Galatians 5:22 (Faithfulness)
Sermon preached on June 26, 2000 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2009. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at http://www.cantonnewlife.org/.
Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.
When I attended Gordon College we once had a softball tournament, where the various dorms would play against another. I still remember one incident from one game. One of my roommates was on either first or second base and the batter on our team hit the ball and my roommate tried to make it to third. The ball was thrown to the third base man and it was very close but the umpire called him 'safe'. But my roommate stood up, brushed the dirt off his clothes and said,
"No, I was out,"
and he walked off the field. We were horrified and urged him to go back to the base. But he refused insisting that he had been out. Now although at the time I didn't agree with what he did, yet I still admire it. He had such a respect for the truth, for what was right, that he called himself out. He was faithful to the truth.
We Christians are called to be faithful.
Those who have the Spirit of Christ will exhibit this quality of faithfulness. Paul writes,
"But the fruit of the Spirit is
love, joy, peace,
patience, kindness, goodness,
Faithfulness is to be one of the main characteristics that you display in your life, in your relationships with your fellow man. God wants you to be faithful.
But what exactly is this faithfulness that comes from the Spirit?
We need to be very clear on this. There are instances of faithfulness and not all of them are commendable. For example, a common definition of faithfulness is reliability. That's a good definition. But what we must understand is that not all instances of reliability are commendable. For example, Judas agreed to betray Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. He did it. The chief priests relied upon him and he did not let them down. But such faithfulness is not a virtue but a vice. It's not good, it's evil. That's not the kind of faithfulness that comes from the Spirit.
Another definition of faithfulness is loyalty. Again, that's a good definition. But not all instances of loyalty are commendable. In his book, "The Practice of Godliness", Jerry Bridges tells us that there's a kind of loyalty that we need to avoid, a so-called, 'blind loyalty'. Blind loyalty is the kind of loyalty that refuses to stop a friend when he sins or is about to sin. Jonadab was loyal to his friend Amnon when Amnon fell in love with Tamar. (2 Samuel 13:3) He even gave him advice about how to proceed. His advice cost Amnon his life. He was loyal, but it was blind loyalty. Jerry Bridges writes that true loyalty says,
"I care enough about you that I will not allow you to continue unchecked in your wrong action or sinful attitude that will ultimately be harmful to you."
So as we study faithfulness, we need to keep in mind the principle that I mentioned at the beginning of this series of sermons. The fruits of the Spirit are a unity. Indeed, they are called the 'fruit of the Spirit'. I like how the Revised English Bible translates it,
"But the harvest of the Spirit isÖ"
I think it's not by accident that the Holy Spirit put 'faithfulness' after 'goodness'. For faithfulness divorced from goodness would be a travesty. The faithfulness that we are to display is a faithfulness that is related to goodness. There's a moral element that's involved. It's not just any kind of faithfulness that the Spirit works in us, it's a faithfulness that's related to the good, that's related to God's character.
The definition of biblical faithfulness that I like the best is that of Jerry Bridges. He defines the faithful person as,
"one who is dependable, trustworthy, and loyal, who can be depended upon in all of his relationships, and who is absolutely honest and ethical in all of his affairs."
He ties it to honesty and ethical behavior. He also tells us that we can understand what faithfulness is by contrasting it with 'corrupt' and 'negligent' which are the opposites of faithfulness. Those who are faithful are dependable, reliable, and loyal. They are good, they do their duty, they keep their word.
You see, when we are talking about this kind of faithfulness, we are talking about a quality of God. This faithfulness is a fruit of the Spirit and we must remember that this is a characteristic of God. God is faithful and His faithfulness is tied to His character.
The faithfulness that we are to exhibit is to be a faithful representation of God's faithfulness.
Faithfulness is part of living the heavenly life, the life of God, here on this earth. People are to see Christ living in us. That means that the faithfulness that we display is to be a faithfulness that is like God's. In a very real sense we have God's name on us. (Revelation 14:1) God's name represents His character. We need to remember that we are God's people who are to display His characteristics.
