It is easy to see Habakkuk’s point of view, when looking at the world around us these days. It seems that more and more lately there is a vocal (and sadly growing) segment of our population practicing atheism. People who not only don’t believe in God, but have no qualms about casting dispersions on the whole idea of God. In fact, some might even argue that it is now even fashionable to have such views and be outspoken on them. Go to the religion section of any major bookstore and nearly ¼ to ½ of the titles you will find there promote a disdain of God, and a contempt for His church. Is it any wonder Habakkuk’s words ring so clearly in our ears:
(Habakkuk 1:2,4; 2:4) “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? … So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted … Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith.” Yet the real question for us is not whether the world is a rough place to live. It is. Not whether things around us are getting bad, (they are) or whether our government is doing all it can to guarantee our freedom of religion (it isn’t). The real issue, as we see in the gospel reading, is not to worry about the faults of the world around us, but to be concerned with how we will face it all. In other words, what kind of servant we will be for our Lord and God.
(1-3) “And he said to his disciples, Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! 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. Pay attention to yourselves!” Atheists are only one group among the many who are trying to erode faith in Christ. Life in this sinful and broken world will be full of offenses, full of temptations and snares to lead people away from Jesus. It is simply inconceivable that such things would not be a part of every day life. BUT, that does not mean that we can become lax or lazy, or unconcerned about such things. Worse yet, Jesus warns us to be wary lest we fall into the patterns of the world and end up becoming one of those very snares for someone else.
As mature Christians we know that our works do not earn us favour with God, but heaven forbid if we let this freedom in the Gospel become an excuse for not attending Bible Study or Worship, for failing to pray and praise God, for thinking that God will understand this one time, or that little things just don’t matter. How many people have been led to believe that Christ’s church is unimportant, because we don’t treat it as important. That God’s Word is nice, but not worth changing your life for, because we don’t have time for it? That Christians are just a bunch of hypocrites, because what we say and what we do don’t always line up. Such a thing must never be … on this God is deadly serious. Jeopardizing someone else’s faith, because we are careless in our own has terrible consequences, both for them and for us! We are to serve God by being a positive example of the faith for everyone around us.
(3) “If your brother sins, rebuke him,” This one is even harder. Very few people like confrontations, but where we see sin, we are called by God to stand up and speak out. Not to prove a point. Not to make ourselves into one of those kooks with a cause, not because it is fun, and people will thank us for it … but because the eternal well-being of that person who is living in sin is at stake. And what is even more daunting is that God wants us to speak out not on issues in general, not in anonymous letters to the editor, but one-on-one. To the very people that are involved. Speaking to individuals about their destructive behaviours and choices, before it is too late, or lest they take pride in the very thing that might end up cutting them off from God forever. We are to serve God by standing firm on His judgments, even among family and friends!
(3-4) “and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, I repent, you must forgive him.” This is perhaps the hardest of them all. Because as much as we hate confrontations, we all hate to be “taken advantage of” even more. How many times are you willing to forgive someone before you figure they have proven that they don’t really mean it? Once? Twice? Jesus isn’t simply upping this to seven. He says, every time they come to you in repentance you must forgive them. Every time! Even if it’s the same thing over and over? Yes! Even if you have your doubts? Yes! Even if it makes you look like a no-back-boned, push-over of a doormat? Yes! Forgiveness is at the heart of every life lived in God. Forgiveness is the one and only way that anyone has into heaven. Forgiveness is never, ever a thing to be played around with. We forgive … period. We serve God by being ready and willing to forgive each and every time, no matter what.
We truly are unworthy servants.
Perhaps this is why (in part) that Jesus goes on to say the following: (7-10) “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? 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? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? 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. Even if we were better at serving Him than we are, even if we could follow his wishes on even one or two of these points, still we would be unworthy servants.
“Unworthy” here means those “who claim no credit,” or “who deserve no credit.” It does not mean “useless.” It means that the master owes them nothing, not even thanks, even though they’ve done all they were told. When Christians, by faith, do that which is impossible without faith, the devil can still get into it and the Christian is in danger of boasting, as if God owed him something for what he is or does. Such notions left unchecked are dangerous to the principle of grace and unmerited favour of God in Christ. Jesus is warning His Apostles. When they do exercise genuine faith let them be on guard lest they lay claim to merit on their own or require gratitude from God. Jesus draws an ideal picture of people who do everything commanded them. Even if we could do that (which we don’t) we could lay no claim to God’s gratitude toward us. We serve God by remembering that He owes us nothing, and that everything we do earns us not one thing from Him.
Perhaps now you are ready to cry out with the apostles: (5) “Lord, Increase our faith!” Rightly they saw that we truly are unworthy servants, and that our faith is so often lacking. We can easily begin to feel the same way when faced by the pressures of this life, and the indictment of God’s Law upon our lives. But you know friends, the apostles didn’t get the whole picture. And that is why Jesus gives the good news to all unworthy servants: (6) “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.”
How is faith like a mustard seed? A mustard seed is very small but it is a genuine seed. True faith may be small but if it is genuine it looks only to Christ Who takes away the sin of the world, to Christ who came not to be served but to serve, to give His life’s ransom for many.
Jesus had asked his disciples: (7) “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?” yet isn’t that precisely what He himself has done for each and every one of us? Weary and dirty from work in the harvest fields, tired and fully expecting nothing but more work, and more rebuke for inadequate performances, Jesus does the unexpected. He calls us over and gives us the place of honour right there at the master’s table. Just as we are. He has gone to all the trouble of securing our place there. He bought it with his very own blood. He girded his loins and stooped down to wash the dirt of sin from the souls of humanity. And so he beckons us over, servants no more. By his invitation we are counted among the very guests for whom the feast is prepared.
And it is faith in Jesus and his work on our behalf, that accepts this invitation to the table. Any faith at all is more than enough to accomplish what God asks of us. Trusting in all that Jesus lived through for us, enables us to willingly and gladly follow in his steps, becoming a Christ-like example for others to see. Bearing the rebuke of our sins, repenting in faith and seeing Christ’s hard-earned forgiveness, makes it possible for us to confront sin in others that they might take joy in a life of repentance … that they might know the forgiveness of Christ. And it is precisely this forgiveness so lavishly heaped upon us unworthy servants that allows us by faith, to swallow our pride and forgive others as we have first been forgiven. It may only be what is our duty, but it is a glorious thing all the same. “Lord increase the faith of we your unworthy servants!”