of relationships. This helps us see ourselves as people of faith whose service to God is far more important than keeping score with other people.

B. Lesson Background

In Luke 17, Jesus was on His final journey to Jerusalem and the cross that awaited Him there. The trip narrative begins in Luke 9:51 and ends with the triumphal entry in chapter 19. Many teaching opportunities are recorded in this section of 10-plus chapters. Sometimes Jesus was teaching the crowds, sometimes just His 12 disciples. Today’s lesson falls in the second category.

This lesson focuses on the topics of forgiveness and faith. Forgiveness in particular was a much studied and discussed issue for the Jewish people of Jesus’ day. Their Scriptures (our Old Testament) taught them about the necessity of asking and receiving God’s forgiveness (see Psalms 32:1, 2; 79:9). The Scriptures also spoke to forgiveness between people, seen as both necessary and wise (see Proverbs 17:9).

The Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) was a national holy day that addressed the forgiveness of the people for another year as the high priest offered the specified sacrifices (Leviticus 16). Yet just as the relationship of the people to the Lord had been complicated by many rituals and regulations, so too had the process of forgiving others. Rather than letting forgiveness occur naturally as a loving act between people, some wanted to define its terms and limit its frequency. Thus, the act of grace that forgiveness was to represent had become something much less gracious: a response to certain criteria (conditions). In short, forgiveness for the Jews of Jesus’ day had to be earned.

Jesus taught that a world without forgiveness was a cruel and cold place. By the time of today’s lesson, He had taught His disciples to pray for forgiveness from God as they forgave others (Matthew 6:12, 14, 15). But there was more yet for them to learn on this topic.

I. Protecting and Forgiving

                                                                   (Luke 17:1-4)

 

A. Little Ones (vv. 1, 2)

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

Jesus begins His teaching by saying what everyone knows: offences will come. Even the best of relationships have problems from time to time. Even the strongest marriages have to work through issues. Even the best of friends are sometimes at odds.

The word offences translates a Greek word from which we derive our word scandal. It can refer to a stumblingblock, something one trips over, as it is translated in Romans 11:9. This word is also used to refer to a trap, a snare set for animals in order to catch them. In the realm of relationships, the word refers to something that breaks fellowship. As depicted here, these offences are therefore bad, sinful obstacles (compare Matthew 13:41). To this we may contrast Romans 9:33, which describes the reverse; although Jesus is certainly not a sinful obstacle, He is nevertheless “a stumblingstone and rock of offence [scandal]”—the one who is tripped over by those pursuing righteousness by works.

Jesus pronounces a dire warning, a woe, regarding the sources of such sinful obstacles. It is bad enough to fail to resist a temptation and thereby commit sin. It is even more grievous to be the cause of the sin of others. This is sin compounded: (1) guilt for setting a trap that should not have been set in the first place, and (2) some responsibility for the other person who falls.

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.

Millstones are essential for grinding wheat or barley into flour. This is a normal task of village life. Although grain can be roasted and eaten whole, flour is required for the much preferred bread (compare Matthew 24:41). Millstones for this purpose range in size from those used in the hand mills of a household (weighing perhaps 30 to 50 pounds) to large village versions that might be powered by a donkey.

Every millstone has a hole carved in the center so it can be rotated on a stationary stone underneath. This allows grain between the stones to be crushed and ground. The millstone imagery immediately resonates with the life experiences of Jesus’ disciples. What is new to the disciples, however, is the imagery of a deadly millstone necklace. If a millstone’s center hole were to be threaded with a strong rope and then secured around a person’s neck, drowning would quickly result should that person be cast into the sea. It would be better for a person to die such a death than to be the cause of sin for one of these little ones.

We traditionally understand little ones to refer to children (see Matthew 18:2-6), but the application is broader here: they are the naïve ones in our world, whether children or adults, who should be protected from sin rather than enticed into it. People who are wise to the sin traps of the world have a responsibility not to encourage others to fall into those traps—traps that those wiser folks may have yielded themselves to at one time or another. Instead, we are to be rescuers and protectors, snatching others from the fire (Jude 23).

B. Offending Ones (vv. 3, 4)

3, 4. Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him. 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.

Jesus shifts His focus from causing others to sin to situations when we ourselves have been wronged. We sometimes think that sin only involves offenses against God, forgetting that most sinful behavior is also tied to behavior between people. So what should we do when others sin against us?

