Mark #14: Faithfulness
It was a stormy night in Birmingham, England, and the famous missionary, Hudson Taylor, was to speak at a meeting at the Seven Street schoolroom. His hostess assured him that nobody would attend on such a stormy night, but Taylor insisted on going. “I must go even if there is no one but the doorkeeper.” As it turned out, less than a dozen people showed up, but the meeting was marked with unusual spiritual power. Half of those present either became missionaries or gave their children as missionaries; and the rest were faithful supporters of the China Inland Mission for years to come.121
Hudson Taylor was committed to serving the Savior regardless of names (who showed up) or numbers (how many showed) or the nature of the situation (stormy conditions) and God honored his faithfulness. In previous studies we have discussed endurance and courage, but at the center of each is faithfulness to continue on in spite of the circumstances. Indeed, faithfulness is an important subject of the Bible. In just the New Testament alone, the words “faithful” and “faithfulness” occur some 56 times in the NET Bible, 49 in the NASB and 47 in the NIV. In the Old Testament these two words occur 95 times in the NIV and 86 in the NASB. This repetition speaks loudly for the importance and need of this spiritual quality both to the people of God who depend on God’s faithfulness and in the people of God as His people who are to faithfully model God’s character to a world that is too often anything but faithful (1 Pet. 1:14-16).
Faithfulness is not only one of the attributes of God, but one that is highly extolled in Scripture. Many times in the Psalms we find the faithfulness of God highlighted as a source of encouragement and comfort (see Ps. 25:10; 30:9; 33:4; 36:5). Because of God’s faithfulness we can always count on God even though the picture is as bleak as the Arctic and the circumstances impossible. Though faced with the desolation of Jerusalem because of the nation’s sin, the prophet Jeremiah could say of the Lord, “Great is Your faithfulness” (Lam. 3:23). Both the devastation that had occurred and the glories of the future depended on the fact of God’s faithfulness to His promises—promises of discipline as recorded in Deuteronomy 28 and promises of Israel’s restoration and future glory as promised throughout the Old Testament.
All the heartaches and hardships experienced by Jerusalem in the Book of Lamentations had been predicted about 900 years earlier by Moses. God had warned of the fearful consequences of disobedience and, as Jeremiah carefully noted, God faithfully carried out those curses. Yet this characteristic makes the Book of Lamentations a book of hope for Israel. God was faithful in discharging every aspect of the covenant He had made. Israel was punished for disobedience, but she was not consumed because God’s covenant was still in force. The same covenant that promised judgment for disobedience also promised restoration for repentance (cf. Deut. 30:1-10).
In other words, because of God’s immutable faithfulness, Jeremiah could speak of hope in the midst of the nation’s despair because “great is Thy faithfulness” (Lam. 3:21-32). Jeremiah’s message to the Israelites in captivity was to know that just as God had been faithful to the warnings and promises of Deuteronomy 28, so He would be faithful to the future promises of restoration from captivity.
Of what value would the promises of God be without His faithfulness and of what value would we be to God, to our families, to the body of Christ, and to society as a whole without faithfulness? Absolutely none! The faithful person is one who can be counted on to carry out his or her responsibilities and promises to the best of his or her ability through thick and thin no matter how bad the situation.
Faithfulness, then, is a quality that God wants to reproduce in us through the salvation that comes in Christ. It is another of the qualities of maturity to be sought in the life of the Christian.
But what exactly is faithfulness? What does it look like? How do we develop a consistent faithfulness in the Christian life? This study will look at:
- Our Supreme Model of Faithfulness
- The Meaning and Essence of Faithfulness
- Motivations for Faithfulness
- The Means for Faithfulness
- The Blessings and Products of Faithfulness.
Our Supreme Model of Faithfulness
The Bible is loaded with examples of faithfulness throughout its pages. In the Old Testament, there are Noah, Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Elijah and Elisha, David, Daniel and his three friends and many others. In the New Testament there are the Disciples, Paul, Timothy and Titus and many others as well. But as in all the qualities of maturity, the Lord Jesus is our supreme example or model of faithfulness. In fact, a number of times the New Testament not only points to the faithfulness of Christ, but does so in such a way that it stresses that our salvation and sanctification are based on the faithfulness of Christ Himself. The following verses as translated in the NET Bible illustrate this:
Romans 3:22 namely, the righteousness of God through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction,
Romans 3:26 This was also to demonstrate his righteousness in the present time, so that he would be just and the justifier of the one who lives because of Jesus’ faithfulness.
Galatians 2:16 And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by the faithfulness of Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.
Galatians 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So the life I now live in the body, I live because of the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Galatians 3:22 But the scripture imprisoned everything and everyone under sin so that the promise could be given—because of the faithfulness of Jesus Christ—to those who believe.
Ephesians 3:11 This was according to the eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord, 3:12 in whom we have boldness and confident access to God because of Christ’s faithfulness.
Philippians 3:9 and be found in him, not because of having my own righteousness derived from the law, but because of having the righteousness that comes by way of Christ’s faithfulness—a righteousness from God that is based on Christ’s faithfulness.
These verses have traditionally been translated “faith in Christ” rather than “Christ’s faithfulness,” but an increasing number of New Testament scholars are arguing that the Greek construction ( pistis Christou) and similar phrases in Paul’s writings (Rom 3:22, 26; Gal 2:16, 20; 3:22; Phil 3:9) involve what is known in Greek grammar as a subjective genitive and means “Christ’s faith” or “Christ’s faithfulness.” Wallace, who notes that the grammar is not decisive, nevertheless suggests that “the faith/faithfulness of Christ is not a denial of faith in Christ as a Pauline concept (for the idea is expressed in many of the same contexts, only with the verb pisteuo rather than the noun), but implies that the object of faith is a worthy object, for he himself is faithful” (Exegetical Syntax, p. 116). While the apostle Paul elsewhere clearly teaches justification is by faith alone in Christ alone, the focus of these passages is not on our faith, but on the reliable object of our faith because of Christ’s faithfulness. It stresses that our faith is anchored in a worthy object—a tremendous assurance for the Christian’s faith.
Thus, in a passage where Peter calls for specific faithfulness in a number of duties for which Christians are responsible, he points to the Lord Jesus as our example and appeals to us to follow after His footsteps.
1 Peter 2:13-20 Be subject to every human institution for the Lord’s sake, whether to a king as supreme or to governors as those he commissions to punish wrongdoers and praise those who do good. For God wants you to silence the ignorance of foolish people by doing good. Live as free people, not using your freedom as a pretext for evil, but as God’s slaves. Honor all people, love your fellow Christians, fear God, honor the king. Slaves, be subject to your masters with all reverence, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the perverse. For this finds God’s favor, if because of conscience toward God someone endures hardships in suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if you sin and are mistreated and endure it? But if you do good and suffer and so endure, this finds favor with God.
1 Peter 2:21-25 For to this you were called, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving an example for you to follow in his steps. He committed no sin nor was deceit found in his mouth. When he was maligned, he did not answer back; when he suffered, he threatened no retaliation, but committed himself to God who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we may leave sin behind and live for righteousness. By his wounds you were healed. For you were going astray like sheep but now you have turned back to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.
Consistently, then, we are called on to look to the Lord Jesus as our model or the forerunner of the faith life. It is no wonder that in a passage that calls on Christians to be faithful and good citizens—recognizing the nature of government as a divine institution—that he concludes with, “but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to arouse its desires” (Rom. 13:14). In other words, experience the Christ-exchanged life; become like Him.
The Meaning and Essence of Faithfulness
The American Heritage Dictionary defines faithful as “(1) Adhering firmly and devotedly, as to a person, a cause, or an idea; loyal. (2) Having or full of faith. (3) Worthy of trust or belief; reliable. (4) Consistent with truth or actuality: a faithful reproduction of the portrait.” Synonyms listed with these definitions are faithful, loyal, true, constant, fast, steadfast, and staunch. “These adjectives mean adhering firmly and devotedly to someone or something, such as a person, cause, or duty, that elicits or demands one’s fidelity.” 122
When I looked at this definition, I was particularly struck with the illustration used for the last definition, “Consistent with truth or actuality: a faithful reproduction of the portrait.” For the Christian, faithfulness occurs when we allow the Lord Jesus to reproduce Himself in us or when we put on the Lord Jesus Christ and become transformed by His life.
