The small mustard seed
First posted: October 24, 2004
The Lord spoke of having faith "as a grain of mustard seed". This article deals with the spiritual meaning behind the "smallness" of the mustard seed. It is important to understand this so that our faith may in fact manifest the qualities of a "mustard seed".
In the book of Matthew, the Spirit declares the following:
"14And when they were come to the multitude, there came to him a certain man, kneeling down to him, and saying, 15Lord, have mercy on my son: for he is lunatick, and sore vexed: for ofttimes he falleth into the fire, and oft into the water. 16And I brought him to thy disciples, and they could not cure him. 17Then Jesus answered and said, O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? bring him hither to me. 18And Jesus rebuked the devil; and he departed out of him: and the child was cured from that very hour. 19Then came the disciples to Jesus apart, and said, Why could not we cast him out? 20And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you. 21Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting." (Matthew 17:14-21)
The last verse in this passage is one of the most misunderstood verses in Scripture. For years, I had accepted the teaching that verse 21 was saying that the kind of evil spirit inside the child could only be cast out through prayer and fasting. Over the last few years, however, the Lord made me feel very uncomfortable about this interpretation of verse 21. As I read this passage over and over again, I would wonder why the Lord said "because of your unbelief" when the disciples asked him why they could not cast out the evil spirit. If the type of evil spirit inside the child was so special that it required special prayer and fasting, why didn't Jesus say, "because you haven't prayed and fasted enough". Jesus simply referred to their "unbelief", i.e.- their lack of faith, and then proceeded to say that they needed to have faith "as a grain of mustard seed". Last week, I was speaking with a sister in Christ concerning this passage, and, when our conversation ended, I was compelled to study this passage once again. I asked the Lord, "What does verse 21 really mean?", and as I did so, the Lord made me see something I had never seen in all the times I had tried to understand this verse.
The phrase "goeth not out" in verse 21 was translated from a negation of the Greek word ekporeuomai, which literally means "to go forth, to proceed". The Greek word used throughout the New Testament (and in verse 19 above) to refer to the "casting out" of evil spirits is ekballo, which literally means "to throw out". This means that verse 21 is not talking specifically about the casting out of evil spirits but rather about the "going forth" of something. I then asked the Lord what that something was, and He made me look up other appearances of ekporeuomai in the New Testament. These are some of the appearances that the Lord drew my attention to:
"And all bare him witness, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth. And they said, Is not this Josephís son?" (Luke 4:22)
"Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man." (Matthew 15:11)
[The phrase "cometh out" was translated from ekporeuomai]
"But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God." (Matthew 4:4)
[The phrase "proceedeth out" was translated from ekporeuomai]
"And if any man will hurt them, fire proceedeth out of their mouth, and devoureth their enemies: and if any man will hurt them, he must in this manner be killed." (Revelation 11:5)
[The phrase "proceedeth out" was translated from ekporeuomai]
"And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God." (Revelation 19:15)
[The phrase "out of his mouth goeth" was translated from ekporeuomai and the Greek word for "mouth"]
"And he shewed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb." (Revelation 22:1)
[The phrase "proceedeth out" was translated from ekporeuomai]
Notice how these passages associate ekporeuomai with words proceeding out of a mouth. Notice also how, in the last verse quoted above, ekporeuomai is associated with the water of life proceeding out of the throne of God. In all these cases, ekporeuomai is associated with good things, not bad things. Therefore, we can safely say that, while ekballo has the connotation of throwing out something that is harmful or useless (like a demon, for example), ekporeuomai has the connotation of sending forth something that may be useful and beneficial. In all the 33 appearances of ekporeuomai outside of Matthew 17:21 (and Mark 9:29, which is almost identical to Matthew 17:21), this word is applied to the going forth of "words" and persons, but never in the context of casting out an evil spirit.
As I saw all of the above, I understood, after so many years of asking God, that Matthew 17:21 is not speaking about the casting out of evil spirits but rather about the sending forth of words of faith from our mouths. Let us now revisit the verses that are prior to Matthew 17:21:
"19Then came the disciples to Jesus apart, and said, Why could not we cast him out? 20And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you. 21Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting." (Matthew 17:19-21)
Notice that in verse 20, the Lord is speaking about uttering a command at a mountain and having the mountain obey that command. Therefore, the phrase "this kind" in verse 21 is referring to "this kind of command". In other words, verse 21 is saying that the kind of utterance, with so much authority that the mountain has no choice but to obey, can proceed out of our mouths if we are believers who pray and fast.
