The Nature and Causes of Little Faith

Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?” Matthew 6:30

I have often wondered what Jesus meant by “little faith”.  One of my favorite authors, Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, dissects this concept with precision, and I would like to share his thoughts.

Upon a mountain, before multitudes, Jesus addressed a universal ailment of mankind: that of worry, of anxious care about the material things in life: food, drink and clothing.  In a sense, this care can be expanded to all that we human beings are concerned about while we live in this world.  But Jesus warned against this mindset, and urged the people not to worry.  He expounded upon this argument by pointing to the lilies of the field and the birds of the air: transitory creatures which our Heavenly Father cares for; but then consider again that human beings are of far greater value because humans are eternal beings, loved by the Father so much more than the ephemeral flowers and birds.  Failure to see this logic is one of the causes of the trouble with anxious care.

The other cause of the trouble of worry is little faith.  Notice that it is not the absence of faith, but the small and inadequate amount of it.  What does Jesus mean by “little faith”, what is its nature, and what are its pitfalls?

In general, this type of faith confines itself only to the rudimentary concept of “salvation of souls”, but does not go beyond that; it is not extended to the everyday affairs of life.  But the Bible presents faith as something to be applied to the whole of life;  hence, little faith is a faith which does not lay hold of all the promises of God. Put another way, a person with little faith believes in the salvation of his soul through Jesus Christ, but does not believe that God will supply his material needs in this world, like food and clothing.  (p. 129)

In particular, little faith means that “we are mastered by our circumstances instead of mastering them”.  What is the cause of this, and why does a person of little faith allow things to overwhelm him?  “The real trouble with ‘little faith’ is that it does not think”.  Faith, according to our Lord’s teaching, is primarily thinking, and the whole trouble with a man of little faith is that he does not think, allowing circumstances to clobber him.    The way to avoid this, according to Jesus, is to think.  The Bible is full of logic; Christian faith is essentially thinking:  Look at the birds, think about them, consider the lilies of the field, draw your deductions.  Most people, however, are overwhelmed and ask the questions, “What is going to happen?  What am I to do?”  This type of reflection is the absence of sensical thought, it is surrender, leading to defeat.  But an adequate Faith is defined by Dr. Lloyd Jones as this:  “It is a man insisting upon thinking when everything seems determined to bludgeon and knock him down in an intellectual sense.”  Little faith, on the other hand, is a failure to think, one that allows the vicissitudes of life to master one’s thoughts instead of deliberating clearly about circumstances, seeing life steadily and seeing it whole. (p. 130)

An inadequate faith can also be described as a “failure to take scriptural statements at their face value and to believe them utterly”.   It would be the inability to see that everything written in God’s Word pertains to us, neglecting to comprehend that we can lay hold of the promises of God, because they belong to us.

It  is also the failure to realize the implications of salvation, and the position of a Christian as a result of that salvation: that of being a child of our heavenly Father.   As children of God, we ought to “know what is the hope of His calling, and what the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power to us who believe” (Ephesians 1,18-19) .  Recall how Jesus depicted the contrast between the children of God and the grass of the field, which flourish today, but tomorrow are thrown into the oven for baking bread.  “All the purposes and the promises of God are meant for us and designed with respect to us; and the one thing we have to do, in a sense, is just to realize what God has told us about ourselves as His children.” (p.132)

Lastly, “little faith is ultimately due to a failure of applying what we know, and claim to believe, to the circumstances and details of life”.  Jesus once asked his disciples where their faith was when they panicked during a storm at sea.  They had faith, but they did not apply it, and so they worried that they might perish, even though Jesus was with them, though asleep at the stern of the boat.

Dr. Lloyd-Jones concludes by saying:  “to be worried is an utter contradiction of our position as children of God: there is no circumstance or condition in this life which should lead a Christian to worry”.  The directive by Jesus  to “take no thought” implies exercising faith, understanding the truth of God’s word, and applying it to every detail of our lives. (p. 134)

* Reference: David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, “Studies in the Sermon on the Mount”, Martino Publishing, CT, 2011, pp. 125-134.

* Photography: Swan on the Waves by Kaur Lass

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