What can we learn from the times when Jesus chided His disciples for their little faith? And from the examples of “great faith” He highlighted as well?
“You of little faith.” Those words from our Lord and Savior must have stung His disciples deeply.
After all, they had given up everything to follow Him. They trusted Him enough to leave behind their former jobs and security. They had seen His miracles and believed His teachings.
Yet it was true. Jesus knew that they still had little faith—that they needed to grow in faith.
“You of little faith, why did you doubt?”
One of the most memorable miracles in the Bible is when Jesus walked on water.
It was night, and the disciples were out in the middle of the Sea of Galilee in a boat tossed by the waves. Then, suddenly, they thought they saw someone or something walking on the water! They cried out in fear.
But Jesus said, “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid” (Matthew 14:27).
Then Peter said something that I don’t think would have ever occurred to me to say: “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water” (verse 28).
“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?’” (verses 29-31).
Face it. It would have taken quite a bit of faith to step over the side of the boat onto water! Peter had never been able to walk on water before, so he was demonstrating his belief in Jesus’ power to allow him to do it now.
He showed faith.
Until he didn’t. His faith was temporary and quickly disturbed by the boisterous wind.
Still, Peter knew where to turn for help. His faith may have been little, but it was pointed in the right direction.
“Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?”
Jesus knew His disciples were still growing in faith. But perhaps He had hoped they would have had more at that point.The Sea of Galilee also played a role in an earlier example when Jesus chided His disciples for a lack of faith.
In this case, Jesus was also in the boat.
“And suddenly a great tempest arose on the sea, so that the boat was covered with the waves. But He was asleep.
“Then His disciples came to Him and awoke Him, saying, ‘Lord, save us! We are perishing!’
“But He said to them, ‘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” (Matthew 8:24-26).
Parallel accounts may give us more insight. In Luke 8:25 Jesus asked, “Where is your faith?” And in Mark 4:40 He said, “How is it that you have no faith?” or, “Do you still have no faith?” (New International Version).
Jesus knew His disciples were still growing in faith. But perhaps He had hoped they would have had more at that point.
Examples of great faith
Earlier in Matthew 8 Jesus highlighted a contrasting story of great faith. A centurion, an important officer in the Roman army, pleaded with Jesus to heal his servant.
Jesus was willing to come, but the centurion humbly said, “Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof. But only speak a word, and my servant will be healed” (verse 8).
This military man recognized that just as he could order his soldiers to go do something, Jesus could command a healing from afar. He understood that Jesus’ power to heal was not limited by physical distance.
“When Jesus heard it, He marveled, and said to those who followed, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!’” (verse 10; also recounted in Luke 7:9).
“O woman, great is your faith!”
Matthew and Mark also tell about the time Jesus and His disciples traveled to the gentile region of Tyre and Sidon to try to get away from the constant press of the crowds. Jesus tried to avoid attention, but somehow a woman from the area found Him.
She kept crying out, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! My daughter is severely demon-possessed” (Matthew 15:22).
This made things difficult, because Jesus’ specific mission then was to go to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” (verse 24). The gentiles’ time would be later.
But the woman kept pleading.
What Jesus said next was said in love, but it certainly had the potential to offend her. He explained, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs” (verse 26).
Instead of allowing this to offend her, she humbly and wisely replied, “Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table” (verse 27).
Jesus was impressed with her belief in His healing power and His love. Hers was a faith willing to reason with God, but unwilling to be offended or to question God’s love and fairness.
“Then Jesus answered and said to her, ‘O woman, great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire.’ And her daughter was healed from that very hour” (verse 28).
Some lessons about faith
These memorable examples of little faith and great faith can teach us some lessons:
Faith is very important to God. Jesus was disappointed by His disciples’ lack of faith, and He was impressed by the great faith of the centurion and the Syrophoenician woman. Hebrews 11:6 tells us: “Without faith it is impossible to please Him.”
Jesus even asked this question: “When the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8). The clear implication is that He wants to find faith, and so we must strive to grow in faith.
Don’t make assumptions about other people’s faith. It would have seemed logical to expect Jesus’ disciples to have had the most faith, and for those from gentile nations who didn’t grow up knowing the God of the Bible to have had less faith. But these stories turn those expectations on their heads.
If the disciples needed to grow in faith, so probably do we. After many tests of faith and after receiving the power of the Holy Spirit and growing in the fruit of the Spirit, the disciples displayed strong faith.
For example, Peter preached powerful sermons and stood up to the rulers who commanded him not to preach in Jesus’ name (Acts 2-4).
We, too, can ask for God’s help and study what the Bible says about how to grow in faith.
Growing in faith
For a practical Bible study on growing in faith, see our article “How to Grow in Faith” and related articles.