Life is full of struggles and irritations. Relationships are challenging. Temptations abound to doubt the goodness of God. When it appears that life has taken a bad turn, when things are overwhelming, a clear and present danger exists. Your response may become a source of temptation to those around you.
Think with me about this.
Jesus was walking along the road to Jerusalem to where he knew he would be crucified. This story is part of the ominous travel narrative in Luke’s gospel. The crucial moment in all of human history is about to unfold. Jesus will be tempted with the greatest of temptations. Yet, even in this heavy hour, he turns his focus to his disciples.
In the first six verses of Luke 17 Jesus warns his disciples not to encourage temptation in others by failing to honor God when difficulties come. Being a stumbling block and creating the climate for others to sin is a dangerous place to be! Jesus tells his disciples they must not go there. After warning about the punishment of the millstone, he demands:
“Pay attention to yourselves!”
This is immediately followed by a pointed, real-life illustration that strikes at the heart of the disciple’s pride. In rapid fire, with no room for discussion, Jesus declares:
“If your brother sins, rebuke him.
and if he repents forgive him.”
This is hard enough, but without giving the disciples time to catch their breath he continues:
“If he sins against you seven times in the day and seven time he repents, you must forgive him.”
Christ’s sharp admonition and application leaves his disciples floundering and exposed, standing hip deep in their self-righteousness. Still scrambling for a way to make themselves look good, they blurt out, “Increase our faith!”
This statement is code for “Come on Jesus, give us a break. We need a super-powered, super-natural dose of faith to do this. No normal person can respond this way.”
Jesus is way ahead of them. He is in effect saying, you guys don’t get it. Faith is not about quantity. Human hearts think that way. Faith is either genuine or it is non-existent.
He drives the point home. “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.”
So much for the increase our faith defense! There could no more devastating and powerful answer to his reeling disciples. Size doesn’t matter, genuineness does!
Genuine faith is not a source of temptation. Christ uses a deliberate play on words to make his point. He tells the disciples not to be thrown into the sea with millstone attached. Rather, exercise the power of faith that can instead plant this tree into the sea. Practice forgiveness.
Genuine faith has no limits.