Is your faith little or great? Some would be insulted or offended by the very question, though such a response would communicate much. There are many examples in the Scriptures of men and women with little faith and great faith. Let us read many passages that illustrate both types of faith and comment briefly upon each. First, let's consider...
SOME BIBLICAL EXAMPLES AND PRINCIPLES REGARDING "LITTLE FAITH".
Jesus declared in the midst of His Sermon on the Mount - "Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?" (Matt. 6:30). Our Lord taught that those of "little faith" worry about physical necessities--food, clothing, shelter, etc. One will not worry about such matters if he has great faith. To worry about such expresses doubt in the One who provides "every good and perfect gift" (James 1:17). "He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?" (Rom. 8:32).
Jesus also said in Matthew 8:26 to those on the ship with Him in the midst of a great tempest - "'Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?' Then He arose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm." Those of "little faith" fear for their personal safety; their emphasis is on the physical man, not the inner man. Such a fear is pointless in view of Matthew 10:28 - "Do not fear those who kill the body [or that which can kill the body] but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell." If every Christian could truthfully affirm Philippians 1:21 ("For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain"), this fear would cease to exist within the kingdom. People will not fear for their personal safety when they do not fear death.
On a different occasion at sea, Jesus approached the disciples by walking on water. Matthew 14:28-31 reads - "And Peter answered Him and said, 'Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.' So He said, 'Come.' And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus. But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out saying, 'Lord, save me!' And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him 'O you of little faith, why did you doubt?'" Those of "little faith" allow their doubts to paralyze them. Peter probably never saw himself as having "little faith", though Jesus ascribed such to him. Those who think they are strong in faith, as Peter did, will likely face circumstances to prove it! And, just as all that glitters is not gold, all that speaks bravely is not great faith. Peter had strong faith while in the ship and on the water, but then the wind came! Experience in trials is the true gauge of our faith; those who boast in an untried faith are puffed up with vain glory.
There are several lessons that should be learned from Peter in this passage. First, we are not as strong as we think we are. In Peter's character there is a mixture of strength and weakness. He rose to excellence and then sank to littleness. You and I are made of the same material as Peter! Peter's unbelief is not to be justified, nor used as an excuse for our unbelief. Peter could not answer the Lord's question, "Why did you doubt?" His doubting had no basis or good reason. Of course, it is also true that Christians have no reason for doubting the Lord today. Another lesson is that strong faith has patience where little faith is usually in a hurry. Strong faith will stay faithful at one's current duty, even when difficult, and wait for the coming of the Lord. Little faith, even without patience, can accomplish great things (Peter did walk on the water)--but only for a little while! A final lesson is that little faith is prone to look away from the Lord. At least Peter was smart enough to call out for God's help!
Prior to Matthew 16:8, the Lord had warned His disciples to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees. They misunderstood His message. "But Jesus, being aware of it, said to them, 'O you of little faith, why do you reason among yourselves because you have brought no bread?'" Those of "little faith" assume the worst and are forgetful of past blessings. The apostles assumed Jesus was disappointed in them for not bringing any bread, and they were forgetful of the past miraculous feeding. The Israelites in Moses' day were afflicted with "little faith" in this way. They were forgetful grumblers. Many today also assume the worst and are forgetful of past blessings from the Lord. How tragic it is to have hearts hardened in this manner (Mark 8:17,18).
Our Lord spoke in Matthew 23:23, saying - "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law; justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone." Those with little or no faith are typically interested in complying with the external actions of religion--not the "weightier matters".Those who are hypocrites always have "little faith"!
Paul declared in II Corinthians 5:7 - "For we walk by faith, not by sight." Those with "little faith", however, walk by sight, not by faith. That is, they trust themselves and guide their lives via their own feelings and preferences as opposed to guiding themselves via faith grounded in Scripture (Rom. 10:17).
I Timothy 6:10 contains an important warning regarding materialism - "...the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows." The love of money eventually leads to apostasy, but before that, it leads to "little faith".
The writer of Hebrews affirmed - "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" (Heb. 11:1). Those with "little faith" will consequently have "little hope" (or desire) regarding things not seen. The problem is that these individuals are too caught up in this world. Their focus is almost entirely Earth-bound. Now let's consider...
SOME BIBLICAL EXAMPLES AND PRINCIPLES REGARDING "GREAT FAITH".
