THE MUSTARD SEED
June 30, 2012
“He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”
– Matthew 13:31-32
In this illustration, Jesus explains the simplicity of the kingdom message. It does not involve a lot of intricate moving parts. It is, in fact, the simplest of all messages – tiny as ‘the tiniest of all seeds.’ Yet when the message is planted in our hearts, the simple kingdom message becomes ‘the largest’ of all truths, providing comfort and lodging for all who seek it.
Simply put, the kingdom of the heavens is built upon the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man. In other words, God is the Father of every man, and consequently, every man is your brother. Jesus began his ministry by planting the seed of fatherhood:
“This, then, is how you should pray: “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’ For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
– Matthew 6:9-15
And if we accept the fact of the fatherhood of God, we must also freely accept the associated truth of the brotherhood of man.
“But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven.”
– Matthew 23:8-9
The apostles and writers of the Christian scriptures understood the kingdom seed. In practically every letter in the Christian scriptures, the followers of Jesus refer to each other as “brother” and to God as “Father.” Practically every admonition was to strengthen the brotherhood, or to seek out more brothers through the ministry and baptize them into the brotherhood, and to ready the brotherhood for our heavenly inheritance. It wasn’t any more complicated than that.
The knowledge that we are all children of God carries with it many beautiful associations – the many branches originating from the tiny mustard seed. For example, since we are God’s children, we know that we are not orphans. We know that we are not the product of a random “big bang.” We were created, designed. We are wanted. We are loved.
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.”
– Matthew 6:25-32
Since we are loved by an all powerful Father, we know nothing will happen to us that we cannot handle.
“No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”
– 1 Corinthians 10:13
Since our Father is perfect, we have the potential to be perfect:
“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
– Matthew 5:48
Since our Father is eternal, we have the potential for eternal life:
“Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”
– John 17:3
And since every man was our brother, out of respect for our Father, we would not seek to harm any of His children. We are told:
“Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.”
– 1 Corinthians 3:16-17
These are some of the benefits of being in the kingdom of the heavens – the spiritual brotherhood. But being in the kingdom of the heavens has responsibilities. It has laws. And, like the kingdom message, the laws of the kingdom are simple, uncomplicated.
The Laws of the Kingdom
The Jews were required to keep numerous commandments, rules of conduct, rituals and regulations. They were burdened down with meticulous requirements that interfered and invaded every phase of their existence. On a daily basis, they had to be keenly aware of every act they performed lest they somehow break one of these rules and find themselves in the disfavor of their religious leaders. They were in need of relief and release. Jesus came to provide that relief – ‘to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free.’ (Luke 4:18)
The people flocked to Jesus to hear his message of relief. Several of the religious leaders also followed Jesus as he toured the cities preaching his message, but they did not comprehend how truly simple the message was. They knew Jesus did not subject himself to many of their burdensome customs (Mark 7:1-8), so they thought they could trick him into speaking against the Law of Moses which would cause the people would reject him. So on one occasion, after answering one of their trick questions:
“One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
– Matthew 22:35-40
By way of this response, Jesus explained that those who accepted his message are only required to keep those two simple commandments, and if we are successful in doing so, we will have fulfilled all other moral and divine laws.
The first commandment – to love God with our whole heart, soul and mind – is the easier of the two. People who seek a relationship with the Father do not have much trouble loving Him. He doesn’t “get under our skin.” He doesn’t slight us. He doesn’t irritate us. He doesn’t nag us. He doesn’t abuse us. To the contrary, He allows us the freedom to live our lives as we choose. And he is always ready with a blessing, even on our worst days. There are only two personalities involved in the first commandment, and one of them is absolute perfection.
But the second is easier said than done. The second commandment involves hundreds of diverse and imperfect personalities and, depending on our lifestyles, maybe even thousands! We are asked to love not only our family and friends, but our neighbors – those we may not know very well, those who we might not even want to know. And there is no requirement that they love us first or love us back. We are asked to keep that commandment in spite of the reality of its difficulty because it is the solution to the world’s problems.
