Have you ever heard that statement "all you need is faith the size of a mustard seed and you can move a mountain"? The idea behind it whenever most Christians quote that comes from a misunderstanding that faith is not measurable, but we all have the same proportion. I hope in the next few paragraphs to show otherwise, and maybe we as a body of Christ could do away with that cliched saying that misinterprets Scripture.
Let's look at one of the instances in the Gospel where Jesus says this. This misinterpretation gets on my nerves when I hear people teach and believe this passage to mean they don't have to do anything, and "faith the size of a mustard seed" is used to justify doing little or nothing, rather than provoking tenacity of faith to see the things of God. Here we go: And when they came to the crowd, a man came up to him and, kneeling before him, said, "Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is an epileptic and he suffers terribly. For often he falls into the fire, and often into the water. And I brought him to your disciples, and they could not heal him."
And Jesus answered, "O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him here to me." And Jesus rebuked him, and the demon came out of him, and the boy was healed instantly. Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, "Why could we not cast it out?" He said to them, "Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you." Matthew 17:14-20 ESV I'm not going to teach it here, but this passage even shows it was Jesus will to heal when his followers were unable to produce the healing, even though seven chapters earlier he granted them authority to do it themselves, and they did. Notice how in this passage, Jesus tells them it's BECAUSE of their little faith that they were unable to heal the boy.
This translation accurately avoids translating it "faith as small" as a mustard seed. You may be saying, "Steve, isn't that just your preference of translation? You can't say yours is the right one just because it translates something to prove your point." You would be right if you said that. However, the context shows it can't be talking about the 'size' of your faith, since he just rebuked his disciples for not having big enough faith.
Jesus was not schizophrenic. So where do we come up with this misinterpretation, and how did it become such a cliche we use often in Christian circles? I really don't know. But now let me ask you something, if all it took was a tiny mustard sized seed to move mountains, then how come there is still lots the Church is unable to see take place in the way of miracles and logic-defying deeds? If all it took was a mustard seed, then I'd hate to be the devil when a Christian has more than a mustard seed of faith!
Ah, now that is a good segue into what I would like to submit to you for your consideration as to what Jesus means when he teaches this. Right now as I type this, My E-Sword program has open five times in the NT where the mustard seed is listed, each instance is in the Gospels. Luke 17:6 is almost identical to the passage we just used, but is in a different context. The other three instances it comes up in a different parable--the parable about the kingdom of heaven.
Matt 13:31 is almost identical to its counterparts in the other gospels: "It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade." Mark 4:31-32 He said therefore, "What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it? It is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his garden, and it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches." Luke 13:18-19 (Emphasis mine both citations) This passage gets confused in peoples' minds with the teaching of Jesus concerning speaking to the mountain, and therefore the teachings get mixed together and you come up with this idea it's ok to have little faith, but in context that's clearly NOT what Jesus taught his disciples.
Could it be, based on this explanation as to what a mustard seed is and what it does, that we can glean from this parable, which uses the same illustration, and learn something that can change our understanding of the other passage? Sure, why not? Our faith is to be like a mustard seed. What is a mustard seed like? Though it starts off like a seed, it grows and our faith is to be like that seed that has grown and becomes larger than all the other plants in our garden. Larger than our 'TV watching plant', larger than our 'worldly mindset plant', larger than our other 'plants'. In fact, it is to become so big, that everything else in our lives is dependent on it, like birds in the air able to make nests in its shade.
If anything, our faith is to be like a solid tall tree, not a tiny seed. Seed is a good way to start off, but you don't leave a seed like that, you sow it. Ask any farmer if he wants just seed, or if he wants to sow that seed and reap more of the same and grow some other things. Like any seed, it needs watering and feeding, as well as the right conditions for growth. It's all up to each of us how fast, and how much that seed grows into that large plant. Some, would you not say, clearly walk in more faith than others?
They didn't get that way overnight, trust me. But if you and I would do the things it takes to water our faith seed, with the Word, with prayer, with meditating on the things above and not on hours and hours of TV or internet surfing. Well that's the end of my thoughts. I better stop here now that you're upset I'm meddling with you.
Blessings and fire on your head. Steve has been a missionary to Europe for over 2 years, and currently lives in Canada while preparing to move to Peru in early 2009. He is a contributing author on the Fire On Your Head Blog, which can be viewed at http://www.fireonyourhead.org and also co-hosts a bi-weekly podcast with another missionary, Fire On Your Head- The Podcast, at http://www.fireonyourhead.com Both sites dwell richly in Pentecostal/Charismatic themes within Christianity.