Verses 3 and 4 should be considered together. Verse 3 gives a simple formula: recognize sin, rebuke the one committing it, expect repentance, and then forgive when repentance is forthcoming. By itself, this verse tells us how but not how much, thereby allowing us to keep a scorecard on forgiveness frequency. By including verse 4, though, we can understand Jesus’ main point: don’t keep score on forgiveness. Keep forgiving. Be quick, ready, and willing to forgive (compare Matthew 18:21, 22). This is not weakness, but strength.

What Do You Think?

In your experience, what makes corrective rebukes effective?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

Regarding the rebuke’s content (“what you say”)

Regarding the rebuke’s form (“how you say it”)

Regarding the medium used (in person, by e-mail, by phone, etc.)

Considering the spiritual maturity and personality types of those involved

Other

“But,” we might object, “we will be taken advantage of if we always forgive like this! Shouldn’t we be a little bit stingy when it comes to forgiveness, a little bit selfish?” Jesus answers this question with a firm no. We are to be consistent leaders when it comes to forgiving. We must give up our score keeping and our desire to get even. Let us be people of forgiveness.

What Do You Think?

How can we apply Jesus’ words without enabling bad behavior?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

Considering the difference between forgiveness and consequences

Considering criminal vs. noncriminal behavior

Other

But what about those who don’t repent? Should we withhold our forgiveness? That’s a tricky question, not addressed here. Some will point out that as Jesus dies on the cross He says, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34) even though the ones who put Him there had not repented of that sin. Others will point out in response that Jesus does not say “I forgive you” in that situation, but requests the Father’s forgiveness of them—forgiveness that the Father will grant only if they repent. We can at least conclude that Jesus wants us to have a ready and willing attitude of forgiveness. His disciples are to be extravagant forgivers.

Card Counting

Card counting is a method that casino gamblers use to improve their odds of winning at blackjack. This technique assigns a point-value to each card as it is dealt, with players keeping track of the changing point total with each hand. Most casinos take various countermeasures to this practice.

The above should not be taken as approval of casino gambling, whether to count cards or not. Instead, it is merely to illustrate that keeping a “forgiveness record” can be a bit like card counting—it tells us when it’s time to say, “No more cards. I call.” But when it comes to forgiving those who wrong us, the Lord doesn’t want us to be “forgiveness counters.” To do so is to invite God to do the same to us.

Forgiveness is not a game of moral blackjack. Forgiveness is not a game at all! Forgiveness is a requirement from Jesus, the one against whom we have all sinned, the one who has paid the sin-debt that was ours to pay. Those who “count cards” in limiting their forgiveness can expect to hear these words on Judgment Day: “O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee?” (Matthew 18:32, 33).—C. R. B.

II. Growing and Serving

                                                                (Luke 17:5-10)

 

A. Bigger Faith (vv. 5, 6)

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

The topic moves from forgiveness to faith. The disciples (called apostles since Luke 6:13) ask Jesus to increase their faith. Our understanding of this request will be influenced by what we understand faith to be.

One view of faith is that of a logical process of coming to belief based on acceptance of evidence. Others see faith as entirely a gift of God. These, then, are the extremes: (1) faith as a human reaction to circumstances or (2) faith as a supernatural endowment from God. The Bible presents both views as having some validity. In the final analysis, lack of faith is our choice, and being faithless is our responsibility (see Luke 9:41). On the other hand, faith is also a spiritual gift that is bestowed by God (see Romans 12:3; 1 Corinthians 12:9).

For what, then, are the disciples asking? It doesn’t quite make sense for them to be asking for faith in the sense of the first type, above. How can Jesus increase faith if it is a human choice that concerns the disciples’ evaluation of circumstances? Neither is the second type of faith in view since the disciples are not faithless fools asking for something they do not already have. They are already men of faith, people who have chosen to follow Jesus.

How to Say It

Corinthians Ko-rin-thee-unz (th as in thin).

Jerusalem Juh-roo-suh-lem.

Leviticus Leh-vit-ih-kus.

sycamine sih-kuh-mine.

 

What they are asking is that Jesus help them have a stronger faith. These men know their weaknesses and doubts. They are laying themselves before Jesus in all their inadequacy and repeating the request of the father of the demon-afflicted boy, “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief” (Mark 9:24, lesson 1).

