Keys to Developing a Hearing Ear - Part III - Appendix of Idiomatic Usages

In this appendix I'd like to address each passage where faith is shown to vary in degree in some way, in size, amount, degree magnitude or strength. If, as I have proposed, faith literally cannot vary and is a matter of, "Yes, there is faith," or, "No, there is not faith," there must be some other way to think about these passages and some benefit in doing so. Let's dig in!

Faith Grows?

First, let's look at the places where it's plainly stated that faith grows. These may have come to your mind already.

Our hope is that, as your faith continues to grow, our area of activity among you will greatly expand,

II Corinthians 10:15b

The word "grow" is translated from the Greek word auxano. This word is often used to describe the growth of a plant. Those of you with a background in botany will recognize that auxin, the plant hormone responsible for growth, and, auxesis, the increase of cell size without cell division come from this word. This verse clearly states that faith grows like a plant. Growth does require an increase in the degree of some measurable attribute. Oh dear, looks like I was wrong about faith not growing after all. Never mind. Hey, wait a minute! There must be an adequate means of resolution. Twisting the scriptures and making up bogus figures is one way to handle it - but that's not what this is about. Do you remember from Luke 17 that the quite reasonable interpretation of Jesus' response to the apostles' request for more faith indicated that there is no need for more faith? Any faith, even as small as a mustard seed is all that's required! If more faith is irrelevant, what would be the point of more faith, bigger faith, or faith that has grown? So, if Jesus was right and we understand what he said, to say that faith grows like a plant must be understood as a kind of figure. This usage of a figure of speech in II corinthians must function as every other valid figure of speech, drawing our attention to some important truth brought out in some relationship between faith and plant-like growth.

This idiom attributing to "faith" the quality of growth, involves the issues relative to faith that can grow. Remember the pregnancy analogy? faith itself does not need to grow, and literally cannot.

While I'm on the topic of plant growth, let me regress for just a moment to address something I mentioned earlier. Many erroneously think of faith as a seed in the context of growth. This comparison is never made in the bible. In the parable of the sower and the seed, the word of God is the seed which grows and produces fruit, not faith. In Luke 17, the expression "faith as small as a mustard seed" is using the size of the seed to convey the irrelevance of size in the matter of faith. You just can't say that to use the seed in this kind of comparison suggests the transferal of any other attribute of a seed, such as the ability to grow. OK?

Another plain declaration that faith grows is found in 2 Thessalonians 1.

We ought always to thank God for you, brothers, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love every one of you has for each other is increasing.

2 Thessalonians 1:3

Take a look at the context of this verse. The is the same idiomatic usage i just described.

Great Faith

Now, let's look at the occurrences of the phrase "great faith."

I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.

Luke 7: 9b

We need to look more closely at the context to understand this idiom.

When Jesus had finished saying all this in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. {2} There a centurion's servant, whom his master valued highly, was sick and about to die. {3} The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant. {4} When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with him, "This man deserves to have you do this, {5} because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue." {6} So Jesus went with them. He was not far from the house when the centurion sent friends to say to him: "Lord, don't trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. {7} That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. {8} For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, 'Go,' and he goes; and that one, 'Come,' and he comes. I say to my servant, 'Do this,' and he does it." {9} When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, "I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel." {10} Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well.

Luke 7:1-10

The first comment I want to make about the centurion concerns the first word his friends said when they met Jesus with his message. They said, "Lord." This man recognized who Jesus was in their relationship and acknowledged it. Additionally and very importantly, the centurion understood the authority of spoken words in the natural realm and believed that the Lord could and would heal by the authority of his word in the spiritual realm. Why is the centurion said to have "great faith"? Perhaps it is because, in all Israel, no one else had so readily acknowledged Jesus' Lordship and indicated an accurate estimate of the authority of Jesus' word. (A similar record is found in Matthew 8:5-13.)

