What Christian would not want an ever-increasing faith? Who would not what a faith that can “move mountains”? But how is one to achieve an increased faith? The disciples wanted to know the answer to that question, as well. Listening to the demands Jesus set forth to be one of His disciples and the opposition that would be encountered, the disciples realized in their own power they were not up to the task. They in unity approached Jesus with a request, “And the apostles said unto Lord, ‘Increase our faith.’” (Luke 17:5)
The request seems reasonable, but the answer of Jesus seems unreasonable in our culture today. And it especially goes against the grain of the Prosperity Gospel so popular in our day. Jesus is going to talk about “duty” and “obedience” and “surrender” and “God is not indebted to us.” That smacks in the face of our “do your own thing” culture and the “name and claim it” gospel that treats God as our personal bellhop. But let’s not get ahead of Jesus’ answer.
Upon the disciples requesting how to increase their faith, Jesus first tells them the result of an increased faith. “And the Lord said, If ye had faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye might say unto this sycamine tree, Be thou plucked up by the root, and be thou planted in the sea; and it should obey you” (Luke 17:6). Of course, Jesus is speaking figuratively not literally. He is using hyperbole to inform the disciples that an increased faith will allow them to face the obstacles and trying times they will encounter in confidence, assurance, and victory. Who would not want that kind of faith? But how is that kind of faith obtained?
Giving the disciples the result of an increased faith, Jesus proceeds to give them a parable that explains how such a faith is gained. Jesus spoke to His disciples saying, “But which of you, having a servant plowing or feeding cattle, will say unto him by and by, when he is come from the field, Go and sit down to meat? And will not rather say unto him, Make ready wherewith I may sup, and gird thyself, and serve me, till I have eaten and drunken; and afterward thou shalt eat and drink? Doth he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I think not. So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do” (Luke 15:7-10).
Summarizing what Jesus said: A certain master has a servant (the Greek word is δοῦλος (doulos), meaning a slave) who has worked hard in the field all day. He is tired, dirty, and hunger. When he reports to his master that the work is complete for the day, should the servant expect to sit down and eat supper? Not hardly. The servant must fix the master his meal and take care of his master’s needs, then he can sit down and have his supper. And should the servant expect some special reward for all his hard work? No…for the servant is only doing his duty and the master is not indebted to the servant.
One can rest assure that was not the answer the disciples wanted to hear. Jesus’ answer to how one can achieve an increased faith certainly smacks in the face of the “blab it and grab it” theology. Three truths emerge from the text: (1) Surrender of the will is Demanded; (2) Servants are to obey Dutifully; and (3) Service doesn’t put God in our Debt
First, Surrender of the will is Demanded. In the parable the servant (again, the Greek word is doulos, meaning a slave) belongs to the master, he has no will of his own. The servant has surrendered his will to the desire of his master. What the master desires, the servant attends to as if that was his desire. His will is no longer his, but has been placed in the hands of his master. In like manner, if we have given our lives to Christ, we surrender our will to Him. We have been bought with a price, the precious blood of Christ and the desire of our heart is to follow His will. We serve him because we belong to Him and His will becomes our will. Too much of modern Christianity makes Christ our servant, when Biblical Christianity is we are his servants and our will is surrendered to Him. “Not my will but thy will be done” is to be the motto of one who has professed allegiance to Christ.
Second, Servants are to obey Dutifully. Whether the master thanked the servant or not, whether he rewarded him or not, the servant faithfully and dutifully continued to serve his master. He was not seeking some special reward or a soft and pampered life, but his desire was to obey dutifully regardless of the task. Wow! Such a notion, goes against the grain of much of cultural Christianity, which assumes if we follow Christ he will make our roads smooth and pot-hole free. John MacArthur has said “the point of the parable was that a slave, or servant should expect no special reward for doing what was his duty in the first place.” We too often expect some reward for our faithful service, when in reality the mercy and benevolence we experience daily is more than we deserve, and regardless of the task before us it is our duty and obligation to obey the Master.
Third, Service doesn’t put God in our Debt. The servant obeys and dutifully serves his master, and he never thinks for a minute that his master was indebted to him or owed him anything. A servant never expected a special reward for doing what he should have done in the first place. Our obedience to the Lord is not meritorious. God is not a vending machine, whereby we put in so much obedience then expect some “goodie” to fall our way. It is not that God does not reward obedience, but our obedience NEVER puts God in our debt. God owes us nothing. We can never repay God’s natural blessings which He has provided us, much less those bestowed by grace. Our very life, our salvation is totally dependent upon the Master. While we are always dependent upon His grace and mercy, He doesn’t owe us anything. Matter of fact if we received the justice we deserved, we would all be in a heap of trouble. God is not in our debt, we are indebted to Him. Thus, we serve Him devotedly.
The disciples in asking for an increased faith were looking for a magic wand or some magic words that would allow them to sail on the sea of life with minimal choppy waters. We are no different from the disciples. We want a short-cut to increased faith. But Jesus is clear, the path to increased faith is a daily surrendering of our wills, faithful and dutiful obedience to Christ, and a realization that God in not in our debt. We trust and obey when life makes no sense, when our world is turned upside down, and when the rising waves of trial fill our ships with troubled waters. The goal of the Christian life is not focusing on great faith, but great obedience in all circumstances.
And the irony is, when we labor for Him obediently, patiently, trustingly, and dutifully; afterwards, according to the parable, we too shall eat and drink and we will discover the path to the higher faith we prayed for was born in the midst of our loyal service.