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In the first verse of Luke 17:5-10, the disciples ask Jesus to increase their faith. Here is the full passage, in the New King James Version (NKJV):

5 And the apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith."

6 So the Lord said, "If you have faith as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, 'Be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea,' and it would obey you. 7 And which of you, having a servant plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, 'Come at once and sit down to eat'? 8 But will he not rather say to him, 'Prepare something for my supper, and gird yourself and serve me till I have eaten and drunk, and afterward you will eat and drink'? 9 Does he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I think not. 10 So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, 'We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.'"

The beginning of Jesus' reply in 17:6 seems to be directly connected. But I am having trouble figuring out what 17:7-10 have to do with what was being said. This heavily implies I am not interpreting it correctly, as the Bible tends to make sense in context.

My interpretation of the parable is that God does not owe us anything because of what we do for Him. I just can't figure out what that has to do with the disciple's request for greater faith. There must be some commonly understood explanation for why Jesus used this parable as part of his reply to the disciples' request, but I have been unable to find any easily web-available commentary that addresses the subject.

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9 Answers 9

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"Great Faith" is earned through lessons and hard work

Jesus was teaching them to do their duty first before they could start doing great things on their own. You cannot have great faith in a short time. It is through mistakes, trials, temptations and experience that faith is earned. It take years of experience in ministry that a man of God can have strong faith.

From Pulpit commentary

The little parable was to teach them that they were not to look to accomplishing great things by a strong faith given to them in a moment of time, but they were to labour on patiently and bravely, and afterwards, as in the parable-story, they too should eat and drink. It was to show them that in the end they should receive that higher faith they prayed for, which was to be the reward for patient, gallant toil.

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Thanks. The other answers were good for the title and providing more understanding but you directly addressed my issue in the question itself. –  trlkly Jan 11 '14 at 20:32

Increase our Faith! = Make it Easier! (or Lighten the Burden!)

Just before the parable, Jesus says (paraphrasing, for brevity)

  • Don't be a stumbling block...or else!
  • Rebuke and forgive your brothers.
  • Forgive a brother even if he continually sins against you.

The disciples' response is, "Increase our faith!" (πιστις 4102, "trust" "belief" "conviction")

It sounds like the disciples want some help doing what Jesus is telling them to do, because he is not asking them to do something easy. They ask for faith, perhaps because believing better/trusting more would make it easier to endure the difficulties of the life to which Jesus is calling them.

In regards to doing good things, the disciples were at least occasionally at odds with each other about who was better. The parable about the servant is a way of saying that if you do all these good things, you are still only doing what Jesus has told you to do.

It's almost as if being a heroic Christian is the bare minimum. Increase my faith!

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While I now better understand why the disciples asked Jesus to increase their faith, and see how verses 7-10 fit with the overall message of the passage, I'm still having trouble seeing the connection between verses 6 and 7. –  trlkly Jan 11 '14 at 11:22
    
If the disciples wanted more faith, it was at least in part to do great works. Perhaps Jesus saw this as a problem in two ways: they didn't understand that it doesn't take much real faith to do a lot; and doing great works doesn't make one great. –  mojo Jan 11 '14 at 19:49
    
Good comment, and you really helped me with this passage. Unfortunately, Mawia helped me with the part I was having the most trouble with, so they get the "answer" designation. Still, I did give both of you an upvote, now that I have enough cred to do it. –  trlkly Jan 11 '14 at 22:54

Not always can we understand the meaning of Scripture from a few verses or even from the contents of a single chapter, Some times we need to search many scriptures, in order to understand.

In this case we are going to have to consider many other things, The first thing we have to consider is in what situation Jesus made the statements;

Let's take a look at the whole situation, this conversation began with Jesus consorting with what was considered the dregs of society in that era.

Luke 15:1 and 2 KJV

1 Then drew near unto him all the publicans and sinners for to hear him.

2 And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.

In chapter 16 we find Jesus is talking about The unfaithful servant, and after that he is confronted by the Pharisees.

Luke 16:14 KJV

And the Pharisees also, who were covetous, heard all these things: and they derided him.

There is a key to the rest of this exchange in the next verse:

Luke 16:15 KJV

And he said unto them, Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knoweth your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God.

So what does that have to do with his answer to his disciples in chapter 17? Let's compare the rest of Chapter 17. Since the Pharisees were regarded by the public as being very righteous and one of the two parts of the ruling Sanhedrin.

Jesus had just gotten through giving them four lessons in the form of parables, on having humility, and telling the Pharisees that God did not approve of their seeking the accolades of men and not giving their worship the proper reverence.

And in verses 1 through 4 he had just given them a lecture about how they should show others the same grace that God showed to them.

Verse 5 is quite telling in that it shows that they were confused. The Pharisees spent most of their day praying and doing the work of the Temple. Certainly what they were asking Lord make us able to have more faith than the Pharisees.

Luke 17:5 KJV

And the apostles said unto the Lord, Increase our faith.

In verse 6 he is telling them that the power of faith is stronger than the roots holding a sycamore tree in the ground, and that if they had a faith that even though it started out small it should grow until it was thousands of times greater.

Luke 17:6 KJV

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.

In verses 7 through 10 Jesus is saying they expect their servants to take care of their master's needs before they take care of their own needs, so how unreasonable is it of God to expect that they do his will before the take care of their own. and not only that, but since they think that that is the way their servants should act, why not think they owe god the same duty.

Luke 17:7 through 10 KJV

7 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?

8 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?

9 Doth he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I trow not.

10 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.

