Jesus taught that if people only had the faith of a mustard seed, they could move mountains (Matthew 17:20). He also taught that some people can have such a great faith that they could command a mulberry tree to be uprooted and throw into the sea (Luke 17:6).
These passages have often been misunderstood and abused. Many prosperity preachers have even used them to manipulate and damage people. However, if we take the time to dig into the actual and contextual meaning of these passages, we will be deeply encouraged and less likely to fall prey to beliefs and practices that run contrary to Scripture.
Tom Schreiner is a seminary professor of New Testament interpretation. He has provided an article (Why Doesn’t Our Faith Move Mountains) to help us understand the meaning of Matthew 17:20 and Luke 17:6. Did Jesus mean that our faith could literally pick up a mountain and move it? Did he mean that the goal of building our faith is so that we can perform miracles in the world? In his article Dr. Schreiner answers these and several other important questions related to these passages.
Some of his quotes:
“We’re prone to think if we just had more faith, then God could do amazing things through us. But Jesus tells us something quite astonishing. The issue isn’t whether we are full of faith but whether we have any faith.”
“Why is it true that mustard seed faith can move mountains and uproot mulberry trees? Jesus plainly tells us. It isn’t because of the quantity of our faith but the object of our faith.”
“Faith isn’t abstract; we put our faith in the promises of God, in the truth he has revealed. Scripture never promises believers they will be healthy or wealthy.”
“Mountain-moving faith, then, must be based on God’s promises—on what is revealed in his Word—not on what we wish will happen or even fervently believe will happen.”
“Love, joy, peace, and patience are mountains that can only be climbed by faith; faith, after all, expresses itself in love.”
“Mustard seed faith believes the gospel will go the ends of the earth and triumph over the gates of hell. And the clearest evidence of mustard seed faith is whether you love God and your neighbor.”