Why Does Jesus Say His Disciples Are "Ye of Little Faith"?
According to Hebrews 11:1 faith is the substance of things hoped for the evidence of things not seen. Faith is critical to your walk with God because without it there is no possibility of pleasing him in any way. Yet what we see throughout the gospels is Jesus commenting on people’s faith.
In one instance in Matthew 8:26 he uttered these words, “Ye of little faith.” I guess if I would want to hear anything from Jesus, that would probably not be it.
What does ye of little faith mean? Simply put it means that at this moment in time your faith has been tested and you have come up short. Ouch! That must have been devastating to hear, yet Jesus said it. What else can we learn from these four words? They say good things come in small packages, and this you will see is not different.
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What Does "Ye of Little Faith" Mean?
To understand this statement completely we need to put the scenario in full context. If you read the verses prior to this one you will notice that Jesus had recently finished preaching the sermon on the mount. Immediately after coming down from the mountainside the disciples witnessed Jesus perform many miracles. He healed a man with leprosy. He healed a centurion’s servant just by speaking the word. He touched Peter’s mother-in-law and her fever left her. That same evening, he went out and healed people who were demon-possessed and all the sick people who were brought to him. After this, Jesus told his disciples, let’s go to the other side of the lake. Here is what happened next:
“Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him, saying, ‘Lord, save us! We’re going to drown! 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!’” (Matthew 8:23-27).
If you read the King James Version you will see the term ye of little faith.
The question remains why did Jesus say this and what does “Ye of little faith” mean? In this instance, it was almost like a report card. Obviously, Jesus knew that the storm was going to arise. I believe Jesus was using this moment to see how much they had learned from being around him.
Remember they had heard him teaching and seen him perform some miracles, but had they grown – and more importantly had their faith grown? This situation revealed that the disciples’ faith still needed some work. It was obviously small at this time. However, there is something amazing about Jesus. When he saw their faith was small notice what he did. He immediately did something that would begin to build their faith. He got up, rebuked the winds and the waves, and the result was that the men were amazed.
He gave them the test. They didn’t pass and he immediately began working on building up their faith because he knew it was lacking. He didn’t cast them aside, but he worked harder to help them grow. He will do the same for you. God will bring the test and if you don’t pass he won’t cast you aside – he will work in you to increase your faith so that the next time around you will do better. That is the kind of God we serve.
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Where Else Does This Phrase Appear?
There were three other instances in Scripture where Jesus used this term. I will refer to the King James Version for these because they use the word ye.
Matthew 6:30 – “Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?”
Matthew 16:8 – “Which when Jesus perceived, he said unto them, O ye of little faith, why reason ye among yourselves, because ye have brought no bread?”
Luke 12:28 – “If then God so clothe the grass, which is to day in the field, and tomorrow is cast into the oven; how much more will he clothe you, O ye of little faith?”
When you look at these four verses (these three plus Matthew 8:26) they give us a little bit more understanding of what ye of little faith means. Primarily Jesus was asking the question around three main areas:
Ask yourself these three questions.
Have you ever felt like God would not protect you in a particular situation?
Have you ever wondered if God was going to provide for you?
Have you ever struggled to understand what God was trying to teach you?
If you can answer or have answered yes to any of these questions, then there have been times in your life where you have had little faith. I am also guilty of answering yes to these questions at various points in my life, more times than I care to admit, at least publicly. Within these verses, it’s almost like Jesus is trying to get us to understand three simple truths:
I will protect you.
I will provide for you.
I will teach you and instruct you.
You don’t have to worry about that. He wants you and I to take these three worries off our plate. You can have faith today knowing that God will do this for you. Doesn’t that give you peace of mind? That is the point, so have faith today. God has everything under control in your life. You can count on that.
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Is Jesus Mocking His Disciples?
I hope it is evident to you that Jesus is not mocking his disciples. Throughout Matthew I get the feeling he may have been a little frustrated, but you can read for yourself and see if you get the same feeling. (In fact if you do read it, reach out to me and let me know if you came to the same conclusion. Would love to hear your thoughts.)
What is evident in these passages however, is that the key to experiencing God’s protection, provision and understanding is faith. Remember what we talked about at the beginning in Hebrews about pleasing God. Here is that complete verse:
“And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Hebrews 11:6).
Could it be this is why Jesus worked so hard to build up their faith? Could it be why he works so hard to build up your faith? I think so. Jesus understands that the key to your growth and deepening of your relationship with God is faith. It is one of the main reasons faith is so important and why little faith can be so damaging. Consider what James says:
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4, emphasis added).
Jesus is interested in growing your faith because as your faith grows it impacts every area of your life. It affects your prayer life, your understanding of God’s word, your communion and fellowship with God. Faith affects everything and that’s why Jesus wants it to grow.
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How Can We Grow from a Little Faith to a Great Faith?
I want to suggest to you three ways you can grow your faith.
As we just saw in James, when our faith is tested it is one of the keys to helping us grow. God brings the test to grow your faith. In fact, faith that is not tested will not grow, so embrace the test. It is for your own good.
One of the reasons we study God’s word is because it helps build faith. By learning of who God is and how he intervenes in the affairs of men on the earth, it builds faith. Remember what Paul said, “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17).
Growing in faith will happen over time. We don’t all grow at the same rate. Some will grow faster than others but regardless it will happen over time. Think of it like preparing yeast rolls. They do rise, but you have to let them sit and allow the process to work. So it is with faith.
After considering what ye of little faith means, I hope you see the heart of Jesus. He is not angry at you. He is not trying to tear you down. On the contrary he is desiring to help your faith grow. He wants you to become a giant in faith. He will do what he needs to do to help you get there. The only thing he looks for is your cooperation. If you will cooperate, faith will grow in your life and he will never have to say of you, ye of little faith.
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Clarence L. Haynes Jr. is a speaker, Bible teacher, and co-founder of The Bible Study Club. He is the author of The Pursuit of Purpose which will help you understand how God leads you into his will. His most recent book is The Pursuit of Victory: How To Conquer Your Greatest Challenges and Win In Your Christian Life. This book will teach you how to put the pieces together so you can live a victorious Christian life and finally become the man or woman of God that you truly desire to be. Clarence is also committed to helping 10,000 people learn how to study the Bible and has just released his first Bible study course called Bible Study Basics. To learn more about his ministry please visit clarencehaynes.com.