In the Greek of the New Testament
The word used for faithfulness in the New Testament is the noun pistis, which has both an active and a passive sense or use. First, in its active use, it often refers to “faith, belief, trust.” But in the passive sense, it means “faithfulness, reliability, fidelity.” It is used of the “faithfulness” of God, of Christ, and of man. Sometimes, however, it is difficult to determine whether pistis should be translated “faith” or “faithfulness” as in Titus 2:10, 1 Timothy 4:12; 6:11, and 2 Thessalonians 1:4. The reason is that ultimately, at least for human beings, being faithful is the result of having faith or, if one can make a play on the word faithfulness, of being full of faith. For the Christian at least, it is the person of faith who has the capacity to be faithful in their responsibilities before God and man (see Numb. 12:7; Neh. 9:7; Dan. 6:4). For instance, Christ rebuked the religious Pharisees for their lack of faithfulness. The reason was because their faith was not truly in God but in their own legalistic system of works.
“Woe to you experts in the law and you Pharisees, hypocrites! You give a tenth of mint, dill, and cumin, yet you neglect what is more important in the law: justice, mercy, and faithfulness ( pistis)! You needed to do these without neglecting the other.
A good illustration of the use of pistis where it means loyalty or faithfulness in service or ministry is 3 John 5-6.
1:5 Dear friend, you demonstrate faithfulness by whatever you do for the brothers (even though they are strangers). 1:6 They have testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God. (emphasis mine)
The study notes in the NET Bible explain, “When the author tells Gaius “you demonstrate faithfulness by whatever you do” he is commending him for his faithful service to the traveling missionaries (the brothers). Gaius has assisted them, and they have now returned with a report of this to the author (3 John 3).”123 But clearly, Gaius’ faithful actions were the result of his faith in the message of the gospel.
In the Hebrew of the Old Testament
In the Old Testament several words are used for faithfulness— emun, “trusting, faithfulness,” emuna, “firmness, faithfulness, fidelity,” emet, “firmness, truth, faithfulness, verity.” All of these, however, are derivatives of the verb aman, “to confirm, support, uphold,” and so, “be established, be faithful, certain, i.e. to believe in (Hiphil stem).”124 The root idea is firmness or certainty. Thus in the Hiphil stem, the verb means “to cause to be certain, sure” or “be certain about, be assured.”125
In this sense the word in the Hiphil conjugation is the biblical word for “to believe” and shows that biblical faith is an assurance, a certainty, in contrast with modern concepts of faith as something possible, hopefully true, but not certain.126
In all of these words there is the element of being firm, steady, or lasting. In fact, the first biblical occurrence of the noun emuna in Exodus 17:12 illustrates this. “But Moses’ hands were heavy. Then they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it; and Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on one side and one on the other. Thus his hands were steady until the sun set” (emphasis mine). Then, an interesting play on words occurs in Isaiah’s confrontation with Ahaz when he said, “If you will not believe (the hiphil imperfect of aman), you will not be established (the niphal imperfect of aman)” (Isa. 7:9). To bring out the play on the words, we could translate “If you will not be sure (i.e., believe God’s promises), you cannot be secure” or “unsure—insecure.”
Thus, the idea of being firm or lasting naturally leads to the ideas of reliable, trustworthy, faithful.
The Essence of Faithfulness
Faithfulness and Success
The nature of faithfulness is expressed well in the comments of The Teachers’ Commentary on Exodus 1-4.
There are limits to the responsibility of leaders. These limits are imposed by the very freedom God Himself gives all men to turn to Him, or to turn away. Moses’ ministry could bring Israel to the point of decision. Moses performed this ministry well. But Moses could not decide for them. One generation turned from God. And one generation turned to God. It was their own choice.
It was not through Moses’ failure that the first generation turned away. Nor was it by Moses’ skill and success that the second turned to the Lord.
The point, of course, is simple. Moses was called to be faithful to God and to fulfill his commission. He was not called to “succeed” or to “fail.” And so the New Testament commendation of Moses focuses not on what Moses accomplished, but on his faithfulness. “Moses…faithfully discharged his duty in the household of God” (Heb. 3:2, ph). It was Moses’ faithfulness to his task which counted with God all along.127 (emphasis mine)
Faithfulness, then, is not a matter of success or failure from the standpoint of results. If there is faithfulness, failure does not bring blame nor should it lead to a sense of guilt! Where there is faithfulness to discharge one duties regardless of the results there is success in God’s sight. This points us to the true issue in our responsibility which is limited. We are to be faithful to the gifts, abilities, and opportunities God gives us and leave the results to Him.
Mark Hatfield tells of touring Calcutta with Mother Teresa and visiting the so-called “House of Dying,” where sick children are cared for in their last days, and the dispensary, where the poor line up by the hundreds to receive medical attention. Watching Mother Teresa minister to these people, feeding and nursing those left by others to die, Hatfield was overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the suffering she and her co-workers face daily. “How can you bear the load without being crushed by it?” he asked. Mother Teresa replied, “My dear Senator, I am not called to be successful, I am called to be faithful.”128
Paul stresses this point in 1 Corinthians 3:5-8.
What is Apollos, really? Or what is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, and each of us in the ministry the Lord gave us. 3:6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God caused it to grow. 3:7 So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters counts for anything, but God who causes things to grow.
A servant is simply to be faithful to his or her God-given responsibilities (sowing or watering or whatever) and leave the results to the Master. The results are His job. So later (1 Cor. 4:1-2), to those who were making unwarranted human comparisons between the servants, Paul had this to say:
People should think about us this way—as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Now what is sought in stewards is that one be found faithful.
Faithful Christian servants often labor faithfully in fields that yield little fruit humanly speaking, but this in no way means they are not faithful.
An elderly preacher was rebuked by one of his deacons one Sunday morning before the service. “Pastor,” said the man, “something must be wrong with your preaching and your work. There’s been only one person added to the church in a whole year, and he’s just a boy.”
The minister listened, his eyes moistening and his thin hand trembling. “I feel it all,” he replied, “but God knows I’ve tried to do my duty.” On that day the minister’s heart was heavy as he stood before his flock. As he finished the message, he felt a strong inclination to resign.
After everyone else had left, that one boy came to him and asked, “Do you think if I worked hard for an education, I could become a preacher—perhaps a missionary?”
Again tears welled up in the minister’s eyes. “Ah, this heals the ache I feel,” he said. “Robert, I see the Divine hand now. May God bless you, my boy. Yes, I think you will become a preacher.”
Many years later an aged missionary returned to London from Africa. His name was spoken with reverence. Nobles invited him to their homes. He had added many souls to the church of Jesus Christ, reaching even some of Africa’s most savage chiefs. His name was Robert Moffat, the same Robert who years before had spoken to the pastor that Sunday morning in the old Scottish kirk.129
Our need and prayer should be, “Lord, help us to be faithful to the gifts, abilities, and opportunities you have given us according to the strength you give us (see Col. 1:28-29). Then give us the grace and faith to leave the results to you.”
Manifested in Obedience to Specific Responsibilities
Naturally, there is a general faithfulness for which we are all responsible—prayer, Bible study, loving one another, assembling together for worship and encouragement and edification, giving, showing mercy, and on the list goes in accord with the principles and imperative of Scripture. However, there are also very specific responsibilities or duties that are related to our individual situations of life—where we live, giftedness, training, God’s leading, and many other variables. As just seen in 1 Corinthians 3 and 4, faithfulness is often related to the specific duties given to us.
The fruit of faith in God and His faithful Word produces a faithfulness which will manifest itself in various forms of reliability depending on the responsibilities and the situation of the one with faith. Daniel was faithful in his responsibilities regarding the affairs of state, but we know from the book of Daniel that this was the result of his faith and devotion to the Lord (Dan. 6:4). God said that Moses was “faithful in all My household” (Num. 12:7; Heb. 3:2), but we know this too was the result of Moses’ faith. “By faith, when he grew up, Moses refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be ill-treated with the people of God than to enjoy sin’s fleeting pleasure” (Heb. 11:24-25). In Nehemiah 7:2, we read that Nehemiah put his brother Hanani in charge of Jerusalem “for he was a faithful man,” but the source and motivation for his faithfulness is quickly seen in the attached statement “and feared God more than many.”
