“Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1). Faith brings salvation when forsaking all alternative means to salvation I trust Him, Christ alone for salvation (Luke 7:50). “The just shall live by faith” (Hab. 2:4; Rom 1:17; Gal. 3:11; Heb. 10:38). Faith is to be placed in God and Christ (John 14:1). Faith links us to God’s power in life (Acts 15:8-9). We’re supposed to walk by faith and not mere sight (2 Cor. 5:7). Faith gets us through uncertainty in life. Throughout Biblical history people were able to do great things by faith (e.g. Heb. 11). Faith brings healing (e.g. Luke 8:48; also 17:19). Therefore when we read the disciples of Jesus ask Him to, “Increase our faith” it shouldn’t surprise us (Luke 17:5). “Faith” (Greek - πίστις – pistis) means assurance, belief, confidence, conviction, faith, fidelity, trust. We could all use more faith. The Bible says without faith it’s impossible to please God (Heb. 11:6). What precipitated this request from the disciples and what did Jesus say in response to their request to increase their faith? How can we increase our faith?
The context of the disciple’s request was that Jesus had just told His disciples, “It is impossible that no offenses should come, but woe to him through whom they do come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones” (Luke17:1-2). Jesus said the reality is that offenses will come. We are limited in our fallen state. We are going to fall at times. But we are called to live a holy life (1 Pet. 1:15-16). Jesus told the woman caught in adultery, “Go and sin no more” (John 8:11). He tells us the same. But Jesus’ words reveal there is no such thing as sinless perfection in this life. In this life we will struggle at times to overcome certain sins in our lives. This is what John meant when he said, “there is a sin not leading to death” (1 John 5:16-17). The key is drawing close to Jesus because the closer we come to Jesus the more clearly we will see sin. The closer we come to Jesus the more power we will have over sin (e.g. 1 John 3:6-8). God’s promise is that when we enter into new life in Christ sin will no longer dominate us (Rom. 6:14). God is faithful and promises to show us the way to escape temptation when it comes (1 Cor. 10:13).
Jesus pronounced a woe against those who instigate or who introduce temptations which cause others to stumble. It’s one thing to be tempted, it’s quite another to be the tempter. A name for the devil is “the tempter” (Mat. 4:3; 1 Thess. 3:5). When we tempt others, we are acting like the devil. That is why Jesus pronounces a woe on the one who tempts others. Using deception and temptation to manipulate others to do our will is satanic. Don’t do it.
Similarly, Paul instructs believers to guard against being a hindrance to those of weaker faith (Rom. 14-15). This isn’t always easy. We may feel it an imposition to restrict our freedoms for the sake of others who are not as spiritually mature. But a person’s faith and its condition is of greater importance and value than our freedoms. A person’s faith is a treasure to God (Eph. 1:18). This is certainly the case when we abuse “freedom” to indulge our flesh (Gal. 5:13). Lord, increase our faith. Help us to not be the source of temptation or a hindrance to the faith of others.
Then Jesus says, “Take heed to yourselves” (Luke 17:3a). We need to be good stewards of what God has given to us. Jesus would not have said for His disciples to take heed to themselves unless there were dangers or pitfalls to guard against. We need to take care of ourselves spiritually. Spiritual muscles atrophy and get flabby with disuse. We need to work out spiritually and do so on a regular basis. That means pray, read the word of God, fellowship and worship the Lord (e.g. Acts 2:42). We need to take time to get alone and invite the Holy Spirit to do His holy work in us. This is the means by which Jesus works in us to increase our faith. Lord, increase our faith.
Jesus first says to take heed to yourselves because He knew the nature of people and that when offenses come it creates great temptations. When someone offends you there is a temptation for revenge, resentment, hatred, unforgiveness and a host of other sinful responses. That is why Jesus goes on to say, “If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, ‘I repent,’ you shall forgive him” (Luke 17:3b-4). The word “rebuke” (Greek - ἐπιτιμάω - ĕpitimaō - ep-ee-tee-mah´-o) means admonish, warn, rebuke. We need to correct offenders. In other words, we need to deal with offenses and not let them accumulate and develop into larger problems.