Now the reason I stress this is because in today's society faithfulness is greatly lacking. We Christians have been affected by our society. I'm often amazed by what I hear Christians say. We distort the truth. We put the best construction on our actions. We don't own up to our faults. We deny them or minimize them. We exaggerate things and so give people a false impression. We do such things without a second thought. How true what James said in James 3:2.
"We all stumble in many ways.
If anyone is never at fault in what he says,
he is a perfect man,
able to keep his whole body in check."
We need to be faithful. We need to be absolutely honest. We need to be more like God. In Romans 12:2 the apostle Paul tells us,
"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."
But often we are conformed to the pattern of this world.
Let me illustrate. In his book, "The Practice of Godliness", Jerry Bridges tells the story of how one Christmas Eve his doorbell rang and when he answered it, it was his neighbor's four year old daughter with a plate of cookies. "These are for you," she said. He was on his way out to a Christmas Eve service and after he thanked her he put the cookies down someplace and then promptly forgot about them. A few days later as he was in his driveway, the little girl came down the sidewalk on her tricycle. She asked in great anticipation, "Mr. Bridges, how did you like the cookies?" He replied, "Oh, they were fine," even though he didn't know if they were fine. He had saved himself from embarrassment and the little girl from disappointment. But he hadn't been truthful. He didn't know how the cookies were. Later his conscience convicted him and he repented of his lie.
He now uses that story as an example of not being faithful, of not being absolutely honest. He says that when he tells that story to some audiences, he gets a 'troubled reaction' from a few people. Some Christians think that he's nitpicking, that he's going too far in this matter of absolute honesty.
What do you think? Does truth matter?
I think Jerry Bridges is correct. This whole matter of lying and not being absolutely honest is a slippery slope. In our society today the truth is in trouble. People have lost sight of what honesty is. We fudge the truth. Some people today even hold to the notion that truth is whatever you want it to be. If you don't want to admit that you did something you can just say that you didn't do it and that becomes the truth.
We see this all through our society, even at the top levels. Last year there were great questions about whether our President lied to the American public, about whether he lied under oath. Many people said that he didn't technically lie, that his answers were legally accurate. There have been great discussions about the semantics of it all.
I found it all almost unbelievable. The truth was slain and people didn't even know it—at least they refused to admit it. Christians - you must not buy into such ideas. Remember what Jesus said about truthfulness? In Matthew 5:37 He said,
"Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,'
and your 'No,' 'No';
anything beyond this
comes from the evil one."
Does our society care about truth any more? What value do they place on oaths and promises?
Very little it seems. Take marriage for instance. Marriage is in trouble in our country. I think the latest statistic (or prediction) is that half of the marriages in our country will end in divorce. People today say, "It wouldn't be right to stay in a bad marriage."
I read an article awhile ago that gave advice on relationships. The article was based on a survey of 55 clinical psychologists in which they described the most common and destructive myths about love. The author of the article says that one of the most damaging myths is the one that suggests it's a sign of failure to end a relationship.
Do you see what they're suggesting? They're saying that if you break your marriage vows that that's not failure! If you promise to love someone and to stay with them until 'death do us part' and if you don't do that- it's not failure? They're suggesting that you can break some of the most important promises and vows you ever made and you are not to view that as a failure.
Here's another line from the article. The psychologists said,
"This is where our patients differ from the general population. Emotionally confused people tend to hold on longer to a really poor relationship. Healthier people know when to move on."
Do you see what they're saying? They saying that healthier people break their marriage vows sooner.
But does God play free and easy with the truth? Absolutely not. Does God ever go back on His promises? Is God ever unfaithful to the truth? Truth is one of His attributes. Hebrews 6:18 tells us that it's impossible for God to lie. Truth is part of His character. It is to be part of our character.
What does the Bible say about God's word? In Psalm 33:3f we read,
"Sing to Him a new song;
strike up with all your skill
and shout in triumph,
for the word of the Lord holds true,
and all His work endures.