Another illustration of faithfulness according to specific responsibilities is seen in view of the unfaithfulness of Eli and especially his sons, Hophni and Phinehas, to discharge their duties in accordance with the conditions prescribed by God’s Word (1 Sam. 2:29-33). Thus, an unnamed man of God declared to Eli that his priesthood would end. Nevertheless, the Lord would not terminate the office of priest. Instead, He promised, “But I will raise up for Myself a faithful priest who will do according to what is in My heart and in My soul; and I will build him an enduring house, and he will walk before My anointed always.” In the more immediate fulfillment, this was fulfilled when the priesthood was taken from Abiathar, descendant of Aaron’s son Ithamar, and given to Zadok, descendant of Aaron’s son Eleazar (1 Kings 2:27, 35). But in the ultimate fulfillment the “faithful Priest” and “anointed one” mentioned here are one and the same, the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. He fulfills both offices of Priest and King (Ps. 110; Heb. 5:6; Rev. 19:16).
So while there is a general faithfulness to basic Christian responsibilities for which all Christians are responsible, we each need to be alert to the specific responsibilities in the will of God that He calls us to in the daily affairs of life.
The Means of Faithfulness
As with all the qualities of Christ-like maturity, faithfulness is the product of the grace of God through the various avenues God uses to produce spiritual growth and maturity in a believer’s life. The three primary sources being God’s truth (His Word), the ministry of the Spirit, and the edifying and encouraging ministry the body of Christ. But we should note that faithfulness is essentially dependent on other qualities of spiritual maturity like courage, devotion and reverence for God, faith, love for others, endurance, and a sense of purpose or destiny regarding the will of God. Such qualities form the foundation or the secondary resources for faithfulness. The following are five key areas God uses to build faithfulness in His people.
Faithfulness and Our Focus and Expectations
When facing difficult and painful conditions, we can easily become so discouraged by those circumstances or by our false expectations that we give up, run away, and either fail to carry on in our responsibilities or becomes so lethargic that our efficiency is minimized or nullified. As a man of like passions or with a human nature like us (Jam. 5:17), the prophet Elijah illustrates this potential that we all face.
Just a casual reading of 1 Kings 17-19 reveal some striking and even startling contrasts in the prophet, the man of God, between 1 Kings 17-18 and 1 Kings 19. His behavior is as different as night and day. Previously Elijah is courageous and faithful to God’s call in the face of great danger with all the odds stacked against him. He victoriously faces the 850 prophets of Baal with chapter 18 concluding: “the hand of the Lord was on Elijah, and he girded up his loins and outran Ahab to Jezreel.” Elijah was faithful to his responsibilities and experienced God’s supernatural strength to do the extraordinary. But when we turn to chapter 19, what we find almost stuns us. Suddenly Elijah becomes fearful, running scared, exhausted, depressed, and wants to die. He has become neutralized and fails in his responsibilities as a prophet of God.
In 1 Kings 19 we find the cause of the change in Elijah. King Ahab tells the notorious Jezebel what Elijah had done. She reacts with vengeance and threatens Elijah’s life. Suddenly, with his eyes off the Lord, he runs for his life down to Beersheba in the desert in the southern most part of Judah. Leaving his servant, he continues another day’s journey further into the desert, crawls under a scrubby tree and, in deep depression, asks God to let him die.
Have you ever been there, in the gloom of despair and defeat when all your expectations exploded in your face? I believe this was a problem of misplaced expectations. I don’t know exactly what Elijah was expecting, but with the power of God so clearly manifested perhaps Elijah thought there would be some positive response in Ahab that would result in changes in the kingdom of Israel. We aren’t told. We can only guess. But something really shattered Elijah’s focus, his faith, and his capacity for faithfulness.
Perhaps the first lesson we can learn from Elijah’s response concerns the issue of our expectations and the impact this can have on us negatively. As already mentioned, he was expecting something different—something more positive. Undoubtedly, he was looking for a real turnaround in the spiritual condition of the kingdom and his expectations may have moved into the realm of a sense of demandingness with God. This is supported in Elijah’s response to God’s questions later on in the chapter (19:9-14). Elijah was focused on what he saw as his failure.
Life is full of disappointments and if we are not extremely careful, those expectations will derail us as they become demands of our heart. It is not wrong for us to hope for the best and to look to the Lord for that. First Corinthians 13:7 says “love…believes all things, hopes all things.” The same is true for faith according to Hebrews 11:1. But 1 Corinthians 13:7 also says, “love bears all things,…endures all things.” Please note, believing and hoping is sandwiched between bearing and enduring.
The principle, as seen previously, is that God holds us responsible for trusting in Him, for obedience, for love, for endurance, and for faithfulness to do what He has called us to do. He does not hold us responsible for the results. The results are in His hands, not ours. We can’t change people, and we often can’t change our circumstances, only God can. Further, our expectations can easily slip into a sense of a demandingness—demanding that things work out the way we think they should. When that happens we are usurping God’s sovereignty and acting as though we the creature were the all wise Creator (cf. Job. 40:1-9). When we focus on our expectations and make the results we want the source of our happiness, security, or significance, we end up in the Elijah syndrome—fearful, ready to run away, engulfed in feelings of failure and depression or fear and frustration, and isolated.
Elijah, of course, was not alone. The Lord was there and even sent His angel to minister to him. Not only is the Lord omnipresent, but how comforting to know He has promised to never leave nor forsake believers no matter what they face or what they do (Ps. 139; Heb. 13:5-6). Elijah was also not alone from the human standpoint. God had 7,000 that had not bowed the knee to Baal, but he had run away from their company.
But the Lord came alongside to minister to the prophet in his failure and despair. He did this in several ways: (1) Before He dealt with Elijah’s spiritual condition, He rejuvenated him physically with rest and nourishment. (2) He then got Elijah to face his true condition, the real problem. Taking the position of a counselor, the Lord twice asked Elijah “why are you here?” In other words, take stock, think about where you are and what got you here (vss. 9 and 13). (3) In all of this, the Lord spoke to the prophet personally in verses 9, 12, 13, and 15. This illustrates our need to be in the Word where we listen to the Lord (hear His still small voice), focus on Him, and can be instructed and encouraged by His truth. (4) The Lord then ordered Elijah to become active and involved in faithful ministry again. Note the “Go, return on your way…” in verse 15. When feeling down, depressed, apart from getting needed rest, do not give in to the temptation to mope about and do nothing. Doing nothing only reinforces depression and leads to greater unfaithfulness. By the same token, never use activity to narcotize (dull) the pain. Give it to the Lord. Rest, relaxation, and solitude with the Lord needs the balance of involvement in faithful work and ministry, but always out of a spirit of faith, never just activity.
Application: There is a song that was popular in the 1950s with the words, “O what a beautiful morning, O what a beautiful day, I’ve got a wonderful feeling, everything’s going my way.” This song expresses the typical attitude of the world. This is the way we would like it, but it’s simply not the way things are in a fallen world. Wanting and expecting everything to go our way is not only unrealistic, it is self-centered. It also suggests we are seeking our security and happiness in good times rather than in the Sovereign Lord. It is living according to sight, not faith.
By contrast, the apostle Paul said, “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, rejoice” (Phil. 4:4). But where was he when he said that? While everything was going his way? NO! He said it while he was chained daily to a Roman soldier awaiting trial, which could have meant his head. He said it while others were seeking to do him harm, even within the Christian community (Phil. 1:15-18). Instead, Paul might have sung, “O what a beautiful morning, O what a beautiful day, though things aren’t going my way, the Lord rules over all day by day.”
Faithfulness and God’s Truth
Faithfulness is always related to God’s truth. One of the words mentioned previously for faithfulness, emet, may also mean “truth” and is used to describe God’s instruction, His Word, because His Word is totally reliable as stressed in Psalm 19:9, “The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; The judgments of the Lord are true ( emet); they are righteous altogether.” This is a consistent theme of the Old Testament.
