Now commonly used to express an idea central to the mathematical field of study known as Chaos theory, the butterfly effect is an enduring image often credited to the influential Science Fiction/Fantasy author, Ray Bradbury and mathematician/meteorologist Edward Lorenz.
While whether or not the flapping of a tiny butterfly’s wings can cause a cataclysmic storm on the other side of the world is still up for debate, the big idea behind the butterfly effect is essentially this: that everything, even the littlest, seemingly most insignificant of things can have a majorly profound effect on the world.
The Bible itself is filled with examples of little things having subsequent major effects. Recall that Goliath was brought down with a pebble. A simple haircut cost Samson his strength. Jesus was betrayed with a kiss.
James 3:3-4 Indeed, we put bits in horses’ mouths that they may obey us, and we turn their whole body. Look also at ships: although they are so large and are driven by fierce winds, they are turned by a very small rudder wherever the pilot desires.
Let us examine some little things and ponder the huge impact that they can have on us spiritually.
Faith and Mustard Seeds
Matthew 13:31-32 Another parable He put forth to them, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field, which indeed is the least of all the seeds; but when it is grown it is greater than the herbs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches.”
If you have ever seen or held a mustard seed, you know that it is indeed a tiny seed. But, as Jesus points out in this parable, the seed is capable of great things once it takes root. What was once a minuscule seed actually has the potential to become a large tree capable of supporting a flock of birds.
When the apostles were unable to cast out a demon and asked Jesus why, He used the illustration of the mustard seed once again.
Matthew 17:20 So Jesus said to them, “Because of your unbelief; for assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.
At first, Jesus rebuked the disciples for their unbelief, only to tell them that they had just a little faith that all things would be possible.
Leaven and Sin
Leaven makes many appearances throughout the Bible and is used in a number of analogies and comparisons. Generally, leaven is likened to the propagation of sin. Therefore, in the case of this particular illustration, the little thing yielding great change is for the negative.
In the Old Testament the Israelites were commanded to observe the feast of the unleavened bread, which was symbolic of their status as a Holy, chosen nation before God.
Jesus used the imagery of leaven to describe hypocrisy (Luke 12:1) and false doctrine (Matthew 16:6-12).
As you know, leaven is added to dough or batter to cause it to expand. Paul points out that, like leaven, a little bit of untruth can spread if we are not careful.
1 Corinthians 5:5-8 …Deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover was sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
A Speck in Your Brother's Eye
Matthew 7:1-5 Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
A germ may not seem like much, but entire nations have fallen to plague throughout the generations. Sin is kind of like that. A little white lie or a small grudge is just enough sin to give the devil a foothold in your heart.
Ephesians 4:25-26 Therefore, putting away lying, “Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor,” for we are members of one another. “Be angry, and do not sin”: do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil.
There’s an old saying, “The devil is in the details.” While this particular idiom refers to a different situation entirely, I think that some truth in the statement could be applied to our discussion here. If we’re not careful, it’s the little things that could pose the biggest threat.
The Powerful Tongue
James 3:5-12 Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind. But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring send forth fresh water and bitter from the same opening? Can a fig tree, my brethren, bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Thus no spring yields both salt water and fresh.
James compares the tongue to a spark that ignites a great forest fire. Indeed, the words that we say have a great impact on those around us. They can build up or tear down. How carefully do we choose the words that we say in passing?
I read a story about a manager who was fed up with his company’s policy on human relations. The majority of the company’s communication was done via e-mail rather than face-to-face meetings to save time. The manager decided that this was not the way he wanted to do business and was determined that he would go up to his employees and tell them in person just how much he appreciated their hard work and give them two reasons why he admired them. A few days after the manager had done this, one of his employees approached him and handed him a gift. Unwrapping the poorly wrapped present, the manager found an expensive watch. Feeling a mixture of genuine surprise and guilt -knowing that he hadn't given his employee a raise in some years - the manager, after thanking the employee asked him, “How did you afford this?” The employee told the manager that he had sold his gun and went on to explain that the very weapon was intended to be used to take his own life, which he had been contemplating for months. He told the manager that the only reason he changed his mind and decided to not go through with suicide was the manager’s words from just a few days before. As he held the gun to his temple and was just about to pull the trigger, he remembered the manager’s words of kindness, withdrew the gun from his head, and marched to the pawn shop. The manager’s words, just uttered in passing, saved the life of his employee.
Words, just a few little syllables, can be the difference between life and death.
Proverbs 18:21 Death and life are in the power of the tongue…
We would do well to remember the lyrics from the hymn, “O the Things We may Do”:
“Just a word or a song as we’re passing along, they will count in the great by and by…”
Luke 21:1-4 And He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury, and He saw also a certain poor widow putting in two mites. So He said, “Truly I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all; for all these out of their abundance have put in offerings for God, but she out of her poverty put in all the livelihood that she had.”
The widow had but two mites, two little, nearly worthless mites. A mite was the smallest and least valuable coin in circulation at the time, being worth about six minutes of an average daily wage. However, as Jesus pointed out, this was all that she had, making it all the more valuable.
Are we willing to sacrifice what we have? Even out of our abundance?
The Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin and Sparrows and… Us
As we well know, quantity does not always equal quality. Little amounts of things can be worth a lot.
In Luke 15, Jesus told a series of parables about lost things: A lost sheep and a lost coin (and a lost son if you continue reading)
Luke 15:4-10 What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.
Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls her friends and neighbors together, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the piece which I lost!’ Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.
God cares about the little things too. Just as we care about little things - lost possessions of great worth - here on Earth, God cares about each of our souls. One soul may not seem like much when compared to the multitudes of souls out there, but, as we just read; one sinner repenting is worth a lot to God.
Matthew 10:29-31 Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.
Become as Little Children
Matthew 18:1-4 At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Then Jesus called a little child to Him, set him in the midst of them, and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.