This next occurrence of "great faith" is very similar to the one in luke 7 in that they both deal with healing by Jesus from a remote location for a non-Jew.

Then Jesus answered, "Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted." And her daughter was healed from that very hour.

Matthew 15:28

In this instance, as well as in Luke 7, the one making request was acting on behalf of a loved one, and in even yet another similarity, the apparent worthiness of the one requesting the favor is brought to our attention. The contrast in the matter of worthiness suggests that this wasn't a factor in his decision to heal. Matthew 15 gives us the context of the verse.

Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. {22} A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, "Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession." {23} Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, "Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us." {24} He answered, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel." {25} the woman came and knelt before him. "Lord, help me!" she said. {26} He replied, "It is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to their dogs." {27} "Yes, Lord," she said, "but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table." {28} Then Jesus answered, "Woman , you have great faith! Your request is granted." And her daughter was healed from that very hour.

Matthew 15:21-28

Notice here that each time the woman addressed Jesus, she called him Lord. This Canaanite woman also understood the figures of speech Jesus used (called hypocatastasis. She knew that when Jesus said, "the children's bread" that it represented the blessings meant for the "lost sheep," the beloved people of Israel. She also understood that "their dogs" included her, representing all those outside the house of Israel. Although she was a Canaanite, she still requested one of the blessings; deliverance for her daughter. And, here's what I believe to be the most significant truth here regarding her "great faith:" She called the desired miracle (deliverance from demon-possession) only a "crumb;" not a basket or a loaf, but merely a crumb! She not only showed her recognition of Jesus' Lordship, but also indicated her accurate assessment of Jesus' great ability.

Aside from the other features noted as common between the two accounts, both occurrences of the phrase "great faith" reveal that the person to whom "great faith" is attributed acknowledged Jesus as the Lord, and further indicated to him that they accurately estimated the great authority of his word.

In these two accounts where great faith is attributed, it can be seen that both parties honored had a hearing ear. They understood figurative language. The centurion's message expressed his understanding of figurative speech by use of the figure "allusion," relating how it was that he understood Jesus could heal his servant by just saying the word. Allusion is indirect reference. Look at the account closely and you'll see what I mean. The Canaanite woman understood the symbolic language used by the Lord, even responding in kind. What wonderful lessons come through learning the idiom of great faith!

Little Faith - oligopistos

The next phrase we'll consider is "little faith." In the NIV, it's translated from an occurrence of the Greek word oligopistos 5 times. Once, it's translated from the word apistia.

The first and fifth occurrences of oligopistos are found in similar accounts. You can check Luke 12:28 to compare the accounts, but I'm going to present Matthew 6:30.

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?

Matthew 6:30

Think about this! If someone with faith as small as a mustard seed can plant a tree in the sea, how is that having a little faith doesn't allow a man to clothe himself? If there's no figure of speech involved, there's no resolution to be had. Here's the context of the verse.

No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money. {25} Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? {26} Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? {27} Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life ? {28} "And why do you worry about clothes? see how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. {29} Yet i tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. {30} 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? {31} So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' {32} For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. {33} But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. {34} Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of it's own.

Matthew 6:24-34

Jesus is addressing their anxiety about provision of the necessities of life. Verse 25 begins with "therefore" (dia), which shows that the sections following and preceding are related. Looking at verse 24, we note that the topic being discussed is the distinction between serving God and serving material things. For us to be overly concerned with (overanxious about) material necessities is to have "little faith." This inappropriate concern is one's focus upon one's own resources and abilities rather than upon the resources and abilities of God. The proper perspective on material necessities is set plainly before us in verse 33:

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

Matthew 6:33

The second occurrence of the phrase "little faith" is found in Matthew 8.

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.

Matthew 8:26

If faith as small as a mustard seed can allow a man to replant a mulberry tree in the sea, wouldn't a "little faith" allow a man to calm the winds and waves? But they couldn't! This usage of "little faith" must be idiomatic. Here's the context.

