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Increase Our Faith

In Luke 17:1-4, Jesus admonished His twelve apostles about two issues.  One issue was about stumbling blocks, which was a figure the Lord used to describe causes of sin.  Jesus said that it would be better for a man to have a millstone hung around his neck and to be thrown into the sea than for him to cause a child of God to stumble, meaning to sin.  The other issue taught by the Lord was concerning forgiveness.  He said that if your brother sins and repents, then you are to forgive him.  Furthermore, He said to forgive such a brother even if he sins and repents seven times a day.

Hearing these two teachings of Jesus, His apostles replied to Him with a request, saying, "Increase our faith!”  Apparently, they felt their faith was insufficient to carry out the Lord’s requirements regarding stumbling blocks and forgiveness.  Of course, Jesus had rebuked His apostles on several occasions for their weakness of faith (Matt. 8:26; 14:31; 16:8; 17:19-21).  Now the apostles were recognizing their weak faith, and they petitioned Jesus for His help.

The Lord answered His apostles by saying, "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” (Luke 17:6).  The mustard seed, being one of the smallest seeds, represented a very small portion of faith, and yet the Lord showed that such a tiny amount of faith is enough to do great things.  However, the apostles did not even have faith in the measure of a mustard seed, for they could not yet do the great things of which Jesus spoke.  Perhaps Jesus spoke of the miraculous measure of faith that would be a gift of the Holy Spirit (1Cor. 12:9), but it seems more likely that He spoke of the ordinary faith that is common to all believers in Christ.  This is the kind of faith needed to comply with Christ’s teachings, and even a small amount can lead believers to do great things in the name of the Lord.

Following this, Jesus taught a parable that at first may seem to be disconnected from the issue of faith.  However, after considering the parable carefully, we will see otherwise.  Notice the parable recorded in Luke 17:7-10:

7"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’?  8But will he not say to him, ‘Prepare something for me to eat, and properly clothe yourself and serve me while I eat and drink; and afterward you may eat and drink’?  9He does not thank the slave because he did the things which were commanded, does he?  10So 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.’”

What does this parable have to do with the Lord increasing the apostles’ faith?  Essentially, Christ was telling the apostles to answer their own request.  The way to increase faith is found in verse 10 – do all the things which are commanded and have an attitude of humility.  It is a simple formula, but it is profoundly important for all believers.  In the parable, the slave represents a believer.  He works hard all day in the fields, and then he works hard to serve his master before he ever considers tending to his own needs.  When he has done all of this, he receives no thanks from the master.  Even so, the slave does not sulk about his situation or turn away from his master.  Instead, he humbly realizes that he is privileged to have served his master, and he deserves no thanks, for he is an unworthy, unprofitable slave doing only what he should have done.

This parable highlights the working part of faith.  This corresponds to Hebrews 11, where faith is explained by the many examples of men and women who worked because they had "the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”  It also corresponds to the writings of James 2, where James said, "But someone may well say, ‘You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works’” (v. 18).  The believer who works in faith knows that he is an unworthy slave who cannot earn his salvation (Eph. 2:8-9), but he also knows that he was created in Christ Jesus for good works (Eph. 2:10).  The works he performs give life to his faith (faith without works is dead – Jas. 2:26), thus increasing his faith to do even more.  He cannot be saved by his works of faith, but he cannot be saved without them.

Let us learn the lesson of our Lord to increase our faith.  Jesus has given us the ability to increase our own faith, but we have to be willing.  We must do all the things which are commanded of us with an attitude of humility.  We must do even the unpleasant and thankless jobs in God’s service and never expect a word of praise or a pat on the back.  If we can do such things and still think to ourselves, "We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done,” then our faith is strong.  Nonetheless, when we do these things and our faith is increased, let us give glory to God, for it is God who gives the increase (1Cor. 3:7).

Stacey E. Durham




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