Ye of little faith
These exhortations were given by me between 1999 and 2005. That was a long time ago, and I have grown a lot since then. They may not reflect my current beliefs.
There is an often misunderstood phrase that I want to consider today. It is a phrase used only by Christ, and he uses it in an immensely comforting sense. It is “ye of little faith”. It is first used in Matthew chapter 6, verses 25 to 33:
Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.
“Ye of little faith” is a phrase that today is often used to imply insufficient faith. If you are someone of a little faith, then your faith is lacking, and you have done something wrong. Its very easy, looking at Matthew 6 to assume that this is what Christ meant, but that doesn’t really fit in with the context of the passage.
“Look at the birds of the air,” says Christ. “God feeds them. You are worth so much more. He looks after the grass which is here today and gone tomorrow. Think how he will look after you, you who have a little faith.”
Throughout his ministry, Christ did not pull his punches. When someone was doing something wrong, he condemned them in no uncertain terms. And when somebody need encouragement, strength, exhortation, then that is what Christ gave them. The surrounding passage is one of tremendous exhortation. It wouldn’t make sense if Christ was to use a negative phrase in the middle of it. “Shall he not much more clothe you, o ye of little faith,” says Christ. “You are better than the grass, better than the birds. What is it that make you better? It is your faith. You have a little faith, and that is good.”
The important word is faith not little. You have faith, and it may be a little faith, but that is still infinitely better than having no faith at all.
When I was at school I had two PE teachers. One of them was a really inspiring man. He knew that not everybody coming into his class was a great athlete. He understood that the important thing was to compete with yourself. He looked at your progress relative to where you were at the start of term. He literally rejoiced in any progress you made. The other one was the stereotypical awful PE teacher. There was once when he set me an impossibly high target, which I didn’t reach. In trying to reach it, I broke a personal record, and I was impressed. He was disgusted because I didn’t reach it.
Guess which PE teacher I preferred? Guess which one I worked hard for? It was the first one, the one who knew his job was to make everybody improve. The second one thought everyone should be an international athlete, and set impossibly high, demotivating targets because of that.
Christ is encouraging his followers in Matthew 6. We must look at the phrase “ye of little faith” in the same way as we look at the surrounding text. They are words of encouragement, not words of condemnation. To read them otherwise would not make sense in this context.
The next time Christ uses these words is in Matthew chapter 8. At the beginning of Matthew 8 we encounter the Roman Centurion who has greater faith than anyone Christ has yet met. Here was a man of great faith. The disciples must have felt a little awkward, knowing that the centurion had greater faith than them.
A little while later they are in a boat on the sea of Galilee. Verses 23 to 27:
And when he was entered into a ship, his disciples followed him. And, behold, there arose a great tempest in the sea, insomuch that the ship was covered with the waves: but he was asleep. And his disciples came to him, and awoke him, saying, Lord, save us: we perish. And he saith unto them, Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith? Then he arose, and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm. But the men marvelled, saying, What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him!
“Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith?” Is Christ rebuking his disciples here? No. Once again, he uses the phrase “ye of little faith” as encouragement. It is “Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith”, not “ye are fearful because of your little faith.” “Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith.” The disciples had a little faith, and Christ asked why they were faithful, because even a little faith means we do not need to fear.
Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith.
Faith, even a little faith, destroys fear. It can be the fear of a life threatening situation, a fear of something urgent, or it can be a long term fear, the fear of not having food or clothing or shelter. We all have at least a little faith, so we do not need to fear. Our faith may not be as great as those whose faith is recorded in Hebrews 11, but that doesn’t mean it is meaningless, or something that we should be ashamed of. We should all be striving to increase our faith, but God does not require everyone to be an Abraham, a David, or a Jeremiah.
To finish, lets consider part of a parable, where someone has a little faith, and they are rewarded for having that faith, not rejected because of its small size. Luke 19, verses 12 to 17:
He said therefore, A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return. And he called his ten servants, and delivered them ten pounds, and said unto them, Occupy till I come. But his citizens hated him, and sent a message after him, saying, We will not have this man to reign over us. And it came to pass, that when he was returned, having received the kingdom, then he commanded these servants to be called unto him, to whom he had given the money, that he might know how much every man had gained by trading. Then came the first, saying, Lord, thy pound hath gained ten pounds. And he said unto him, Well, thou good servant: because thou hast been faithful in a very little, have thou authority over ten cities.
This servant took his small sum of money, and he worked well with it. What was said to him? “Well, thou good servant: because thou hast been faithful in a very little, have thou authority over ten cities.”
There are probably none of us who could live up to the standards set by Abraham, David, and Jeremiah. There are definitely none of us who could truly live up to the standard set by Christ himself. Each of us has a little faith, and that is what is needed. There are words that we all want to hear after judgment, whether it is these words or a paraphrase, it doesn’t really matter. We find those words in the parable we have just read, only this time told by Matthew. “His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.”
O we of little faith, why do we doubt that we will hear those words.