Even though literal prayer and fasting is obviously important, this passage is referring to spiritual prayer and spiritual fasting. I know believers who have made literal fasts but who, in God's eyes, are not fasting spiritually. A life of spiritual fasting will lead to occasional manifestations of literal fasting; a life of literal fasting, however, does not necessarily mean that the person is a "spiritual faster". In the same way, a life of spiritual prayer will lead to frequent manifestations of literal prayer; a life of literal praying, however, does not necessarily mean that the person is practicing "spiritual prayer":
"5Speak unto all the people of the land, and to the priests, saying, When ye fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh month, even those seventy years, did ye at all fast unto me, even to me? 6And when ye did eat, and when ye did drink, did not ye eat for yourselves, and drink for yourselves?" (Zechariah 7:5-6)
"11Then said the LORD unto me, Pray not for this people for their good. 12When they fast, I will not hear their cry; and when they offer burnt offering and an oblation, I will not accept them: but I will consume them by the sword, and by the famine, and by the pestilence." (Jeremiah 14:11-12)
In Matthew 17:20-21, the Lord calls us to have a faith equivalent to a small mustard seed. In order to be a believer who "fasts spiritually", we must understand why the seed is small. In order to be a believer who "prays spiritually", we must understand why the seed is of mustard. In this article, we will focus on why the seed is small.
In Isaiah chapter 10, the Holy Spirit declares the following:
"15Shall the axe boast itself against him that heweth therewith? or shall the saw magnify itself against him that shaketh it? as if the rod should shake itself against them that lift it up, or as if the staff should lift up itself, as if it were no wood. 16Therefore shall the Lord, the Lord of hosts, send among his fat ones leanness; and under his glory he shall kindle a burning like the burning of a fire. 17And the light of Israel shall be for a fire, and his Holy One for a flame: and it shall burn and devour his thorns and his briers in one day; 18And shall consume the glory of his forest, and of his fruitful field, both soul and body: and they shall be as when a standardbearer fainteth. 19And the rest of the trees of his forest shall be few, that a child may write them." (Isaiah 10:15-19)
"8And it shall come to pass, that in all the land, saith the LORD, two parts therein shall be cut off and die; but the third shall be left therein. 9And I will bring the third part through the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried: they shall call on my name, and I will hear them: I will say, It is my people: and they shall say, The LORD is my God." (Zechariah 13:8-9)
"Every manís work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every manís work of what sort it is." (1 Corinthians 3:13)
"That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 1:7)
Being "tried" means being exposed to God's judgments. Therefore, we can safely say that the fire of Isaiah 10:15-19, quoted above, is speaking of God's purifying judgments. This means that God's judgments consume, and when something is being consumed, its size is diminished. This is why Isaiah 10:19 says that the trees of the forest shall be "few", so few, in fact, that a child can "write" them, i.e.- count them. Notice, therefore, that God's judgments produce smallness. This is reinforced by the fact that a small child is mentioned in Isaiah 10:19 as the one who can count the trees after they go through God's fire.
Isaiah 10:18 says that the consumption occurs at two levels: soul and body. As 1 Thessalonians 5:23 declares, we are comprised of spirit, soul, and body. This means that God's fire consumes at the material level (body) and at the emotional level (soul) so that our spirits may be manifested. God's fire does not come to destroy our spirits but rather to see them manifested by consuming any hindrances at the material or emotional levels. If a physical object is hindering our spirits, His fire will consume it. If an emotional attachment is hindering our spirits, His fire will consume it. However, this "consumption" will produce material smallness and "soul" smallness.