23 Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. 24 Without warning, a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. 25 The disciples went and woke him, saying, "Lord, save us! We're going to drown!" 26 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. 27 The men were amazed and asked, "What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!"

Matthew 8:23-27

In the Greek, the word translated "afraid" is the word deilos, which means, "cowardly, timid, especially the inward sensation of fear" [Bullinger]. From verse 25, we can note this characteristic in the disciples as they awakened Jesus saying, "Lord, save us! We're going to drown!" For the disciples to have responded to the raging storm with fear exhibits their focus on their own inability to deal with the circumstances in the material realm rather than on the Lord's more than adequate ability. As in the previous usage, this is what is called "little faith." In the first (and fifth) occurrences, we noted that the phrase addressed their worry over provision of the necessities of life that are food and clothing, in the second, we note fearful insecurity in the face of the threat of loss of life.

The third occurrence of oligopistos is found in Matthew 14.

Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. 'You of little faith,' he said, 'Why did you doubt?'

Matthew 14:31

Once again, it would seem that if, in the record of Luke 17:6, a man with faith as small as a mustard seed is able to uproot a mulberry tree and plant it in the sea, even a little faith would allow this man Peter to continue to walk on the sea. But, Peter began to sink! This must be yet another figurative usage of "little faith." Does this idiomatic expression indicate the same inappropriate focus of attention we noted from the previous occurrences? Matthew 14 gives us the context.

22 Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. 23 after he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it. 25 During the fourth watch of the night Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. 'It's a ghost,' they said, and cried out in fear. 27 But Jesus immediately said to them: 'Take courage! It is i. Don't be afraid.' 28 'Lord, if it's you,' Peter replied, 'tell me to come to you on the water.' 29 'Come,' he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, 'Lord, save me!' 31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. 'You of little faith,' he said, 'why did you doubt?' 32 And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. 33 Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, 'Truly you are the Son of God.'

Matthew 14:22-33

Jesus is addressing Peter's condition which had been one of belief that the Lord's promise "Come" insured his ability to safely do so. But it changed. We note that Peter saw the wind and was afraid, as in the previous example the fear was expressed in the face of threatened loss of life. Peter's change from trust in the promise to fear is called "little faith" and "doubt." "Doubt" is the Greek word distazo, which means, "to stand in two ways, be uncertain as to which to take" (Bullinger). I think Peter went from trust (as he walked on the water) to doubt (as he began to sink) to trust again (when the Lord reached out his hand and caught him). I doubt that the Lord had to drag a drenched and humiliated Peter to the ship. I suspect that they walked together, side-by-side! I think it's pretty obvious that the Lord's figurative use of "little faith" reveals that Peter's focus was on his own inability rather than on Jesus' great ability to sustain him in the midst of his circumstance.

The fourth occurrence is found in the context of Matthew 16.

7 They discussed this among themselves and said, 'It is because we didn't bring any bread.' 8 Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked, 'You of little faith, why are you talking among yourselves about having no bread? 9 Do you still not understand? Don't you remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? 10 Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered?'

Matthew 16:7-10

The disciples were anxious because they had not remembered to bring bread with them, a serious matter because it was the staple of their diet and they were afraid that they would not eat. Again, fear is the issue; anxiety. The lack of bread probably didn't threaten their life so much as their comfort. Jesus addresses their response to being reminded of bread by reminding them of the two recent occasions when their food was provided for them miraculously. Once again, "little faith" is used figuratively for their focus on their own inability rather than on the Lord's ability to provide for their necessity.

All 5 occurrences of the phrase "little faith" (as translated from the word oligopistos) are figurative. Each time, the usage is consistently shown to point out that those to whom little faith is attributed have their focus upon their own inability to deal with the circumstances at hand rather than on the Lord's more than adequate ability! This is expressed in anxiety, worry and fear about life's provision and preservation. Consider the definition Strong's concordance offers for oligopistos: "lacking confidence (in Christ)." Strong's definition shows a concise and accurate interpretation of the idiomatic usage!

