The Expository Files


The Obedient Mulberry Tree
“...Lord, increase our faith. "

Luke 17:5,6

It takes faith to live our lives making decisions that are pleasing to God. Often, it takes great faith. Occasionally, it takes more faith than we might think we are capable of having.

“Where's That Mulberry Tree Going?”
A good example of this is when Jesus discussed the forgiving of others who have mistreated or offended us in some way multiple times. Most of us would have to work at forgiving someone who had seriously hurt us. The greater the hurt, the more work it would take. But Jesus said, "Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, "I repent,' forgive him." (Luke 17:3-4).

Jesus didn't say it would be easy to do such a thing. It wouldn't be. It would be extremely difficult. The apostles were overwhelmed with the difficulty of such a task as forgiving a penitent brother seven times: The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith!" And the Lord said, "If you had faith like a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, "Be uprooted and be planted in the sea'; and it would obey you. (Luke 17:5-6).

The apostles were exactly right that such an attitude requires great faith. They, and we, need some help here. Jesus illustrated the power of faith by pointing out a mulberry tree in the vicinity and telling the apostles that with the proper faith they could tell it to go plant itself in the sea and it would do so.

The illustration of the obedient mulberry tree may have been hyperbole, or it may have been descriptive of apostolic power that they were to receive, but the point is that faith is powerful. Faith expects success and victory no matter what the odds against it. Faith in God can accomplish anything that God intends for it to accomplish.

“I Believe, But Not As Much As I'd Like To”
There is a similar, but not identical, observation about faith expressed in a discussion with a man concerned about his son's malady. Though the man believed in Jesus to an extent, he also recognized his own need for greater faith.

They brought the boy to Him. When he saw Him, immediately the spirit threw him into a convulsion, and falling to the ground, he began rolling around and foaming at the mouth. And He asked his father, "How long has this been happening to him?" And he said, "From childhood. It has often thrown him both into the fire and into the water to destroy him. But if You can do anything, take pity on us and help us!" And Jesus said to him, ""If You can?' All things are possible to him who believes." Immediately the boy's father cried out and said, "I do believe; help my unbelief." (Mark 9:20-24).

Both of these occurrences express the need for greater faith. The first was about the need for a faith great enough to do the hard things discipleship demands of us to do. The second was about the need for a greater faith in God's power by one who had a degree of faith, but not enough, as is evidenced by the way he worded his request for Jesus to help him “...if you can...”

Tending to the Matter of Increasing Our Faith
We, too, need to increase our faith. It takes powerful faith to make powerful and successful disciples. We need great faith because we are saved by faith (Ephesians 2:8) and we live by faith (2 Corinthians 5:7). Faith is the foundation of our confidence and assurance (Hebrews 10:22,23) and is the victory that overcomes the world (1 John 5:4).

There are three basic items that are necessary for increasing our faith. First, there needs to be adequate desire to do so. It must be important enough to us. The father of the possessed boy certainly had the desire for greater faith. Understanding the love of God and the wonderful, eternal, life-giving benefits He offers us by His grace and our need for these benefits will be our motivator. Second, We must resort to the origin, or source of faith. We will need to know where faith comes from. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (Romans 10:17).

Third, we must respond by faith. There needs to be a molding of our wills to God's will for us. James points out that faith without works is dead (James 2:14-26).

“Help Our Unbelief!”
It is not that the father did not believe at all. If he had no belief, he would not have asked Jesus for any help at all. He evidently had enough faith to come to the conclusion that it was worth a shot. When advised that his faith was lacking because he was not convinced that Jesus could do what was necessary, he affirmed his belief in Jesus, but then requested help with his “unbelief”.

He seemed to realize that his faith in Jesus was weaker than it ought to be. He asked for help to make his belief stronger and his doubting less.

That was certainly an appropriate request. It probably is for as today as well, at least in the more troublesome times of our lives when we lack confidence. Jesus is worthy of our trust.

Along with our requests for greater faith must be the willingness to use what we already have. It makes little sense to pray to God for more of anything if we are not using what we already have. For example, to pray for more wisdom while not making very good use of what we already have would be a rather silly position to be in. If I already know I am filling my life with unwise decisions; choosing to neglect my spiritual responsibilities and behaving foolishly, and then ask God for more wisdom, His answer would be “Why should I give you more of that which you refuse to use anyway? Your problem is not that you do not know the wise thing to do; it is that you won't do what you know you ought to do!”

Jesus taught a spiritual principle which matches what we, in our own era, would mean by saying “Use it or lose it.” Some of Jesus' day had witnessed the most amazing man in history; the Son of God. They heard Him speak and saw His works. And yet, many of them were on the verge of rejecting Him in spite of having been given every opportunity for faith. Speaking to His believing disciples, Jesus said, "To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted. For whoever has, to him more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him.” (Matthew 13:11,12).

The reason they did not see was that they had “closed their eyes” (Matthew 13:15) to what they were shown, so even that would be taken away from them. A greater faith requires that we take advantage of the faith-producing blessings which we have already received. It is time to tell the mulberry tree, as it were, “Be uprooted and plant yourself in the sea!” and then watch it go.

By Jon W. Quinn
From Expository Files 16.2; February 2009