Lead me in Thy truth and teach me, For Thou art the God of my salvation; (Ps. 25:5)
43 And do not take the word of truth utterly out of my mouth, For I wait for Your ordinances (Ps. 119:43).
Thy righteousness is an everlasting righteousness, And Thy law is truth (Ps. 119:142).
Thou art near, O Lord, And all Thy commandments are truth (Ps. 119:151).
The sum of Thy word is truth, And every one of Thy righteous ordinances is everlasting (Ps. 119:160)..
The brief overview of the Hebrew and Greek words used for faithfulness teach us that, biblically speaking, faith and faithfulness stand to each other as root and fruit. The ultimate source or the means of faithfulness is one’s relationship with God through faith, but especially as that faith is exercised in the light of God’s truth. It is God’s Word of truth that establishes man in the way of truth or the way of faithfulness because His Word is an expression of God’s faithfulness or trustworthiness; it is God’s Holy Word that reveals the faithfulness or reliability of God (cf. Ps. 119:86a with 33:4). Thus, the Psalmist wrote, “I have chosen the faithful way; I have placed Your ordinances before me” (NASB). The NIV reads, “I have chosen the way of truth; I have set my heart on your laws.” The NET Bible makes the issue even more clear, “I choose the path of faithfulness, I am committed to your regulations (i.e., God’s Word). The path of faithfulness is the product of a life committed to God’s Word.
Faithfulness and the Character of God
Fundamentally, since faithfulness is an attribute that is a vital part of the character of God Himself, His faithfulness becomes a great resource for faithfulness in His people (Deut. 7:9; 32:4; 1 Sam. 26:23; Ps. 36:5; 40:10; 143:1; Lam. 3:23). For instance, in the song of instruction by Moses in Deuteronomy 32, Moses proclaimed the name of the Lord, that is he gave a description of the Lord’s character and His works, at the heart of which lay His faithfulness or reliability. The objective was to cause Israel to give serious consideration to the character and work of God, thereby motivating not only faith and faithful obedience in Him, but the expectation of God’s blessings.
The Rock! His work is perfect, For all His ways are just; A God of faithfulness and without injustice, Righteous and upright is He. (Deut. 32:4, NASB) (emphasis mine)
Similarly, in Isaiah 25:1-12, in a way reminiscent of the psalmists, the prophet offered a psalm of praise extolling the Lord’s future deliverance of His people or the triumphs of the kingdom age. Importantly, however, the focus of the Psalm is not simply on the marvelous acts of the Lord but on His faithfulness. All that the Lord will do reveals His unwavering faithfulness and makes us aware of what He is in His perfect character. This is especially seen in verse 1, “O LORD, you are my God; I will exalt you and praise your name, for in perfect faithfulness you have done marvelous things, things planned long ago” (NIV). Note the translation of the NET Bible, but especially the translator’s notes that follow:
O LORD, you are my God! I will exalt you in praise, I will extol your fame. For you have done extraordinary things, and executed plans made long ago exactly as you decreed (NET).
Translators Notes: Heb “plans from long ago (in) faithfulness, trustworthiness.” The feminine noun emuna, “faithfulness,” and masculine noun omen, “trustworthiness,” both of which are derived from the root aman, are juxtaposed to emphasize the basic idea conveyed by the synonyms. Here they describe the absolute reliability of the divine plans.
Remembering and keeping one’s focus on God’s unchangeable character and His eternal faithfulness becomes one of our greatest resources for courage and the faithfulness we need to go on even when things seem their blackest. A beautiful illustration of this is found in the book of Lamentations.
Here at the heart of this book we find one of the greatest confessions of faith found anywhere in the Bible. Jeremiah had been dwelling on his sorrows and the sorrows of his people, but then he lifted his eyes to the Lord—and this was the turning point. In the midst of sorrow and ruin he remembered the mercy of the Lord. “His compassions fail not.” We have failed Him, but He cannot fail us. “Great is Your faithfulness.”
The faithfulness of God is a tremendous encouragement in days when people’s hearts are failing them for fear. If you build your life on people or on the things of this world, you will have no hope or security; but if you build on Christ, the Faithful One, you will be safe forever. He is faithful to chasten (Ps. 119:75); Lamentations itself teaches this lesson. He wants to bring us to the place of repentance and confession (Lam. 3:39–41). He is faithful to forgive when we do confess our sins (1 John 1:9). He is faithful to sympathize when we have burdens and problems (Heb. 2:17–18; 4:14–16). We never need fear that He is too busy to listen or too tired to help. He is faithful to deliver when we cry out for help in temptation (1 Cor. 10:13). He is faithful to keep us in this life and unto life eternal (1 Tim. 1:15; 1 Thes. 5:23–24). We can commit our lives and souls into the hands of the faithful Creator (1 Peter 4:19) and know that He will do all things well.130
Thus, God’s perfect faithfulness, even in the face of Israel’s continued rebellion, becomes the foundation for our faithfulness. In deep depression, Jeremiah could have thrown in the towel, but putting his focus back on the Lord, he found renewed confidence in God’s compassion and great faithfulness to His promises. Thus, he gathered up his courage and continued to minister to Judah with the book of Lamentations being one of the results.
Faithfulness and the Holy Spirit
Naturally, another source or means of faithfulness in a believer’s life is the Spirit of Truth, the Holy Spirit. Faithfulness is one aspect of the fruit of the Spirit, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,…” (Gal. 5:22). The Word of truth is vital to faithfulness, but it is the Spirit of Truth, as the teacher of God’s truth, who takes the things of Christ and makes them real to us to motivate us to act in faith and obedience. However, the flesh is weak; in ourselves we lack the strength and ability to live faithfully, at least for the right motives. Thus, it is the Holy Spirit who empowers us to live the Christian life (Gal. 5:16ff; Eph. 5:18f; Rom. 8:4f). Only those who walk in dependence on the power of the Spirit will experience the discipline and courage needed for faithfulness.
Faithfulness and the Body of Christ
Finally, numerous passages demonstrate the important part the body of Christ plays in the spiritual life and growth of one another. As members of one body, believers are to show the same care for one another (Rom. 12:5; 1 Cor. 12:25), and be involved in ministering to one another. This is abundantly evident in the many one another commands of the New Testament. We are to love one another, build up one another, encourage one another, honor one another, admonish one another, serve one another, show forbearance to one another, be kind to one another, comfort one another, etc. Along these lines, Ephesians 4:12-16 teaches us that the goal of Christ-like maturity occurs through the mutual work of the whole body of Christ. This naturally include promoting the restoration of those who have fallen and the general purpose of equipping one another for faithful ministry (see Rom. 15:1; Gal. 6:1f; 1 Thess. 5:11f; 1 Pet. 4:8-10; Jam. 5:19).
Motivations for Faithfulness
The Impact of Motives on Faithfulness
We have seen that faithfulness means reliability or adhering firmly and devotedly to a person, a cause, an idea, or to certain responsibilities. However, the sad fact is that many people find themselves working in a job they really do not enjoy and that does not mix well with their interests, abilities, and training. It is simply a matter of necessity, of putting bread on the table. For others, it is simply a matter of having the means to take part in the fun and games of our society; they work five days a week so they can play on the weekends. People may be found faithful for many reasons or motives. A man may be very faithful to his employer and his responsibilities because he wants a raise, doesn’t want to lose his job, and wants to advance in his company. He may be faithful because he loves his work and genuinely enjoys his job. He may be faithful because he cares about his company and the people he works with and wants to see it grow and be successful.
On the surface, these are legitimate concerns and reasons, but for Christians, we need to be guided and undergirded by motives that are in keeping with eternal values and with God’s will and purpose for believers as set forth in Scripture regardless of working conditions. In the time of the New Testament the Roman world was filled with slaves. Slaves had no rights, no chance of promotion, and generally, little or no chance of freedom. Some served good masters and were given work they enjoyed. For most, however, their plight was not a happy one. Very often the primary motivation for faithfulness was self-preservation. However, to these Paul wrote that they should serve their masters from a different motive—from the desire to serve the Lord Christ.
Slaves, obey your earthly masters in every respect; not only when they are watching—like those who are strictly people-pleasers—but with a sincere heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you are doing, work at it with enthusiasm, as to the Lord and not for people, because you know that you will receive your inheritance from the Lord as the reward. Serve the Lord Christ. For the one who does wrong will be repaid for his wrong, and there are no exceptions (Col. 3:22-25).
