Luke 17 begins with Jesus telling His disciples about those who intentionally put stumbling blocks (temptations to sin) before others. After Jesus talks about that, He tells the disciples to be on their guard, or, take heed to themselves that if a brother sins,(or puts a stumbling block in front of you) rebuke him and if he repents, forgive him – even forgive him 7 times a day if he sins 7 times in a day. Verse 5 records the response of the disciples: “And the apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”
In other words, those listening were having a hard time with forgiving someone 7 times in one day. They did not know how they could do such a thing and asked the Lord to give them more faith so they could conceivably do this.
I love how Jesus responds to their astonishment of forgiving multiple times and their appeal to Him for more 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.’”
Now, if you were standing nearby and heard this conversation, what would you think? Jesus’ response hardly seems like an answer to their appeal for more faith. I’ve usually heard this verse expounded like this: “You should have more faith. Your faith is way too little and that’s why your prayers are going unanswered.” It’s normally taught to show how weak our faith is. Our response might leave us feeling awful about not believing God for more things, or, that we don’t even have faith the size of a tiny seed, so why bother even asking God for anything? I’m sure I’m not the only one who has heard it preached like that before.
Allow me to share some deeper truth and get rid of some guilt about “how large or how small your faith is.”
The context here is Jesus talking about not putting a stumbling block before others – not purposely putting temptation before them. God considers this a very serious thing as He doesn’t desire any of us to stumble away from Him. But Jesus knows we are only human and we will sin (we will put blocks in the way of our brother) and we will have stumbling blocks put in our way time and again and when this happens, we are to forgive as we have been forgiven – totally, completely, without any strings attached. God forgives us without blaming, without asking why or demanding an explanation. He paid for all our sin on the cross and it’s been taken care of for eternity and therefore we should also forgive others. He alone knows our sinful nature. When we are in Christ, God doesn’t see our sin anymore. This is how we are to see one another. The disciples/apostles listening were somewhat aghast to think that someone could sin against them 7 times in a day and then to think of forgiving them each time – well that is something humanly impossible without God’s intervention. That is why they exclaimed what they did – for an increase in faith in order to be able to forgive. (I also think that unforgiveness can become a stumbling block over time).
This isn’t a bad request, and in fact a pretty normal reaction. But it’s Jesus’ response that attracts our attention. I believe Jesus was telling them something like this:
“My friends, you already have faith. It’s a gift from Me to you. You think you need some greater measure of it in order to carry out what I say to you. If faith were generated from you, then perhaps you would indeed need more and more of it. But if that were the case, when would you ever know if you had “enough”? Rather than plead with Me for a greater measure of faith, would you please use the faith you already have? It doesn’t take much at all – like the tiny mustard seed – no more than that. You see, it is My faith, My belief, My ability that does anything in the first place. I’ve given you My authority on this earth, so go ahead and use it. It’s My name that will uproot a huge tree such as the mulberry (which has deep roots so deep as to hold up the great tree). If you believe I can do all things, all you need do is speak the truth and things will happen. And you will be encouraged in the process of seeing My word come to pass.”
Verses 7-10 talk about doing things that are expected of you without being thanked. Once we know how forgiven we are, forgiving others will be a normal activity in your life. This to me speaks of the normalcy of speaking our faith into the world around us. Jesus wants the miraculous to be “normal” in our lives. He wants us to use His name and authority to get things out of the way in our lives. He desires us to use the gift of faith all the time, not just once in a while. He also wants forgiveness to be a typical thing in our lives, not something unusual or out of the ordinary.
Mark 16:17-18 says, “These signs will accompany those who have believed: in My name they will cast out demons, they will speak with new tongues; they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly poison, it shall not hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”
These things are supposed to be normal in the life of a believer in Jesus. I think we’re trying so hard to make something happen at times, that we’ve robbed ourselves of the power that resides only in Jesus. Our works and self-effort get in the way of God’s grace, the gift of faith that is the only power on earth that can pluck up a huge tree and plant it in the sea.
So use what God has given you. Even if you think your faith is smaller than a mustard seed, it is not. Would God give us faith and then somehow think, “Oops, I guess I didn’t give them enough faith to accomplish all I desire on earth. They should just try harder and harder to grow their faith and then, and only then, will anything happen.” I think not!
I also notice that vs 6 tells us to “say” to this mulberry (or sycamore) tree, ‘Be uprooted and be planted in the sea.’ We’re so hesitant to believe it can be that easy! We say so many things in a day, why not just speak to your trouble to be uprooted and planted in the sea – out of your way, out of sight, out of your life! This isn’t magic, this is the Son of God telling us to “say” to our mountains to be removed and God cannot lie.
So be encouraged knowing you already have been given faith. You could not believe in Jesus if the faith to believe had not been given you in the first place (Ephesians 2:8-9). Your faith (in God’s eyes) is as large as a little seed, ready to accomplish much for Him who gave you the faith. Open your mouth and speak His truth over your situations and stand back, resting in His ability to follow through and accomplish what you said. He is more than able!