What is the difference between a weak faith and a “little faith”?
The word “faith” is a key word in the New Testament, regularly used to describe the multilateral religious relationship to which the Gospel calls the people – a trust relationship with God through Christ. The nature of faith, according to the New Testament, is living based on the truth that one accepts; faith that is based on the promises of God, brings thankfulness for the grace of God and it brings glory to God. Faith in God is based on the belief that we have about everything that He has revealed about His character and His ways. God has done this thing through Jesus Christ, His son who became man. Faith is the only way to have a true relationship with God, a relationship that cannot be obtained by man’s deeds.
Everywhere in the Scriptures God’s chosen people lived by faith. The Lord Jesus talked about “little faith”. There are 5 places in the New Testament where the greek word oligopistoi is used for “little faith”. This word doesn’t refer to the quantity of the faith, but rather a poor quality of the faith. In the Gospel of Matthew 16:5-12, the Lord Jesus rebukes the disciples for their lack of faith.
“When they went across the lake, the disciples forgot to take bread. “Be careful,”Jesus said to them. “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” They discussed this among themselves and said, “It is because we didn’t bring any bread.” Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked, “You of little faith, why are you talking among yourselves about having no bread? Do you still not understand? Don’t you remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? How is it you don’t understand that I was not talking to you about bread? But be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Then they understood that he was not telling them to guard against the yeast used in bread, but against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”
The Lord Jesus performed two miracles multiplying the loaves and the fish (Matthew 14:13-21, 15:32-39) to feed the crowds that were following Him. Jesus rebukes the disciples for having little faith. Their lack of faith is compared to the unbelief of the Pharisees and Sadducees who were asking for another sign rather than putting their trust in Christ who brought so many proofs that He is the Son of God. The disciples didn’t understand the meaning of Jesus words. Faith understands and accepts the words of the Saviour.
Another example in which the expression “of little faith” is used is in Matthew 14:26-31:
But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.” “Come,” he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”
When Peter saw the wind, he was afraid and, began to sink. We must acknowledge that Peter’s example is both good and bad. Peter did not loose his faith. His faith that got him down out of the boat wasn’t strong enough to resist the storm, that’s why Jesus tells him, “You of little faith.” The same question Jesus asked Peter He asks us as well, “why did you doubt?” We have to understand that both fear and doubt disappear when we identify their cause.
Another similar situation we find in the Gospel of Matthew 8:26-27 where the disciples were troubled by their fear.
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. The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!”
The truth that we see here is that faith has to be stronger than our fear. Either faith casts away the fear or the other way around. The fact that the disciples cried out to Jesus shows that they had faith.
Their disbelief is not because Jesus could not save them, but that Jesus could not die in a storm as if the situation had been out of control, and Jesus being the pawn of luck.
The root of worries, fear, and doubts is unbelief. Thus, the expression “of little faith” does not refer to complete unbelief, but to faith overcome by worries, fear, doubts, etc. A faith that looks at circumstances, while strong faith stands firm and trusts in God.
In contrast to the little faith, let us now look at the weak faith. In Romans 14 the apostle Paul speaks of doubtful opinions. In this context, the apostle Paul says:
Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarrelling over disputable matters. One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.
One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind.Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone.
The apostle Paul uses the language of faith to explain the conflict between the two groups, the strong one in the faith who despised the weaker brother in the faith who did not have all the freedom in his conscience about a meal or a day. The Apostle criticizes both the weak in faith and the strong in faith for the lack of understanding of the implications of their faith in Christ. The poor faith of these Christians does not accept the truth that their faith in Christ involves the release of certain Jewish requirements or traditions. The belief of the weak is based on their personal effort not to eat meat, to observe a day and not to drink wine (2, 5, 21). The mighty Christian is called to preserve unity by not maintaining these discussions and by not allowing his weaker brother to sin.
The apostle Paul uses the language of faith to explain the conflict between the two groups, the strong one in the faith who despised the weaker brother in the faith who did not have all the freedom in his conscience about a meal or a day. The Apostle criticizes both the weak in faith and the strong in faith for the lack of understanding of the implications of their faith in Christ. The poor faith of these Christians does not accept the truth that their faith in Christ involves the release of certain Jewish requirements or traditions. The belief of the weak is based on their personal effort not to eat meat, to observe a day and not to drink wine (2, 5, 21). The strong Christian is called to preserve unity by not maintaining these discussions and by not allowing his weaker brother to sin.
Here is another example where “weak faith” or “the weak” is used: 1 Corinthians 8:1-13
Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that “We all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know. But whoever loves God is known by God. So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that “An idol is nothing at all in the world” and that “There is no God but one.” For even if there are so-called gods,whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live. But not everyone possesses this knowledge. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat sacrificial food they think of it as having been sacrificed to a god, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do. Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols? So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall.
A mature spiritual Christian must not use the freedom he has in his conscience to bring the weaker brother into the path of spiritual destruction, whose faith becomes even weaker, and the Christian life is ruined.
In conclusion, the weak faith refers to the spiritual state of the Christian who does not yet have the complete freedom to act on many things. This freedom comes with the knowledge of the Word of God. Both “little faith” and “weak faith” show that the one who has it does not have the full knowledge of the Lord Jesus, His Word, and leaves room for doubt, fear, anxiety that prevents him from looking beyond them. The weak faith must become strong, and this is possible by studying and applying the Holy Scripture practically in everyday life.