No Faith

A phrase which appears to have the same meaning as "little faith" is translated "no faith," found in Mark 4:40, which is similar to the account covered previously in Matthew 14:22-33. Here's the passage in which it is found.

35 "That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, "Let us go over to the other side." 36 Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. 37 A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. 38 Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, "Teacher, don't you care if we drown?" 39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, "Quiet ! Be still!" Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. 40 He said to his disciples, "Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?" 41 They were terrified and asked each other, "Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!

Mark 4:35-41

We may ask, "faith in what?" No promise of God has been named in which to have faith. The context does not seem to indicate any particular object in which to have faith. Is this then some nebulous faith? I think not! remember that those said to have "little faith" were actually looking to their own inabilities and resources rather than to the Lord and his more than adequate resources and abilities. That appropriately describes the situation here, too, expressed through terror in the face of the threatened loss of their lives.

This study of the usage of the expressions "great faith," "little faith" and "no faith" reveals something very important about faith. The focus of our attention is the determinant. Is it upon our insufficient resources and abilities, or upon the Lord's which are more than sufficient for provision in every circumstance. "Little faith" always expressed itself in fear of personal loss, while "great faith" was seen expressed by intercession on behalf of a loved one. "Little faith" was evidenced in a focus of attention upon the threat to one's personal lack or loss, while "great faith" was evidenced in a focus of attention upon the Lord's more than adequate resources and abilities.

Little Faith - apistia

In Matthew 17:20 "little faith" is rendered by the NIV from the Greek word apistia. Apistia should rather be rendered "unbelieving" or "faithless." Read this passage beginning in verse 18.

18 Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of the boy, and he was healed from that moment. 19 Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, 'Why couldn't we drive it out?' 20 He replied, 'Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, "Move from here to there" and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.'

Matthew 17:18-20

Jesus answers the disciples' question, "Why couldn't we drive it out?" by telling them, "because you have so little faith," or, because apistia should rather be rendered thusly, "because you are unbelieving." the figure Ellipsis is employed because he doesn't say what they don't believe. It seems to me that the object of faith is implicit - which is to say that they could not cast it out because they did not believe that they could cast it out. I see no promise about casting out demons in the immediate context, but we can find various commands for the casting out of demons scattered throughout the gospels. Since these commands were given to simply obey, the disciples apparently wouldn't require a special invitation to cast out demons. As we've seen several times already, this "little faith," or, "unbelieving" issue is a matter of their focus having been upon their own lack of authority instead of the Lord's great authority, which they had by previous permission and grant. Understanding the idiomatic expression, we know that little faith is no faith at all. A miracle such as casting a demon out of a boy is no more difficult for the Lord than moving a mountain. Jesus made it quite clear that it wasn't a matter of degrees of faith, but rather of having faith, believing. (Note: Verse 21 is omitted from the NIV and NRSV (and is indicated by bracketing in the NASB) because the superior textual evidence over that which formed the basis for the KJV suggests that it was not authentic.)

Full of Faith

Now, let's consider the meaning of the phrase "full of faith," which is used to describe Stephen in Acts 6.

They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy spirit;

Acts 6:5b

Here's the context:

8 Now Stephen, a man full of God's grace and power, did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people. 9 Opposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called)--Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia. These men began to argue with Stephen, 10 but they could not stand up against his wisdom or the Spirit by whom he spoke. 11 Then they secretly persuaded some men to say, "We have heard Stephen speak words of blasphemy against Moses and against God." 12 So they stirred up the people and the elders and the teachers of the law. They seized Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin. 13 They produced false witnesses, who testified, "This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law. 14 For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us." 15 All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.

Acts 6:8-15

Stephen then gives his report of the truth to the people. We'll pick up the record of their response in chapter 7.

54 When they heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. 55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 "Look," he said, "I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God." 57 At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, 58 dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." 60 Then he fell on his knees and cried out, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." when he had said this, he fell asleep.

