Fruitful Living: Faithfulness
Call to Worship: “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Every believer longs to hear those words from the Lord’s lips. Our Lord never utter empty praise nor does he offer commendation as flattery. What does faithfulness that catches God’s attention and prompts his praise look like? How do we develop and cultivate such faithfulness in our lives? God has answers for us as we gather around his Word today! Let’s open with the hymn …
Christ the King, Palm Coast, FL ~ Pastor Jay Zahn ~ Faithfulness ~ Sunday, July 28, 2019
She felt frantic with the passing of each additional minute. He was late. He had promised to pick her up for the movie promptly at 6:45 so they could make it to the theater easily, order their popcorn and soft drinks, and be seated before the film started at 7:15. It was now 6:55 . . . 6:56 . . . 6:57. The problem wasn’t with the promise her boyfriend made to her, but with his lack of faithfulness in following through and doing what he committed himself to do.
Faithfulness is keeping our promises. There are two connected elements in the word “faithfulness.” Being faithful means being trustworthy and dependable. A faithful person is a person of honesty and integrity, someone you can rely on. Faithful people keep their word. They do what they promise. They can be trusted not to cheat or deceive.
Being faithful also means exercising that kind of trustworthy behavior over a long period of time. Faithful people have proved that they can be trusted for the long haul. You don’t have to check up on them. You don’t have to worry that, even if they did a good job last week, they might let you down this week. No, faithful people show that they are routinely dependable in all kinds of ways and all kinds of circumstances. Faithfulness is the character of somebody you know you can simply rely on all the time. It’s about being committed, demonstrating integrity and showing a strong, steady and consistent character.
Such character, the Bible says, is hard to find in people. The psalmist lamented the lack of faithfulness in his day: “Help, Lord, for no one is faithful anymore; those who are loyal have vanished from the human race” (Psalm 12:1). We read in Proverbs 20:6, “Many claim to have unfailing love, but a faithful person who can find?” Does that sound overly dramatic? Think about this though: of the people in your life, what kind of words do you use to describe them? Good? Kind? Caring? How many people in your life, when you think of them the first description that pops to mind is “faithful”? Might we actually be more likely to describe our dogs as faithful than we are the people in our lives?
One of the most cherished sayings of Jesus is the commendation the master makes in this morning’s Gospel: “Well done, good and faithful servant . . . ” (Mt 25:21, 23). This compliment tugs at the heart of every believer. It’s what we long to hear when we stand before our Heavenly Master! But we recognize that such a commendation comes on the far side of living a life worthy of such high praise. So what does that mean for our lives here and now? It means that among us, within the body of Christ here on earth we should be a gathering of people who are constantly striving to keep their word to one another, even when it’s inconvenient, uncomfortable, difficult, or costly. After all, Jesus called for faithfulness among his followers. Following Jesus requires commitment and perseverance. It means denying yourself and taking up the cross. It is not for those who start out with enthusiasm but then quickly turn back when things get even the slightest bit more difficult. It is not for those who are entangled with all kinds of other priorities. It is not for those who say “Lord! Lord!” to Jesus but never actually live as he says. It is not for those who want an easy road. So can I ask you: Is this the kind of faithfulness you see in your brothers and sisters here at Christ the King? Is this the kind of quality your brothers and sisters at Christ the King see in you? Always? If not, what needs to change? At an even deeper level, what will bring about such a change?
God gives us some really helpful insight when he tells us that faithfulness is a fruit of the Spirit. Think about this: What is fruit? It is the outward expression or manifestation of the life within. The apple is the outward manifestation of the life within the apple tree. The fruit of the Spirit is the outward manifestation or expression of the life of the Holy Spirit who dwells in the heart of every believer in Christ.
Wherever unfaithfulness shows up in our lives, it reveals areas of our hearts, our spirits that are still infected by the disease and death of sin. Though our unfaithfulness toward God gives him every right to turn away from us and forget about us forever, that’s not what He actually does. Instead our unfaithfulness gives him opportunity to reveal his heart, his faithfulness to us: As Paul puts it in another bible book: If we are faithless, [God] remains faithful. He cannot disown himself” (2 Timothy 2:13). In sending his Son to be our Savior, God does more than simply forgive and forget where we’ve been unfaithful. He also addresses the underlying cause of our unfaithfulness. Listen to what God says in the bible book of Ephesians: “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit” (5:18). The comparison is powerful. Negatively, if we’re filling ourselves with wine, eventually the power of alcohol takes control of our mind and bodies and typically leads to negative consequences. But there is a positive point to take away from this picture: the more we take in God’s Spirit given to us in his Word, the more we are filled up by and brought under the influence and control of God’s Spirit. Note also that God is describing a lifestyle where literally he urges that we “keep on being filled” by the Spirit. The life the Spirit brings to our hearts shows out in the way we seek to live our lives with a faithful spirit toward God.
Before going any further, though, I want to make sure we’re crystal clear in our minds on something crucially important: Being faithful to God isn’t about meeting a requirement so that he’ll want to stick with us. Faithfulness is about responding to God out of love and reflecting back to God the devotion that Christ has first demonstrated to us. Our faithfulness to him isn’t about obligation. It is evidence of and flows out of this new life, this faithful desire the Spirit pours into us.
