Great Faith and Little Faith

Walking on Water

Jesus spoke of some as having great faith and others having little faith. What is the difference between these two types of faith?

As Christians, if we examine ourselves, we will likely find similarities in both categories. Where we have great faith, we must continue. Where we have little faith, we must improve. The Hebrew writer said, “And without faith it is impossible to please Him…” (Hebrews 11:6). Let us consider the differences between great faith and little faith so that we can learn how to best please the Lord.

Great Faith

And when Jesus entered Capernaum, a centurion came to Him, imploring Him, and saying, ‘Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, fearfully tormented.’ Jesus said to him, ‘I will come and heal him.’ But the centurion said, ‘Lord, I am not worthy for You to come under my roof, but just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to this one, “Go!” and he goes, and to another, “Come!” and he comes, and to my slave, “Do this!” and he does it.’ Now when Jesus heard this, He marveled and said to those who were following, ‘Truly I say to you, I have not found such great faith with anyone in Israel’” (Matthew 8:5-10).

Great faith recognizes one’s own unworthiness – Even though Jesus offered to come to the centurion’s house and heal his servant, the centurion refused because he knew that he was “not worthy for [Jesus] to come under [his] roof” (Matthew 8:8). Great faith will recognize the greatness of God (Isaiah 55:8-9; 1 Corinthians 1:25; Psalm 100:3) and our insignificance before Him (Psalm 8:3-4). “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God” (1 Peter 5:6).

Great faith recognizes the power of Jesus – The centurion believed that Jesus had the power to heal his servant with a word, even without being in the house with him (Matthew 8:8). Paul said the Lord is “able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20; cf. Luke 1:37). “By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God” (Hebrews 11:3). We also understand that “by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire” (2 Peter 3:7).

Great faith recognizes the authority of Jesus – As a centurion in the Roman army, this man would have been very familiar with the concept of authority. His faith was great because he recognized the authority of Jesus. Jesus said, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18). Great faith will lead us to respect His authority, just as Paul wrote, “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Colossians 3:17).

Jesus went away from there, and withdrew into the district of Tyre and Sidon. And a Canaanite woman from that region came out and began to cry out, saying, ‘Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is cruelly demon-possessed.’ But He did not answer her a word. And His disciples came and implored Him, saying, ‘Send her away, because she keeps shouting at us.’ But He answered and said, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’

But she came and began to bow down before Him, saying, ‘Lord, help me!’ And He answered and said, ‘It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.’ But she said, ‘Yes, Lord; but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from the masters’ table.’ Then Jesus said to her, ‘O woman, your faith is great; it shall be done for you as you wish.’ And her daughter was healed at once” (Matthew 15:21-28).

Great faith refuses to be turned away – Jesus’ disciples evidently were annoyed by this woman because they asked Jesus to send her away (Matthew 15:23). Persistence is a trait that the faithful ought to have (cf. Luke 18:1-8). We need to have persistence if we hope to “press on toward the goal” and “attain to the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:10-14).

Great faith refuses to be offended by Jesus – Some would have been offended by Jesus’ words had they been in this woman’s position. When He said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs” (Matthew 15:26), she could have taken offense that He seemingly called her a dog; but she refused to be offended because she knew that Jesus was the only one who could help. Many departed from Jesus over a “difficult statement” (John 6:60, 66), even though He was the only one who could offer them the “words of eternal life” (John 6:68). Jesus said, “Blessed is he who does not take offense at Me” (Matthew 11:6).

Little Faith

But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things” (Matthew 6:30-32).

Little faith worries about the things of this life – Jesus said, “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). Yet too many have hearts like the thorny ground in the parable of the sower: “These are the ones who have heard, and as they go on their way they are choked with worries and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to maturity” (Luke 8:14).

When He got into the boat, His disciples followed Him. And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being covered with waves; but Jesus Himself was asleep. And they came to Him and woke Him, saying, ‘Save us, Lord; we are perishing!’ He said to them, ‘Why are you afraid, you men of little faith?’ Then He got up and rebuked the winds and the sea, and it became perfectly calm. The men were amazed, and said, ‘What kind of a man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?’” (Matthew 8:23-27).

Little faith fears death – The disciples were afraid they would die in the storm. Jesus rebuked them for their lack of faith. Jesus said elsewhere, “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul” (Matthew 10:28). He told the church in Smyrna, “Do not fear what you are about to suffer… Be faithful until death” (Revelation 2:10). Paul recognized that “to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). Little faith causes one to fear death because he does not recognize it as “gain.

And in the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea. When the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, ‘It is a ghost!’ And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.’

Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.’ And He said, ‘Come!’ And Peter got out of the boat, and walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But seeing the wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him, and said to him, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’” (Matthew 14:25-31).

Little faith focuses on distractions – At first, Peter appeared to have a great faith. He was the only one of the disciples to step out of the boat to walk on the water. Yet he took his eyes off of Jesus and focuses on the storm, causing him to sink. The Hebrew writer admonished us to fix our eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:2). The wise man said, “Let your eyes look directly ahead and let your gaze be fixed straight in front of you” (Proverbs 4:25).

And Jesus said to them, ‘Watch out and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.’ They began to discuss this among themselves, saying, ‘He said that because we did not bring any bread.’ But Jesus, aware of this, said, ‘You men of little faith, why do you discuss among yourselves that you have no bread? Do you not yet understand or remember the five loaves of the five thousand, and how many baskets full you picked up? Or the seven loaves of the four thousand, and how many large baskets full you picked up? How is it that you do not understand that I did not speak to you concerning bread? But beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.’ Then they understood that He did not say to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (Matthew 16:6-12).

Little faith focuses on the physical over the spiritual – When Jesus warned of the leaven (teaching) of the Pharisees and Sadducees, the disciples’ minds immediately went to the thought of physical bread. Paul wrote, “For we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). We cannot allow ourselves to focus on physical things when we should be focused on spiritual things (Romans 8:6; Matthew 6:19-21; Luke 12:16-21).

When they came to the crowd, a man came up to Jesus, falling on his knees before Him and saying, ‘Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is a lunatic and is very ill; for he often falls into the fire and often into the water. I brought him to Your disciples, and they could not cure him.’ And Jesus answered and said, ‘You unbelieving and perverted generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring him here to Me.’ And Jesus rebuked him, and the demon came out of him, and the boy was cured at once.

Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, ‘Why could we not drive it out?’ And He said to them, ‘Because of the littleness of your faith; for truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, “Move from here to there,” and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you’” (Matthew 17:14-20).

Little faith forgets the Lord’s promises – When Jesus rebuked His disciples for having little faith, it was because they forgot what He told them they would be able to do. They failed to cast out the demon because of their lack of faith. It is important to remember that He had already given them the authority to “cast out demons” (Matthew 10:8). The basis for faith is the “word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). The disciples demonstrated a weak faith by not casting out a demon like Jesus said they could.


Did you notice that in our examples, the ones with great faith were Gentiles and the ones with little faith were Jews – usually Jesus’ own apostles? This should remind us of two points. First, anyone can develop a great faith. Second, anyone of us can, at times, display little faith. Let us continually work to strengthen our faith in Christ.

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  1. Larry DeVore says

    excellent article, Andy. Good sermon material, as well as being edifying.

  2. Thanks, Larry!


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