July 26 – What does it mean to have “little faith”?

July 26, 2018 Randy Bushey

~by Randy Bushey

He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm (Matthew 8:26).

Can you imagine the intense feeling of shame, if the Lord Jesus directed at you the criticism of being one with “little faith”?

What does it mean?

Of interest, 4 of the Gospel’s 5 usages of the term “little faith” occur in Matthew, the gospel written specifically to a Jewish audience. (Each is listed below*.)

And the 5th – in Luke 12:28 – was part of Jesus’ teaching to His disciples, all Jewish followers: If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you —  you of little faith!

The Jewish people had multiple spiritual advantages extended to them over the many generations and centuries of their existence: the Law of Moses, the promise of the Holy Land, the giants of faith in the Old Testament, and the covenants of God through Abraham, Moses, David, and the prophets, and the rest of the Old Testament scriptures.

If anyone should have understood something of the character of God, it was Israel. And yet time and again, even those who loved Christ and followed Him at significant personal cost – didn’t understand who He was, or the Father who had sent Him.

This spiritual and theological ignorance was not what God expected – or demanded. For the most part, those who followed Jesus had fallen well below His standard of perception, knowledge, and obedience.

Their failure – summarized as “little faith” – was actually indicative of not living according to what they should have known.

Or, failing to put their faith into action.

Contrast that with examples of great faith – those whose demonstrated active faith:\

– The Canaanite woman from the region of Tyre and Sidon who persistently pleaded with Jesus to deliver her demon-possessed daughter from great suffering. Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment (Matthew 15:28).

– A Roman centurion begged Jesus to heal his servant, expressing that Jesus’ authority was such – and the soldier’s status comparatively undeserving – that it would be inappropriate and unnecessary for Jesus to attend to the sick man in person. When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith (Matthew 8:10).

Both of these nameless characters – interestingly, each a Gentile – seemed to evoke a response of delighted surprise from the Master because of the active faith each demonstrated.

Takeaway: So what’s the application for the Christ-follower? What characterizes authentic faith?

Does faith that pleases Him somehow require that I have to muster enough trust? Exert as much spiritual energy as I can harness to believe? Intensify my focus to the degree that my faith is somehow sufficient to score on the plus-side of the heavenly “faith-o-meter”?

Or simply adopt the request of the man who, after witnessing the disciples’ failure to release his son from spiritual bondage, declared to Christ, Lord, I believe; help my unbelief! (Mark 9:24).

~graphic by Cheryl Empey, freeimages.com

*The other incidents recorded in the Gospels (and all in Matthew) are these:

  • Matthew 8:26 He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm (Matthew 8:26). This was the resolution by the Lord Jesus of the fierce storm on the Sea of Galilee. The gale was of sufficient force that His disciples – some seasoned fishermen – were terrified and awakened the Master. What were they expecting Him to do?
  • Matthew 6:30 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?  In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus was preaching to prospective citizens of the Kingdom of God. However, to enter the kingdom, they needed to understand the Providential power of the God of the Kingdom.
  • Matthew 14:31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”
  • Matthew 16:8 Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked, “You of little faith, why are you talking among yourselves about having no bread?