What is the Parable of Mustard Seed and Leaven?

Mustard Seed and Leaven

Reading Time: 5 minutes

The mustard seed and leaven is a parable, Matthew 13:31-33 which can be interpreted in different ways, as is the case of many of His parables. A parable is Jesus using a simple story to demonstrate a timeless principle concerning spiritual matters. The Apostle John kept using the word ‘like’ in an attempt to explain spiritual concepts. At times the apostle must have felt he was losing the plot.

Where God is there is no time, for was and is and is to come is now. On the other hand, we live on a linear timeline. So, let’s look at the parable of the mustard seed and the woman with leaven, as relating to church growth. “How many members in your congregation?”

Mustard Seed

The mustard seed is the tiniest of all seeds, but it can grow to be a large herb. What starts in the tiniest seed form can flourish into something up to fifteen feet in height. In this parable the mustard seed grows into a tree, signifying what all pastor’s desire – church growth. “How many members in your congregation?” as if that question is a measure of success.

In our earthly thinking we would like to start a ‘church’ with a thousand people, yet Jesus taught only 12 disciples for three years. Big things come from small beginnings as seen in the spread of Christianity, yet one of Christ’s disciples did not have a true heart, Judas. He had a form of godliness, 2 Timothy 3:5.

On the day of Pentecost 3,000 souls were added to the church, Acts 2:41. A short time later another 5,000 were added to the church, Acts 4:4. That sounds like a great awakening, but 8,000 individual problems walked in the door. All needed to be pastored and grounded in the Word of God.

The awakening in Acts leaves a question. Were all the 8,000 converts at Pentecost, only Jews? Around fifteen years later the two Apostles, Paul and Peter, had a public confrontation about the validity of Jewish converts fellowshipping with Gentile Christians, Galatians 2:11-14.

Value of Small Groups

Pastoring takes leadership, time, effort and lots of prayer. Small groups are conducive to personal relationships. It is only as we rub shoulders with each other that our hard edges get softened.

Large congregations need to be broken into smaller, interactive groups, such as home groups. This allows the people to be personally shepherded and assisted to grow into the fullness of the stature of Jesus Christ, Ephesians 4:13. Admittedly, we won’t fully reach this until we are changed into His image in the twinkling of an eye, 1 Corinthians 15:51, 52, or close our eyes in death.

Birds in the Mustard Tree

Whenever the generic term ‘birds’ is used in the Bible it refers to the demonic realm. Birds of the air devoured the seed so it wouldn’t produce, Luke 8:5.

Satan, the great counterfeiter, 2 Corinthians 4:4, has a goal to disrupt the growth of the church any which way he can. It is easy for him to drop some ‘birds’ into the branches, so they can disrupt, confuse and cause as much division as possible.

We all have baggage in some form or another, which the Holy Spirit needs to deal with. However, we have to be willing to heed His voice and this is an ongoing work, no matter how long we have been Born Again.

Birds Gathering Together

Have you ever been near a tree where birds flock together? What a noise! The odd bird here and there is not a problem, but when the birds begin to gather others around them and gets them to think their way, you have a problem.

How many church splits have there been and who instigated it? How many church leaders have gone astray? How many have risen in opposition to church leadership? Having been in a leadership role I can personally say what a difficult position it is, with so many unrealistic expectations placed on you.

God looks on the heart, 1 Samuel 16:7, and God will not be mocked, Galatians 6:7. If bird’s want to perch in God’s tree, they will be dealt with, God’s way. As believers in Christ, we must not be offended by what our brothers and sisters in Christ do. It is not our place to stand in judgment. Forgiveness is the key and continually building our personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

Authority in Christ

The bible teaches that we have authority in Christ, Luke 10:19, which is the ability, power and right to do something for a particular purpose. As a member of a church, the Lord may use you to ‘shoo’ the birds away, just as you would protect ripe fruit on a tree.

Satan has no power over a child of God, as seen in the temptation of Jesus, Matthew 4, for you are hid in Christ Jesus, Colossians 3:3. How often have you stood in front of someone, and they can’t abide who you are, even when you have said absolutely nothing? The demonic spirits knew who Jesus was, Matthew 8:29. They know who you are.

Satan works Evil, God works Good

That which Satan designs for evil, God will work for good, according to His plan, Romans 8:28. ‘My plans aren’t your plans, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord’, Isaiah 55:8.

It often takes stress situations to sort us out, or reveal some hidden depth in us. When we submit to God’s hand, we will come out the other side much stronger. God can use the birds in the tree, or leaven in the dough, to reveal His mercy and grace to us. This is seen again and again as you study the characters in the Bible. They all had flaws, but in God they had strengths.

Woman Hides Leaven

Again and again in the Bible leaven is related to something that is unwanted, beginning in Exodus 12:15. It is often referred to as being a symbol of sin, for a little leaven leavens the whole. It perverts the concept of faith and misleads. It also represents unbelief, Mark 8:15. Leaven is mentioned 98 times in the Bible and always as a symbol of evil.

In this parable of leaven, Matthew 13:33 the woman hides the leaven till the whole is leavened. Note it is hidden and not for public view. Oh, the things we hide. The good thing is God knows and helps us change into His likeness, Romans 8:29.

We will Know Them

No matter who we are or where we are at, we influence all those we come in contact with. Leaven is permeating and our influence is more far-reaching than what we can physically see or imagine.

It is a good thing that we don’t see how far our influence reaches, or we would quickly get big-headed. It is also important that our witness is constant and like the rainbow, refracts who God is. Only three things refract light: glass, water and a diamond. You are 60% water.

Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing

The Bible says by their fruit we shall know them. Satan delights to place wolves in sheep’s clothing among God’s people, Matthew 7:15,16. Satan’s aim is to deceive even the elect.

This will increase as we reach the end of this age. Matthew 242:4, for we live in a time where information doubles every 12 hours. Who is to stop an AI from providing a ‘new cult’ and religious text?

Conclusion of Mustard Seed and Leaven

Heedless of whether you look at these two parables in a positive light, or a negative light, the important thing is that we keep our eyes on Him who gave His life for us. The Kingdom of Heaven is God’s business, and He is well able to look after it. All we need to do is to train our mind to hear the voice of the Spirit and obey. No matter your circumstances, God is in control. ‘We know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose,” Romans 8:28. God knows the end from the beginning, Isaiah 46:10.

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Wendy Stenberg-Tendys is a freelance writer who enjoys researching a topic and sharing words of encouragement, particularly from the Word of God.

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