Practical Christian Theology for Women
- Saturday, August 23, 2008
I think this marks the first key in unlocking our personal problems with faith. Acts of faith, the practical steps that result from confidence in God's working in our lives, stem from a relationship with God that is real and personal. I have talked with many women who, deep down in that private inner place that only they and God know about, are afraid of the kind of personal relationship with God that might result in him requiring something special from them. They would rather not know God that well. Are you there? Do you psychologically hide from God, singing the alphabet song with your fingers in your ears in an effort to avoid hearing that still, small voice that may call you to take a step of—gasp—faith? If so, would you acknowledge with me that this is a serious problem?
Do you find it disturbing to read about the link between a lack of faith and sin? Would you rather think of your lack of faith as a weakness? Personally, it's easier for me to think that it is just a natural reaction to doubt God when circumstances look bleak; but to call it sin? That seems awfully harsh. And yet, that's exactly what God calls it; he even calls it treachery—sin with an accompanying stab in the back.
Unfaithfulness in the New Testament
Christ uses the phrase "you of little faith" repeatedly in the New Testament. In our quest to understand faith, it would be wise for us to consider each of the situations where Christ described someone as having "little faith." The word Christ uses is oligopistos,2 meaning "of little faith" or "trusting too little." It comes from oligos, meaning simply "little," "small," or "few," and pistos, whose meaning deserves consideration. Between the King James Version and the New American Standard Version, pistos is translated "assurance,"
"belief," "faith," "faithfulness," "fidelity," "pledge," and "proof." It implies conviction of the truth of anything. It also implies faithfulness or character that can be relied upon. By combining oligos and pistos we get the idea of having little conviction of the truth of something or someone.
Jesus first uses oligopistos in Matthew 6:30-31 during his discussion about anxiety in the Sermon on the Mount:
If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, "What shall we eat?" or "What shall we drink?" or "What shall we wear?"
In this instance, Christ does not seem to be addressing a particular person's actions. Instead, his words are part of along discussion on worry and anxiety. Did you notice how he links the state of having little faith with the action of worry? This is key to understanding faith and overcoming worry. Faith is the theological concept. Worry and anxiety are the practical issues of life. Here is clear evidence that the practical issue of worry in our lives is intensely affected by our theology. We cannot separate the two.
In Matthew 8, Christ uses oligopistos again. Jesus is asleep on a boat in the middle of a raging storm. His disciples cry frantically to him, "Save us, Lord; we are perishing." Jesus responds, "Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?" (Matthew 8:25-26). $is rebuke comes not because they ran to him with their problem, but because they greatly feared the outcome. $eir fear was the practical effect of their lack of faith.
The disciples' response here is particularly interesting because they have just witnessed Christ heal a leper, a centurion's servant, Peter's mother-in-law, and several others from an unnamed group. By now they should have a little more confidence in him than they are demonstrating. For an even clearer example of this cycle of Christ's provision and his disciples' forgetfulness, consider Matthew 16. In the chapter just before, Jesus feeds over four thousand people with seven loaves of bread and a few small fish. The disciples not only witness this, but they also give the food to the people and gather the remaining baskets of food. On top of that, this is the second time Christ has performed such a miracle in front of them. Yet they forget the miracle so fast that it would make me laugh if it weren't so pathetic. When the disciples begin discussing, in Matthew 16,that they have no bread, they are once again rebuked by Christ with oligopistos, "You of little faith"(v.18).
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