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This extra context does help make the entire passage make more sense, but I'm still struggling with seeing how verse 6 connects with verse 7. –  trlkly Jan 11 '14 at 11:18

I think the pulpit commentary has things upside down. Faith is earned? Is that what the parable says or is it saying the opposite? Verse 10 very plainly says that the servants cannot sit at the master's table because they have only done what is expected of them. They could not earn the right. Now compare that with the expectations or demands of the law. No one could keep it. That is what the disciples plainly understand when asking for more faith. Jesus reinforces their notion that they cannot obtain a place at the Master's table by telling them that even if they kept all law they would only be dutiful servants, not guests or sons. We cannot earn faith or a place at the Master's table. The disciples rightly ask for faith to be given for they recognize a need for grace.

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The passage begins with "And." This means it is connecting the passage before and ahead. In the previous passage, 17:1-4, the Lord was telling them to forgive a sinning brother 70 x 7 times. I believe that's when the disciples were overwhelmed and requested more faith. Who can forgive unendingly? At some point, the offender will need to be taught a lesson and we would give up on them -- that's the natural thing to do and think. One would need great faith in God to go further than this.

So they asked for great faith to handle the issue of continual acceptance of a repeat offender.

So then Jesus addresses the request of faith. Using the example of a servant who waits on his master, Jesus is telling his disciples to just do what he says; serve the master and forget about yourself. Do what is your duty to do when you don't have faith to do it.

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Meaning of the parable in Luke 17:7-10

The essence of Christianity is our faith (trust) in Jesus. The disciples knew from the personal experience of living with Jesus how important a living faith is. Even the in Old Testament it was written that the just shall live by faith. The disciples asked for more faith in Luke 17 and were told a parable (7-10) that almost seems to blow them off.

Luke 17:5-10 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.

If we take a look at faith I think we can see that there are things that God does and there are things we are supposed to do.

Romans 10:17 So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

John 6:44a No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him

Hebrews 12:2a Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith;

Luke 7:9b I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.

Matthew 8:26a And he saith unto them, Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith?

The Father creates in us something which leads us to Jesus (possibly a desire for truth). When we hear of Jesus (who is truth) we find faith (that in which we can trust). Faith can be measured as great or little. While Jesus originates our faith and completes it, we need to think about what we should do to make our faith stronger. Consider the rich young ruler;

Matthew 19:21-22 Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me. But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.

Jesus didn't say, "Isn't it too bad God didn't give him more faith". Instead he said it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle. We know that riches can be a barrier to faith (since we live in the most prosperous time in history, this should also be a warning for us).

Jesus really can't give universal instruction for more faith because we all have different things to which we cling, (riches, retirement account, health, family, schooling, employment, social position, or plans for the future).

We do have an example of faith similar to a poker player who goes "all in".

Matthew 19:27 Then answered Peter and said unto him, Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed thee; what shall we have therefore?

Jesus is the example of perfect faith

John 5:19 Then answered Jesus and said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise.

John 12:49 For I have not spoken of myself; but the Father which sent me, he gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak.

One might conclude that an increase in faith is our responsibility and is a result not so much of that which we acquire, but of that we relinquish.

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The disciples were asking for increased faith but they wanted what we all want . . . a magic wand to give it to them. Faith is absolute, it is a standard. You either have faith or doubt. The second part of the parable is directly connected to the first.

What did Jesus say? He said say to the tree, not pray to the father, speak to the tree and IT will obey you, Didn't the fig tree obey Jesus? Didn't the wind and rain obey Him? He spoke to them both. Faith is near you even in your mouth. The second part is telling them, "Do exactly what I tell you to do the way I tell you to do it!" He said that the things He did we shall be able to do and even greater things shall we do.

If we don't try to over-spiritualize the Word of God and take it for what it says, we too will be able to do what He did (as a human being).

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This is how I connect the request of the Apostles. As I see it, Jesus said something very harsh to the disciples.." It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea, than that he would cause one of these little ones (believers, maybe those young in the faith) to stumble." Jesus went on to tell them to forgive every time a brother/sister ask for forgiveness (remember Jesus said to forgive even if it was 70 x 7 times). Maybe these things seemed very hard for the disciples to do. They may have felt inadequate in the face of the high standard Jesus set for them.The Apostles then asked the Lord to increase their faith since that was the case, in order for them to make it work.

So going beyond the call of duty may seem hard but obedience to God of a believer should be priority. Luke 17:10 "So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done."

John MacArthur 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. The demanding standards Christ set (verses 1- 4) may have seem too high to the disciples, but they represented only the minimal duties of a servant of Christ. Those who obey are not to think their obedience is meritorious."

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The first part talks about having faith. not an amount of faith, just faith. The poppy seed is the correct translation as it is medicinal and can help cure. The sycamore fig tree is unclean. Figs are used to feed pigs which for Jews are unclean hence prodigal son ends up feeding figs to pigs when he at the lowest level. Sycus was an unclean tax inspector who was relieved of his sins when he couldn't see Jesus so climbed a tree. Guess what sort of tree? A sycamore fig.

So this could be the superficial interpretation as above of direct understanding of the passage. But it could be that Jesus is putting you in charge of this servant. The servant is the unclean thing. That unclean thing could be a problem, an illness etc. are you going to let it rule you or you rule it. You may have to put it in its place as a servant not a master to you. Then the unclean sycamore fig tree can be defeated by the medicinal poppy seed.

So don't let problems overcome you. With faith you can overcome it.

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Could you cite commentaries or other works that lay out these ideas? Without citing sources, it's hard to know whether these are just your own speculations or if it's accepted by mainstream Christian commentators and scholars. –  Mr. Bultitude Mar 12 at 20:04

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