In this passage, Jesus presents the basic stance from which his followers are to live. Simply, our stance in the world and before the Lord is to be one of humility. This passage follow on Jesus’ teachings about taking care of “these little one” so that they might not sin, and continuing to forgive a person who has wronged you over and over and over.
The apostles response is: “Lord, increase our faith.” They had a sense that the requirement of Jesus was severe, and to meet his expectations, they would need a whole lot more faith. For the followers of Jesus, faith seems to be some sort of life additive that will give them the strength or power to meet new challenges.
Jesus turns the disciples’ thinking around. This issue is not so much having greater faith, as much as it is having faith in a great God. Jesus says, faith the size of a mustard seed can effect dramatic results. And Jesus reminds his followers that at the end of the day, these apostles are simply servants, workers who fulfilling tasks assigned by the master. Jesus does not want his followers, these soon to be church leaders, to get proud or arrogant.
Living out of a stance of humility. It is a lesson that is usually learned through difficulties. We get too full of ourselves, and then we run into a wall. We stumble. Sometimes we fall hard, and then we learn the lesson that we are servants. From the stance of servanthood, we realize that we are not great, but rather we serve a great God. It is major attitude adjustment. It is part of the path of a leader.
Paul learned that lesson. He writes about it in 2 Corinthians 12:
2Cor. 12:7-10 even though I have received wonderful revelations from God. But to keep me from getting puffed up, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from getting proud. Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My gracious favor is all you need. My power works best in your weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may work through me. Since I know it is all for Christ’s good, I am quite content with my weaknesses and with insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
From personal weakness, Paul found strength in the Lord.
Look at brash and impulsive Peter. He would never betray Jesus. He would defend Jesus against all odds. We know the story. We know how Peter failed. And we resonate with that failure, and hope for the same restoration Peter received from Jesus in John 21.
There have been times in my ministry when I have thought quite highly of myself, too highly of myself. I have needed and received an attitude adjustment. Paul reminds us:
Phil. 2:3-5 Don’t be selfish; don’t live to make a good impression on others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourself. Don’t think only about your own affairs, but be interested in others, too, and what they are doing. Your attitude should be the same that Christ Jesus had…
Humility, kenosis, emptying. This is to be our stance in life. This is not a matter of being great, or having great faith, but relying, trusting in a great God.
That is the key. Because of who God is, and what God has done, we live out of a new life stance. When we realize the work of God– God our creator (look at the heavens or the microbes), God is our savior (look at Passover, the Cross), all we can do is bow, surrender and give ourselves over to the Lord.
In good times and in tough times, we live from a stance of humility. This is the message of Jesus. It is embodied in Psalm 46.
God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts.
The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.
Come and see the works of the LORD, the desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear, he burns the shields with fire.
“Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.