Most of us have heard of Zacchaeus, the man who had to climb a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus:
"1And Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. 2And, behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus, which was the chief among the publicans, and he was rich. 3And he sought to see Jesus who he was; and could not for the press, because he was little of stature. 4And he ran before, and climbed up into a sycomore tree to see him: for he was to pass that way. 5And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up, and saw him, and said unto him, Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for to day I must abide at thy house. 6And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully. 7And when they saw it, they all murmured, saying, That he was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner. 8And Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord; Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold." (Luke 19:1-8)
The name "Zacchaeus" means "pure", and the fact that Zacchaeus was physically short emphasizes the spiritual principle that God's purifying fire produces smallness at the material level. Notice that, after the Lord's purifying presence at his house, Zacchaeus decided to give away half of his possessions to the poor; God's fire produced a literal diminishing in Zacchaeus' material possessions. Zacchaeus also decided to restore fourfold any unfairly obtained possessions, meaning that his soul diminished in size as well, since doing such a thing would imply admitting his wrongdoing and making that admission a matter of public knowledge. A person with an "enlarged soul" would be incapable of doing such a thing.
If you read Judges chapter 7, you will notice how the Lord tells Gideon to pass his army of fighters through 2 "trials". In the first "trial", God removed those who were afraid to fight:
"3Now therefore go to, proclaim in the ears of the people, saying, Whosoever is fearful and afraid, let him return and depart early from mount Gilead. And there returned of the people twenty and two thousand; and there remained ten thousand." (Judges 7:3)
Here, the Lord cleansed out those who were physically afraid to fight, reducing Gideon's army by 22,000, down to 10,000. This trial represents God's fire consuming at the body level. In the second "trial", God removed those who were more interested in the blessings of the water than in fighting:
"4And the LORD said unto Gideon, The people are yet too many; bring them down unto the water, and I will try them for thee there: and it shall be, that of whom I say unto thee, This shall go with thee, the same shall go with thee; and of whomsoever I say unto thee, This shall not go with thee, the same shall not go. 5So he brought down the people unto the water: and the LORD said unto Gideon, Every one that lappeth of the water with his tongue, as a dog lappeth, him shalt thou set by himself; likewise every one that boweth down upon his knees to drink. 6And the number of them that lapped, putting their hand to their mouth, were three hundred men: but all the rest of the people bowed down upon their knees to drink water. 7And the LORD said unto Gideon, By the three hundred men that lapped will I save you, and deliver the Midianites into thine hand: and let all the other people go every man unto his place." (Judges 7:4-7)
Those who got down on their knees to drink water represent those who have a desire to serve the Lord but who get easily caught up in enjoying natural blessings and forget that they are fighting a war. Those who drank from their hands and refused to get down on their knees represent those who realize that life is more than the satisfaction of natural needs and desires. They remained standing, meaning that they remembered their higher calling; the fact that they remained standing also helped them to stay in a "state of alert", looking out to see if the enemy was coming at any moment. The second purifying trial on Gideon's army, therefore, means that those who were more interested in blessing the soul were removed, leaving those who were more interested in the Spirit.
The first trial was a consumption at the body level, removing those who were afraid of making physical sacrifices, while the second trial was a consumption at the soul level, removing those who were afraid to make soul sacrifices. Both trials, however, reduced the size of Gideon's army to a small group of 300 men. Again, we see how God's purifying judgments produce smallness, and that smallness leaves a pure heart that is willing to make physical and soul sacrifices for the Lord's sake.
Gideon's initial army of 32,000 seemed more "valuable" militarily than then 300 that remained after God's purifying judgments. Gideon, however, understood that God could do more with 300 fully-yielded spirit-men than with 32,000 half-hearted souls. Living under God's judgments creates an awareness in us of the "invisible" but real value that small things have.
In Scripture, God commands the following:
"Thou shalt not pervert the judgment of the stranger, nor of the fatherless; nor take a widowís raiment to pledge:" (Deuteronomy 24:17)
The reference to strangers (i.e.- foreigners), the fatherless, and widows refer to 3 types of "small" or "unimportant" people:
Foreigners, the fatherless, and widows represent those who are small or unimportant to others because of external factors. Of the three, the ones most prone to discrimination and abuse were the foreigners, because, for all intents and purposes, foreigners were "fatherless" (since their fathers lived back home), and foreign women were "widows" because their husbands, who were also foreigners, had little clout in the society they lived in.
