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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

What Is "Mustard Seed" Faith

I sometimes have a hard time accepting things that have always been accepted. I drove my seminary professors nuts when I questioned how things were translated. Therefore, I believe many of them decided that I was destined to be a nut myself. So, please read this blog as written by one who questions what has always been accepted rather than as one who knows the answers.

This morning I read Matthew 17:20 as part of my quiet time. I first read it in the NASB:

And He said to them, "Because of the littleness of your faith; for truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you.

This made me question what "size of a mustard seed" meant.Didn't the disciples already have a little faith? Isn't this what Peter is accused of when he gets out of the boat and starts walking on the water toward Jesus. He begins to sink because of his doubt but he had enough faith to get out of the boat. Yet, he is said to have a little faith. Why would you use the example of a small mustard seed when speaking to people about how small their faith was if faith was really about size? Are you trying to tell them that the maximum amount of faith to do anything is so very small? I didn't think so.

So,  I went to my Greek Bible and read it again.The words "the size of" are not there. (The NASB does use the word "or" in the margin to give an alternate reading but they placed their commentary in the translation when they used "the size of.") The actual translation should read, ". . . faith as or like a mustard seed. . . ." That changed everything for me.

The mustard seed has all that is necessary to grow into a tree if it is given water and placed in a growing environment. Jesus says that the birds can nest in it when He speaks of the size it can grow to after starting so small. It is not the size of the seed which causes it to become what it will become. It is what it been made to do.

This makes sense to me. Afterall, I have heard so many people claim that the reason that they do not have what they need is because they do not have enough faith. They go as far as saying that people lose those whom they are praying for because they do not have enough faith. I find this to be cruel. This means that the grandmother could have saved her granddaughter with leukemia if she had had more faith. It means that my friends with cancer would all be cancer free if they had enough faith. The reality is that I have seen people with amazing faith die.

Yes, Jesus told the disciples that their lack of healing the demon possessed boy was because of the littleness of their faith. Please consider this for a moment: What if it wasn't the size of the faith but the purity of it that made it truly little? Why else would Jesus say that this type of demon only comes out by prayer and fasting? Aren't these things which purify our faith? In other words, the type of faith the disciples had was not stamped with the purpose of casting out the demons because it was conflicted with the same type of doubt that caused Peter to fear walking on the water.

So, then the size of my faith is not so much about how big it is but how much it is stamped with God's purpose. This comes from knowing Him, hearing Him and believing in Him at His word. Thus, I ask God according to His will rather than according to the size of my faith.

Am I absolutely sure about this? No but I am being convinced.

1 John 5:14-15 (NIV) 14 This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us--whatever we ask--we know that we have what we asked of him.


high-expressions said...

Ps Prentis is right, I believe, that Jesus was NOT referring to the size of the faith of the disciples, like a football is bigger, much, much bigger than a mustard seed. The NIV translated Matt 17:20 the same manner as the NASB, quoted by Ps Prentis. Actually, there are several translations that do NOT treat the verse like that; rather it is being translated along the line of the old KJV, “If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, …”

In other words, that portion was actually saying something like this: “If you have the faith (typical) of a mustard seed, …” And this is what Ps Prentis is saying, in part; and this part, I believe, many can agree; but what is the faith of a mustard seed like?

Of course, one dimension can be about size. But the size of the faith of the mustard seed is NOT necessarily in proportion to the size of the seed. It is like, the greediness of a guy is NOT in proportion to his size; a midget can be very greedy too, and a big chap can be of little greed! But, yes, some made that mistake, and literally link “faith to the physical size”.

But what is the faith of the mustard seed like? Was there no “size” element in the words of Jesus for the said scenario? I will try NOT to write too long, but at the same time, I hope this can cause some to ponder more deeply the aspects of faith, Jesus was possibly hinting.

The mustard seed is tiny, 1-2 mm in diameter, in the category of small seeds of vegetables or herbs, yet the full-grown mustard plant is in no way like any common vegetable or herbs; it is bigger in comparison. The fully grown mustard plant is NOT really big when compared to trees generally; but when full grown [given the right climate (sunshine) and environment], it easily, is the biggest of the garden plants or no longer a herb, but a shrub. Near Jordan River, mustard plants or trees can be as tall as 2 times the height of a man. The branches of full-grown mustard plant can be wood-like and can support birds resting on them. It was (and is) NOT the smallest of seeds in the Holy Land in that time (although Scripture said it that it was the smallest of the common seeds people plant in those days), and it was (and is) also NOT the biggest of trees, obviously; and of course, Jesus was NOT aiming at the 2 things, the smallest (seed) and the biggest (tree). [The Kingdom is meant to be big, but it is NOT meant to be biggest of things, for Scripture clearly said that many would NOT enter it, for they go by the big road and big gate.]