A motive is an emotion, desire, a felt need, or an impulse of some kind that impels a person to action or to certain pursuits. Thus, motives are crucial to everything a Christian does. They not only have temporal repercussions, but God’s promises of future and eternal rewards are related to both faithfulness on the job and to motives. Proverbs tells us, “All the ways of a man are clean in his own sight, But the Lord weighs the motives” (Prov. 16:2). Thus, motives are vital to whatever we do. To the Corinthians he wrote, “For our reason for confidence is this: the testimony of our conscience, that with pure motives and godly sincerity, not by human wisdom but by the grace of God, we conducted ourselves in the world, and all the more toward you” (2 Cor. 1:12). Then in 1 Corinthians he wrote, “So then, do not judge anything before the time. Wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the motives of hearts. Then each will receive recognition from God” (1 Cor. 4:5, emphasis mine). More will be said on faithfulness and eternal rewards later in this study.
Further, impure motives destroy one’s capacity to discharge his or her responsibilities in a godly and biblical manner, i.e., with a singleness of vision for kingdom values and heavenly treasure. After warning His disciple about the futility of pursuing earthly treasures because of self-centered motives, He pointed to these fundamental principles in Matthew 6:21-24
1. Values, what one treasures, determine motives or that which impels one to action: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (vs. 21).
2. One’s perspective or insight to life determines values and so also one’s pursuits: “The eye is the lamp of the body. If then your eye is sound (lit., “simple, single”), your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! (vss. 22-23).
3. Behind the choice of treasures is the choice of masters. Double minded pursuits (impure motives) make faithfulness impossible: “No one is able to serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. No one is able to serve God and possessions (vs. 24).
So, while impure motive ruin one’s capacity for faithfulness, godly motives promote one’s ability to be faithful stewards of God’s grace. A wonderful example of this is seen in 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12. Paul reviewed his ministry (really that of his mission team) and in so doing, he gave us a model for faithfulness, serving as “faithful stewards entrusted with the gospel.” In reviewing their ministry, he used two instructive analogies: (1) that of faithful stewards (vss.1-6), and (2) that of faithful and loving parents: first as a loving mother (vss. 7-8), and then as a concerned father (vss. 9-12). In verses 1-7a we have a glimpse of the manner, the motives, methods, and the means of their ministry. But the key focus is on the purity of their motives. As is clear from the text, this enhanced their capacity for faithfulness.
2:1 For you yourselves know, brothers and sisters, about our coming to you: it has not proven to be purposeless. 2:2 But although we suffered earlier and were mistreated in Philippi, as you know, we had the courage in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in spite of much opposition. 2:3 For the appeal we make does not come from error or impurity or with deceit, 2:4 but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we declare it, not to please people but God, who examines our hearts. 2:5 For we never appeared with flattering speech, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is our witness— 2:6 nor to seek glory from people, either from you or from others, 2:7 although we could have imposed our weight as apostles of Christ. (emphasis mine)
Impure motives would have sent Paul and his team running for cover after the ill treatment at Philippi and would have kept them from faithfully declaring the gospel to the Thessalonians where they also met with much opposition. Up front, Paul was able to say, their coming to the Thessalonians was not in vain or meaningless, empty of significance.
“Purposeless” (NET) or “vain” (NASB) is keno , which means “empty, without content, without any basis, without truth or power,” or it could be used in the sense of “without result, effect, or profit, fruitless.” It was used of an empty jar, empty words, or of sending someone away empty handed.
Paul could be using this word with reference to the results in the lives of the Thessalonians as described in chapter 1 or in reference to the content and character of their preaching and ministry. Since he dealt with the results in the lives of the Thessalonians in chapter 1, and in view of the context that follows here in chapter 2, it seems clear that he is using this word with regard to the essential character, earnestness, and sincerity of their entrance and coming to proclaim God’s truth to the Thessalonians. Thus, what follows sets forth Paul’s proof that their coming was full of authentic earnestness and substance. It was not empty and without power because it was not prompted by vain methods, motives, and means. Commenting on this text as found in the NIV, Thomas writes:
The opposite of the empty ministry denied in v. 1 is one where no obstacle or threat is sufficient to deter the speaker of God’s gospel (2:2). In Philippi, Paul and Silas had been beaten and severely flogged; they had been put in prison with their feet in stocks (Acts 16:22-24) and possibly otherwise cruelly mistreated because they had rescued a slave girl in the name of Jesus Christ. They had also been insulted by being arrested unjustly, stripped of their clothes, and treated like dangerous fugitives. Their Roman citizenship had been violated, and for this Paul demanded restitution (Acts 16:37). Still staggering from these injuries and indignities, the two came to Thessalonica. Under such conditions, most people would have refrained from repeating a message that had led to such violent treatment, but not these men. With God’s help, they mustered sufficient courage to declare in this new city their gospel from God. Eparresiasametha, “we dared,” richly describes how they boldly spoke out despite the same potential dangers as faced in Philippi.
Here again they encountered “strong opposition.” Agoni, represented in the text above by “opposition,” pictures an athlete’s struggle to gain first place in a race or contest. Paul’s conflict may have been inward (cf. Col 2:1), but most likely it came from outward persecutions and dangers originated by his Jewish opponents (cf. Philippians 1:30), since inner strivings cannot equal the tempo of persecution set earlier in v. 2. Though Luke does not directly mention “strong opposition” in Thessalonica (Acts 17:1-10), it is clear from the present Epistle that such did come.131
The point is that in spite of their sufferings and opposition, by God’s enabling grace and through pure motives, the missionary team continued to faithfully proclaim the gospel and minister to the needs of the Thessalonians like loving parents.
But Christians can appear faithful to their responsibilities when in reality, because of wrong motives, they will not win the praise of Christ at His coming (1 Cor. 4:5). A case in point is found in Philippians 1:12-17. Paul’s imprisonment caused some to become bold and to begin proclaiming the Savior themselves in Paul’s absence, but some were doing so from entirely wrong motives.
Philippians 1:12-17 Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, 13 so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else, 14 and that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear. 15 Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some also from good will; 16 the latter do it out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; 17 the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment (NASB). (emphasis mine)
Believers may be doing good deeds or fulfilling their duties, but if their motives are impure, it does not honor the Lord and can scarcely be called faithfulness. Because of the presence of impure motives, it constitutes unfaithfulness and amounts to works that grieve and quench the Spirit. Paul rejoiced because Christ was being preached. This was undoubtedly because there is inherent power in the message regardless of the messenger. But the actions of those mentioned in Philippians 1:15-17 had to have fallen into the category of wood, hay, and stubble (1 Cor. 3:12f). The mention of wood, hay, and stubble naturally provides a good transition to the next point regarding our faithfulness.
It is not without reason that the call of Romans 12:1, “present your bodies as a living sacrifice” is immediately preceded by “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever! Amen.” The Westminster Shorter Catechism rightly concludes that “man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” We are here on this earth to glorify God whether in conditions of blessing or suffering, whether by life or by death. All that we think and are and do should be aimed at bringing glory to God. In this divine purpose, bringing glory to God, we have the chief motive for faithfulness.
Following Jesus’ prediction of the nature of Peter’s death and the awesome change that would occur in his character, John appended this remark, “Now Jesus said this to indicate clearly by what kind of death Peter was going to glorify God” (John 21:19).
The aim of our praise is God’s glory. Having again referred to the mercy Gentiles received through the gospel, Paul wrote of the glory that would accrue to God because of the praise offered to God by the Gentile nations:
…and thus the Gentiles glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, “Because of this I will confess you among the Gentiles, and I will sing praises to your name.” And again it says: “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.” And again, “Praise the Lord all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples praise him.” And again Isaiah says, “The root of Jesse will come, and the one who rises to rule over the Gentiles, in him will the Gentiles hope.” (Rom. 15:9-12).
Our bodies are to be kept from fornication and moral impurity because they are instruments that glorify God:
Flee sexual immorality! Every sin a person commits is outside of the body, but the immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought with a price. Therefore glorify God with your body (1 Cor. 6:18-20).