The reason why God commanded His people not to judge unfairly against foreigners, the fatherless, and widows was because man has a carnal tendency to judge based on external factors:
"6And it came to pass, when they were come, that he looked on Eliab, and said, Surely the LORDíS anointed is before him. 7But the LORD said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart." (1 Samuel 16:6-8)
When Samuel saw Eliab, he thought that Eliab was the anointed one of God because he was handsome and tall. Therefore, the Lord had to teach Samuel that the anointing cannot be discerned based on external attributes visible to the natural mind. Having learned this, Samuel proceeded to reject Eliab and his 6 other brothers:
"10Again, Jesse made seven of his sons to pass before Samuel. And Samuel said unto Jesse, The LORD hath not chosen these. 11And Samuel said unto Jesse, Are here all thy children? And he said, There remaineth yet the youngest, and, behold, he keepeth the sheep. And Samuel said unto Jesse, Send and fetch him: for we will not sit down till he come hither. 12And he sent, and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and withal of a beautiful countenance, and goodly to look to. And the LORD said, Arise, anoint him: for this is he. 13Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the midst of his brethren: and the Spirit of the LORD came upon David from that day forward. So Samuel rose up, and went to Ramah." (1 Samuel 16:10-13)
Notice that Jesse was not planning on presenting David before Samuel. David was the youngest (i.e.- the "smallest") of all his sons, and he apparently did not consider David to be important enough so as to be the one chosen by God to be the king of Israel. Man always judges based on external appearance, but God judges based on what the natural mind cannot see:
"Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment" (John 7:24)
[The word "appearance" was translated from the Greek word opsis, from which the English word "optical", is derived. The word opsis literally means "sight" or "what is visible".]
Notice that the opposite of judging by appearance is to judge "righteous judgment", and the key to this type of judgment is given by the Lord Jesus in another passage:
"I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me." (John 5:30)
[The word "just" in this verse and the word "righteous" in John 7:24 were translated from the same Greek word dikaios]
From this verse, we can infer that the keys to making righteous judgments that are not based on external appearance are
As our spiritual ears remain connected to the voice of God, we will begin to see the inherent value of what is seemingly small to the eyes of man, because we will begin to see the value that God sees. This is why a person who remains under God's judgments throughout his or her life becomes aware of the inherent value of "small" things. A person who abhors God's judgments will have a hard time valuing small things because he or she will not be connected to God's voice. Only a person who is constantly concerned about God's "opinion" about any and all things will become aware of the mighty potential that is inherent in things (and people) who are "small" in the eyes of men. It is only then that we can see the potential in a small mustard seed:
"31Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field: 32Which indeed is the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof." (Matthew 13:31-32)
Notice how the Lord mentions the transformation of a mustard seed from an "herb" or "vegetable" into a tree. This refers to our transformation from earth-bound beings ("herbs") into beings that can rule over the spiritual atmosphere around us ("trees"), and we become channels through whom God's kingdom spreads out from within us and envelops everyone around us.
An awareness of the value of "small" things also produces an awareness of the value of all of God's words. A good judge never belittles any law, no matter how insignificant it might seem. Besides being impartial, a good judge is supposed to uphold the entire law and to value every single word that appears in every single law. This is why the Lord said the following:
"17Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. 18For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. 19Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 5:17-19)
Every single word that proceeds out of the mouth of God is full of meaning and purpose, and cannot be discarded. This is why we must pay close attention to every single word in the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek manuscripts of Scripture, and we must be careful not to belittle the importance of any single word or passage. When we pay close attention to every word in Scripture, wonderful and powerful principles and revelations open up before us. When we value every word pronounced by the Lord, every word pronounced by us in the Spirit becomes powerful and earth-shaking as well.
The Greek word for "fasting" is nestis, which is derived from the negation of the word esthio, meaning "to eat". In other words, "fasting" in Greek literally means "not eating". A synonym for "eating" is "consuming", so fasting is equivalent to "not consuming". When we don't consume food, our body begins to consume itself. This means that fasting is a process where our body is consumed.