What Do You Think?

How do you know if and when your faith is growing?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

Evidence from your prayers

Evidence from level of contentment or worry

Evidence from your worship

Evidence from your Christian service

Other

6. And the Lord said, If ye had faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye might say unto this sycamine tree, Be thou plucked up by the root, and be thou planted in the sea; and it should obey you.

Jesus answers their request by giving an illustration of what powerful faith is capable of doing. He uses two extremes to make His point.

The mustard seed is well known for its tiny size (see the picture on page 297). One mustard seed of a certain variety weighs about 2 milligrams, so it would take over 225,000 such seeds to make a pound. This is serious smallness! The sycamine tree (more commonly known today as a mulberry tree) is mentioned not because of its huge size but because it is known for having very deep roots. Jesus’ word picture is that of commanding a deeply anchored tree to pull itself out of the ground, roots and all (not merely cut itself off above the ground), and replant itself in the sea.

Jesus’ declaration has this impact: the one having even a tiny amount of faith that is unblemished by doubt can do very mighty things. This pronouncement does not immediately increase the faith of Jesus’ disciples, but it does indicate His approval of their request. More faith means more things done for the kingdom of God (compare Matthew 17:20; 21:21; Mark 11:23).

What Do You Think?

When was a time you saw “mustard-seed faith” result in an unanticipated outcome? How did your faith change as a result?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

Involving your church as a whole

Involving someone’s ministry gifts in particular

Involving a direction-of-life decision

Other

B. Enduring Faith (vv. 7-9)

7. But which of you, having a servant plowing or feeding cattle, will say unto him by and by, when he is come from the field, Go and sit down to meat?

Jesus offers another illustration concerning the nature of faith. Imagine a farm servant who completes his tasks of plowing or feeding cattle, then returns to the house at the end of the workday. Does the one in charge say, Go and sit down to meat? Jesus’ disciples know the answer: no head of household in this era would say this. Servants are subject to be on duty whenever required, and something else has to happen before the servant has dinner.

8. And will not rather say unto him, Make ready wherewith I may sup, and gird thyself, and serve me, till I have eaten and drunken; and afterward thou shalt eat and drink?

Jesus answers His own question, and His answer is what any of the disciples would give. The servant may have worked long hours in the field, but before he dines, the head of the household expects his own evening meal first. Servants eat and rest only after that.

9. Doth he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I trow not.

Jesus pushes this illustration a step further. Does that servant deserve any special thanks for doing his duty? In the harsh world of heads of households and servants, there is no recognition or praise for obedience, so the answer is no. The obedience of the servant is simply expected. The older English expression I trow not means “I think not!” Servants of Jesus’ day do not get participation trophies.

C. Obedient Faith (v. 10)

10. So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do.

This verse serves as the answer to the request of the disciples in verse 5, the appeal for more faith. Jesus tells them to continue to act faithfully, to do all those things which are commanded. Faith in this sense is not so much something you possess as it is something you do. Faith must be worked out in humility, with a self-deprecating sense that we are unprofitable servants. The right kind of faith is not characterized by congratulatory high-fives or expectations of praise. Faith is to be steady and reliable. The consistent practice of obedient faith makes it stronger and more mature.

What Do You Think?

What does this verse have to say about a Christian’s being able to “exceed expectations” in various areas of life?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

In the business arena

In home life

In volunteer work

Other

A Sense of Entitlement

A grandmother asked her 5-year-old grandson what he wanted for Christmas. She showed him a toy store’s Christmas catalog and asked him to pick out a few things he might like to receive. Looking through the catalog, the boy ended up pointing to each item on every page, saying, “I want this and this and this and . . .” Even at his early age, the child had developed a sense of entitlement.

An entitlement epidemic seems to infect our culture. It knows no age boundaries. Some propose that the roots of the Great Recession of 2008-2011 can be traced to a cultural mind-set that in effect told us that we were entitled to own homes. As a result, people ended up with variable-rate mortgages that stretched them beyond their abilities to repay when interest rates rose. When unemployment began to rise and the housing bubble burst, a massive number of overextended homeowners saw their houses go into foreclosure.