Acts 7:54-60

Stephen was a tremendous believer! What does this record teach us about faith? Well, since faith is not an entity which can be quantified or increase in volume to fill some container, the usage of "full of faith" must be figurative. From the context, we know the following about Stephen: In verse 3, we learn that he was known to be "full of the Spirit and wisdom." in verse 8 we note that Stephen was also "full of God's grace and power" and "did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people." In Verse 10, men who began to argue with Stephen could not stand up against "his wisdom or the Spirit by whom he spoke." The phrase "full of faith" appears to be an idiomatic expression that means Stephen's heart was well prepared to receive God's word readily and fruitfully.

Stephen is not the only man that the Bible says was full of faith. Here's what Acts 11 has to say referring to Barnabas, a man who would later become Paul's companion.

He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.

Acts 11:24

This idiomatic usage of "full of faith" is similar to what we saw in the record of Stephen.

A (The) Faith

Although this next usage does not relate directly to this study of degrees of faith, I have included it in this Appendix because of the popularity of the King James Version which reads, "all faith." The NIV rendering is "a faith."

and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.

1 Corinthians 13:2b

In the Greek texts, the word tan appears in connection with the word pistin faith and should probably be rendered as the definite article "the." More properly then, we read, "and if I have the faith that can move mountains..." What is the faith that can move mountains? is it a force that can move mountains? No way! Moving mountains is a miracle, accomplished only by the power of God. If you understand the idioms used regarding faith, this must be a figurative usage which indicates that moving mountains must result from a believer's response of obedience to the Lord's command - "Move mountains."

Strength of Faith

Another characteristic attributed to "faith" is strength. If faith was a power, its relative strength would certainly determine what might be accomplished by its application. However, because strength is a quality that varies in degree we can consider that this usage, too, might be understood as an idiom.

19 Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old and that sarah's womb was also dead. 20 Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, 21 being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.

Romans 4:19-21

In my opinion, there are four figurative phrases involving faith in this short section: "without weakening in his faith," "waver through unbelief," "strengthened in his faith," and "fully persuaded." it seems to me that "without weakening in his faith" means to continue to believe (from verse 18) the promise mentioned in verse 13. Faith can not literally become weak. Remember Jesus' teaching in Luke 17 - if you have faith, the miracle follows. It's not a matter of degree, but of simply having faith in a promise.

I can explain my understanding of this figurative usage more easily by once again comparing faith to a pregnancy. Each is a condition. A pregnancy can't be weak, you're either pregnant or you're not. But, during a pregnancy, it could, in one sense, be described as weak because some women are more likely to miscarry than others, and more likely at certain times than at other times. I think that "weak faith" is like a pregnancy that has the likelihood of a premature termination. We know that when the seed which is God's word, or, a specific promise of God, has been planted in the good soil in the heart and taken root, there is faith. This is like conception. Unlike a pregnancy, sometimes faith bears its fruit immediately. At what time the fruit becomes evident depends upon what God promised and when the fruit is to be borne. Sometimes the promised fruit is dependent upon continued faith in a promise, as with Abraham and Sarah. Persistence may be required. If a pregnancy is terminated prematurely, there will be no fruit, no child. The person who received a promise from God may believe it, then turn to doubt it, and the intended fruit would be lost or postponed. Sometimes, before you have a baby, several conceptions and miscarriages will occur. "Weak faith" is where the soil is not prepared well enough to sustain the plant. A sufficient trial might uproot the plant.

In verses 20-21, it is said that Abraham:

...did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of god, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.

