A story came out of the Civil War from Union General Sherman’s relentless march through Georgia to the sea, destroying and burning everything in his path as he determined to bring the Confederacy to its knees. As it turned out, his most formidable foe was not the armies of Confederate Generals Wheeler, Hood, Hardee or the Georgia militia. Somewhere in Georgia he hit a snag. As he and his army rode through a rural farm, out from behind the smokehouse popped a wiry little old lady. Silvery hair flying in every direction, a soiled apron hanging off her shoulders – but she planted her feet resolutely, her eyes flashing with Dixie fire, and her bony hands brandishing a ragged broom. General Sherman, astride his magnificent horse hesitated, then attempted to spur his horse on past her. She attacked, flailing away with all her might. When she stopped to catch her breath, the amused Sherman said, “Ma’am, don’t you see that I am a general on horseback, with an entire army behind me, and that you are an old woman, alone on foot with only a broom in your hands? You have no chance of impeding my progress.” “Shucks, I know that sonny,” snapped the little old lady, “I just wanted to make sure everyone knows which side I’m on.”
Rev. 2:8-10 “To the angel of the church in Smyrna write: These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again. I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich! I know the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.”
Let’s get honest for a minute – whose side are you one? When push comes to shove – are you in it for the long haul? When a decision needs to be made, who wins out, God, or whatever else is on the table?
Faithfulness doesn’t have great press in the culture in which we live. Our culture encourages impermanence and disposability. Loyalty is dismissed, commitment is belittled, faithfulness is viewed as antiquated and unworkable in the real world of relationships. Lifelong faithfulness is a tough sell in a world of smorgasbord choices and disposable relationships.
But faithfulness is central to the nature of God, and as such, one of the central components in a Christ-like nature. Paul calls faithfulness a fruit of the Spirit – it is a quality that, when joined together in a person’s life with the other fruit – love, joy, peace… begins to transform us more and more into the likeness of Christ.
Is faithfulness a quality of your life? Or is Christianity a convenience that occasionally fits into your lifestyle, an accessory that you put on when it fits your mood and leave at home when it doesn’t? You will remain a Christian . . . AS LONG AS … it doesn’t intrude on your freedom, it doesn’t demand anything, it makes you feel good, nobody hurts your feelings.
You see, faithfulness calls us beyond our padded pews, beyond our lifestyles of convenience and self-priority to a commitment that is not just ordinary but extraordinary.
There is, perhaps, no more important subject in the NT than faith. As the Hebrews writer defines it – “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Faith is both the substance of our Christian beliefs and the embodiment of our dependent, trusting relationship with the Lord. A few verses later that same writer wrote “and without faith it is impossible to please him…”
Faithfulness is really defined in the most basic way as one who is “filled full” of faith – one who lives fully by faith. As Paul talked about what that looks like in practical terms as we face the uncertainties and adversities of life, he said, “We live by faith, not by sight.” (2 Cor. 5:7). And that’s a lot easier to say than to do, because we want our hands on the steering wheel, we want control of our lives. When we live by faith, we surrender that control to God and trust him to guide our lives.
But while faith and faithfulness are closely akin, the NT writers use them in distinctly different ways. Faith is the quality that embodies our trust in God. Faithfulness is the quality which allows God (and others) to trust in us.
As we are filled full with faith, it affects who we are and how we respond to life. Our priorities and our decisions are affected by this filling with faith. It changes us.
Now when we try to define faithfulness, it is not how much faith we have, but how much others can have faith in us.
Faith is the response of our lives to a basic trust that we have in our God who is faithful. As our lives are controlled by faith, we respond by lives that in turn demonstrate that same faithfulness (or trustworthiness) that is so prominent in God’s own nature.
Here is how the Hebrews writer calls us to faith “Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.” (Heb. 10:22-23)
How can we remain strong in our faith? How can our faith grow? By living and acting upon our belief that the one in whom we have trusted is faithful. He stands by his promises and honors them. Over and over in scripture God’s faithfulness is demonstrated and proclaimed by his people:
David – Psalm 145:13 – Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures through all generations. The LORD is faithful to all his promises and loving toward all he has made.
Paul – 1 Cor. 10:13 – No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.
Peter – 1 Peter 4:19 – So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.
Paul – 1 Thess. 5:23-24 – May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.
Did you hear a common theme? You keep trusting in God, and stay strong, and bear up under temptation and even suffering because you can depend on God to be there with you. Noah trusted God and God proved himself faithful, Abraham trusted God and God proved himself faithful, Daniel trusted God and God proved himself faithful, Elijah trusted God and God proved himself faithful.
There is no place in faith for a God who wound up the world and cast it off into outer space to run on its own. Our faith is in a God cares about and works in the lives of his people. He is not fickle or arbitrary. We trust him because he is trustworthy. If he has made promises you can believe them.
The Hebrews writer tells us that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.” (Heb. 13:8)
That’s the kind of permanence I need. With all the changes going on around me – sickness, dying and death – recession, unemployment, insecurity – terrorism, war, political unrest - making life unpredictable. The world seems to change the rules of life on a whim – I need to know there is one rock on which I can build my life that will not crumble. God is that rock. I can depend on Him. I have the testimony of history and the promise of the Word that he is faithful.