But the use of mustard seed and tree, by Jesus, did point to a tiny thing can become a big thing. In this sense, Ps Prentis did make the point - “what it is made to do”. A mustard seed, a tiny seed, is made to grow into a big herb or a shrub. In a general sense, it is at least, pointing to, “I maybe small in size, physique, in endowments like musical talents, gift of the gap, etc, but if I am made to become a big thing, then I am like the mustard seed.” Some of us should discard this mindset: “I am a nobody, what can I do or be anything!” No, you are no nobody, you are somebody. You can become bigger than what you are now.


high-expressions said...

cont. from above

Next, is that the mustard seed does NOT look over to the date seed, and then say, “Aha, I am so small, how can I become a shrub or a tree; that fellow there, he (the date seed) can-lah [date seed grows into date palm tree!]; and then, it (the mustard seed) slows down or stops to take in water and nutrient, and to absorb sunlight and make food, and to grow strongly.” You may NOT necessarily have the biggest ministry or church or anything like that, for the mustard tree is NOT any big tree, but it is something big, coming from something, to begin with, very small. Be what you are made to be; something big, without comparing with others. In a very real way, it is what you are meant to be, that is important; Ps Prentis puts it as “what it is [you are] made to do”, and “it is the will of God, for your scenario, that is what is important”. We must stop looking at the other guy, and concentrate on what we, each, individually, is made to do, and the will of God for our individual life. Individually, you can be a big thing, from a small seed, and even corporately, together, we believers, as a group, can be a big thing, from small seeds.

There is yet another dimension to the mustard seed (apart from it being tiny, and can grow into a big plant – a shrub/tree); and it is this: It grows rapidly. The young mustard seedling grows very rapidly. The mustard plant does NOT grow like the many common big trees, grow years after years, and NOT die. From a small seed, it grows fast to be full-grown, it flowers and give seeds, mustard seeds, and it dies – it is an annual plant. What is the point to ponder about? It is at least pointing to us, having to grow fast, too; there is only a window, after which we die, too. Think about you, a believer, a minister, your ministry, and how Christianity carries on, seeds after seeds, just continue on the faith.

Not only the mustard grows fast, it is to be a fighter, one who perseveres. Actually, in the field, it can be regarded as a weed by some; it is an invading plant, and it was NOT generally grown by the farmers in those days; although some could see the value in the mustard trees, and did (grow them), some could NOT. You can imagine with me, it only need a tiny spot in the ground, and then soon it can squeeze out all other plants around, over-towers them, and takes up the sunshine coming from the top, not to mention, its roots soon also drink up and use up the nutrients other plants could use. If you are NOT intentional in growing this mustard plant, you will hate it, for what it is doing there. Look at yourself, your ministry; people either love you and your ministry or they hate you and your ministry; for some see the value, some do not!

My apology, Ps Prentis, I have taken much space here, and written so generally, but my idea is to paint a reasonable picture of the scenario of the mustard seed and tree, for it is NOT just in this Matt 17 that mustard seed/tree featured in Scripture. I must, nevertheless, come back to the text of your article, Matt 17:14-21.

1. So, we are clear, the translation of verse 20 should be, ”If you have the faith of a mustard seed, ….”


high-expressions said...

2. Is there a question of size? Yes, but NOT the way NASB or NIV translators put it to us to understand. It is NOT directly saying the size of OUR faith is NOT even the size of the mustard seed of 1-2 mm in diameter!

It is more like the mustard seed, despite it being just a tiny seed, and for such a tiny seed, it possesses enough faith to picture itself and get itself, to be the bigger shrub, despite any odd against it; and the disciples were NOT having the same! If the mustard seed or seedling has eyes, I tell you what it will see; it will NOT be looking, far, far out there, it will just look bit by bit as it extends, be it, its roots or shoot, but it firmly believe what it can tap on, or what can be given to it, is so limitless, and all it has to do is to do growing part, be quick about it, work at it - grow and grow. Just press on, in other words. If I may speak for the mustard, “I just grow-lah, I don’t allow myself to be bothered by whether or NOT, I could get to be 9 feet; I don’t let it bothers me, and causes me to only want to grow just a little or forget about growing.”