Paul expounded on the far-reaching implications of the second commandment:
“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”
– Romans 13:8-10
“For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
– Galatians 5:14
So it is exceedingly important that we find a way to apply both the first and the second commandments. But the truth is that it is really not as difficult as we might think. When we truly understand the interrelation of the two commandments, applying the second one is much easier. Let’s demonstrate:
If you are currently harboring any ill feelings for anyone, call that feeling to mind. If you are not having such feelings, reach back to a past event for the purpose of this demonstration. Remember what was done to you. Remember who did it. Remember how it made you feel. Now, in that mindset, if you were to try to apply the second commandment to ‘love that person as yourself,’ that might be difficult. Maybe you could muster some tolerance to “let it go,” but can you love that person as yourself? Depending on what occurred, it can be hard to forget, to forgive or to let go.
It is exceedingly difficult to love someone against who we hold a grudge. Nevertheless, that is exactly what we are commanded to do. So, how do we do it? This is where the power of the first commandment comes in – to love God with our whole heart, soul, and mind.
Applying the Law of Love
Take a moment to think of the Father. Contemplate His matchless personality, His divine mercy, the depth of His love. Consider His love for you ... personally ... individually. Call to mind His endless blessings you have been lovingly given. Know that he is an awesome God!
Now ... return that love to Him. Radiate back to the Father with your whole heart, soul, and mind how much you love and appreciate Him. Let that warmth flow out from your core in all directions. Sustain that joy. Hold those feelings. Maintain those thoughts.
Now ... become aware of your feelings. You have filled yourself up with divine love. Your entire being is engulfed in the highest form of human compassion. The power of this state of mind is absolutely exquisite because it crowds out all contrary emotions.
Examine yourself. Is there any place within you for condemnation? As you feel the love for God flowing through you, is there any room for judgment? Can you formulate a negative thought? Applying the first commandment neutralizes all negativity. In that state, it is impossible to harbor ill will toward anyone.
Now you are in a position to apply the second commandment because the love that you are now willing to share is not on your own strength. The love you can now show to your fellow is bolstered by the Father’s love. The second commandment has become much easier, even welcomed.
That is the secret of ‘loving your brother.’ Love the Father first. As Jesus said: “This is the first and greatest commandment.” (Matthew 22:38) It’s first for a reason! We apply it first. When we attempt to apply the second commandment first, we encounter difficulty – the commandment appears to be burdensome.
This process or methodology was expressed by the apostle John:
“This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome.”
– 1 John 5:2-3
And if this method does not work for us, i.e., if loving the Father first does not create in us the capacity to love our brothers, we need a self-examination. We are misleading ourselves:
“Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.”
– 1 John 4:20-21
Our brotherly love must encompass all of the children of God, including those of other faiths, other races, other nationalities, even those who might be considered unrighteous, even our enemies:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
– Matthew 5:43-48
The goal of every child of God is perfection in personality (Hebrew 12:2), as well as perfection in love. Though we may not achieve these goals in this lifetime, that must be the direction we are traveling. In this life, we are not made perfect by what we do, but by what we strive to do.
Now we understand the illustration of the mustard seed. We understand how the truth that God is the Father of every man, can grow into a massive tree that encompasses the entire world and provides comfort and “perch in its branches.” (Matthew 13:31-32) For if God is the Father of every man, and we love God with our whole heart, soul and mind, then we are able to love every man, who is our brother, as ourselves.
When we plant this tiny, yet powerful seed in our hearts, we begin to sprout righteous fruit – the fruits of the spirit. (Galatians 5:22-23) Instead of taking laws from outside ourselves and applying them, we learn the law of love from the kingdom seed within ourselves and manifest them. The truth becomes our own and we need no one teaching us what to do or how to act. (1 John 2:27) The spirit is leading us. It is as Jeremiah prophesied:
“This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.”
– Jeremiah 31:33
All persons thus lead by the spirit are children of God (Romans 8:14) who will eventually grow to the full stature of the Christ. (Ephesians 4:13) Yes, from such small beginnings, the tiny mustard seed has become a mighty tree.
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