I see that reality at work in the heart and lived out in the life of Robertson McQuilkin. McQuilkin served as president of Columbia Bible College in Columbia, SC from 1968-1990. He was highly respected and greatly loved. McQuilkin chose to resign his post in 1990, though, realizing he needed to focus his attention on caring for his wife, Muriel, who suffered from early onset Alzheimer’s disease. Here is an excerpt from a letter he wrote to the college community:
Recently it has become apparent that Muriel is contented most of the time she is with me and almost none of the time I am away from her. It is not just “discontent.” She is filled with fear – even terror – that she has lost me and always goes in search of me when I leave home. So it is clear to me that she needs me now, full-time. The decision was made, in a way, forty-two years ago when I promised to care for Muriel “in sickness and in health … till death do us part.” So, as I told the students and faculty, as a man of my word, integrity has something to do with it. But so does fairness. She has cared for me fully and sacrificially all these years; if I cared for her the next forty years I would not be out of her debt.
Duty, however, can be grim and stoic. But there is more: I love Muriel. She is a delight to me - her childlike dependence and confidence in me, her warm love, occasional flashes of that wit I used to relish so, her happy spirit and tough resilience in the face of her continual distressing frustration. I don’t have to care for her. I get to! It is a high honor to care for so wonderful a person.”
Robertson McQuilkin is a modern-day inspiration, an example of faithfulness that is motivated by Christ’s love and Spirit that have grown in him such devotion to the Lord and such genuine commitment to his wife.
That same Spirit moved Paul to conclude his letter to the Romans with appreciation for several people whose hearts were filled with a similar faithfulness, seen in the way they supported and shared in Gospel ministry with the Apostle. Paul gushes with gratitude for them and the fruit of faithfulness in their lives. It demonstrates how very personal the fruit of faithfulness is. These were real people—men and women, some of whom spent time in prison with Paul, and some who risked their lives for him. These were faithful friends—people Paul knew he could trust. And so Paul thanked God when he saw that fruit of the Spirit in their lives—their faithfulness to him and to their common mission.
Who among us wouldn’t love to experience in greater measure the wonderful blessings of faithfulness? The blessings that come from being surrounded by faithful family members, faithful friends, faithful co-workers, faithful fellow Christians! How do we come into more of those blessings? By growing in the fruit of faithfulness ourselves! As we manifest the Spirit’s faithfulness with our lives, the Spirit works at sowing even more seeds of faithfulness in the hearts and lives of those to whom we model faithfulness.
So how can you grow in the fruit of faithfulness?
First and foremost: Grow in your grasp of the Spirit’s Word. Faithfulness is a fruit of, well, faith. And faith comes from hearing the message which heard through the Word of Christ, and how he lived, died and rose again for you and all that this means for you! Growing in faithfulness flows as you grow in faith that is nourished by the Word of God.
Growing in faithfulness continues by connecting the Word of God to everyday life. As life happens, see and understand what is happening in the light of God’s promises to you and the reality that God’s Spirit is present with you. This way of processing life will help you faithfully thank God for your good times as well as the hard times. To appreciate the refreshment that comes in times where things are going well, and when times are difficult to appreciate the truth that God does not change so that you draw your strength and your stamina from him so that you can live faithfully for him even through challenges.
As you go about living your life let the faithfulness the Spirit sows in your heart show itself in the choices you make. God’s people must understand that faithfulness is more than just a word, an idea, a topic of discussion. It is divine desire and energy poured into us by the Spirit so that we are intentionally structuring our lives and actively living in ways that are consistent with the things the Spirit teaches us to believe. Or to say it more simply: Faithfulness is faith in action!
The call to faithfulness is a call to action as well as a call to rest. God’s Spirit prompts us to actively live out faithfulness to the Lord regardless of the outcomes that result. God’s Spirit moves us to live like this whether doing so will produce earthly advantages for us as well as when it means our lives will be made more difficult for doing so. Let me explain. You can be transparent and truthful with people, but some may not believe you. In fact, some may be suspicious of you and even say damaging things about you to others. Despite your faithfulness, your reputation has been damaged by the unfaithfulness of others. You may work as hard as you possibly can, and still not make the cut or get promoted. Despite your faithfulness, you may not get recognized or rewarded. You may do everything in your power to share the gospel with people, and yet never see any of those people come to Christ. Though you’ve been faithful, yet it doesn’t result in faith being born in the hearts of others. Maybe that sounds discouraging, but in reality it demonstrates that true faithfulness isn’t what I do because of the rewards it will bring me. Faithfulness is a demonstration of what God accomplishes in us even when earthly incentives or accolades are absent or removed. The world does it what it does to get plaques and popularity, only if it will move the numbers up and to the right, all in an effort to achieve glamour and glitz for self. God cares about faithfulness—not to boost our egos but to glorify Him and the work He is accomplishing in us, on display in the way we serve and obey him, when others praise and reward us for doing so, and especially when they run us down and run us out for doing so!
This is not easy. Discipleship is costly. We may be ridiculed, slandered, persecuted and rejected. We will be called on to make hard choices. It most certainly will call for sacrifice, of earthly resources for the sake of the Kingdom of God, of our own wills for the sake of the will of God, of what is easy and alluring for what is right and eternal. The only way we'll make it is to fix our attention on Jesus, contemplate Him. Fix your mind and heart on Him through his Word and His Spirit will give you the strength you need to abundantly produce the fruit of faithfulness for Him who faithfully gave his whole self for you first! Amen.