Size, yes, there is question of size, but relative size, NOT absolute size. In fact, relative size matters more in the Kingdom than absolute ones, and there are multiple illustrations of this, in Jesus’ parables or narrations. For the tiny mustard seed, it is full of faith; or relative to its make-up, including it could easily be devoured by any number of predators, compared to say, the date seed [this one is hard and hardy]; it is full of faith; it has a big or much faith. How about us? Do we, relative to our make-up (including our circumstances), likewise, have as big a faith, or are we lacking in comparison. Jesus said, for the disciples, they were lacking.

3. Is there a “what you are meant to do or to be”? Or is the will of God included in the scenario? Verse 20 was NOT given, generally, but in speaking concerning the failure of the disciples to heal the demon-possessed boy. If our answer is “yes”, then this question will stare at us: So, was it the disciples were meant to heal the demon-possessed boy; or was it the will of God for the disciples to do the same? Because Jesus did NOT say anything to the contrary (like, you are NOT meant to heal the boy), we have to take it that it was the thing the disciples were to do, or it was in the will of God for the disciples to heal the boy; it was just that they were NOT successful. I repeat, in verse 19, the disciples did ask why they could NOT cast out the demon; and in verse 20, Jesus gave the reason, and it was NOT “you are NOT meant to do that”; instead Jesus talked about their level of faith.

Ps Prentis noted the “what we are meant to do or to be” or the “will of God has to be gotten right”; he then talked about purity of faith; saying that Jesus could be referring to that – purity of faith, instead of size of faith. So, was Ps Prentis saying, to heal the boy, was the will of God, but the disciples were NOT able to do it, because their faith were NOT pure enough? In what appeared like a conclusion, Ps Prentis also said, it was NOT size of faith but how much the faith was stamped with the purpose of God that is important. Despite connecting it to Peter’s failing on the water-walking attempt, I kinda feel we are missing some lines of thoughts of Ps Prentis (not written in!), for I am still failing to see the tenuous link between the purity of faith and the will or purpose of God.


high-expressions said...

Cont. from above

4. My own personal view is NOT to bring in the element of purity, into the word, faith. I think it is enough already that we have to grapple with level of faith, of enough faith, not enough faith, no faith or got faith or size of faith; let’s NOT bring in purity. Let purity stands separate, or be linked to such other subjects like purity of intention or heart. The Apostle Paul spoke to Timothy in this way (1 Tim 4:12): “Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.”

Actually, faith is already invariably tied to the truths of God, and the truths of God are will of God, even if it is NOT necessarily rhema-kind of way, at the start; written truths are logos will of God that can turn rhema. A faith is NOT a faith acceptable to God or of any efficacy if it is NOT tied to a truth of God. So, once we have ascertained, what is to be done is the will of God, there is no issue of impurity of faith. Actually, if it is NOT the will of God, one can call what he is exercising as faith, but it is NOT; it is he doing whatever he thinks God wants done, but actually it is NOT what God wants done.

5. Level of faith is important. Despite my agreement that there is such a thing as measure or level of faith (some may want to use the word, “size” to mean the same, I don’t object to that), but I do not necessarily agree with the NASB or NIV translation of verse 20. Scripture does paint for us, there is such a thing as a measure or level of faith. It is NOT a “1” or “0” concept. And it is NOT necessarily be looked upon by God in terms of absolute. In a way, it is like the Holy Spirit, if you are a believer, you are never “0” for Holy Spirit, but there is such a thing as the measure of the Holy Spirit, or more or less of the Holy Spirit, even though, the Holy Spirit is NOT a thing or a force. Actually, my belief is that Jesus gave the mustard seed metaphor, more for directing us to the level of our faith relative to our own make-up and circumstances, rather than comparison of absolute size of our faith to that of the mustard seed.

Perhaps, God does NOT even, as a matter of norm, compare the absolute faith of one individual to that of another; but rather He asks, for each individual, what your level of faith is. Meaning, for example, I pray for healing for a one with legs of unequal lengths (which has caused the person to be with backaches for years), and the person gets healed by the power of God; and you, in America, do the same, and you get the same result; it is by no means, any indication that our absolute faith are the same, or even same for the particular healing.

Actually, even the understanding of level, relative to ourselves (for who we are and all factors pertaining to us), is perhaps NOT sufficient; the level, I believe, has also to do with God’s assignment of factor into the equation of faith. I believe God’s favor is one big factor bringing the down the threshold faith for spiritual trigger, For we are to grow in favor with God (Jesus was recorded for us, to be growing in favor with God, over His earthly ministry, so how much more, we need, too).

