In my study of 1 Corinthians 13, I have become more aware of the gift of faith. When the bible speaks of faith, it often refers to saving faith. For example Paul say “being justified by faith, we have peace with Christ (Rom 5.1). All Christians have saving faith. But there is also the gift of faith. Yes even saving faith is the gift of God, but here I am referring to the faith as a charismata– a spiritual gift to used for the common good. Paul mentions this gift specifically in 1 Corinthians 12:7-9 7 But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all: 8 for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit. So this is not saving faith, but a faith the benefits the whole church.
What is the gift of faith? A key to understanding what Paul has in mind comes several verses latter where he says “and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing (13:2). The key to the meaning of faith lies in the expression “so that I could remove mountains”. This, of course, alludes to our Lord’s teaching on faith and prayer.
On one occasion just after he cast out a demon that his disciples could not cast, they asked why. He said to them, Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you (Matt. 17:20). Jesus is not speaking literally. There is no value in moving mountains around. Rather this is a metaphor for difficulties and problems and works that are not possible to surmount in mere human strength. He takes as an example something that is utterly impossible to do, like removing a mountain and dropping it into the sea. We don’t have the power to do that. Likewise we do not possess the power to save a human soul or to cast out a demon. We don’t have the strength to withstand trials. Yet God calls us to good works beyond our power but not beyond his. Who among us can turn a man from dead idols to serve the living and true God? God can and does. So faith is a robust confidence in God that he will unleash his power and bring to pass his good ends.
Jesus uses the same metaphor to call us to confident prayer: 23 Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. 24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours (Mark 11:23-24). Here we see clearly Jesus is not calling to look for a spectacular magic show—removing a mountain. Rather, he says “whatever you ask in prayer.” Again faith is confidence that God will unleash his power through prayer.
We have to admit that most of us are guilty of Jesus’ critical assessment of the disciples “O ye of little faith.” On one occasion when he disciples were unable to cast a demon from a boy, Jesus sighed “O faithless and twisted generation.” When you are fearful and full of anxiety, this not psychological malfunction, it is ‘little faith” in our Father who takes care of the flowers and birds (Matt. 6:30). Again when their boat was about to be overtaken and deluged by winds and waves of a storm, and the disciples were frantically fearful, Jesus rebuke them saying “Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?” Then He arose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. (Matthew 8:26-27). We have to admit that much of the time we live in the realm of small faith. The size of our confidence in God is smaller than that of a mustard seed.
For this reason the Holy Spirit infuses some with a stronger confidence in God than others. We should highly value those with a stronger faith in God’s sovereignty. Recall that some have the gift of faith for the good of the congregation (1 Cor.12:9). We need such people with such faith. When the pressure to cave and compromise convictions comes and fear causes people to fret and worry, a pastor or elder that is confident in the Lord will spread confidence to the congregation. Fear begets fear; conversely confidence begets faith. When we are weak or fainthearted, we need to be encouraged not only by a sister’s wise words, but by her robust and confident faith. In tough times the strong in faith will be like a rock.
In times of apathy and stagnancy, when the status quo is our enemy, the strong in faith will help lead the congregation forward unto new ministries. Very often, congregations do not value people with this gift. We dismiss them as naïve and credulous. But in reality they may simply have more confidence in God that than the rest and, therefore, are a lot more willing to take risks for our Lord and his kingdom.
So let us value those with stronger faith. Their stronger faith is for the good of the body, bringing stability and progress at all levels of the churches life. I end with the call to faith found in Hebrews: 32 And what more shall I say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets: 33 who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. 35 Women received their dead raised to life again. And others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. 36 Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented – 38 of whom the world was not worthy (Hebrews 11:32-38).