Repent Of Your Small Faith, And Get A Mustard-Seed Faith
I have been thinking a lot about faith due to the passages of Scripture we have been going through at church. It got me thinking about this concept of “mustard-seed faith.” This is a well-known biblical phrase because Jesus uses it in two different settings recorded in Matthew, Mark and Luke. It is used in a very positive way and with a staggering promise of incredible effects. But how can such a little faith be such a commended thing? How can a very small trust in God’s word be lauded as exemplary?
The reality is that Jesus rebuked small faith. He called the disciples foolish for not trusting the prophet’s word about a suffering Christ (Luke 24:24-26). He continually pressed the disciples about their small faith in light of all He did and taught. Little trust in God’s Word means your God is still little and untrustworthy. Small faith in God’s Word means you have a larger faith in something else, whatever it may be. There is nothing good about this, and it has nothing to do with mustard-seed faith.
So what is a mustard-seed faith? We go off track when thinking about mustard-seed faith for two reasons; one is translational and the other is a wider context problem. In Matthew 17:20 the NASB reads, “if you have faith the size of a mustard seed….” The New International Version, The Holman Christian Standard Version, the New Living Translation and others translate this in a similar way. The problem is that “size” or other size-related words are not in the Greek text. The Greek says only “like” or “as.” The English Standard Version and the King James Version translate with “like” or “as.” Now obviously, the former translations are seeking to help the reader by saying that the comparison being made when using the word “like” or “as” is with size. It is possible, but in this case it just doesn’t work.
For example, in the very verse we are looking at, Jesus is answering a question the disciples asked. In verses 14-19, a man approached Jesus with a son who was demon possessed. This man said that the disciples couldn’t cure him. After Jesus cast out the demon, the disciple asked why they were unable. Right here in our verse, Jesus said it was because of the littleness of their faith. But isn’t that what mustard-seed faith is? That is what the above translations would have us think. But Jesus is saying that little faith is the problem. Therefore, a size comparison is not what Jesus is referring to when speaking of mustard-seed faith. So what is the comparison that is being made?
The other passages about mustard seeds show us what is being pictured. Not understanding the point of these other passages creates the second problem of wider context. These passages, Matthew 13:31, Mark 4:31, and Luke 13:19 are a parable Jesus gave about the kingdom of God. He said the Kingdom of God is like this tiny seed which grows into a large tree. What is the focus of this parable? Growth! Mustard seeds grow in shocking ways to become something no one would have ever expected.
That is what Jesus is commending. He is saying that if one has a faith that is ever-growing, it will soon do things no one ever could have imagined. Everyone’s faith starts small. Why? Because everything starts small. We begin knowing very little about God’s character and what God says. That is not good or bad, it is just a reality. If you stay like that in the midst of resources and opportunities, that is a major problem. In that case, you will be rebuked. But if you keep reading and meditating on God’s Word, if you keep rejecting the promises of the world and embracing the promises of God, if you preach to yourself the unfailing mercies of God and all good that is ours through the gospel, then your faith will grow into a massive oak of righteousness that produces fruit beyond what you could even ask or imagine. So, repent of your small faith. Have a mustard-seed faith that is daily growing as you trust in new truths God shows you in His Word.