T. Pierce Brown
Each of us who claims membership in the Lord’s church has surely yearned for greater faith. We may even pray, as the disciples did in Luke 17:5, “Lord, increase our faith.” How he might do that is the subject for another study. But this article will deal with some characteristics of a great faith. The beginning point for consideration will be the story in Matthew15:28, “Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it done unto thee even as thou wilt.”
This is the climax of the story of the Canaanitish woman whose daughter was vexed with a demon. She brought her daughter to Christ, but even with her crying after Him, He did not at first respond. Then when He did respond He said, “It is not meet to take the children’s bread and cast it to the dogs.” What would you and I have done if the Lord had responded in such an apparently callused fashion to our needs? Notice her response in verse 27: “But she said, Yea, Lord: for even the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.”
Why did this situation call forth the commendation of Jesus concerning her great faith? Let us notice some things that are marks of a great faith.
First, faith gives one a clearer understanding of many things. We find in Hebrews 11:3, “By faith we understand that the worlds (Gr. ages) were framed by the word of God.” The most learned scientist or philosopher cannot by all the wisdom of the ages understand how the worlds were framed. They may probe the universe with satellites or telescopes, or advance any number of guesses (a common name for what a scientist calls a hypothesis), but a little child can understand by faith what cannot otherwise be understood.
Thus, her great faith enabled her to see the work of the devil even in her own daughter. The eyes of many parents are blinded by parental partiality so much that they lose faith in the Lord. For example, there are many that have tried to teach the truth about adulterous relationships, need for church discipline, or various kinds of sins until their loved ones get involved. Then they find all sorts of exceptions to the rule. Of course it is possible that many have not made any in-depth study of a subject until it is directly applicable to a loved one, at which time they see that they have been too harsh, judgmental and warped in their thinking.
Then, her great faith not only enabled her to see her daughter’s condition more clearly, she was able to see wherein lay the cure. The cure was not and is not in man, neither in doctors nor disciples. There is no cure for sin except in Christ.
Great faith is humble. She did not come with a plea for the worthiness of herself or for her daughter. She came with a plea for mercy. I occasionally hear preachers say, “I do not want God to be just. I want him to be merciful.” Though they mean well, they speak wrongly. Whether or not you want God to be just, He will. The marvelous wonder of God’s plan of salvation is that He can be just and justify the ungodly! God will be just in saving us, as well as merciful, for He cannot cease to be either. The degree of her humility is seen as she came, crying for mercy, and allowed herself to be compared to a dog, waiting for crumbs from the Master’s table.
Great faith is earnest. Here was an opportunity to receive a needed blessing, and she was not willing to let it pass by unnoticed. If she had something about which to be earnest, even more do we. We have children, friends and relatives all of which may be grievously afflicted by the Devil, and yet sometimes live with a casual indifference that is amazing. I am persuaded that part of it is caused by a lack of faith. We simply do not believe what the Bible teaches about the lost condition of the majority of the world.
Great faith is persistent. It enabled her, and enables us, to overcome discouragement and obstacles of all sorts. It helps to turn stumbling blocks into stepping stones. Note some of the areas of discouragement, and see if you have ever seen worse ones.
First, Jesus answered her not a word. Have you ever prayed and prayed, and found no apparent response from God?
Second, when He did answer, it was with apparent disdain and unconcern. How would you like to receive an answer like this, “It is not fitting to take the children’s bread and cast it to the dogs,” when you asked for a small favor? Many of us would never ask for another! But she had great faith, and it was blessed.
Perhaps the biggest lesson is that great faith is active and obedient personal response. There is no exception to it in or out of the Bible. The faith that accomplishes anything is an active faith. When God asks for a specific response, great faith always gives that particular response. The lesson is too important to miss. If God specifies a “what,” no other action or thing is in faith; if God specifies a “when,” no other time is correct; if God specifies a “why,” no other reason is proper; if God specifies a “who,” no other person is the right one; if God specifies a “how,” no other manner is adequate. You may apply this to baptism, giving, singing, the Lord’s Supper, or anything else about which God has spoken.
What sort of faith do you have? Or are you accustomed to substitute feelings, assumptions or guesses for faith?