“Lord, Increase our faith.”
“And the apostles said unto the Lord, Increase our 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. 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 trow 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 17:5-10)
The first thing we are confronted with in our text is our faith, not the greatness of it, but the smallness of it, not the strength of it, but the weakness of it, not the victory of it, but the failure of it. These days there is far too much emphasis placed upon our faith. Thank God, Christ, the Object of our faith is great; but our faith in Christ isn’t much to brag about. Is it? We all (all who truly trust Christ alone as Savior and Lord) have great need to cry with the apostles, “Lord, Increase our faith.” The fact is we all lack much in the matter of faith.
We are not told why the apostles made this request; but the reason is at least hinted at in the context. Remember, this request came after these men had attentively heard our Master give out the words of instruction contained in the last two chapters and in the first verses of chapter 17. I can imagine how their hearts must have sunk within them, as they heard these weighty lessons, one after another, fall from the Master’s lips. Perhaps they thought, “Who is sufficient for these things? Who can receive such high doctrines? Who can follow such lofty standards?” One thing is clear and plain. The request they made was deeply important ― “Increase our faith.”
Faith in Christ is the root of the matter (Hebrews 11:6). “Dost thou believe on the Son of God?” Until this question is settled, all others are meaningless. “Dost thou believe on the Son of God?” That is the essential thing (John 3:36; 1 John 5:1, 10-12). Faith is the hand by which the soul lays hold on Christ, and is experimentally united to him, and saved by him. Faith in Christ is the secret of all spiritual comfort, assurance, and peace. According to a man’s faith will be his peace, his hope, his strength, his courage, his decisiveness, and his victory over the world.
Certainly, there are varying degrees of faith. Some have greater, stronger faith, and in others the exercise of faith is less and weaker. And it varies in us day by day, hour by hour, and moment by moment. There is “little” faith and “great” faith. There is “weak” faith and “strong” faith. Both are spoken of in the Scriptures. Both are seen in the experience of God’s saints.
I ask again, “Dost thou believe on the Son of God?” It is written, “All men have not faith” (2 Thessalonians 3:2). Saving faith is not merely being able to recite a creed, or give assent to facts. Religion is not faith. Doctrinal orthodoxy is not faith. Baptism is not faith. Church membership is not faith. A religious experience is not faith. There are multitudes in hell who had all these things; but they did not trust Christ.
Faith is the gift of God. It is wrought in us by the omnipotent operations of His grace (Ephesians 1:19-20; 2:8; Colossians 2:12). This faith is the result of what the old preachers used to call Holy Spirit conviction (John 16:7-11). Faith in Christ is essential to salvation. You must believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, or you must forever perish. Yet, faith is not our Savior. Faith brings righteousness to us; but faith is not our righteousness. An imperfect faith cannot establish perfect righteousness. John Gill wrote…
“Faith is imperfect in the best of saints; our Lord frequently called His own disciples, men of little faith; and so conscious were they themselves of the imperfection of it, that they prayed to Him, saying (Luke 17:5), Lord increase our faith. There are some deficiencies, something lacking, in the faith of the best of God’s people. Every one has reason to say, more or less, as the poor man in the gospel did (Mark 9:24), “Lord I believe, help thou mine unbelief.” And for this reason faith cannot be our justifying righteousness, for that ought to be perfect. Besides, were it perfect, it is but a part of the law. It is indeed one of the weightier matters of the law, as in (Matthew 23:23), but then it is not the whole of the law. Now the scripture says (Galatians 3:10), “Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things, which are written in the book of the law, to do them.” And God whose judgment is according to truth, cannot reckon that a perfect conformity to the law, which is only a partial one.”
Mustard Seed Faith
When the apostles prayed, “Lord, Increase our faith,” rather than assuring them that their faith was just fine, He seems to deliberately aggravate their sense of utter weakness and insufficiency in the matter of 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” (v. 6).
