Luke 17:6 ESV – 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.
Luke 17 takes place during a discourse between Jesus and the Disciples. He starts the chapter by telling his disciples that all sinners are in danger of destruction. He challenges them to rebuke brothers that sin against them, and if that brother repents, they must forgive that brother. This task seems so daunting, that they cry out to Jesus, “Increase our faith!” This is where we pick up the story.
Jesus responds to his men, the men He’s personally chosen to live alongside Him for 3 years, by insulting the amount of faith that they currently have. Here are the people on earth closest to Jesus, crying out for him to increase their faith, and He seemingly ignores their request. He gives the disciples a logical syllogism to demonstrate the power of faith. I believe you can state the syllogism as follows:
- If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, then you could speak to a tree and it will obey you.
- (Implied) You cannot speak to a tree and have it obey you.
- (Implied Conclusion via Contrapositive) You do not have faith the size of a mustard seed.
Some of Jesus’ analogy need to be interpreted. First off, how big is a mustard seed? Small. Here’s a picture just to give you an idea:
|Image Credit: alienman.blogspot.com|
Now, I guess one could try to argue that even though the seed is small, at least it’s tangible, and since faith is intangible, if you could actually hold your faith it would be a lot. I doubt very much that Jesus is trying to say faith “like a grain of mustard seed” is a lot. I think He’s showing how little that faith is, and how much good it can do.
So, the disciples ask Jesus to increase their faith, and He replies in v 6 by telling them how small their faith really is. I would argue that Jesus is telling them not that they have little faith, but that they actually have none. Jesus simultaneously shows the disciples how miraculous faith in God is, and how they don’t have it at all.
Secondly, the ability to move trees into the ocean via vocal commands seems like an awesome power to wield, so why does Jesus equate such an amazing action with such a small amount of faith? Because the faith we get does so much more than just move mountains – it saves souls. Jesus is using a picture of physical miracles being small, because the greatest miracle – the Creator saving His undeserving creation – takes more faith than defying the laws of physics. Jesus is telling us that salvation is greater than physical power.
What Jesus is telling His disciples is that they don’t need their faith increased. They don’t have any faith at all. It’s a gift from Him. They don’t need an increase, they need it all! We are saved by faith through grace. The Reformers called this “Sola Fide” which means, “By Faith Alone.” We need Jesus to give us this faith to save us.
This is where the application comes in. I can’t move inanimate objects with my words. I’ve tried and I look quite foolish. My wife laughs, and I feel like an idiot. The fact of the matter is that I need to cry to Jesus “Give me faith!” before I can cry “Lord, increase my faith!” I need to rely on Him for every ounce, every drop of faith in my life. Any faith that I think I own becomes an idol, to where I’d try to show others, “Look at my faith! I’m so much more holier than thou art.”
What’s amazing even more than that is that Jesus *does* give us faith and *does* increase it. The disciples got to a point in their Christian lives where, with their words, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” the people that heard turned from their wicked ways of being planted in the mire of destruction and came to be planted in the Living Water that flows from Christ. That is, because of the faith Jesus has given me, I can use my words to partner in the most amazing miracle ever: sinners being made into saints. I need to take advantage of this faith, and outwardly evangelize to people I meet. Lord Jesus, increase my faith!