A centurion approached the Lord in Capernaum, pleading with Him to heal his servant of paralysis. Jesus affirmed that He would come and heal the man, but the centurion declared that such was unnecessary. He believed that Christ could just speak the words and the servant would be healed! "When Jesus heard it, He marveled, and said to those who followed, 'Assuredly, I say to you, I have not found so great faith, not even in Israel!'" (Matt. 8:10). Those with "great faith" might not be the ones you would expect. This man was a Gentile! "Great faith"--or any faith, for that matter--is clearly not given by a direct operation of the Holy Spirit--otherwise, why would Jesus be surprised?
In Matthew 15, Jesus is approached by a Canaanite woman. She begs Him to heal her demon-possessed daughter. Jesus tests her faith by not answering at first. She continues pleading with Him. After some dialogue and further testing of her faith, the Lord finally said - "'O woman, great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire.' And her daughter was healed from that very hour" (Matt. 15:28). Those with "great faith" will petition God repeatedly, despite any obstacles, and not give up unless they are clearly told "no" (cf. Matt. 7:7; Luke 18:7).
Acts 6:8 reads - "And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and signs among the people." Those who are "full of faith" will do great things in service to the Lord. Miracles are not being performed by men today, but nevertheless, great things can and are being done for God via evangelism, edification, and benevolence.
Paul wrote about Abraham in Romans 4:19,20 - "And not being weak in faith, he did not consider his own body, already dead (since he was about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah's womb." Those with "great faith" take God at His word, even when doing such leads them to believe that which is seemingly unlikely or illogical. Abraham's faith was strong. He believed the Lord would give them a son, even when such was unreasonable at their age from a human perspective.
Matthew 9:2 states - "Then behold, they brought to Him a paralytic lying on a bed. When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, 'Son, be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven you.'" Those with "great faith" will show it in their actions, not just their words. Also study Hebrews 11 in this regard.
Jesus said in Matthew 21:21 - "Assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but also if you say to this mountain, 'Be removed and be cast into the sea,' it will be done.'" Those with "great faith" do not doubt.
Luke recorded in Acts 11:24, speaking about Barnabas - "For he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord." Those who are full of faith will be a great encouragement and influence toward saving many people.
Paul praised the faith of the Christians at Rome in Romans 1:8 - "I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world." Faith which is spoken of around the world must certainly be "great". May congregations of the Lord's church today endeavor to serve God faithfully to this magnitude.
Romans 10:17 teaches - "So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." Since faith comes by hearing God's word, then it follows that "great faith" comes from great study, reflection, and application of God's word. Are you putting forth the necessary effort and putting in the necessary time to be a Christian with "great faith"?
Paul exhorts in I Corinthians 2:5 - "...your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God." "Great faith" is founded on the power of God, not on earthly wisdom.
James 2:5 reads - "Listen, my beloved brethren: Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?" Those who are physically poor are more likely to be rich in faith than those who are physically wealthy. This sadly explains quite a bit about many American Christians. There is no denying that the United States is the wealthiest place on the planet. Almost all Americans are exceedingly wealthy by the standards of the world.
II Pet. 1:5 says - "But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith..." Those with "great faith" are continually adding other noble qualities to their lives in order to prevent stumbling. Christians with "little faith" are seemingly content to remain where they are spiritually. They aren't interested in investing the necessary time and effort to mature in all areas of their relationship with the Lord.
As we conclude, let us summarize what we have observed. Those with "little faith" worry about physical necessities and their personal safety. They allow their doubts to paralyze them. They tend to assume the worst and are forgetful of past blessings. Those with "little faith" are often only interested in complying with the external actions of religion. They walk by sight, not by faith. They often love money and allow it to lead them to apostasy. They seemingly have little hope or desire for things that can't be seen.
In contrast, those with "great faith" might not always be the ones you would expect. They will petition God repeatedly, and not give up unless they are clearly told "no." They will do great things in service to the Lord, not just verbally affirm a strong faith. They do not doubt, even when God's word leads them to believe that which is seemingly unlikely or illogical. They trust in the power of God. Those with great faith are a great encouragement and influence toward saving many others. They develop great faith, as well as many other noble Christian virtues, through continual study, reflection, and application of God's word. It is true that those with strong faith will have their moments of weakness. No one but the Christ is perfect, and no mortal man or woman has faith that is always great and unwavering. Nevertheless, such is the ideal for which to strive.
Friends, let us learn from those with "little faith" and realize that although such is typically better than "no faith," it is far superior to possess "great faith." May we imitate examples of strong faith and pray that God would "increase our faith" daily (Luke 17:5). Thank you for listening, and may the Lord bless you as you strive to do His will.