We shared above how God's purifying judgments consume us. This means that a person who is fasting spiritually is a person who constantly and willingly exposes him or herself to God's purifying judgments. According to the New Testament, the Pharisees fasted frequently, but they hated Jesus whenever He confronted them with judgment word:
"43Woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye love the uppermost seats in the synagogues, and greetings in the markets. 44Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are as graves which appear not, and the men that walk over them are not aware of them. 45Then answered one of the lawyers, and said unto him, Master, thus saying thou reproachest us also. 46And he said, Woe unto you also, ye lawyers! for ye lade men with burdens grievous to be borne, and ye yourselves touch not the burdens with one of your fingers. 47Woe unto you! for ye build the sepulchres of the prophets, and your fathers killed them. 48Truly ye bear witness that ye allow the deeds of your fathers: for they indeed killed them, and ye build their sepulchres." (Luke 11:43-48)
As we shared in a previous article, the Pharisees and the scribes decided to react to Jesus' judgment words by saying, "How dare you insult us like that?" (v45). Instead of apologizing, Jesus continues with His barrage of judgment word in the following verses!!! What was the point of the Pharisees' and the scribes' fasting if they were unwilling to live under God's judgment words? A true "spiritual faster" is a person who allows him or herself to be consumed by God's purifying judgments, and this is the type of fasting that God wants to see in us. As we said before, a "spiritual faster" will also do literal fasts periodically under God's instructions, but his or her spiritual fasting will go on day and night, throughout his or her entire life:
"19For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God. 20I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me." (Galatians 2:19-20)
"8We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; 9Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; 10Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. 11For we which live are alway delivered unto death for Jesusí sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh. 12So then death worketh in us, but life in you. 13 We having the same spirit of faith, according as it is written, I believed, and therefore have I spoken; we also believe, and therefore speak; 14Knowing that he which raised up the Lord Jesus shall raise up us also by Jesus, and shall present us with you. 15For all things are for your sakes, that the abundant grace might through the thanksgiving of many redound to the glory of God. 16For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day." (2 Corinthians 4:8-16)
[The Greek word that was translated as "perish" in verse 16 is diaphtheiro, which comes from the word phthio meaning "to waste". Therefore, a better translation would have been, "though our outward man may waste away"]
"7Because for thy sake I have borne reproach; shame hath covered my face. 8I am become a stranger unto my brethren, and an alien unto my motherís children. 9For the zeal of thine house hath eaten me up; and the reproaches of them that reproached thee are fallen upon me. 10When I wept, and chastened my soul with fasting, that was to my reproach. 11I made sackcloth also my garment; and I became a proverb to them. 12They that sit in the gate speak against me; and I was the song of the drunkards." (Psalm 69:7-12)
[Notice how, according to verse 9, God's zeal consumes us. No person can say that he or she is a "spiritual faster" if God's zeal of righteousness is not manifested in his or her life.]
The word in Hebrew for "fasting" (which appears in verse 10 above) is tsowm, and it is worth noting that this word's spelling is very similar in Hebrew to the spelling of the name Tsawar (translated as "Zuar" in English), which means "littleness". Notice, again, the close spiritual connection between judgments and "smallness", since fasting constitutes exposing oneself to God's purifying judgments.
As we have said before, apostles are endowed with wisdom, and wisdom is for the execution of judgments. This means that true apostles are, by nature, very comfortable with judgments and justice. In a sense, the apostolic ministry is the "judging ministry":
"13For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. 14And no marvel; for satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. 15Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works." (2 Corinthians 11:13-15)
[The word "righteousness" in verse 15 can be translated as "justice". The apostolic ministry, therefore, is a ministry of justice and judgments.]
Apostles are aware of the importance of justice, and justice cannot be achieved if judgments are not made. This explains why true apostles are willing to suffer so much for the sake of others:
"9For I think that God hath set forth us the apostles last, as it were appointed to death: for we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men. 10We are fools for Christís sake, but ye are wise in Christ; we are weak, but ye are strong; ye are honourable, but we are despised. 11Even unto this present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwellingplace; 12And labour, working with our own hands: being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it: 13Being defamed, we intreat: we are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day." (1 Corinthians 4:9-13)
Why are true apostles willing to go through all this suffering? Because they understand that justice must be fulfilled. They are not suffering as payment for their own sin, but, rather, as payment for the sins and iniquity of others. The word "apostle" in Greek literally means, "one sent forth"; apostles are sent forth by God as heralds, as precursors and trailblazers into new spiritual territories. This means that they must be willing to pay a high spiritual price to open up these new territories that are being held by spiritual forces that, in many cases, have dominated the region for centuries. These forces feed off of the sin and iniquity committed by the people in those regions, and anyone who may want to break their stranglehold must be willing to suffer punishment that serves as a redeeming price for that sin and iniquity, because God is a God of justice, and judgments must be made. This is why the apostle Paul wrote the following, under the anointing of the Spirit:
"23If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister; 24Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his bodyís sake, which is the church: 25Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfil the word of God" (Colossians 1:23-25)
Notice that Paul saw his afflictions as the "fulfillment of the word of God" (v25). The Greek word translated as "word" in verse 25 is logos, which, as we have said before, is associated in Scripture with God's judgments. Therefore, Paul's suffering for the sake of others was the fulfillment of God's judgments.
