The Lord brought me to read and study Luke 17:1-5. The MKJV version reads:
“1 And He said to the disciples, ‘It is impossible but that offenses will come. But woe to him through whom they come!
2 It were better for him that a millstone were hanged around his neck and he were cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones.
3 Take heed to yourselves. If your brother trespasses against you, rebuke him. And if he repents, forgive him.
4 And if he trespasses against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turns again to you, saying, I repent, you shall forgive him.’
5 And the apostles said to the Lord, ‘Give us more faith.'”
As I struggled with the word offences in v1, before looking up other translations to see how they interpreted this word, I checked on the original Greek word which is skandalon [σκάνδαλον] and Strongs‘ says it means: a “scandal”; a trap stick (bent sapling), that is, a snare (figuratively cause of displeasure or sin): – occasion to fall (of stumbling), offence, thing that offends, stumbling-block. Thayer’s adds: any person or thing by which one is (entrapped) and drawn into error or sin.
Reading a few alternative translations of Luke 17:1, I was surprised by the different approaches taken to the render the full meaning:
|Amplified||AND [Jesus] said to His disciples, Temptations (snares, traps set to entice to sin) are sure to come, but woe to him by or through whom they come!|
|King James||Then said he unto the disciples, It is impossible but that offences will come: but woe unto him, through whom they come!|
|Revised Version||And he said unto his disciples, It is impossible but that occasions of stumbling should come: but woe unto him, through whom they come!|
|Webster||Then he said to the disciples, It is impossible but that causes of sin will come: but woe to him by whom they come!|
|Good News||Jesus said to his disciples, “Things that make people fall into sin are bound to happen, but how terrible for the one who makes them happen!|
|God’s Word||Jesus told his disciples, “Situations that cause people to lose their faith are certain to arise. But how horrible it will be for the person who causes someone to lose his faith!|
|Easy-to-Read||Jesus said to his followers, “Things will surely happen that will make people sin. But it will be very bad for anyone who makes this happen.|
As I prayed for understanding, the Lord reminded me of First Peter 5:8 in which Peter warns Christians to be awake and aware, to “Be sensible and vigilant, because your adversary the Devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking someone he may devour.” I sensed the Holy spirit telling me that Jesus’s words in Luke 17:1 are an example of this in action. One may argue that the enemy is not behind every temptation which comes before a Christian, for our carnality can do that easily for us. But the Greek skandalon, and the Amplified version description of “snares, traps set to entice to sin,” infer that there is intent behind the temptation; snares and traps so not just happen by themselves!
Next, we need to understand against whom these offences are being committed. v2 calls them, “these little ones.” The Greek here for little ones is mikros/mikroteros [μικρός/μικρότερος] a general comparative word. Thus the interpretation here is not that Jesus is talking only about children, but also new believers, or those weak in the faith; in fact, anyone less capable than yourself.
What does this mean for Christians?
Well, it is quite clear that Jesus is warning about God’s wrath for those who offend, abuse or in any way lead astray any child, or anyone less capable than themselves, from Him. This warning seems particularly relevant today, when corruption in all forms is openly invited Godly homes via television and the internet. All Christians must guard against physical abuse, but also, they must recognise the possible mental and spiritual corruption which television and internet surfing may bring.
What does Jesus ask we do? He says in v3: “Take heed to yourselves.” The Amplified Bible says: “Pay attention and always be on your guard [looking out for one another]. If your brother sins (misses the mark), solemnly tell him so and reprove him, and if he repents (feels sorry for having sinned), forgive him.”
“Take heed,” means to hold the mind towards, that is, pay attention to, be cautious about, apply oneself to, adhere to, beware of, or have regard to. This is a verb. It means we Christians are required to do something. Doing nothing, is not an option here!
Christians are called to positively, and in the Love of Jesus, look out for and to care for others. Such caring may mean correction, and that is not always easy; yet we are all called to it; irrevocably, we are called to do it.
Thus, when our Christian brothers and sisters, or anyone else for that matter, tries and fails, we are to forgive, if they repent. It is interesting here that Jesus uses the word ‘trespass’ rather than sin, for they have two separate meanings. A trespass is an unintentional sin (Leviticus 5:15), so if we sin unknowingly or unintentionally, that is a trespass. (See our article Transgression, Sin and Iniquity for a more complete explanation.)
In other words, Jesus is distinguishing between intentional sin and unintentionally or unknowingly sinning. Jesus is clear, Christians are to continue to forgive trespasses. However, interestingly in Matthew 18:21, the same Greek word is translated as sin: “Then Peter came to Him and said, Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Until seven times?” Once again, the intentions is clear, Christians are to forgive. In other words, whether the sin is intentional or not, Christians are to forgive.
We have often heard that we commit two types of sin; the sins of commission – sins we committed by our actions, and sins of omission – sins we committed by our inaction. The Lord takes our actions and inactions seriously, and so too must we.
If we cause one of our brothers or sister to fall into sin or into apostasy as a result of our actions, or our inactions, we are guilty before the Lord.
When I read in Luke 17:5 that the apostles then asked Jesus for “more faith,” I can well imagine that they too were stunned at the bluntness of this demand upon them. To me, it almost feels as if they wanted to change the subject, for as John 6:60b says, “This is an hard saying; who can hear it?”
But instead, what they are actually doing is turning from themselves and their own abilities, to ask Jesus for help. Yes, the disciples’ request was genuine. They wanted a degree of faith capable of such a radical and unlimited forgiveness. Jesus then proceeded to answer their question, but not directly. He wanted them to understand, as Christians too must understand, that the genuineness of faith is more important than the amount of faith. Faith here, being complete trust and loyalty to God, exemplified by a willingness to do His will at all times.