Photo by Duy Pham on Unsplash
What does faithfulness look like? Faithfulness–not just to a job or a cause–but to the people around you? Where does it start and how does it end?
When we were kids we promised to be best friends forever, exchanging bracelets made of braided yarn. As teens we traveled in clumps, arms linked. We felt secure in the moment, but it didn’t take much to lose our confidence and become suspicious. Why didn’t she wave at me? I thought we were going to hang out after school. Where is she going with that new girl?
Even now, those junior high feelings often lie just below the surface of our adult self. We can feel slighted, judged, excluded, or simply ignored. Soon we’re tempted to respond in kind or possibly to withdraw and avoid further hurt. But faithfulness matters. It is essential for all the relationships of adult life. Without it the connections that enable us to raise a family or start a business or even form meaningful friendships begin to unravel.
As we continue our Fruit of the Spirit series, today we are going to dive into this virtue of faithfulness. Not only do we live in an unfaithful world, we harbor elements of unfaithfulness in our own hearts. How can we change? What can help us grow in this essential fruit?
Promises Broken, Promises Kept
In Paris tourists and locals alike have pledged their love to each other by attaching a lock to one or more of the bridges stretching across the Seine River. In 2015, when the weight of the locks (surpassing 45 tons) threatened structural damage, they were removed from the Pont Des Artes as well as from the other bridges.
Think about the weight of all those promises, and the effort of those couples to take them seriously, by marking the moment and the place.
God takes his promises most seriously of all. They are immeasurably weighty, because they are locked into place by his faithfulness. Not one of them will be broken. Why? Because faithfulness isn’t just one of his characteristics, it is his very character. As our preacher said, “God is always faithful to his character because he is true to himself.”
When Paul wrote to Timothy at the end of his life, he reassured him with the strongest words possible:
if we are faithless, he remains faithful–
for he cannot deny himself. 2 Timothy 2:13
The foundation of our universe as well as of our personal lives is the faithfulness of God. Just as it is impossible for God to lie (Hebrews 6:18), so it is impossible for him to be unfaithful.
In fact, you can take everyone of God’s attributes and put the word “faithful” before it. Thus his love becomes “faithful love,” his justice becomes “faithful justice,” his holiness, wisdom, power, and strength are all characterized by faithfulness.
Finding Rest in the Faithful One
When I’m buying a gift for my mother online, I become restless. I carefully read the reviews of the product, especially the negative ones. Since I live far away, I won’t be able to see the item for myself or help her return it if it doesn’t measure up to her standards. So I slow down and read the fine print before I close the deal.
But when I do business with a merchant I know and trust, I can relax. If they know my mother personally, it’s even better. I can ask their advice and count on their faithfulness to guide me.
In the same way, when we come to know the faithfulness of God, we can relax. We can rest in his character, knowing that all he says is true and all he does is right.
Your steadfast love, O LORD, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds. Psalm 36:5
During the COVID pandemic, we haven’t always known what faithfulness looks like, who is being faithful with the information they publish or who is proving trustworthy in their conclusions. Our lack of confidence in the data produced unrest, not just in our own lives, but in our relationships.
Learning to find rest in the Faithful One will help us relate to each other as we emerge from a year of mistrust. We can learn to live together again in peace, doing good, and making friends with faithfulness.
Trust in the LORD, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. Psalm 37:3
The process begins as we “trust in the LORD.” “God will not EVER be unfaithful to you” were our preacher’s emphatic words.
Double Duty Faithfulness–Son and Bridegroom
Jesus is unique in his faithfulness, because of his unique calling. Being both human and divine from conception onward, he was given not one, but two ways to live faithfully.
First, Jesus was faithful as a man during his earthly life. During childhood in Joseph and Mary’s house, he obeyed his parents wholeheartedly. When siblings came along, he was a faithful brother. After he began working with his father in the carpentry business, Jesus did good work, not cutting corners or covering up mistakes. When he began his ministry, faithfulness marked every step, including his teaching about the topic:
One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much,
and one who is dishonest in very little is also dishonest in much. Luke 16:10
Jesus practiced what he preached, being faithful in the tiniest details of his earthly life, so that the Divine commendation boomed at his baptism, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22b).
Second, Jesus was faithful as a man in his death. He came to die, and didn’t shrink from it, even in those dreadful moments at Gethsemane, when he submitted with prayers and tears and great drops of blood.
How is Jesus faithful to us now, as the Son of God? First, having risen and ascended to glory, Jesus has the Father’s ear and prays for us according to his Father’s will. Second, he sends his Holy Spirit to live in each one who believes in his atoning death. With the Spirit come inner witness, gifts and fruit.
Clearly, our faithfulness is a direct result of his faithful atoning work.
Faithfulness and its Astonishing Reward
Jesus doesn’t just call us to be faithful, he generates faithfulness in us by the Spirit. It is with the Spirit’s help that we can
- be faithful stewards of our resources (1 Corinthians 4:2)
- overcome temptation (1 Corinthians 10:13)
- be faithful in our truthfulness (2 Corinthians 1:18)
- become faithful in Christ Jesus wherever we live (Ephesians 1:1)
- be faithful in suffering (1 Peter 4:19)
As if that weren’t enough, Jesus not only provides us with the faithfulness we need to do all kinds of good works, he rewards us for our service.
One of my favorite parables is the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14). Luke’s version of the parable (Luke 19:11-27) features a nobleman who “went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and then return,” a perfect description of his resurrection and ascension as well as the long period during which we are waiting for him to come again.
This king dispenses his gifts evenhandedly — each servant receives one mina (about 3 months wages). They are then told to “do business” with it, and off he goes. When he returns, he not only examines their work and rewards them.
Well done, good servant! Because you have been faithful in a very little, you shall have authority over ten cities. Luke 19:17
How will we use our portion? It’s completely up to us, our talents, inclinations, preferences. But one thing is certain, his reward will stun us. Listen to Matthew’s version:
Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master. Matthew 25:21
Our faithfulness holds out the promise of joy. One day when our earthly tasks are finished, we won’t simply have a retirement party and spend eternity doing crossword puzzles, we will finally enter into joy–God’s own eternal, deep, lively joy.