Oligopistos. It’s Greek to me. Precisely. Jesus took two Greek words and coined a new word by joining them together. Oligos means little or few. Pistos means faith or trust. Oligopistos – Little-faith. The New Testament tells us Jesus used his coined word a handful of times, and only when addressing his disciples.
In Matthew Chapter 8, Jesus has just finished giving what we have dubbed, “The Sermon on the Mount.” As he walks off the hill near Capernaum, he meets a leper and rips the dreaded disease of leprosy right out of him. Entering Capernaum, he restores the spinal cord of a paralyzed man who lies dying. Entering Peter’s home, he finds dinner is not on the table because Peter’s mother has a fever of 105 and climbing. Jesus takes her by the hand and apparently has the fever pass into him (see verse 17). His long day still not over, he burns the midnight oil battering on the Gates of Hell, hurling demons out of those they tormented. Through it all, the disciples waddled wide-eyed behind him like ducklings.
It may have been the very next day Jesus rolls out his new word, oligopistos, to describe His disciples. He told them to follow him into the boat because they were going to cross to the south side of Galilee. They waddled aboard behind him. In the middle of the lake, a whopping storm struck. Waking up a napping Jesus, they squawked, ‘Lord, save us, we are perishing!” You’d think with at least four career fishermen in the boat, somebody would have learned to swim. That’s when Jesus hit them with his coined word. “How is it that you are little-faiths?”
In Matthew 14, Jesus broke out his word out again, this time on Peter. The setting was another storm on Galilee. Again, it came after Jesus’ powerful teaching on faith and immediately after Jesus had turned five loaves and two smoked fish from a kid’s lunchbox into a feast for 5,000 men plus their families. This time the storm hits when the disciples are crossing alone in the dead of night. Jesus, seeing their situation, walks out to them on the water. Peter recognizing it is Jesus, steps out of the boat at Jesus’ prompting, and walks on webbed feet to his Master. At least for a few steps. Matthew notes, ‘But when he saw the wind and the waves he was afraid and began to sink.” Peter chokes out the shortest prayer in the Bible, “Lord, save me!” – a good one for every one of us to learn. Jesus grabs his hand, lifts him up eye-to-eye, and speaks that word: “Little-faith, why did you doubt?”
You’d think they’d learn. But soon after – perhaps just a few days after – Jesus goes on a healing frenzy and repeats his dinner-for-the-masses miracle with 4,000 men and their families. What do the disciples do? They fret about groceries. Jesus pulls out his word again, saying, “little faiths, why are you discussing among yourselves, saying, ‘We don’t have any bread?’”
Jesus’ remaining use of his little-faith label is in Matthew 6 and while stated in the presence of his 12 disciples, it is clearly is a word aimed at all those who would follow him today. Jesus vividly describes our problem of investing enormous energy each day fretting on how on earth we will scavenge up the basics of life. He said there is only one diagnosis for someone with these symptoms of chronic worry and striving — “You are little-faiths.” (vs. 30).
How Big is your God?
When worry strikes, I encourage you to join me in finding a mirror and saying Jesus’ coined word eye-ball to eye-ball, “Little-faith.” We ignore who God is. We forget what He has done in the past. We rush by what He has promised to do in the future. We shove the God of the Universe into a tiny little bottle and slap in the cork.
Little God, big worries. Big God, little worries. Little faith –it was about the only thing in His disciples that appeared to deeply wound Jesus and even get him ticked.
That hasn’t changed.