Jesus’ illustration warns against having a sense of entitlement when it comes to the things of God. The only thing we are entitled to in God’s economy “is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23). A sense of spiritual entitlement was a big problem in Jesus’ day (see Luke 3:7-9; etc.). May it not be so in ours as we exercise obedient faith in gratitude for Christ’s work.—C. R. B.

Conclusion

 

A. Mustard Seeds or Scorecards?

In today’s lesson, Jesus confronted the issue of forgiveness in a way that cannot be ignored. He knew that the community of His disciples (the future church) had to be a place of forgiveness and grace. Otherwise, it would be no different from the hard-edged communities of “earned forgiveness” of His day. In that light, Jesus taught His disciples how to forgive and implored them to not place limits on their forgiveness.

The model situation is for us to recognize when we are wronged, confront the wrongdoer, receive an apology, and release any grudge or ill feelings. But we know that the process doesn’t always work so smoothly! The process breaks down when the one who has wronged us refuses to accept correction and does not repent. The expectation of an apology can make things worse. This holds true on a daily basis, whether at work or at home, whether in a supermarket or in a restaurant.

But before we are tempted to set aside Jesus’ model as unrealistic for our day, we should flip it around and ask ourselves some questions: How do we react to a deserved rebuke? How do we respond to a fellow Christian who comes to us to register a complaint about our behavior? Is our first impulse one of self-justification (example: 1 Samuel 15:19, 20) or one of self-examination (example: 2 Samuel 12:11-13a)? Do we facilitate the process of forgiveness or do we (stumbling)block it?

Visual for Lesson 9. Start a discussion by asking, “What percentage of people would finish the statement in this picture with the words ‘more faith’?”

These questions relate closely to Jesus’ teaching on faith in this lesson. Do we expect praise or congratulations for doing the right thing? Must our acts of faithful obedience be rewarded in order for us to continue to do the right thing? Receiving correction in a humble spirit is an act of faith, maybe as difficult an act of faith as there is for a Christian. Humility is not easy, because we do not live in a world that prizes or encourages the humble heart. The worldly model is one of “getting even” for offenses against us.

Let’s put the scorecards away! Let’s have faith much bigger than a tiny mustard seed and allow God to transform our world for Him. Mustard seeds and scorecards don’t mix.

B. Prayer

O God, You are always faithful. May we be faithful like You. You are always forgiving. May we be forgiving like You. Give us faith to trust what You say. May You transform us into servants in the model of Your Son. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

C. Thought to Remember

Exercise the kind of faith that
forgives extravagantly.


May 8

Lesson 10

Grateful Faith

Devotional Reading: Colossians 3:12-17

Background Scripture: Luke 17:11-19

Luke 17:11-19

11And it came to pass, as he went to Jerusalem, that he passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee.

12And as he entered into a certain village, there met him ten men that were lepers, which stood afar off:

13And they lifted up their voices, and said, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.

14And when he saw them, he said unto them, Go shew yourselves unto the priests. And it came to pass, that, as they went, they were cleansed.

15And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God,

16And fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan.

17And Jesus answering said, Were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine?

18There are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger.

19And he said unto him, Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole.

Key Verse

One of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God. —Luke 17:15

Lesson Aims

After participating in this lesson, each learner will be able to:

1. Tell the story of the grateful Samaritan leper.

2. Explain how gratitude can be a barometer of one’s faith.

3. Write a prayer expressing gratitude.

Lesson Outline

Introduction

A. Unending Ungratefulness

B. Lesson Background: Leprosy

C. Lesson Background: Samaritans

I. Ten Desperate Men (Luke 17:11-14)

A. Jerusalem Calls (v. 11)

B. Lepers Beg (vv. 12, 13)

C. Jesus Commands (v. 14)

II. One Grateful Man (Luke 17:15-19)

A. Samaritan’s Return (vv. 15, 16)

B. Jesus’ Concern (vv. 17, 18)

Attitude of Ingratitude?

C. Jesus’ Declaration (v. 19)

Faith Healers

Conclusion

A. Healing Faith

B. Prayer

C. Thought to Remember


Standard Lesson Commentary 2015-2016 (KJV).

"Suggestions for families are taken from Standardlesson.com,

Standard Publishing Group, LLC. Used with permission. More resources for families are available at Standardpub.com.


God Bless