It seems like anything in this world that we put our faith in and trust our lives in can be swept away in a second – a job, a house, a retirement account, a marriage, health. I’m not just being negative, but I’ve known people who have bet their lives on the security of every one of those, and had them taken from them in the blink of an eye. A fire, a tornado, an earthquake, a recession, a divorce, a disease, a death. If our faith is in anything that can be destroyed, it is in the wrong thing.
Jesus told a parable of two men who built houses – “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” (Matt. 7:24-27)
Jesus Christ is faithful – I can trust him, I can build my life upon him, and know that he will be there yesterday, today and forever.
Now, how does my faith in a faithful God, develop faithfulness in me?
Here is the connection Paul makes – In the 2 Corinthian letter Paul is writing to a church that had openly received and supported him. Then legalistic Jewish teachers came in and undermined his work and the Corinthians began questioning his integrity. So Paul responds by telling them of his plans to visit them – “I planned to visit you on my way to Macedonia and to come back to you from Macedonia, and then to have you send me on my way to Judea. When I planned this, did I do it lightly? Or do I make my plans in a worldly manner so that in the same breath I say, “Yes, yes” and “No, no”? But as surely as God is faithful, our message to you is not “Yes” and “No.” For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by me and Silas and Timothy, was not “Yes” and “No,” but in him it has always been “Yes.” For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God.” (2 Cor. 1:16-20).
Because God is faithful to the promises he makes, Paul tell the Corinthians, “I am faithful, and when I make a commitment to you, you can depend on it.” Paul’s faithfulness came, not from the strength of his own character, but from his relationship with his God who is faithful.
My faithfulness comes, not because I am a man of my word, but because I am a man of God’s word. And God’s word has always been “Yes” in Jesus Christ. I can no more dishonor my commitments than the God who created me.
Faithfulness is a quality that permeates every area of my life, not just a part of it.
You need to be faithful at church. You need to be someone who can be counted on and available when there’s a job that needs to be done. Faithfulness doesn’t mean you show up when you like, if you feel like it, and sit like a spectator without any responsibility. Faithfulness means you’re invested in your church family and are willing to do whatever is needed to serve. Faithfulness means you’re invested personally and financially in the church where you belong.
Now, it’s important to be faithful at church, but even more important - are you faithful to your wife? It’s wonderful that you dedicate part of your income to the Lord’s work and faithfully contribute that every week, but are you trustworthy in your business dealings?
We have a way of compartmentalizing our faithfulness – it is reduced to attendance and giving, and so at someone’s funeral – even if he was a womanizer and embezzler, if he made it to church most weeks we eulogize him as “faithful” brother so and so.
As important as those religious activities are – to what extent does faithfulness characterize the whole of your life?
Are you faithful to your husband/wife? And I’m talking about more than who you go to bed with – are you faithful to the covenant you made – are your affections, time, and thoughts devoted to one and only one? Or do you casually flirt with other relationships, do you neglect your spouse, do you give your attentions to another? That’s not faithfulness. Faithfulness involves a trusting, unique, covenant relationship that you honor with your body, soul and spirit.
Are you faithful to your business and financial commitments? When you sign your name, are you bound by your word, can people depend on you to carry through even when it isn’t to your advantage? Or is it a situational convenience – you drop and forget your commitments whenever new circumstances come along, whenever it becomes inconvenient to follow through. Are you honest with people? Do you pay your bills? These are the everyday evidences of faithfulness.
Now you’re thinking to yourself , “You’ve quit preaching and gone to meddling! What does that have to do with religion?” Everything. Christianity is who you are, not just something you do. Faithfulness is a quality of life that affects every part of your life. You can’t be faithful in a few selected things and unfaithful in others and be right with God. Faithfulness is the nature of God – it must become yours.
I wish I could spend the time this morning telling you about the faithfulness I see in folks here at the Glenwood church – men and women who are faithful to their Lord, faithful to their spouses, faithful to their covenants, even when it hurts, even when it costs, even when it is inconvenient. And I don’t need to check attendance records, or the contribution plate, or do a bed check at night to see if they are faithful. By their faithfulness in small things, I know they are faithful in all things.
Do you remember the conclusion of the parable of dishonest steward? “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much.” Or as the NIV translates it, “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?” (Luke 16:10-11).
Do you see how crucial this is? It’s not just a matter of doing the right things at right time. Faithfulness is a matter of the heart, built on a relationship – a relationship with a God that can be trusted without question. If God has said it, if he has promised it – it is absolutely, indisputably true. If I am going to have a relationship with God, then I am going to begin to display that same nature of trustworthiness. People can trust me, friends know I’ll be there for them. When I take out a loan, the bank knows I’ll make payments. When Sunday morning comes, you know where I’ll be. My wife doesn’t worry about where I am and who I’m with. My children know I’ll be there for them. It’s a matter of faithfulness. I am faithful because my God is faithful.
And I see too many Christians breaching their trust with the Lord because they do not understand what faithfulness implies or demands from their lives – that it demands an absolute and thoroughgoing faithfulness in everything. God calls you to a relationship that involves both faith and faithfulness. It starts with a covenant – not on paper or stone, but on the human heart, sealed with the blood of Christ.
We began this morning with a reading from Revelation 2 – Christ sent a letter to the church in Smyrna and called them to be “faithful unto death.” We are called to be faithful, regardless of the circumstances or cost. I want to know, whose side are you on?