We come back to the situation the disciples could NOT do it, but it was in the will of God or even they were meant to do it; but they actually could NOT, but Jesus managed. And we noted, Jesus remarked about how long more He had to stay with the disciples, indicating to us that Jesus was expressing that the disciples were NOT growing fast enough (now you know why mustard seed was chosen!); I now also say, Jesus was also saying, because of that, that they were NOT growing fast enough, the threshold faith level to trigger result, was NOT reached, no spiritual impact resulted.


high-expressions said...

COnt. from above

I believe if you have the favor of God, the threshold faith to cross, for spiritual efficacy is lower. This means there are 2 ways about this: (1) you up your faith level, and (2) through your favor with God, the threshold faith is lowered.

Concerning point (2) for Jesus, because of His favor had grown, his threshold faith was very low; He opened his mouth and rebuked the demons, and the demon had to go – there was immediate spiritual efficacy.

Some might think that Jesus was God-what, and so, the demon must obey, but not the case of the disciples. The demon might know Jesus was from Heaven; once, one of the Godhead, but it also knew Jesus then, was also a frail man, fully man; I mean Jesus could bleed and could die, which actually did happen; He bled and He died crucified. Jesus did signs and wonders and miracles NOT by his humanity, but by the acts of the Holy Spirit or the Father God. There was still the Holy Spirit or the Father God having to act; if it were NOT so, clearly Jesus had NOT to pray to God so much, especially when He had to face challenges. The demon recognized the favor Jesus had developed with God; and that affected (lowered) the threshold faith (or trigger faith) level for spiritual efficacy.

6. The onus for faith lies with us, NOT God, generally. Please, pastors must refrain from teaching that faith comes from God, generally. It is NOT, if it were, Jesus would NOT have reprimanded the disciples. If you hold that faith is to come from God, all the more, the issue of impurity should never be brought in at all, for God cannot be giving impure stuff to us. In any case, if faith is to come from God, then, “don’t blame me, blame God!”

We have to build up our faith level. Jesus was saying the disciples’ faith level were more worse than that, of the mustard seed; in the relative sense, like % against %, but NOT absolutes! Jesus was upset because after all those times, He had spent with the disciples, they still could NOT up the level of their faith enough.

7. There is a verse 21 to the text. Even for NIV, when it is footnoted (v21), the subsequent verse was recorded as v22, which means if you don’t read the footnote, you actually see a skipping of a verse. What it tells us, is that, in many older versions of the Bible, it was there, and therefore, Bible translators cannot just opt to drop this verse, and change all the numbering thereof. Verse 21 reads: But this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.

Why is there this verse or the saying by Jesus that, that kind (demons, generally) would NOT go out except by prayer and fasting? Jesus did show, that kind did go out, by mere rebuking. Why did He still say, pray and fast? This is what I believe, consistent with what I have said concerning our favor with God: Jesus could do it, because He had the favor, and so His threshold faith for spiritual efficacy was low, and so, with a rebuke, the demon had to go. But I reckon Jesus knew, after reprimanding the disciples that they had NOT grown fast enough, and had NOT developed a sufficient level of faith, and therefore, really, they just would NOT be able to do like He did - just rebuke, and the demons would necessarily go; at least NOT yet, until they built up their faith level and grown in greater favor with God; and so, He had to tell them what to do, if they next encounter any such case. Jesus told them they had to go into prayer and fasting.


Anthony Chia said...

COnt. from above

8. Prayer and fasting is to mean, “You mean business”. I am sorry, Ps Prentis, I really don’t think that we should attach purity/impurity to faith, and so, I cannot agree prayer and fasting purify faith as such, but rather it develops our resolve. If we really think about it, we could do nothing, absolutely nothing to the demons; we cannot punch the demon; we cannot stab the demon; we cannot chop the demon’s head off; we can do nothing to the demon. Actually, a demon does NOT die! But why would it flee or go away? The demon is NOT scared of us, man, per se, at least, NOT in our earthly state. They are scared of God, and what God can do to them. When it knows that God or the Holy Spirit will give efficacy to what we want to do, to force it out; it goes. When we pray and fast, denying our flesh and aligning ourselves to the spiritual God, they tremble. When we deny our flesh, we are more likely to be able to operate more according to the Spirit, and we can assess spiritual resources available to us against the demons. When we mean business to do God’s business, why would NOT, God’s favor more likely to come forth for us. It should, and Jesus’ determination to do God’s business, when He, Jesus, walked the earth, showed us that Jesus over time increased in favor with God.