Romans 4:20-21

To waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God would be to have a "change of heart," where the condition of faith and the condition of doubt or unbelief trade places. Unbelief would supplant faith and then vice versa. But, Abraham did not waver! I believe that this is how he gave glory to God, by his steadfast response of faith! To be "strengthened in his faith" is to become "fully persuaded" and is likely in reference to that place in Abraham's life where he no longer had to deal with the matter of weighing the spiritual reality against the contradictory natural attitude "common sense" might have dictated. Abraham had so tended the "garden" of his heart that the reality of God's promise was first nature to him, not second nature. I believe that we also give glory to God when we have so tended the "gardens" of our hearts that his will is our first nature!

This next occurrence of the phrase "weak faith" appears to have a different meaning.

Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. One man's faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables.

Romans 14:12

Since faith isn't something that can literally be "weak," let's look closely to see what the figurative usage is intended to teach us. There is a distinction made in the context between the weak in faith and the strong in faith (by implication). The weak is characterized by his adherence to the dietary and Sabbath day legalism of the Mosaic law. The strong, in contrast, has accepted the freedom from those legalistic bonds. Neither is to judge the other to condemnation but is to unselfishly build the other up, which is pleasing to God and approved by men.

The "weak" are immature Christians who need time and guidance to mature and gain confidence in the promise of freedom they've been given. The more mature and experienced brethren are to help them learn how the law was a schoolmaster to bring them unto Christ, building their confidence and trust in their freedom. This idiomatic usage attributing the quality of "weakness" to faith relates to the process of maturation as the change from the laws of Moses to the law of liberty in Christ Jesus is made.

Measure and Proportion of Faith

In Romans 12 we read about a "measure of faith."

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. (The definite article "the" which appears before the word "measure" isn't in the Greek text. It's probably better rendered as "a measure of faith.")

Romans 12:3

Now, if there is such a thing as a measure of faith, faith must be measurable and able to be evaluated quantitatively. If what I've been asserting about the contrary is true, here's one of my last opportunities to make my point.

Let's familiarize ourselves with the context:

1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--this is your spiritual act of worship. 2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will. 3 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. 4 Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man's gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. 7 If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; 8 if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.

Romans 12:1-8

Typically, the interpretation is that "a measure of faith" has been given by God, metered out in some quantity to the individual members of the body. Then, in mathematical proportion to that amount of faith, a man should prophecy, if that's his gift, right? Well, let's think about how this passage might be interpreted if God couldn't give "a measure of faith" because faith could neither be measured, nor was an entity that could be given.

The matter of our particular interest is to be understood as it appears in the context of how you ought to think of yourself. The part of the passage we're going to focus upon is an elaboration upon what sober judgment is. This larger context is itself set within the even larger context of how to worship God. This spiritual worship has to do with an appraisal of who you are as an individual member of the body, and this is the context in which we must understand any idioms used.

A key to understanding the idiomatic usage of, "a measure of faith," is the meaning of the word "measure," translated from the Greek word metron. Metron means; "that by which any thing is measured, a measure or rule; generally, a measure or standard; esp., a measure of content, whether solid or liquid," [Bullinger] So, other than being interpreted as a measured amount (like a gallon or a pound), it can be interpreted to mean a standard or rule. I believe its meaning here is thus, as a standard; that by which any thing is measured. That doesn't require that faith is some unit of a particular size, but it has to do with something by which other things are compared. I'll show you what I mean.

If you look at the passage in Romans 12 closely, you'll find a number of different kinds of standards. These standards relate to your behavior, how to think, live and act. By your choice, you can conform to one standard or another. These standards aren't concerned with size or amount but with patterns to which you may conform your thought and behavior. For example, the "pattern of this world" is the first standard noted. Rather than conforming to that standard, you may be "transformed by the renewing of your mind." what's the standard to which you must conform in order for this transformation to occur? May I suggest the pattern of the spirit, by implication? This is the only way you'd be able to test and approve what God's will is. That's the only way to "new up" your mind! That's the only way you'll be able to offer your body as a living sacrifice and the only way you'll be able to serve in the body! The next standard is found in verse 3; "a measure of faith God has given you." The next two mentions of a standard are found in verse 6, both referring back to the one in verse 3; "the grace given us," and "in proportion to his faith." (The text actually reads, "according to the proportion of the faith.")