Dealing with offenses isn’t easy. Forgiving offenders isn’t easy. It hurts to be offended or sinned against. And yet Jesus says if a person sins against you and he “repents, forgive him.” To repent (Greek - μετανοέω metanoeo - met-an-ŏ-eh´-o) means to have a change of heart that leads to a change in action. Godly sorrow produces repentance that leads to salvation (2 Cor. 7:10). Repentance is necessary for true reconciliation to occur. That doesn’t mean we hate or try to hurt an unrepentant offender. We pray for them and seek discipline or to help them to learn the error of their ways. We should seek for them to experience godly sorrow for their sins that produces repentance that leads to salvation or reconciliation in the situation.
How often should we forgive someone who sins against us and repents? Jesus basically says as often as the offender repents. There is such a thing as a chronic offender. Jesus gave us the criteria and call to reconcile with such an offender. It is often very difficult to forgive and even more difficult to forgive often. That’s why the disciples and we say, “Lord, increase our faith.” We need to trust the Lord with our fears that injustice will prevail. We need to surrender offenders to Him. God is a Just Judge.
We’ve seen how Jesus instruction to, “Take heed to yourselves” is a call to spiritual devotion. But what is His direct response to the request from the disciples to increase their faith? First Jesus says, “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” (Luke 17:6). In other words, the quality of your faith is more important than the quantity of your faith. It’s not how much faith you have because faith the size of a small mustard seed can uproot a mulberry tree and toss it in the sea. A mulberry tree is a tree with deep roots that is hard to uproot. A little bit of faith can move that which is hard to move.
The word “faith” also means “faithfulness.” When we see what Jesus says in light of that it helps our understanding. Faithfulness moves that which is difficult to move. We see an example of this in Jesus’ parable of the persistent widow. Because of her persistence in pestering a certain disinterested judge, she got what she wanted. Jesus told this parable so, “that men always ought to pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1-8). The idea is we should have faith in prayer. God is not disinterested but very interested in us and our lives. That being the case, we should persist faithfully in prayer and not give up. Jesus told this parable evidently because the faithfulness of people was in question. He ended the teaching by saying, “When the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?” How about you? How’s your prayer life? Jesus equated persistence in prayer with faith in this parable? So when we ask ‘how’s your prayer life,’ we are also by implication asking “How’s your faith or faithfulness?"
In response to the disciples request to Jesus to increase their faith, after Jesus says quality not quantity is what is important with faith, He shares a parable with them. He says:
• Luke 17:7-10 - 7 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’? 8 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’? 9 Does he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I think not. 10 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.’ ”
What’s the point? The point is that faith is increased through service. By sharing this parable with His disciples Jesus is teaching them that service produces faith. Service creates a host of faith building situations. When you serve the Lord you have to have faith to seek His will to know where and how He wants you to serve. You have to have faith that God will supply what you need to serve Him where and how He directs you to serve. And you have to have faith that God will work in and through you as you serve. Service is the environment in which faith is produced.
And there is a necessary attitude in this service that leads to faith. The parable conveys the idea that the one who serves should be serving with no expectation to get something. The one serving is not doing his or her master a favor in serving. The master is not obligated to give something to the one who serves him. When the servant serves, they are simply doing what a servant does or is supposed to do, i.e. serve. Faith is the fruit of a selfless servant.
The word “duty” implies an indebtedness (Greek - ὀφείλω – ŏphĕilō - of-i´-lo). When we look at this in terms of our service to the Lord we should understand that we are His servants because we have been bought by Him. We are not our own, we are His. He has redeemed us from the penalty of sin with the precious blood of Jesus (1 Co. 6:19-20; 1 Pet. 1:18-19). Because Jesus died for us we should no longer live for ourselves but for Him who died for us. The compelling force in service should not be to manipulate or gain God’s favor through service. We should not serve to get something out of God. We serve because of our loving appreciation for Jesus and His sacrifice for us (2 Cor. 5:14-16). When we serve the Lord, compelled by love for Him, expecting nothing special in return, the byproduct is increased faith. Why is that? How is that?
When we serve God in loving appreciation trusting Him to increase our faith but with no expectations of any special favor from Him, what we discover is, “your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him” (Mat. 6:8). Our faith is increased when we serve selflessly because we learn that God loves us and will bless us when we simply trust Him to do so. Selfless service increases our faith because it is the way to learn God, “is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all we ask or think, according to the power that works in us” (Eph. 3:20).
How’s your faith? Need some more? Are you willing to serve the Lord that way? Loving selfless service is Jesus’ prescription to increase faith. How’s your service? Help us to take heed to our spiritual condition. Help us not to be a source of temptation to others. Help us to forgive. Lord we love you. Lord give us opportunities to serve You. Lord, increase our faith!