…how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times? (Matthew 18:21)
Peter likely thought he was being charitable, but Jesus told him not seven, but seventy times seven. Jesus gave a similar teaching in Luke 17:3-4. In response, the disciples requested: “Increase our faith” (v 5). Forgiveness is tough and requires great maturity and faith. There is to be no limit to the forgiveness we offer, just as there is no limit to the forgiveness we receive from God. Sincere repentance is to be met with complete forgiveness each and every time.
In response to their petition, the Lord gave two parables. The first demonstrates the power of faith. He spoke:
If you have faith as a mustard seed, you can say to the mulberry tree. ‘Be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you. (Luke 17:6)
Some time ago, we looked at the parable of the mustard seed as given in Matthew 13. There, Jesus spoke of the kingdom of heaven being like a mustard seed, for it begins small, but grows to be big. That which is true for the body of Christ as a whole is also true for the individual. There is potential for great results in our lives if we will grow in faith. In Matthew 17:20, the Lord spoke of faith which can move mountains, and here in our text, faith that can uproot and replant a firmly rooted tree. Albert Barnes says of this particular tree:
It is easily propagated, merely by planting a stout branch in the ground, and watering it until it has struck its roots into the soil. This it does with great rapidity and to a vast depth. It is with reference to this latter fact that our Lord selected it to illustrate the power of faith. Now, look at this tree—its ample girth, its widespread arms branching off from the parent truck only a few feet from the ground, then examine its enormous roots, as thick, as numerous, and as wide-spread into the deep soil below as the branches extend into the air above—the very best type of invincible steadfastness. What power on earth can pluck up such a tree? (Barnes NT Commentary).
Jesus’ statement about moving mountains or uprooting trees is not intended to be literal. If we have the faith of a mustard seed, then we will be adequately equipped to be victorious in every difficult task that confronts us in the walk of faith, we’ll have the spiritual maturity to know between good and evil (Hebrews 5:12), and the sense to do good (1 Thessalonians 5:15). If we have faith as the Lord wants us to have, we will forgive, regardless how many times one sins against us.
Jesus follows His teaching of the faith of a mustard seed with another parable, involving a master and a servant. He said:
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 17:7-10)
Some commentators separate this text from foregoing context, but I am not so sure that the Lord had moved on to something new. Every faithful child of God wants the type of faith spoken of by the Lord, so we might gain victory over temptation and imitate the mercy of God in our own lives. How do we get such faith? Is it as simple as asking the Lord to endow us with it, and presto—there it is? We might like it to be so, but that is not how God’s people grow in faith. Consider what is revealed in the parable.
When the servant comes in from the field, the master will not set his household duties aside, he is expected to continue in his service. After he has done what he has been commanded to do, then it is time for him to sit and eat.
What has that to do with us? We are the servant, having responsibilities both in the field and in the house. To accomplish the master’s will, we must continue in our service to Him. As we seek to accomplish the Lord’s will in our lives, exercising the measure of faith we presently have, our faith should increase. The Lord is not going to set aside the need for us to serve and simply dole out faith. Increased faith comes as we increase in our love for the Master, for the duties He has given us, and for our fellow servants. In response to the disciples request for increased faith, Jesus to them to continue serving Him. It is in submitting ourselves to the Master’s will that we will grow in faith. Throughout the ages, from the days of Enoch to Abraham, from king David to the apostle Paul—those who sought greater faith found it through devotion to the Lord and obedience to His will. That was the answer for the disciples on the occasion of our parable, and that is the answer for us today.
Well, if the Lord won’t just give it to us—if we have to labour diligently in the field and in the house to increase our faith, have we anything to boast of? Does the Master owe us commendation and praise for our services? Jesus clearly says that the master does not thank the servant because he did what he was commanded to do. Understand, that doesn’t mean that the master doesn’t appreciate his servant, but quite simply, a servant who does what he is commanded to do has not done anything special. He’s done what is his duty. So it is with you and I. Hear the Lord,
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 17:10)
The Lord expects us to obey His word. He expects us to avoid causing offense and to be willing to forgive every offense committed against us. He expects us to grow in faith. If we do all these things, we are unprofitable servants who have done our duty. If we do not do so, we are less than unprofitable servants, and have forsaken our duty. May we be focused each day on the will of God, on how we can accomplish it in our lives to the fullest, and give glory to God for the increase in our faith which it will affect.