And the apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.” So the Lord said, “If you have faith as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you. And which of you, having a servant plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and sit down to eat’? But will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare something for my supper, and gird yourself and serve me till I have eaten and drunk, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I think not. So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.'” (Luke 17:5-10)
Increase Our Faith
One of the characteristics of the ministry of Jesus was His love for the common man and the outcast of society. He would often direct His teaching to the less noble of the world putting Him at odds with the Pharisees and scribes. On one occasion the tax collectors and sinners drew near to Him to hear him drawing the displeasure of Jewish leaders. They could not understand how a man who was a teacher could mingle with such people of low estate. Using parables to drive the point home, Jesus described the lost sheep, lost coin and lost son to show who really matters to God. In His parables, Jesus rebuked the hierarchy of Israel warning of offending the little ones and challenging the will of His Father. As the apostles listened, they must have been puzzled by the bold teaching of Jesus and implored the Lord to increase their faith. What is remarkable about His answer is that Jesus could have used a lot of lessons to show the apostles how to increase their faith but He shared an unexpected virtue that all men must learn to please God.
Faith can be as small as a mustard seed and accomplish great things. The apostles wanted more faith. Jesus reminds them faith is not measured by the greatness of the act or the pride of the man. Having a faith that believes in the power of God will bring about great changes in the life of the disciple. The Lord shows that faith as small as a mustard seed – with the fervent belief in the mercy of God – can pull up a mulberry tree from its roots and be planted in another place. The lesson from Jesus is not that He wanted His disciples to be arborist. Faith can do great things if we allow its power to work in us. The apostles were astonished at the teaching of Jesus as He answered the Pharisees and scribes. The Lord was not suggesting an impossible task to love the one sheep or one coin. A son left his father and wasted his life on prodigal living but found forgiveness in a loving father. Devotion to God requires a spirit that serves only one master living by the law of God. Eternity depends on making the right choice.
The challenge of faith is knowing that for all we do, nothing will remove the humble realization that we are unprofitable servants. When the apostles asked Jesus for more faith, they did not expect to learn that great faith comes from the heart of a servant. A man works in the heat of the day plowing or tending sheep. It is exhausting work and labor intensive. Completing the task of a long day’s work, the servant enters the home knowing his labor is far from over. He would wish the master would exhort him to sit and rest but he knows as a servant, he must now serve the master. The servant girds himself and begins the work of preparing a meal so his master can eat. It is not until the master finishes eating the servant is allowed to serve himself. Is the servant commended because he did something great? Jesus says that faith is knowing that in all things God is glorified because He is the master and we serve to His glory.
Faith requires humility and humility comes from faith. When all is said and done, we remain unprofitable servants. Pride enters the heart of man when he thinks he deserves to sit at the master’s table. The distinction of the servant and master was very clear in the day of Jesus. It remains the same today. Faith comes from the heart that knows how great the sacrifice of Jesus was on the cross and how there is nothing in this world that we can do to repay such a gift. True faith comes from a heart humbled by the love of God and the desire to serve Him as servants for His glory. Learning to increase faith comes from removing the pride of the heart so God will lift up the spirit to His throne. Thank you God for making me an unprofitable servant. To Your glory we serve and to Your majesty we extol the riches of Your grace.
There is no true holiness without humility. (Thomas Fuller, Gnomologia, 1732)