He is a lover of righteousness and justice;
the earth is filled
with the Lord's unfailing love."
God is faithful in all He does. In Psalm 119:89-90 we read,
"Your word, O LORD, is eternal;
it stands firm in the heavens.
Your faithfulness continues
through all generations;"
God is absolutely true and honest. He does not tell lies. Psalm 145:13 reads,
"The LORD is faithful to all his promisesÖ"
God does what He says He will do. He does not fudge the truth. In John 6:37 Jesus said,
"All that the Father gives me will come to me,
and whoever comes to me
I will never drive away."
How would it be if someone came to Jesus, like the criminal on the cross, and Jesus said,
"Oops, I really didn't mean you."
Could that ever happen? Absolutely not. God is absolutely honest. He is absolutely reliable. God's word is rock solid. God's promises are rock solid. God is faithful.
We need to be like God. Christians, be faithful. Be reliable. Be absolutely honest. Fulfill your obligations
God wants you to be reliable. He wants you to be faithful. He wants you to be absolutely honest.
Let's get back to Jerry Bridges' cookies. Was he nitpicking in thinking that he had told a lie? No, absolutely not. Did he exhibit a lack of faithfulness when he told that lie? Yes. True faithfulness would tell the truth. By definition faithfulness is: (American Heritage Dictionary)
"Consistent with truth or actuality"
Little lies are little acts of unfaithfulness. No matter how small the lie, we are to some extent being unfaithful to the truth.
But my intention here is not just to get you to own up when you do something wrong. We need to go beyond that. We need to be faithful in the first place. Faithfulness has to do with integrity. When Jerry Bridges accepted the cookies, there was personal interaction with the little girl. She was delighted to bring him the cookies. She was doing something good for him. There was the meeting of two people. He failed the little girl. As soon as he put down the cookies he had failed.
When someone is like that with you, the question is: Are you going to be true? Is your interaction going to be characterized by integrity, by trustworthiness, by absolute honesty?
God wants you to be reliable. In Matthew 10:32-33 Jesus said,
"Whoever acknowledges me before men,
I will also acknowledge him
before my Father in heaven.
But whoever disowns me before men,
I will disown him
before my Father in heaven."
In Revelation 2 Jesus said to those in the church of Smyrna,
"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."
We need to be faithful, even to the point of death. James Montgomery Boice defines the biblical teaching on faithfulness this way:
"Faithfulness means trustworthiness or reliability. Truth, a part of the very character of God, is at issue here. Faithful servants of Christ will die rather than renounce him or, to put it on a less exalted plane, will suffer great inconvenience rather than go back on their word. Those who are faithful do what they say they will do."
We need to be absolutely honest. Polycarp knew this. Polycarp (A.D. 70-155) was bishop of Smyrna and a godly man. He had known the apostle John personally. When he was urged by the Roman proconsul to renounce Christ, Polycarp said:
"Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He never did me any injury. How then can I blaspheme my King and my Savior?"
At that point Satan tried a new tactic. He urged Polycarp to fudge the truth.
"I have respect for your age," said the official. "Simply say, 'Away with the atheists!' and be set free." The aged Polycarp pointed to the pagan crowd and said, "Away with the atheists!" He was burned at the stake and gave joyful testimony of his faith in Jesus Christ.
(Wycliffe Handbook of Preaching & Preachers, W. Wiersbe, p. 214)
Psalm15 describes a man who is faithful. It reads,
"LORD, who may dwell in your sanctuary?
Who may live on your holy hill?
He whose walk is blameless
and who does what is righteous,
who speaks the truth from his heart
and has no slander on his tongue,
who does his neighbor no wrong
and casts no slur on his fellowman,
who despises a vile man
but honors those who fear the LORD,
who keeps his oath even when it hurts,
who lends his money without usury
and does not accept
a bribe against the innocent.
He who does these things
will never be shaken."
May God give us grace so that we can be faithful.