The mustard is a shrub-like plant which grows wild but can also be cultivated. The shrub’s flowers are yellow and, as a result, a whole field of mustard plants can be a pretty sight.
The seeds of the Mustard are small and round. The size of a Mustard depends on the plant variety. Some varieties can grow to two metres in height whereas some can reach ten metres. In Israel the Mustard Trees can grow to 3 metres (10 feet) in height.
Therefore, we have a very small seed eventually growing into a tree of 3 3 metres (10 feet). The small dimensions can grow to something of an incredible size.
The Mustard in the Bible
The Mustard seed is only mentioned in the New Testament where it is referred to five times. It is used to teach two separate lessons:
- The coming kingdom of God (Matt. 13:31-32; Mark 4:30-32; Luke 13:18-19)
- Faith (Matt.17:20; Luke 17:5-6)
In this article we will consider the mustard seed and how it is used to teach us about faith.
Before we consider the Mustard seed and faith let’s firstly reflect on what is faith.
What is faith? It is being certain about something even though you have not seen it. For a believer, faith is extremely important as God tells us that if do not have faith then we cannot hope to please him.
But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. Hebrews 11:6
If we show a strong desire to find God even though we can’t see Him then He will reward us.
Faith can only be seen by those we come in contact with, as it will influence our behaviour.
Can faith grow?
We are told that the believers in Thessalonica had a faith that was growing exceedingly.
We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is fitting, because your faith grows exceedingly, and the love of every one of you all abounds toward each other, 2 Thessalonians 1:3
How does you faith grow? It grows as you get more confidence in God. We can get this confidence by getting to know Him better through prayer and reading the Bible (His word). We can also gain confidence (and faith) by seeing God working in our lives. If we pray about something and it is answered then our faith should increase. In addition, if we see God’s guidance in some other part of our lives then this can also increase our faith.
Our faith can also grow by looking at the evidence of His existence. It can be seen in the creation all around us. The beauty of the landscapes; the amazing design of the human body (and all other living creatures); the way the planet functions and keeps us all alive with oxygen to breath, the right temperature to keep our bodies functioning; and there are many more examples of God’s design and creation.
Faith, therefore, is being completely certain in our hope for the future and in the things we cannot see. This will help us to be faithful and loyal to God. This means not trying to change the will of God but rather being obedient to what He asks of us.
Now that we have briefly considered faith let’s now look at the Mustard seed and faith. It is mentioned in two separate parts of scripture – Luke 17:5-6 and Matthew 17:20.
Luke 17:5-6: Faith enough to move the mulberry tree
Jesus and the apostles were speaking about faith. The conversation was recorded in Luke chapter 17 and verses 5 and 6:
And the apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.” 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.
The apostles were finding some of the commands of Jesus were difficult to follow. They reasoned that they needed extra faith, so they asked Jesus to increase their faith. The fact that they asked to “increase” meant that they accepted they had some faith but just not enough to handle the challenges of a life as a believer. Jesus response was clear. If they had faith, even if it was as small as a mustard seed, then it was still a living faith. If they had a living faith like the mustard seed was a living seed then it would grow on its own over time.
Jesus refers to the mulberry tree being pulled up by the roots and planted in the sea. This indicated that their faith could grow so as to make the impossible possible. All they needed was the faith of a mustard seed. I will expand on this idea in the next section.
Matthew 17:20: Faith enough to move the mountain
Jesus walked towards a multitude where a man came to him saying that his son was epileptic and asking if he could cure him. He said that he had “brought him to Your disciples, but they could not cure him”. To this Jesus replied:
Then Jesus answered and said, “O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you? Bring him here to Me.” And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him; and the child was cured from that very hour. Matthew 17:17-18
The disciples came to him asking why they couldn’t heal the man.
So Jesus said to them, “Because of your unbelief; for assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you. However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.” Matthew 17:20-21
Their faith had been less than a grain of mustard seed and prayer and fasting were needed to increase their faith. All they need is mustard seed size faith to achieve great things. The boy would have been cured of his illness if they had prayed and fasted as their faith would have been increased.
However, the disciple’s faith had varied over time – sometimes strong and sometimes weak. Sometimes it was strong when they were given a new commission (Luke 10:1-20). But other times, such as now, their faith was at a low point. The point being made was that they could do mighty things when they trusted in their master. But they could not do these things at all when they were in doubt about him. They must give themselves to prayer that God might give them a strengthened trust, as He had already done once for Simon Peter:
He [Jesus] said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. Matthew 16:15-17
Faith – knowing the will of God
The faithful disciple does not invent things which he would like for himself. He is not selfish or foolish and thinks that faith will get those things that he personally desires. Rather the faithful disciple tries to find out what is the will of God for him and has faith that this will not fail if he trusts with all his heart. Faith consists of us believing in the promises of God, not doubting in any way, and not inventing purposeless wonders for ourselves.
Faith and prayer
As we go through life there are times we will be challenged, where our faith is tested to the limit. But it is these times of trial where our faith can grow best. If we seek the help of God in these testing times, it can increase our faith. It is because we are praying to God and calling on Him to give us guidance.
If we are a baptized believer and call ourselves God’s son or daughter then we have a special privileged relationship with God where we can not only serve him but seek his help when we are distressed or challenged. Approaching our Heavenly Father in pray can help our fears and distress go away.
Prayer and faith go hand in hand: one is the expression of the other. There cannot be faith in God without prayer. The reason is that those with faith look to God as the Source and Giver of all good and are therefore confident of His grace.
Wonderful things can be done through the prayer of faith. Miracles can still happen in a person’s life but they will not be done by man. If they do happen it is by the merciful intervention of an all-wise Heavenly Father and His all-powerful Son, in response to the unceasing prayers of the baptised believer.
Sometimes our requests are not granted and this is because of the wisdom of our Heavenly Father who knows what is best for us. In these situations we should be like the Lord Jesus himself, we must, “with gentle resignation still yield unto the Father’s will”. For true faith is not that God will always give us what we desire. It is that we desire what God will give us—for our eternal well-being.
As we draw closer to God we increase our love for Him and as that love grows and grows to fill our minds, we find that the trails and challenges we face in our life diminish in their influence on us. We find that “perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). This is the evidence that the mustard seed of faith with which we began has grown and grown until other believers and seekers can shelter in its branches and have their own hesitant faith strengthened.