What is the faith of a mustard seed? Not a tiny faith; the mustard seed is a great faith. I do NOT tell the Sycamore tree to jump into the sea, for I have NOT the great faith of the mustard seed, ………. yet! But I have, through the help of God, increased my faith level to forgive others.

I too, say this: Am I absolutely sure about this? No, but I am being convinced.

Anthony Chia, high.expressions

Prentis McGoldrick said...

Anthony, I appreciate all your comments but I can tell you by experience (I have fasted for forty days three times and other times for shorter durations) that fasting forces me to remove those things which cloud my understanding of God's word and will. Thus, Daniel will fast when he does not understand what God has said. Too many times I look at the waves and the see as Peter did when I should be acting in faith. Fasting and prayer (fasting without prayer is just going hungry) bring me to a new lever of humility which longs for God. In fact, (I have found that I am not hungry when I worship Him during these extended fasts.) Yes, they also bring resolve too but only be the confirmation of God's word.
God bless you. Your comments are always insightful.

high-expressions said...

Ps Prentis, I appreciate your clarification.

I hope readers do NOT get me wrong that I promote non-fasting (with prayers) in the life of a believer. In fact, I suggest as a believer, you should have at least a season of such an endeavour - fast and pray. It can bring about change or transformation in your life. I did NOT do something close to what Ps Prentis has described, but I will give a thumb-up for anyone who will do it; my mentionable fast is this: That I did a weekend fast for one year. I fasted from Friday night, after dinner, to Sunday afternoon, breaking at lunch. One could do longer if he wants; I merely chose the weekend fast like that for (a) during weekdays, I worked, and it was NOT appropriate NOT to eat in that period of time, (b) weekend is the time I could devote to the Lord, with going to church, worship, and all, and (c) I broke at Sunday lunch, so that as a family, the family members did NOT need to, for both days, NOT get to eat with the husband (for the wife) and the father (for the children).

Elsewhere I have written about that 1 year fast I did, some years back, and how things did turn somewhat dramatically in my life. Although I could NOT say I understood all that had happened, in part, from that fasting and prayer season, but I believe God honored that fast. I won't write here, about my testimony, but I just want to say, if you go into this kind of fasting and prayer, the kind that has significant length of time, be prepared to expect even the unexpected. At the same time, no matter what happens (even the unexpected ones), believe me, God does NOT intend you evil.

Although, I said I have preferred NOT to speak of faith with a dimension of purity, I am NOT saying that people who have gone through such kind of fasting and prayers, do NOT come out of it, with greater insights of the truths and ways of God, including a sharper focus of what they are supposed to be doing, going forward. In fact, I believe they do, and I did, coming out from mine (May NOT be immediate though, as was also the case for Jesus, I believe, God would follow up with more and more from that coming out {of that fast}). If you understand that, as purifying your faith, then to you, fasting and prayers, does purify your faith. For you can get better insight, and greater clarity and therefore your subsequent focus. I believe some people even get precise approaches as to how, certain things are to be done, including, for example, how to pray for people with backaches from unequal leg lengths, or how to pray for people with certain sickness.

I generally view these as a receiving of greater insight and clarity, so that we can be more focus on what we are to do; rather than purity.

The aspect that I stressed, in the comment was more of the resolve benefit that comes from such kind of fasting. Because of greater insight and clarity, your resolve becomes stronger as to the walk that you are undertaking or about to undertake. This increase in resolve helps you directly, but the resolve dimensions also include (1) the presenting of your resolve before God; NOT that God can be moved by your resolve, but it is that God may factor in your readiness; and (2) a presenting of your resolve before spiritual forces. The spiritual forces do test our readiness or resolve. The Devil saw Jesus' resolve; the latter followed the Holy Spirit to fast and pray for 40 days and nights, and he (the Devil) did NOT just accept that; after Jesus came out of the fast, he (the Devil) tested Him, to make sure.

So, we too, need to be vigilant, that when we have fasted, the evil ones could still come and test you out. For those of us who do group or mass deliverance, say for baptism candidates, we fast and pray, AND we still come into a time to directly engage in spiritual warfare for the people (whom we also ask them to fast and pray), with them coming into a meeting.

May I encourage more to fast and pray as a part of their Christian life.

Anthony Chia, high.expressions