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Increase Our Faith

And the apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and be planted in the sea’; and it would obey you. But which of you having a slave plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come immediately and sit down to eat’? But will he not say to him, ‘Prepare something for me to eat, and properly clothe yourself and serve me until I have eaten and drunk; and afterward you will eat and drink’? He does not thank the slave because he did the things which were commanded, does he? So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done.’” (Luke 17:5–10, NASB).

Not long ago I was reading the seventeenth chapter of Luke. The chapter started with Jesus telling His disciples about stumbling blocks and telling them to always be willing to forgive their brother.

Okay…but the apostles’ response seemed like their minds were somewhere else. After hearing Jesus tell them to be willing to forgive their brother whenever he says, “I repent,” the apostles responded by saying to Jesus, “Increase our faith!” There was a seeming disconnect between what Jesus had just said and the disciples’ request.

When reading this text in the past, I sort of made a mental jump to a new discourse between Jesus and His disciples. In this imagined “new” discussion, the topic was faith and Jesus’ answer started with “faith like a mustard seed.” My mind went to other references where Jesus likened the kingdom of heaven to a mustard seed that was small and grew into a great tree (Matthew 13:31; Mark 4:31; Luke 13:19), and where Jesus—when He had come down from the Mount of Transfiguration—told His disciples they could not cast the demon out of the boy because of their unbelief (Matthew 17:19–20). He said, “If you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you shall say unto this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you.” Surely, in those cases, Jesus was telling them they only possessed a small amount of faith and needed to grow their faith. After all, how many times did Jesus say to them and other, “Oh, ye of little faith!” (Interestingly, the Greek word for “faith” is different in those times).

But, the rest of Jesus’ answer went off on a different tangent than I expected; it talked about obedient servants. I thought, “What does that have to do with faith?” So, I prayed for understanding and searched back to chapters fifteen and sixteen to find where this whole event started. It started with the Pharisees and scribes grumbling because Jesus received tax-collectors and sinners. Jesus responded by telling several parables, including the prodigal son, and talking about the unrighteous steward who was unfaithful in his stewardship but acted shrewdly when he was called to give an account of his master’s possessions. Jesus said, “He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much,” (Luke 16:10). This is why the disciples wanted Jesus to increase their faith.

In the conclusion of His story of the unrighteous steward in Luke sixteen, Jesus equated faithfulness with righteousness. That same connection is made by the writer of Hebrews. Hebrews chapter 11 is the “faith” hall of fame. These followers of God—Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Rahab, Samson, David, Gideon, and the others—pursued the Kingdom of God with vigor and zeal. These faithful, righteous saints were shrewd. Their hearts were in a different world. They were looking for a city whose “architect and builder is God (Hebrews 11:10). It has been said that Coca-Cola is more widely distributed than the gospel of Jesus Christ, simply because “the sons of this age are more shrewd in relation to their generation than the sons of light,” (Luke 16:8).

Faith, then, is the present reality of a future promise; it requires action. In verse five of Luke 17, the apostles’ desire focused on kind of faith rather than how much. In verse six, Jesus compares faith to a mustard seed, not in the sense of size, but as being in the same manner. It’s not the amount of faith one has, but the object of that faith. When ice skating, it is far better to have small faith on thick ice than great faith on thin ice. The faith the disciples desired was a focused, whole-hearted faith in God that would allow them to overlook a brother’s sin and forgive him as often as he repented. So, how did Jesus say they could get that faith? They were to “do all the things which are commanded” (verse 10).

What things are commanded? What is God’s prescribed arrangement—His law— for an orderly life?

The point of Jesus’ comments to the Pharisees was that their focus on self was contrary to the law of God and ultimately led to eternal punishment. Jesus’ response to His disciples was that they should be humble and contrite, and unlike the rich man who lived in splendor every day (Luke 16:19), not consider themselves of more worth than others—because all have sinned and come short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). James 4:6 says, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” The disciples were commanded to consider themselves as undeserving slaves—like Lazarus. They were to do the things commanded. “All the things you are commanded” harkens back to Matthew 28:20 where Christ commands his disciples to teach “all that I have commanded.” Those commands are found throughout the New Testament. Some examples from the gospels are Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5–7 and Jesus’ discourse during the Last Supper in John 13–17; examples from the epistles are 1 Thessalonians 5:14–22 and Colossians 3:8–9, 12–17. Specifically, here in Luke 17, they were to forgive others. In a since, both the parable of the prodigal son and Jesus’ command to forgive end in a call for reconciliation. Acting in obedience to God’s commands demonstrates and adds to—or increases—faith.

Remember what Jesus said in Luke 16:10, “He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much.” He who obeys Christ’s commands in all the “small” areas with the intent of serving Him and not personal gain, will have great faith. It’s not about you. Your faith grows as your obedience grows. Your faith increases as you humbly keep Christ’s commands.


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