Faithfully giving of our financial resources is one of our privileges and responsibilities, but the ultimate goal is God’s glory:
Through the evidence of this service (giving) they will glorify God because of your obedience to your confession in the gospel of Christ and the generosity of your sharing with them and with everyone (2 Cor. 9:13).
The same is also true for suffering. While suffering is never painless, it is a means by which we bring glory to God:
…and maintain good conduct among the non-Christians, so that though they now malign you as wrongdoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God when he appears (1 Pet. 2:12).
But if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but glorify God that you bear such a name (1 Pet. 4:16).
So, in a passage where Paul is appealing to Christians to live by the principle of love rather than to harmfully misuse their liberty, he concludes with this general principle that is to govern everything a Christian does, “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31).
Through the Lord Jesus, we have a salvation that is so beyond description that Paul describes it as “the unfathomable riches of Christ.” In it we are not only reconciled to God with the assurance of eternity, but we are given new meaning and capacity for life and the privilege of faithfully serving Him now for special rewards like reigning with Christ in His future kingdom. All of history finds its redemption and summation in the person and work of Christ and His future reign as the sovereign King of Kings (Eph. 1:6-11). Thus, Paul wrote,
As a result God exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 2:10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow—in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 2:11 and every tongue confess to the glory of God the Father that Jesus Christ is Lord (Phil. 2:9-11).
Since our very capacity for faithfulness has it source in God, we are to be faithful for His glory. This is surely the point of Romans 11:36. “All things” are (1) “from Him,” He is our derivation, our source of existence, life, salvation, sanctification, etc., (2) “through Him,” He is our dynamic, our force or enablement for life, (3) “and to Him,” our destination, our course. Certainly, then, if this is the goal of history, the supreme motive for our faithfulness is to bring glory to God. “To Him be the glory forever, Amen.”
The Mercies of God (Rom. 12:1)
Flowing out of Romans 11:36 and writing to believers, to Christians, to those he had earlier addressed as “called to belong to Jesus Christ” (Rom. 1:6), “to those loved by God in Rome, called to be saints” (vs. 7), and as those whose “faith is proclaimed throughout the world” (vs. 1:8), the apostle made a strong appeal for them “to present your bodies as a sacrifice—alive, holy, and pleasing to God—which is your reasonable service.” Some would see this as a one-time or once-and-for-all dedication to God, but the use of the word “present” in chapter 6 and Greek grammar does not really support such a view. Obviously, there must be a beginning point for such a commitment, but the appeal is for a lifetime of on-going, daily, moment-by-moment commitment of one’s life as a sacrifice. The aorist tense in the verb “present” is best understood as either a constative or comprehensive, or an ingressive aorist. If constative, the action is viewed as a whole and the stress is on the fact and covers a multitude of actions. If ingressive, the stress is on the entrance into a new state, one that is to characterize the life of every believer. In keeping with the rest of the New Testament, Paul is showing us that Christ-like living is nothing less than a life of sacrifice in which the Christian is to use his or her body in carrying out God’s will in faithful service.
The nature of this life of faithful, sacrificial service is first described by the terms “alive, holy, and pleasing to God.” But he goes on to show something of what this means in verses 2ff.—a life that refuses to be conformed to this world, but is transformed by the renewing of the mind (vs. 2), that recognizes one’s gifts and seeks to use them in service for the body of Christ (vss. 3-8).
But why? The reason or motivation is seen in the words, “therefore” and “by the mercies of God.” The “therefore” is inferential and shows that what follows is a deduction based on what has preceded. In the first eleven chapters of Romans, Paul has dealt with the declarative, with what is needed for sinful man (Jew and Gentile alike) to be brought into a right relationship with God—namely, the work of God in Christ. This dealt with all mankind; the immoral, the moral, and the religious, for all fall short of the glory or the perfect holiness of God. But above all, this work of God demonstrates the mercies of God. The term “mercy” refers to that quality in God that moved him to deliver sinful mankind from his sinful state and misery that he might experience God’s salvation. But as always in Paul’s writings, this is followed by the imperative. The imperative deals with that which should occur in the life of the Christian in view of all that God has done—the mercies of God.
The simple fact is that no one, neither Jew nor Gentile, is worthy of what God has done for sinners. This was clearly declared in chapters 1-3 and again in 9-11. All deserve God’s judgment because of sin. Therefore, for those who have trusted in the Savior, the only reasonable or rational response (vs. 1c, “which is your reasonable service”) is to present our bodies as sacrifices—living, holy, and well pleasing to God. There is a deep moral obligation to do so because of God’s great mercy. Here, then, is a powerful motivation for faithfulness in the Christian life. Naturally, since this is all of God, as stressed in the previous section, the underlying motive should be God’s glory, “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever! Amen” (Rom. 11:36).
The subject of eternal rewards is extensive in the New Testament, yet for some reason very little attention is devoted to it in spite of the New Testament’s many passages that deal with rewards or their loss. The Lord Jesus spoke of rewards at least 16 times in the Gospels (cf. Matt. 5:12, 46; 6:1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 16, 19-21; 18; 10:41, 42; 16:27; 18; 25, 26, 29) and Paul spoke of this truth over and over again. At the heart of this focus is the doctrine of the Judgment Seat (the Bema) of Christ which must be distinguished from the Great White Throne (GWTJ). The Bema is only for believers and the GWT is only for unbelievers. The Bema occurs after the rapture of the church at His coming for us and the GWT occurs at the end of the 1000-year reign of Christ (Rev. 20:11-15).132 Thus, the basic principle of the biblical teaching of rewards is that the way we live today will determine the rewards we will receive tomorrow.
Those who are pleasing to Christ will be generously rewarded; those who are not pleasing to Him will receive negative consequences and a lesser reward. In other words, your life here will impact your life there forever.133
Simply put, knowing and living in the light of this biblical truth should have a resounding impact on our faithfulness.
1 Corinthians 3:12-15 If anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw, each builder’s work will be plainly seen, for the Day will make it clear, because it will be revealed by fire. And the fire will test what kind of work each has done. If what someone has built survives, he will receive a reward. If someone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss. He himself will be saved, but only as through fire.
2 Corinthians 5:10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat (Bema Seat) of Christ, so that each one may be paid back according to what he has done while in the body, whether good or evil.
Romans 14:10-12 But why do you judge your brother or sister? Or again, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat (Bema Seat) of God. For it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee will bow to me, and every tongue will give praise to God.” Therefore, each of us will give an account of himself to God.
A practical illustration of this can be seen in the passage mentioned in the previous section. Colossians 3:22-25 stresses that slaves were to faithfully serve their masters as a service unto the Lord knowing that Christ would reward them. By application, this means all Christians are to do their work as a service to the Lord Jesus Christ. Being devoted to Christ and doing our work in faithful obedience to Him will result in rewards at the Bema Seat of Christ. The principle is that slaves (and so workers today) could accept unjust treatment with the assurance that regardless, if they served as an obedience to Christ without grumbling, He would reward them in the future with heavenly treasures. But the opposite is also true. If one does wrong (retaliates, does his work half-heartedly, murmurs, etc.), he will be repaid for the wrong done (a loss of rewards).
The following passages clearly paint the picture.
Luke 19:17 “And the king said to him, ‘Well done, good slave! Because you have been faithful in a very little, you will have authority over ten cities.” The faithful servant was given greater responsibility (authority over ten cities) as a result of his faithfulness. Thus, this becomes an exhortation to faithfulness for us today.
Luke 19:26 “I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given; but from the one who does not have, even what he has will be taken away.” Again we see how faithfulness produces great reward (see Luke 8:18; also Matt 13:12; Mark 4:25).
Luke 22:28-30 “You are the ones who have remained with me in my trials. Thus I grant to you a kingdom, just as my Father granted to me, that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” Not only did Jesus acknowledge the faithfulness of His disciples, but he promised them the reward of ruling with Christ in the coming kingdom.
Another important passage, though debated, is 2 Timothy 2:11:
2:11 This saying is trustworthy: If we died with him, we will also live with him.
2:12 If we endure, we will also reign with him. If we deny him, he will also deny us.
2:13 If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, since he cannot deny himself.
The study notes in the NET Bible have this short and excellent explanation for this text.
