Understanding Faith: Faith the Size of a Mustard Seed (Faith to Forgive)
This article is an excerpt from a HUB lesson we have taught in numerous places. It is a lesson entitled ‘Faith to Forgive’. Since the Bible emphasizes the significance of having faith and tells us that without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6), we pray that this lesson helps each of us grow in our faith so that we can better please God. We also pray that this lesson prompts each of us to examine our own faith thoroughly and honestly.
In previous articles on faith, we examined the definition of faith from the Book of Hebrews. Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is assurance of hope, the conviction of matters not seen. We learned that faith is trusting God that whatever He has promised would happen, will happen. Those who have received a promise and believe that promise, have faith. Their faith then enables them to endure and stand firm in the midst of any trial.
We also studied a little about the relationship between ‘Faith and Commands.’ We found that before one can have faith to do something he must first be commanded to do it. Faith to do something comes only when God gives the command to do it. That person then believes that God not only has the power to make that action come to pass, but has enabled him to do it.
Faith to Forgive: Obedience to God’s Command
This article we will explore another passage which helps us understand the relationship between faith and commands. One of the most important commandments Jesus gave His disciples was that they must forgive their brothers when they sinned against them. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus reiterates this mandate. He ordered the Apostles to rebuke a brother whenever he sinned against them. If the brother repented they were commanded to forgive him. Luke 17:3Be on your guard. If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.
When Jesus told them to rebuke those who sinned against them, He was not commanding them to be confrontational. The Greek word used in this text is not the harsh tongue wagging, finger pointing, criticism often associated with the English word ‘rebuke’ defined by the English dictionary as; “to criticize sharply, or reprimand.” The Greek word used here is ‘ἐπιτιμάω - epitimao.’ Epitimao can be a simple warning, caution to discontinue an action, or pointing out its worthlessness.
Jesus’ commandment was clear; whenever a brother sinned against them they were to rebuke him. If he repented they were to forgive him. However, Jesus did not stop with this simple command to rebuke and forgive, but went on to emphasize that this kind of forgiveness needed to be ongoing by saying, And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and comes back to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” Luke 17:4
Pause for a moment of reflection: We each have known Christians who sinned against another Christian. How was the situation handled?
Was the person who sinned made aware of his sin, or was it ignored?
i. It is wrong to simply ignore when a brother sins against us hoping it will go away. We are instructed to bring it to his attention. By us letting the brother know what he has done, that brother has a chance to repent and be restored.
ii.We are not commanded to jump on the brother, pointing fingers at him, scolding him or be his judge. We simply make him aware of the wrong he did.
Once the person was made aware of what he did how did he respond?
i. Did he repent? If so was he forgiven?
ii. If he did not repent see Matthew 18:15-20 for the next steps toward reconciliation.
Faith to do the Impossible: Faith the Size of a Mustard Seed
When Jesus gave this command the apostles heard and understood it. However, they did not believe that they could obey this commandment, since they did not believe it was possible for anyone to forgive a brother seven times in one day. Therefore, they responded to Jesus by saying “Increase our faith.” Luke 17:5 We know that Jesus did not grant their request; to increase their faith. Instead Jesus taught them that they did not need great faith in order to carry out God’s commands; even commands that seem impossible.
Luke 17:6 “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed,” the Lord said, “you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.
"Mustard seeds were one of the smallest seeds known,
and Jesus often used their tininess when emphasizing how little something could be."
In order to emphasize to His disciples how little faith is actually required for them to do what they thought impossible, Jesus used a mulberry tree planting itself in the sea as an example of faith accomplishing something which everyone considered impossible.
They merely needed faith the size of a mustard seed and the seemingly impossible would become possible. That little amount of faith would be sufficient for them to carry out whatever they were commanded to do.
Faith: Obedience to God’s Command
Jesus was telling His disciples that no matter how impossible the task, what little faith they had would be enough if their faith was an act of obedience. Jesus emphasized this point by saying:
Luke 17:7-10“Which one of you having a slave plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he comes in from the field, ‘Come at once and sit down to eat’? Instead, will he not tell him, ‘Prepare something for me to eat, get ready, and serve me while I eat and drink; later you can eat and drink’? Does he thank that slave because he did what was commanded? In the same way, when you have done all that you were commanded, you should say, ‘We are good-for-nothing slaves; we’ve only done our duty.’ ”
Just in case there was any confusion on the disciples’ part, that faith is simply a matter of obedience, Jesus reminded them that slaves do as they are told. They continue working all day, doing their master’s wishes. When they have finished for the day they say ‘we’ve only done our duty.’ Jesus was reminding them that He was their Lord and Master. He had told them to do their duty; forgive their brothers. They, as His servants, were to be obedient and do what their Lord Jesus had commanded them.
Why it is simple to forgive a brother?
Once the apostles understood that their faith could be as small as a mustard seed they could easily obey that command. With the confidence and assurance that comes through faith they simply needed make the decision to forgive. Because they believed that whatever Jesus commanded was possible, they now knew their little faith was enough to make it possible to forgive all who had sinned against them. Later, once God had given the Holy Spirit to live within and empower them, they fully comprehended how easily it was to keep Jesus’ commands. They simply obeyed and did as they were commanded to do. The Holy Spirit within enabled them, as new creations, to forgive their brothers.
Just as it was God’s will that His apostles forgive their brothers, so too we must forgive. As He through the Spirit gave them the faith and ability to forgive, so too He will grant us the ability when we decide to forgive our brothers. A task might seem impossible for man, but with God nothing will be impossible. Once a man has been born from above and has received the Holy Spirit living within him he too can have same confidence as the Apostles, knowing that God can change his heart also.
Remember with God nothing will be impossible! Remember also that without faith it is impossible to please God. So let us all strive to be obedient through faith. When we choose to forgive, the Holy Spirit empowers us to forgive. We then have the ability to grant forgiveness, and show sincere love to our brothers who have repented.