The following passage also stresses the willingness of a true apostle to suffer for others:
"23Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. 24Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. 25Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; 26In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; 27In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. 28Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches. 29Who is weak, and I am not weak? who is offended, and I burn not? 30If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things which concern mine infirmities. 31The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is blessed for evermore, knoweth that I lie not." (2 Corinthians 11:23-30)
[The word "offended" in verse 29 was translated from the Greek word skandalizo, which literally means, "to place a stumbling block in the way of someone else to make him or her fall". In other words, verse 29 speaks of how indignant Paul felt when he learned of "brothers" who caused the spiritual fall of others through false teachings that appealed to the soul and the flesh.]
The word "burn" in verse 29 was translated from the Greek word pyroo, which is the verb form of the word pyr, meaning "fire", which appears in the following passages:
"26For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, 27But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries." (Hebrews 10:26-27)
[The word "fiery" in verse 27 was translated from pyr, while the word "devour" was translated from esthio, meaning "to eat", which was mentioned above]
"12Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: 13But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christís sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy." (1 Peter 4:12-13)
[The word "fiery" in verse 12 was translated from pyr]
All of this confirms how an apostle's suffering for others is the result of the apostle's willingness to go through God's purifying fire of judgments for the sake of others. Through this type of suffering, an apostle opens the doors of possibilities for those who are enslaved by principalities and powers so that they may be free.
A true "spiritual faster" must be willing to go through apostolic suffering for others; spiritual fasting includes the disposition to die for others. Fellow believer, God wants the apostolic anointing to abide in you. He will call you as a precursor into new spiritual territories; these territories may be literal and/or spiritual, and He will make it known to you what you need to suffer in order to "plow" those new terrains. All you have to do is to make yourself available to Him as a "bearer of His death" (2 Corinthians 4:10), and He will use you as a ground-breaking apostle, and He will be glorified through you.
Just as an apostle is called to release judgments on others, he or she is also called to bear judgments for the sake of others. True apostles are, by nature, "spiritual fasters", and they are willing to be consumed so that others may be free. As we saw above, God's consuming fire produces smallness, meaning that the apostolic ministry is intimately associated with "smallness". Interestingly enough, the most "famous" apostle in the New Testament (outside of Jesus, of course) is Paul, and the name "Paul" literally means "small". Paul even called himself the "smallest" of all the apostles:
"9For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. 11Therefore whether it were I or they, so we preach, and so ye believed." (1 Corinthians 15:9-11)
[The word "least" in verse 9 was translated from the Greek word elachitos, which can be translated as "shortest" or "smallest"]
Paul's "smallness" can also be inferred from the fact that believers were constantly questioning his spiritual authority:
"Since ye seek a proof of Christ speaking in me, which to you-ward is not weak, but is mighty in you." (2 Corinthians 13:3)
"7Do ye look on things after the outward appearance? If any man trust to himself that he is Christís, let him of himself think this again, that, as he is Christís, even so are we Christís. 8For though I should boast somewhat more of our authority, which the Lord hath given us for edification, and not for your destruction, I should not be ashamed: 9That I may not seem as if I would terrify you by letters. 10For his letters, say they, are weighty and powerful; but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible. 11Let such an one think this, that, such as we are in word by letters when we are absent, such will we be also in deed when we are present." (2 Corinthians 10:7-11)
Notice that many believers belittled Paul because of his "weak" physical presence, and they considered his logos (translated as "speech" in verse 10) as "contemptible"; the word "contemptible" was translated from the Greek word exoutheneo, which is better translated as "worth nothing" or "not worth regarding". Few believers (if any) would question Paul's spiritual authority today, mostly because Paul is the accepted author of 13 of the 22 books in the New Testament. However, I am certain that many, if not most believers (especially those in "ministerial" positions), would question Paul's authority if he were alive today, but with a different name, just as many believers over 1900 years ago. Most believers are still conditioned to thinking that spiritual authority is tied up to "religious titles". Spiritual authority is invisible to the natural mind. It always has been, still is, and will always be "invisible", and the ministry with the least recognizable authority is the true apostolic ministry, mostly because true apostles speak a word of judgment that is offensive to the carnal mind. This is the reason why believers said that Paul's letters were "weighty" (v10). The word "weighty" was correctly translated from barus, but barus can also have the connotation of "severity" or "grievousness". In other words, many believers thought that Paul's letters were too "harsh" and "lacking in mercy".