This could be (1) a word of warning (The Lord will exact punishment; he cannot deny his holiness) or (2) a word of hope (Because of who he is, he remains faithful to us despite our lapses). The latter is more likely, since Paul consistently cites God’s faithfulness as a reassurance, not as a warning (cf. especially Rom 3:3; also 1 Cor 1:9; 10:13; 2 Cor 1:18; 1 Thess 5:24; 2 Thess 3:3).
The Fruits of Faithfulness
As seen previously, the Scripture promises rewards for our service as a motivation for faithful ministry. And for the Christian, at least, this promise is true and guaranteed regardless of the apparent success or rewards received here in time. Sometimes it appears that doing what is right goes without obvious blessing or reward. Faithful service may not lead to recognition, a promotion, or the raise one counted on—maybe not even a thank you. And often, faithfulness, especially when it is to Christ and biblical principles, can lead to persecution—“They that live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12).
But as Christians we must never allow the absence of immediate reward or blessing to deter us from steadfast faithfulness. I have read that the Chinese bamboo tree does absolutely nothing—or so it seems—for the first four years, but sometime during the fifth year, it suddenly shoots up ninety feet in sixty days. Now we might ask the question, “Does the bamboo tree grows in six weeks or in five years?” Regardless of the answer, the fact is that at the end of five years there is a tremendous difference. Being faithful in our lives and responsibilities is often like the bamboo tree. Sometimes we continue to expend a great deal of effort and see few results—nothing appears to be happening. But the promise of Scripture is that if we continue to be faithful to the Lord, we will eventually receive rewards for our efforts. If not in this life, definitely in the life to come.134
1 Corinthians 15:58 So then, dear brothers and sisters, be firm. Do not be moved! Always be outstanding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.
Many are the blessings or fruits of the faithfulness of others, but for purposes of this study, we will concentrate only on three.
A Blessing to Others
Since faithfulness leads to obedience to the truth of the Word and its vision or perspective about life, its priorities and values, faithfulness will lead to multiple blessings in a variety of ways. Proverbs 28:20 promises, “a faithful man will be richly blessed…” And not only will he be blessed, but he will become a blessing to others. Proverbs 13:17 reminds us, “A wicked messenger falls into adversity, But a faithful envoy brings healing.” So, Acts 20:27; 1 Thessalonians 2:4; 1 Timothy 1:11; 4:16; 6:20 and many other passages demonstrate how a faithful messenger, one who is faithful to proclaim the truth entrusted to him, leads to the salvation of lost sinners and the transformation of the saints—saved sinners. So it is that faithfulness to truth will lead to spiritual growth, unity or harmony in the body of Christ (Eph. 4:1f; Phil. 1:27), to the provision of the needs of others (Gal. 6:6-10; Phil. 1:5; 4:10-14), and help with stumbling saints (Gal. 6:1-5). Faithfulness to believe and appropriate the truth of the salvation that is in Christ leads to freedom from sin’s domination and control and a peace that passes all understanding (Rom. 6-8; Phil. 4:6-7)..
The blessings of faithfulness are manifold for both time and eternity. In fact, the blessings of the faithfulness of others to pursue a task, a responsibility, a vision, or an idea are all around us, so much so that we take them for granted without really giving them a second thought. So look around and note the fruits of someone’s faithfulness.
- The Bible in your hand is the result of those who faithfully and with great care made copy after copy of the original autographs, all of which agree with each other with astounding accuracy. How do we know that? Because these copies, over 5000, have been catalogued and compared by faithful scholars.
- Think of the various translations. They are the product of those who faithfully poured over the Hebrew and Greek texts to give us so many good translations of God’s faithful Word.
- In my library and on my computer are wonderful commentaries, Greek and Hebrew lexicons, concordances, and other study helps that are the product of the faithful and painstaking labor of scholars and those skilled in the development of computer software.
- In my home and office are bright electric lights, the fruit of the faithful pursuit of Thomas Edison.
- On my nose are eyeglasses, the fruit of the labor of Ben Franklin.
- In the background I hear the beautiful and soothing music of my stereo, the fruit of faithful composers and orchestras.
- We are in the Christmas season as I write and our home is beautifully decorated throughout to add to this season of the year. And what’s more, it has been that way each of the past forty years of our marriage, the fruit of my wife’s faithful decorative skill and love.
- In our garage is an automobile (also a large touring motorcycle) either of which will take us wherever we want to go, the fruit of the faithful pursuits and innovation of men like Henry Ford.
So look around, the blessings of faithfulness to some degree are all around us.
One of the chief purposes of the Christian life is ministry where we function not only as good stewards of God’s grace, but as servants of others, serving one another in love. It should go without saying, then, that our ability to be a blessing to others is very much dependent on our faithfulness to use our God-given spiritual gifts, talents, finances, other physical resources, and the opportunities given to us. This naturally includes faithfulness in the specific roles God has given us as spouses, parents, elders and deacons, Bible teachers, Sunday school teachers, small group leaders, etc. Paul wrote, “I am grateful to the one who has strengthened me, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he considered me faithful in putting me into ministry (1 Tim. 1:12), but this ministry as an apostle to the Gentiles was designed for their blessing.
Note the following passages:
1 Corinthians 12:7 To each person the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the benefit of all.
1 Peter 4:9-10 Show hospitality to one another without complaining. 4:10 Just as each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of the varied grace of God.
Romans 12:4-8 For just as in one body we have many members, and not all the members serve the same function, so we who are many are one body in Christ, and individually we are members who belong to one another. And we have different gifts, according to the grace given to us. If the gift is prophecy, that individual must use it in proportion to his faith. If it is service, he must serve; if it is teaching, he must teach; if it is exhortation, he must exhort; if it is contributing, he must do so with sincerity; if it is leadership, he must do so with diligence; if it is showing mercy, he must do so with cheerfulness.
If we are unfaithful, the body is sorely hurt. As we seek to serve others in any capacity, we should remember that such faithfulness is also a faithfulness to Christ as the Lord stressed in Matthew 25:37-40:
Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘I tell you the truth, just as you did it for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it for me.’
Peace and Personal Satisfaction
While there is always room for improvement, because no one ever reaches perfect maturity, there is still a certain amount of personal peace and satisfaction derived from being faithful to one’s responsibilities. Unless one has become hardened through continued rebellion and the deceitfulness of sin, unfaithfulness will bring the convicting work of the Holy Spirit and a sense of blame or guilt. On the other hand, obedience or being faithful to God brings a sense of peace, an awareness of fellowship with Him, and confidence in prayer. John wrote:
1 John 3:21-22 Dear friends, if our conscience does not condemn us, we have confidence in the presence of God, and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do the things that are pleasing to him.
Similarly, Paul had this to say about being faithful in our thoughts and actions:
Philippians 4:8-9 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is worthy of respect, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if something is excellent or praiseworthy, think about these things. And what you learned and received and heard and saw in me, do these things. And the God of peace will be with you.
Then, speaking about a life controlled by the Spirit, which is the basis of faithful obedience, Paul wrote of this peace in Romans 8:6, “For the viewpoint (mindset, way of thinking) of the flesh is death (separation in the sense of loss of fellowship and futile living), but the viewpoint of the Spirit is life and peace.” And again in Galatians 5:22, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace,…”
Entrusted with Greater Responsibilities
The Christian life with the gifts and opportunities God gives us is a stewardship—a trust from God with precious responsibilities that call for faithfulness. But it is important to realize that faithfulness in the smaller responsibilities forms the basis for being entrusted with greater responsibilities. The Lord pointed to this basic principle in Luke 16:10, “The one who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much; and the one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much.” How one handles the smaller responsibilities of life demonstrates character and the capacity for faithfulness in greater responsibilities. They serve as stepping stones for the privilege of serving in areas of greater responsibility.
Obviously, then, certain qualities are a prerequisite for any ministry responsibility in the New Testament, but the greater the responsibility, the greater the requirements. In Titus 1:7, Paul refers to the “overseer” as “God’s steward,” but for this stewardship with its leadership duties (deacons and the wives also, 1 Tim. 3:8f ), certain qualities are listed as necessary prerequisites. These qualities demonstrate previous faithfulness and the capacity for faithfulness in the leadership responsibilities required in the office of overseer.
