When It Comes to Faith – A Little Goes a Long Way.
The Lord answered, “If you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘May you be uprooted and thrown into the sea,’ and it would obey you!” – Luke 17:6 NLT
Once again, we have a very difficult passage this morning. There are two seemingly disconnected messages that have nothing to do with one another. What is it that Jesus is trying to tell His disciples and, by extension, us? The first message has to do with temptation. It is similar to a teaching Jesus gave that was recorded by Matthew. Jesus tells His disciples that there will always be temptations to sin. It is part of living life in a fallen world. But His real point seems to be that you don’t want to be someone who tempts or leads another person into sin. Because Luke has included this teaching of Jesus in this section of messages, I believe he is purposely connecting it to Jesus’ indictment of the Pharisees and religious leaders. One of His greatest frustrations with these so-called religious leaders was that, through their actions and attitudes, they were causing others to reject His message. They were preventing others from accepting the Good News that Jesus came to bring. Later on in His ministry, Jesus would make this point painfully clear: “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you shut the door of the Kingdom of Heaven in people’s faces. You won’t go in yourselves, and you don’t let others enter either” (Matthew 23:13 NLT). So I believe Luke is including these two teachings of Jesus in this section because he viewed them as having something to do with Jesus’ views regarding the religious leaders of the day.
The last thing we should want to do as believers is to cause someone to sin. Instead, we should be calling one another to repentance. If it is necessary, we should even be willing to rebuke them in order to get them to repent. As representatives of Jesus, our job is to encourage one another away from sin, not toward it. Rather than encourage rebellion against God, we should motivate one another toward repentance to God. And when they do repent, we should be ready to forgive them – even if their sin was toward us. Over in the Matthew passage, Jesus takes this message a step further, saying, “So if your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut of off and throw it away. It’s better to enter eternal life with only one hand or one foot than to be thrown into eternal fire with both of your hands and feet. And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It’s better to enter eternal life with only one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell” (Matthew 18:8-9 NLT). That seems pretty drastic, doesn’t it? But Jesus is trying to get us to recognize the seriousness of sin, both in our individual life and within the body of Christ. We are not to tolerate sin. We are not to become comfortable with sin – in our own lives or within the church. When Paul found out that there was a situation going on in the church at Corinth that involved a man having sex with his step-mother, he addressed it quickly and powerfully. He said, “I can hardly believe the report about the sexual immorality going on among you” (1 Corinthians 5:1 NLT). Evidently, the church had decided to simply tolerate this situation rather than deal with it. But Paul told them to remove this man from their fellowship. He said, “you must throw this man out and hand him over to Satan so that his sinful nature will be destroyed and he himself will be saved on the day the Lord returns” (1 Corinthians 5:5 NLT). Then Paul gives them the reason behind his harsh recommendation. “Don’t you realize that this sin is like a little yeast that spreads through the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old “yeast” by removing this wicked person from among you” (1 Corinthians 5:6-7 NLT). Deal with it. Remove it. Take it seriously. Or it will spread and infect the whole congregation.
Back to Luke’s account. Jesus would love to see the religious leaders repent of their sins. He would love to see them recognize their sinfulness, turn to Him as their Messiah, and receive forgiveness. And even though their sins were directed against Him, He would have forgiven them. But until they did repent, Jesus would continue to point out their sins and rebuke them for their hard hearts and hypocrisy. We must understand the power and pervasiveness of sin. We cannot afford to make light of it. As Jesus said, it is like yeast, and will spread uncontrolled through our lives and through the church if left unchecked.
The second part of this passage appears to be a total detour. The disciples ask Jesus to show them how to increase their faith. It sounds like a legitimate request. But what are they really asking? Because of the manner in which Jesus answers them, it would appear that their request had an ulterior motive that was less than innocent. Their request for increased faith seems to be so that they could do bigger and better things. They wanted to do miracles like Jesus. They wanted to cast out demons like Jesus. They had gotten a little taste of what this was like when Jesus sent them out two by two with the power and authority to heal and cast our demons. They came back pumped. They liked what they had experienced. They were wanting more of the same. So Jesus tells them that it wasn’t a matter of the QUANTITY of their faith, but the QUALITY of it. He tells them that with just a small amount of faith, they could tell a tree to be uprooted from the ground and be thrown into the sea, and it would happen. Now, you have to stop and think about this statement. What is Jesus really teaching us? Is He saying that if we believe hard enough, we can literally uproot trees with a word from our mouths? The point seems to be the contrast between the size of the faith compared to the difficulty of the task. A little faith can do a lot. Jesus seems to be telling the disciples that they don’t need MORE faith, they need the right KIND of faith. Jesus uses a real-life illustration to make His point. If a master has a servant who has been plowing in the master’s field or caring for the master’s sheep, and that servant comes in to the house, does the master invite his servant to sit down and eat with him? Certainly not. He tells the servant to serve him first. And does the master thank the servant for doing what he was supposed to do? No. Then Jesus makes it personal. “In the same way, when you obey me you should say, ‘We are unworthy servants who have simply done our duty’” (Luke 17:10 NLT). Faith must be God-directed. The disciples wanted more faith so they could do more things for their own glory and benefit. They wanted to accomplish more, but they wanted to do it on their own terms. Jesus is telling them that they simply need to do what He wants them to do. They needed to be faithful first. They needed to trust Jesus and listen to what He was saying. Again, I think Jesus is also sending a message regarding the religious leaders. They refused to listen to God. They refused to obey God. They were rejecting the very Son of God. Rather than view themselves as servants of God, they had tried to turn the tables and almost demanded that God serve them. After all, in their minds, they deserved it. They were descendants of Abraham and faithful servants of God. But they were neglecting their duty to God.
Jesus wants the disciples to know that their faith must not be based in their ability to accomplish great things for God. It must be focused on God Himself. Our faith, even in small quantities, will accomplish incredible things, as long as we are leaning on and listening to God. If God demands that we uproot a mulberry tree, we will have all the power to do it, because we are doing His will. And He will get the glory, not us. Like the servant in Jesus’ example, we need to be willing to do our duty, faithfully. We need to be willing to focus on God and His desires. Then when He commands us to do something, we will have our faith in the right place and He will provide the power to produce the right outcome. We don’t need more faith, we just need to focus what little faith we have on the right thing – serving God.
Father, show me how to serve You more and me less. Help me make it less and less about me and more and more about You. If You are the focus, faith will never be a problem. If I realize that You don’t need me to do anything, but that You want to reveal Your power in me and through me, then I don’t need more faith. I have You. Amen.
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men