Fellow believer, if you are (or become) a "spiritual faster", a "smallness" anointing will descend upon your life, and you will find yourself being frequently belittled by carnal brothers and sisters who will be too spiritually blind to see God's authority in you. Remember, even the Lord Jesus went through this. The religious leaders of His day constantly questioned His authority, but He never cared, because He was more interested in pleasing God than in pleasing men:
"For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ" (Galatians 1:10)
"37And the Father himself, which hath sent me, hath borne witness of me. Ye have neither heard his voice at any time, nor seen his shape. 38And ye have not his word abiding in you: for whom he hath sent, him ye believe not. 39Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me. 40And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life. 41I receive not honour from men. 42But I know you, that ye have not the love of God in you. 43I am come in my Fatherís name, and ye receive me not: if another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive. 44How can ye believe, which receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour that cometh from God only? 45Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father: there is one that accuseth you, even Moses, in whom ye trust. 46For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for he wrote of me. 47But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words?" (John 5:37-47)
[Notice that Jesus told people to believe Him because of His words, not because of His "religious titles" or the number of followers He had]
Since "spiritual fasters" become aware of the value of small things, they know how valuable they are in Christ. They don't depend on the opinions of others in order to understand the spiritual authority and potential that lies inside of them. They know that the "mustard seed", which is "the least of all seeds", can grow to be the greatest of "herbs" and be a tree where the birds of the air can come and lodge (Matthew 13:31-32). They know that the "small" and "insignificant" words of judgment that go forth from their mouths have the spiritual authority to shake the foundations of this world and to transform the lives of millions of people. They can "move mountains", which means that they can tear down Amorite giants in high places. These giants see the "small" spiritual "fasters" as insignificant little bugs, without realizing that those "insignificant little bugs" will cause their downfall:
"6Then he answered and spake unto me, saying, This is the word of the LORD unto Zerubbabel, saying, Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the LORD of hosts. 7Who art thou, O great mountain? before Zerubbabel thou shalt become a plain: and he shall bring forth the headstone thereof with shoutings, crying, Grace, grace unto it. 8Moreover the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, 9The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house; his hands shall also finish it; and thou shalt know that the LORD of hosts hath sent me unto you. 10For who hath despised the day of small things? for they shall rejoice, and shall see the plummet in the hand of Zerubbabel with those seven; they are the eyes of the LORD, which run to and fro through the whole earth." (Zechariah 4:6-10)
"42And when the Philistine looked about, and saw David, he disdained him: for he was but a youth, and ruddy, and of a fair countenance. 43And the Philistine said unto David, Am I a dog, that thou comest to me with staves? And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. 44And the Philistine said to David, Come to me, and I will give thy flesh unto the fowls of the air, and to the beasts of the field. 45Then said David to the Philistine, Thou comest to me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a shield: but I come to thee in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou hast defied. 46This day will the LORD deliver thee into mine hand; and I will smite thee, and take thine head from thee; and I will give the carcases of the host of the Philistines this day unto the fowls of the air, and to the wild beasts of the earth; that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel. 47And all this assembly shall know that the LORD saveth not with sword and spear: for the battle is the LORDíS, and he will give you into our hands." (1 Samuel 17:42-47)
"He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it." ( Revelation 2:17)
[Those who fast spiritually and abstain from pursuing earthly blessings and comfort are given to eat of God's hidden manna, meaning that God whispers to them powerful wisdom and prophetic word]
[The word "stone" was translated from the Greek word psephos, which literally means "pebble" or "small stone". The stone may be "small", but it represents the spiritual authority to tear down mighty spiritual strongholds in high places.]
[The name is known only to the person who receives it. Since "name" in Scripture is associated with the concepts of "identity" and "authority", this means that only you will be fully aware of the tremendous spiritual authority that will be flowing out of your mouth.]