Luke 12:48 teaches us another important related principle. “From everyone who has been given much (i.e. responsibility), much will be required; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, even more will be asked.” The words, “entrusted with much,” teach us that the greater the responsibilities given to us from God, the greater our responsibility to be faithful because such stewardships are so determinative and influential on others. To be gifted with precious responsibility is something that requires faithfulness.
In conclusion, two stories will be shared to illustrate what faithfulness looks like in the practical outworking of one’s faith. The first is the story of Clarence Jordan.
Clarence Jordan was a man of unusual abilities and commitment. He had two Ph.D.s, one in agriculture and one in Greek and Hebrew. So gifted was he, he could have chosen to do anything he wanted. He chose to serve the poor.
In the 1940s, he founded a farm in Americus, Georgia, and called it Koinonia Farm. It was a community for poor whites and poor blacks. As you might guess, such an idea did not go over well in the Deep South of the ’40s. Ironically, much of the resistance came from good church people who followed the laws of segregation as much as the other folk in town. The town people tried everything to stop Clarence. They tried boycotting him, and slashing workers’ tires when they came to town. Over and over, for fourteen years, they tried to stop him.
Finally, in 1954, the Ku Klux Klan had enough of Clarence Jordan, so they decided to get rid of him once and for all. They came one night with guns and torches and set fire to every building on Koinonia Farm but Clarence’s home, which they riddled with bullets. And they chased off all the families except one black family which refused to leave.
Clarence recognized the voices of many of the Klansmen, and, as you might guess, some of them were church people. Another was the local newspaper’s reporter. The next day, the reporter came out to see what remained of the farm. The rubble still smoldered and the land was scorched, but he found Clarence in the field, hoeing and planting.
“I heard the awful news,” he called to Clarence, “and I came out to do a story on the tragedy of your farm closing.” Clarence just kept on hoeing and planting. The reporter kept prodding, kept poking, trying to get a rise from this quietly determined man who seemed to be planting instead of packing his bags. So, finally, the reporter said in a haughty voice, “Well, Dr. Jordan, you got two of them Ph.D.s and you’ve put fourteen years into this farm, and there’s nothing left of it at all. Just how successful do you think you’ve been?”
Clarence stopped hoeing, turned toward the reporter with his penetrating blue eyes, and said quietly but firmly, “About as successful as the cross. Sir, I don’t think you understand us. What we are about is not success but faithfulness. We’re staying. Good day.”
Beginning that day, Clarence and his companions rebuilt Koinonia and the farm is going strong today.135
The second story is about Samuel Zwemer.
Samuel Zwemer, famous for his missionary work among the Muslims, did not see many converts during his years of work in the Persian Gulf. The temperatures often soared to 107 degrees, and in 1904 both of his daughters died within a few days of each other. Nevertheless, fifty years later he looked aback upon his trials and wrote, “The sheer joy of it all comes back. Gladly would I do it all over again.”136
Surely, when these two stand before the Savior at the Bema, the Judgment Seat of Christ, they will hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things. I will put you in charge of many things. Enter into the joy of your master.” May God enable us to be faithful to the trusts He has given us that we too may hear such accolades from the Savior.
121 Taken from the Wycliffe Handbook of Preaching and Preachers, Warren Wiersbe, p. 242.
122 Excerpted from The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Third Edition Copyright 1992 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Electronic version licensed from Lernout & Hauspie Speech Products N.V., further reproduction and distribution restricted in accordance with the Copyright Law of the United States. All rights reserved.
123 The New English Translation, The Biblical Studies Press, www.bible.org.
124 R. Laird Harris, Editor, Gleason L. Archer, Jr., Associate Editor, Bruce K. Waltke, Associate Editor, Theological Word Book of the Old Testament, Vol. 1, p. 51.
125 The Hebrew verbal system consists of different stem or verbal conjugations that affect the meaning of a verb. For instance, aman in the qal stem may mean, “support, nourish.” In the niphal stem it may mean “made firm” or “established, sure,” or “reliable, faithful.” But in the hiphil stem, it may mean “stand firm” or “ trust, believe.”
126 Harris, Archer, Waltke, p. 51.
127 Lawrence O. Richards, The Teachers’ Commentary, Victor Books, Wheaton, 1987, electronic media.
130 Warren W. Wiersbe, Wiersbe’s Expository Outlines On the Old Testament, Victor Books, 1993, electronic media.
131 Frank E. Gaebelein, General Editor, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, New Testament, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1976-1992, electronic media.
132 For more on the judgments see the study on our web site, “The Doctrine of the Judgments (Past, Present, and Future” located in the “Theology / Eschatology” section.
133 Erwin W. Lutzer, Your Eternal Reward, Moody, Chicago, 1998, p. 21.
134 Taken from a quote by S. Truett Cathy, quoted in Secrets of Staying Power, by Kevin Miller, Word Books, Waco, 1988, p. 51.
135 Tim Hansel, Holy Sweat, Word Books Publisher, Waco, 1987, pp.188-189.
136 Taken from Erwin W. Lutzer’s Christ Among Other Gods, Moody, Chicago, 1994, p. 202.
Appendix: Discussion Questions for Marks of Maturity
MEN 7/52 is a men's ministry of bible.org. Our desire is to see all men become true followers of Jesus Christ 7 days a week/52 weeks a year.
These studies were developed in a team training environment where men were being trained for their role as church leaders, as fathers, and as effective members of a society that desperately needs to see what authentic, biblical Christianity looks like. So, exactly what does a mature Christian look like? A mature Christian is a believer whose life begins to take on the character of Christ-likeness. But what exactly is that? What are the specific qualities that mark out a person as Christ-like? This is the focus and point of this study.
The qualities that should characterize Christian leaders are also the marks of spiritual maturity as described in the Bible. While all of the qualities that will be discussed in this series are not unique to Christianity and are often promoted and taught in the secular world, many of them are, by their very nature, distinctive to the Bible or biblical Christianity. Thus, the characteristics that should mark out a Christian leader are also the marks of biblical maturity which are in essence the product of true spirituality. In fact, biblical spirituality can be described by the term maturity since Christian maturity is the result of growth produced by the ministry of the Spirit in the light of the Word over time. It is this biblical/spiritual element, at least in part, that makes the marks of Christian leadership distinctively Christian.
1. How would you describe a person of absolute faithfulness?
2. What other words would you use as synonyms for faithfulness?
3. Faithfulness is one of the attributes of God. Using the text and Scripture references, please explain, in your own words, what the faithfulness of God means to you?
4. Using your explanation, please describe how God’s faithfulness plays a role in your every day life?
5. During times when you are experiencing anxiety, distress, or despair, what are your experiences of God’s faithfulness?
6. What is the relationship between faithfulness, success, and failure?
7. How are you expected to be faithful in your specific roles in the following categories?
8. What is faithfulness in the believer the product of?
9. Give the three primary sources of faithfulness.
10. List the secondary sources.
11. Using the example of Elijah in 1 Kings 17 – 19, what are the consequences of a lack of faithfulness during difficult circumstances or having false expectations?
12. Based on the text and your reading of 1 Kings 17 – 19, what do you think shattered Elijah’s focus, faith, and capacity for faithfulness?
13. What is the “Elijah Syndrome”?
14. Please describe a present, or recent, circumstance in your life in which your lack of faithfulness has produced the “Elijah Syndrome” in you?
15. How did God minister to Elijah in his failure and despair?
16. How does God minister to you in your failure and despair?
17. What motivates you to be faithful in your responsibilities in the following areas?
18. As Christians, what must guide our motives? Be specific.
19. What three fundamental principles did Jesus point to in Matthew 6:21-24 regarding our motives?
20. In 1 Thessalonians 2:1-7, what does the apostle Paul say about the motives of his ministry team?
21. The three motivations for faithfulness are discussed on pages 125 – 127. Please describe each one and explain why you believe they are fundamental in your life.
- How does your faithfulness produce blessings in the lives of people in your life? Be specific and include your home, church, workplace, and community.
- What are the consequences to these same people when you lack faithfulness?
Related Topics: Spiritual Life, Issues in Church Leadership/Ministry, Leadership