And the apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith” (Luke 17:5, NKJV).
Like the apostles, Christians want our faith to grow. Instead of working a miracle to put greater faith into their hearts, Jesus taught them how their faith could grow. His disciples have a responsibility to live in such a way that gives increase to their faith. (1) Faith is increased by trusting the power of faith (Luke 17:6). Faith is a force that activates us to live in harmony with God’s will. It is the fuel that feeds the engine of our lives (2 Cor. 5:7; see Hebrews 11 where people acted “by faith”). We can accomplish whatever God says to do when we trust faith’s power. (2) Faith is increased by offering the service of faith (Luke 17:7-8). Faith in the Lord requires us to serve Him, not ourselves. Our faith will not grow until we humble ourselves before the Lord and trust and serve Him first. (3) Faith is increased by obeying the duty of faith (Luke 17:9-10). Just as a servant has duties to perform, disciples of Christ are to do all we are commanded (v. 10). We have nothing in which to boast when we obey Christ in faith. We have earned nothing. We have only done our duty. Obeying Christ fulfills our duties to Him. Faith is dead without obedience (James 2:20). To increase your faith, diligently “add to your faith virtue…knowledge…self-control…perseverance…godliness…brotherly kindness…love” (2 Pet. 1:5-7). Trust faith’s power, offer faith’s service, obey faith’s duty, and the Lord will increase your faith (Phil. 2:12-13).
3 For if anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 4 But let each one examine his own work, and then he will have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. 5 For each one shall bear his own load. (Galatians 6:3–5, NKJV)
The willingness and ability of a mature Christian to bear the burden of a fellow disciple overtaken by sin (and attempting to restore him, Gal. 6:1-2). This requires humbly examining oneself and accepting one’s spiritual responsibility (“bear his own load,” v. 5). Here is the essential meaning and application of verses 3-5. Without this preparation of faith and character we are ill-equipped to “fulfill the law of Christ” when others need help overcoming sin (Gal. 6:2). The mature Christian understands he (or she) is not the savior of the fallen; the Lord is. He is merely a servant of the Lord doing His work. The mature Christian’s joy in doing this work does not come from measuring himself against the failures (or successes) of others. Mature Christians rejoice in doing their duty (“his own work”) and giving Christ the glory and honor (Lk. 17:10). Our responsibility is to fulfill the law of Christ and to love one another by helping restore the fallen. Pride and self-promotion prevent us from fulfilling this task. “Therefore, let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12).
3 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, 4 so that we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that you endure, (2 Thessalonians 1:3–4, NKJV)
Twice in his second letter to the Thessalonians, Paul declared an obligation (along with Silas and Timothy) to always thank God for them (see also, 2 Thess. 2:13). The word “bound” means “to be under obligation” and speaks of duty, in this case, to thank God for them. Paul thankfulness was not flattery; it was “fitting” (deserved) recognition. Their growing faith and abounding love compelled Paul to thank God for them. At the same time, he commended them to other congregations as an example of patient, enduring faith as they confronted persecutions and distresses. Being thankful for one another is a precious blessing that binds Christians’ hearts together in common faith, shared love, and devoted endurance through trials and trouble (Col. 2:1-2). We are obliged to thank God for faithful brethren. And, like Paul, we can encourage them by letting them know their examples are strengthening us and others to remain faithful to the Lord.
Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord. (1 Corinthians 15:58, NKJV)
The Corinthian church had problems. Every church does. That’s because every church is composed of sinners, redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. We struggle with temptations and sins, with our faith and our failings. Christians in every congregation must address weakness and weariness, responsibilities and relationships, and much more (Rom. 12:3-21). Paul exhorted the Corinthian brethren to remain true to the Lord as they faced spiritual challenges from within themselves and from the world without. Like them, we must be “steadfast” (settled, firmly situated) in our faith. The roots of our faith must run deep within us, anchored by the word of God, in order for spiritual growth to flourish. By building our personal faith we become stabilized, standing firmly in the faith, and able to resist the enticements of sin (Col. 2:7; Jas. 1:14). By such steadfastness we become “immovable” (unmoved) against the external forces of error and evil (Col. 2:8; Eph. 4:14-16; 1 Pet. 4:1-3). (Remember, the devil is always probing for our vulnerabilities, 1 Pet. 5:8.) Spiritual stability enlivens our duty (“work”) in the Lord with purpose, devotion, endurance, and fullness. Our incentive to fulfill our duty to the Lord is clear – our labor is not useless in the Lord. A full, everlasting harvest awaits the faithful (Gal. 6:7-8).
9 Does he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I think not. 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.’ (Luke 17:9–10, NKJV)
Followers of Jesus want to grow in their faith to reach spiritual maturity. This growth of faith comes as we feed on the word of God and live by its truth (Heb. 5:12-14). By using the word of God we grow and are strong in Christ. Even so, in today’s passage, the Lord explains our faith will increase when we obey the duty of faith. Just as a servant obeys his master out of duty and without merit, our obedience to Christ expresses full submission to Him. We merit nothing by our obedience (we cannot earn our way to heaven) – we are “unprofitable servants” doing our duty (v. 10). Our faith in Christ compels our obedience to Him. It is our duty to obey His word, and we freely and willingly do so. Such submissive obedience shows we trust the Lord instead of ourselves. We do His will in His way precisely because we trust His way is right and good. That kind of faith grows as we fulfill our duty before the Lord. You see, saying and not doing is not faith (Lk. 6:46; Jas. 2:17). Doing our duty as servants increases our faith in the Lord.
15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not! 16 Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?” (Romans 6:15–16, NKJV)
Christians dare not take a light, careless view of sin. Being under grace does not mean we can “continue to sin that grace may abound” (Rom. 6:1). Unfortunately, not a few Christians appear to believe grace allows them to sin with escape from consequences and exemption from eternal punishment. It remains true that “the soul who sins shall die” (Ezek. 18:4). Since Christians have chosen to obey Christ, we present ourselves to Him and serve His will instead of serving sin. Since we are under grace, the result of obeying Christ is that one’s faith is accounted for righteousness (Rom. 4:4-5; Eph. 2:8-10). This passage condemns the Calvinistic doctrine that equates obedience with “works salvation”. Yes, salvation is by grace. But that is not a license to sin. It is our signal to obey Jesus! It is our duty is to trust and obey our Master (Luke 17:10). Do your duty.