Without question, this was a proverbial statement. It is not to be taken literally. Our Lord is using this proverbial statement to teach us a very, very important lesson. — The reason we see so little of the glory of God, the reason we accomplish so little for the glory of God, the reason we constantly meet with things that appear to be insurmountable objects, the reason we are tossed about with so many fears, the reason we enjoy so little of our God is that we have such small, little, insignificant faith in our great God and Savior, that it cannot even be compared to a grain of mustard seed faith (Mark 9:23; John 11:40).
“Lord, Increase our faith!” Perhaps nothing about us is more shameful than our lack of faith in such a great God and Savior. Nothing about me needs more to be bathed in His precious blood, covered with His spotless righteousness, and forgiven by His constant grace than my faith in Him! “Lord, Increase our faith!”
Faith and Forgiveness
Clearly, there is a connection between the disciples’ prayer in verse 5 and the Savior’s instruction about forgiveness in verses 3 and 4. Read the three verses together.
“Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him. And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him. And the apostles said unto the Lord, Increase our faith.”
The Lord’s disciples were astonished at the infinite goodness the Lord Jesus had just expressed about the matter of forgiveness. Knowing that such faith is His gift, they begged His mercy to increase their faith. Longing to exercise the great grace of forgiveness to one another and knowing that they could never do so without His grace (John 15:5), they begged the Lord Jesus to increase their faith. Blessed are they who seek such grace, that they may be gracious (Colossians 3:12, 13).
Not only is our faith in Christ so utterly weak that it can never merit anything from God, our best service to Him is but the service and sacrifice of unprofitable servants (vv. 7-10).
“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 trow 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.”
What a heavy blow our Lord gives to self-righteousness. We are all naturally proud and self-righteous. We think far more highly of ourselves, our deserts, and our character, than we ought.
Self-righteousness is a subtle disease that manifests itself in a thousand ways. We see it easily and quickly in others; but seldom see it in ourselves. Great pride often wears the cloak of humility. There is not a heart upon earth that does not contain a piece of the Pharisee’s character.
Yet, we must give up every claim of righteousness and merit before God, or we cannot be saved. If you would be saved, you must confess that there is no good thing in you, and that you have no merit, no goodness, and no worthiness of your own before God. You must renounce your own righteousness and trust the righteousness of another, even the righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Once pardoned and forgiven, we must travel the daily journey of life under a deep conviction that we are but “unprofitable servants.” At our best, we only do our duty, and have nothing to boast of. And even when we do our duty, it is not by our own power and might that we do it, but by the strength which is given to us from God our Savior. Claim upon God we have none. Right to expect anything from God we have none. Worthiness to deserve anything from God we have none. All that we have we have received. All that we are we owe to God’s sovereign, distinguishing grace.
What is the root and cause of self-righteousness? How is it that such poor, weak, erring creatures as we are can ever dream of deserving anything at God’s hands? It all arises from ignorance. The eyes of our understandings are naturally blinded. We see neither ourselves, nor our lives, nor God, nor the law of God as we ought. Once the light of grace shines into a sinner’s heart the reign of self-righteousness is over. The pride remains and often raises its ugly head; but the reign of pride is broken when Christ comes to rule. The true believer does not trust himself, but Christ alone.
The lessons set before us here are crystal clear.
1. It is ever our responsibility to do our Master’s will, to obey his Word.
2. When we have done all that He requires (even if that were possible and we did it), we should expect no reward for doing that which is our duty to do.
3. We are the Lord’s, entirely His, lock, stock and barrel. All our time, strength, abilities, and possessions are His. We are obliged to love Him with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength.
A Great Contrast
That is exactly how all God’s people look upon themselves. We are “unprofitable servants” ― “servants who have benefited our Master nothing,” “servants of no value,” “worthless servants of no benefit.” But our Master’s sees things another way. His view of us is a little different. Look at the contrast (Matthew 25:21, 34-40; 1 Peter 2:5). What a great and blessed revelation of the Gospel this is: — All who are born of God, all who trust the Lord Jesus are “accepted in the Beloved,” and our works too!
Listen to sermons at FreeGraceRadio.com