Luke 17:3–6 Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, 4 and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” 5 The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” 6 And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.
Sometimes, popular ideas get assimilated by God’s people – and we begin to take as “Scripture” things the Bible never teaches. Lots of examples are at the ready.
“This, too, shall pass.” Never said in the Bible. Actually, it comes from a Persian fable.
“Cleanliness is next to godliness.” The Talmud, not the Bible.
“Money is the root of all evil.” Close, at least it is taken somewhat from the Bible – but alas it is a mis-quote. 1 Tim. 6:10 actually says: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.”
Or my favorite – “God will not give you more than you can handle.” Again a mis-quote and a pretty defeating one for those up against overwhelming odds. 1 Corinthians 10:13 is addressing the nature of temptation to sin – not life problems in general. In full it reads: “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”
We could add “God works in mysterious ways” (true, but not taken from the Bible but from a hymn by William Cowper. Or “God helps those who help themselves.” This was taken from an ancient Greek play.
And in our text we meet with a poplar misconception about the nature of faith. One Jesus addresses on the spot, and yet continues to be perpetuated in the thinking of many (if not most) Christians.
What is it? That faith, is a matter of QUANTITY.
Note the issues in the text. The Disciples are shocked at Jesus’ answer to them when they ask about how forgiving they ought to be.
“You mean to tell us if someone sins against us seven times in the SAME DAY, and comes back saying they repent – we are to forgive them? WE DON’T HAVE THAT MUCH FAITH! Give us more!”
But Jesus doesn’t say He’ll give them more, or that they should seek for more. Instead, He says you really only need a tiny bit – nothing more than a grain of a mustard seed – and the seemingly impossible can be done.
What is His point?
Their problem (and ours) isn’t one of the quantity of our faith, but the application of our faith. When we only believe God in one or a very few things, no wonder we cannot face the issues of life. But if we believe God to supply forgiveness, even as He has forgiven us – 7 Xs 70 isn’t that extreme.
How much have you and I been forgiven? If you believe that He has forgiven deep, immense sins against the most Holy God – and that far more than 7 times a day – then forgiving other human beings for sins against us really isn’t so monumental.
If we believe WE are forgiven. Of cosmic crimes. And of countless sins repeated every day. Then certainly we can believe there is forgiveness for other’s and their petty crimes against us – out of the fountain from which we seek to be cleansed ourselves, over and over and over.
No, we don’t need more faith. We need to use the faith we’ve got. And stop applying to it things like our salvation alone. Believing and trusting Him in everything.
Don’t try to get more – spread abroad what you already have.