There are actually only two standards in view here. There is the pattern of the world and the pattern of the spirit. The other standard from verses 3 and 6 informs us about the pattern of the spirit for an individual in the body which relates to an individual's service within the body - ministry.

Another key word we need to examine more closely is merizo, translated in verse 3 as "given" by the NIV translators. I believe the KJV translates it best as "dealt." It means divided, distributed, apportioned. To give a sense of what it means, I liken it to what the dealer does in a card game. He divides the deck of cards, distributing the cards to the players. This is a great analogy because we can compare a standard of faith dealt to each member to the hand each player receives.

As each player's hand is special, composed of the particular cards dealt to him, each member of the body has been graced with a set of gifts, particular spiritual abilities. In the card game analogy, the player may either fold, intentionally play his hand poorly or, with intent to win, strive with careful and skillful strategy to play each card to best advantage for Jesus' sake. Because the Lord has dealt the individual a standard of faith, he can decide to "play his cards right," using his particular spiritual abilities the Lord has given for service in the body. When you see how you fit into the plan and know the standard of faith is uniquely personal, you have no reason or desire to be proud of what you were dealt, or jealous about what someone else was dealt.

I want to address how the one whose gift is prophesying is to use it. He is to use it according to the proportion of the faith. What is the faith but a reference to the hand that was dealt seen in verse three? Bullinger noted the same. The word "proportion" is translated from analogia, a word used only here. Proportion seems like a pretty valid interpretation. It also has the sense of a distributed saying. Strong's Greek Dictionary has this to say about the prefix "ana." "In compounds (as a prefix) it often means (by impl.) repetition, intensity, reversal, etc." The meaning of intensity is most applicable here. If, by experience you understand something about how the gift of prophecy is used, the composite meanings makes perfect sense. Now, if you can relate to what I've been writing, you know that this "proportion of the faith" idiom doesn't force "faith" to be some thing that can itself be divided up.

In addition to "a measure of faith," in verses 3 and 6, "grace" is said to be what is given. Hey, doesn't grace characterize the giving rather than identify the gift itself? Sure! A study of II Corinthians 8 & 9 will show that "grace" is a figurative reference to the money and whatever else was necessary to supply the needs of the poor saints. This usage of grace in II Corinthians is like that in Romans 12, isn't it? It is a kind of Metonymy where "that which characterizes the giving" is put for "that which is given." By using this figure, the emphasis is placed upon the giving instead of the gift.

Here's how I understand the idiomatic usage of both faith and grace in Romans 12:1-8. They relate to "how" God gives. The actual gifts which are particular abilities to function in the Body are "what" he actually gives.

We find another relevant and closely related passage in Ephesians that sheds more light on this matter.

"But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it (or, God) says: 'When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men.'"

Ephesians 4:7

Here's the context.

1 As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit-- just as you were called to one hope when you were called-- 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. 7 But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. 8 This is why it says: "When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men." 9 (What does "he ascended" mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions ? 10 He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) 11 It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12 to prepare god's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. 14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does it's work.

Ephesians 4:1-16

Here, as in Romans 12, abilities to function in the one body are being discussed. In verse 11, apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers are listed as being those who receive the "grace" as Christ apportioned it. "Grace" is, by Metonymy, put for the special abilities to function. The abilities are given by grace.

As I compare Romans 12:18 and Ephesians 4:1-16, I see a close similarity. Both are exhortations for Christians to function in service and describe how and why. "Grace" and "a measure of faith" are both stated in the same figurative usage for God given abilities (and Christ given, as we learn from Ephesians). Having an understanding of the context and the usage of the figure Metonymy, we see that the ability is the gift, given by God's grace. Upon having the ability, we function in the Body according to our freewill response to God's command "Serve!"

Now is the time to serve the Lord. Serve him with joy, he loves you so!