Larry Hunt's Bible Commentary

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Mark 9

Chapter Nine:

v. 24: This is a beautiful verse for the hope it can bring to all of us with weak faith.  This father’s faith is weak.  He obviously has doubts.  But it is enough that he confesses them and turns to Christ for help, not just with his son but also with his weak faith.  Such a faith is the size of a mustard seed (see note on v. 28), but it is sufficient to allow God to work wonders.

The desired effect of a prayer weakened by such doubts as this father had may not come as easily or be as immediate as that of a prayer offered with greater faith, but the effect will be achieved, nevertheless.  See note on 8:23.  If the desired effect is not achieved, then perhaps it is not in accord with God’s will for some reason. (See note on Matthew 26:44)

v. 28: In Matthew’s account of this episode (17:20) Jesus implies that the disciples could have driven out the demon themselves by asking God to do so, if they had had faith the size of a mustard seed.  A mustard seed is very very tiny, so he is rebuking them for their very very very tiny faith.  To have faith smaller than a mustard seed is, practically speaking, to have no faith at all.  Compare their faith to that of the desperate father.  His faith is far from strong, but Christ coaches him a little in v. 23 and this builds his faith sufficiently.  Even then, however, it is weakened by doubt, as he himself confesses, and yet he obtains his request.  I suspect that it is this father’s small faith that Christ has in mind here when he says that if the disciples had faith the size of a mustard seed, God would answer their prayers.  It is hard to believe that the disciples had such weak faith, weaker than that of the distraught father, but then they were not as personally invested in the exorcism as the father was.  Perhaps this is the reason that his faith, in the end, was greater than theirs: A man has more faith in his parachute when the plane is burning than when it is flying along soundly.  He has to.

I think it is important to note that, although Christ was very irritated by the disciples’ lack of faith, he did not reject them.  He continued to teach and love them as patiently as ever.  Having little faith does not separate us from the love of God, nor is it synonymous with being cast out and damned.

What does it mean to have faith?  Essentially, it is to believe that God exists and that he rewards those who diligently seek him (Hebrews 11:6).  To the degree that a person truly believes this, he will be confident that what he asks God for will come to pass, provided the request is in harmony with the will of God.  He will be assured of what he hopes for (Hebrews 11:1).

But there are degrees of faith.  Faith is like knowledge or physical strength in that it is a faculty that can be increased by disciplined exercise.  I say this because Christ seems to imply this very thing in v. 29.  When Christ says that this sort of demon can only be driven out with prayer and fasting, I do not believe that he is saying one has to go through long rituals of prayer and fasting as part of the exorcism but rather that one must already have built up one’s faith in God by prayer and fasting before ever attempting the exorcism.  Notice that Christ himself engages in no fasting or long ritual prayers as part of the exorcism.  Prayer and fasting are the exercises that build our faith.

It should also be noted that faith, while necessary, is distinct from our love for God.  One can have great faith (just as one can have great knowledge or physical strength) and yet not be pleasing to God, as James (James 2:19) and Paul (1st Corinthians 13:2) both acknowledge.

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