In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus is recorded as saying to His disciples, the twelve apostles, “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; NKJV)
There are, we notice, no recorded instances of the Apostles of Christ ever telling trees to go jump in the sea. But that’s not what Jesus was talking about. Jesus was responding to a request by the apostles to “increase our faith,” (Luke 17:5) and Jesus would proceed, following this saying concerning the power of faith to move trees, to teach, “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); NKJV)
The segue from faith moving mulberry trees to a servant doing his duty for his Lord and master is an odd one, unless you understand what Jesus is saying about faith. Jesus loved figures of speech, including parables, and His teachings are full of them. When Jesus is talking about faith commanding trees, He is not speaking about the ability of faith to work miracles. God works miracles, not human confidence and faith. What Jesus is talking about is the fact that faith gets things done. Further, God wants men of faith who are able to step forward as His servants and do their duty.
Notice two passages which further convey these ideas.
“But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” (James 2:18; NKJV)
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:8-9; NKJV)
James is quite clear in connecting genuine faith to action. Faith trusts in the promises of God and then gets busy doing the things God has commanded in order for those promises to be fulfilled. Likewise, Paul closely connects faith, not only to our salvation, “by grace you have been saved through faith,” but also makes the proper connection between faith and works. We don’t do what God commands in order to earn salvation. We do what God commands because we that is the kind of people God wants us to be. God has created us, “for good works,” “that we should walk in them.”
Do we boast in these works?
The answer is, of course, no, because, as Jesus pointed out, we were just doing what was expected of us. Faith gets things done, humbly, because that’s what God wants, and we believe in Him.
Which brings us to our application: How well is our faith working?
Do we have a faith that is getting the work done, for God; or do we have a faux-faith, which may talk a good game, but never actually motivates us to do the good work that God has for us to be doing? Do we have a faith that gets us out of bed in the morning, ready to worship, ready to serve, ready to love, ready to forgive, ready to be the person God wants us to be that day; or do we have a pretend faith that is distracted by the cares of the world, the false promises of materialism, and the various distractions that so easily slow us down in our Christian race? (cf. Matthew 13:22; Hebrews 12:1)
When we examine the Hall of Faith, recorded in Hebrews chapter 11, and we cast our eyes across the various names the Spirit has recorded their as exemplars of faith; we cannot help but notice that they all have this in common: each one heard the commands of God and obeyed those commands. They had a faith that got things done. They had a faith that believed God enough to act.
This is the kind of faith that Jesus commends to us; and when we look at ourselves and notice that our faith is not prompting us to act as God wants us to act; we should say, with the apostles, “increase our faith.”
If you are seeking a deeper, richer faith, the church of Christ invites you to study and worship with us at 234 Chapel Drive, Gallipolis, Ohio. Likewise, if you have any questions, please share them with us through our website: chapelhillchurchofchrist.org
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ.