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The Fruit of the Spirit Is Faithfulness

August 5, 2012

 

Sermon:  The Fruit of the Spirit Is Faithfulness
Text:  Galatians 5:22-23

 

We come to the seventh of the traits that Paul calls the fruit of the Spirit: faithfulness.  While we might consider the Greek word for faithfulness, the Latin word is more important to us in understanding this trait.  We see that Latin word as a part of the motto of the United States Marine Corps, Simper Fidelis, which means Always Faithful.  From that Latin word we get the word fidelity, summarized in the first two points of the Boy Scout Law:  A Scout is trustworthy.  A Scout is loyal.

Faithfulness means to be trustworthy, to be loyal.  Other synonyms include dedicated, steadfast, devoted, dependable, accurate, true, conscientious, dutiful, careful, scrupulous, and thorough.  William Barkley calls faithfulness “the virtue of reliability,” meaning you can absolutely depend on a person who is faithful.

This characteristic, the Bible says, is hard to find in people.  The psalmist lamented the lack of faithfulness in his day:  “Help, Lord, for the godly are no more.  The faithful have vanished from among men” (Psalm 12:1).  We read in Proverbs 20:6, “Many a man claims to have unfailing love, but who can find a faithful man?” 

Faithfulness, most of all, is the nature of God.  God is absolutely faithful.  His faithfulness seems to have been a favorite subject of the Apostle Paul, who writes about it in every epistle from his very first – probably I Thessalonians – to his very last – probably II Timothy.  Paul says that God’s faithfulness had been with him in the numerous experiences of his life.  Through all kinds of dangers and struggles, all kinds of hardships, God had never failed him.  Paul admits that God had not always given him what he wanted, but God had never failed him.  He writes in II Timothy 2:13, “If we are faithless, God remains faithful.  He cannot deny himself.”  God is faithful because He keeps His promises.  Hebrews 10:13 says, “Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering for he who promised is faithful.”  James adds, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no shadow of turning” (James 1:17).  God never varies.  He is constant.  He is consistent.

God is the God of faithfulness, evident since the time He made a covenant with His people of Israel.  From the very beginning, God said to His people, “Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments” (Deuteronomy 7:9).

God is also faithful when we face temptations.  Paul writes, “No temptation has overtaken you except as is common to all humankind.  But God is faithful:  he will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you can bear” (I Corinthians 10:13).  With temptation, God always provides a way of escape.  We do not always choose the way of escape though, and we fall into sin.  Even when we sin God is faithful.  “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and He is just.  He will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9).  God is faithful to us in many, many ways.

What, then, is our responsibility to God?  If God is faithful to us, He certainly expects us to be faithful to Him.  My prayer is often, “Lord, you have been so faithful to us.  Please find us faithful to You.”  It is hard to live a faithful life, but it is so important for us to do so.  An Olympic image that comes from Hebrews 12:1 tells us that we are to run with perseverance, steadfastness, unwavering devotion, the race that is set before us.  Paul himself wrote, “I don’t count myself to have achieved my goal, but this one thing I do:  Forgetting those things which are behind and straining forward to those which are ahead, I press toward the mark for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ” (Philippians 3:12-14).  The image of a runner straining hard tells us that we have to reach the finish line.  We must run strong.

We must cultivate faithfulness in three areas of our lives.

First, we need to cultivate faithfulness in our families.

I was at the beach with my family this past week.  Since my return people have asked, “Did you have a good vacation?”  I assure you that that time away was not the kind of vacation where you just kick back and relax.  We had a house full of people with our two sons, our two daughters-in-law, and our five grandchildren.  Fortunately, Clare and I could get a bit of a break away from the maddening crowd for a little while.  We were able to spend the night in another location away from the house.

Many years ago, Clare and I took a vacation with our five children who were all very young at the time.  On the way home, I asked, “Did you have a good vacation?”

She answered, “Kirk, it’s not much of a vacation when you just move housekeeping from one place that you are very familiar with to another place that you do not know so well.”

Realizing that my dear wife had not had much of a vacation, I proposed, “Next year, I’m going to do the cooking.”

“And exactly what are you going to cook?”

I said, “Oh… some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.”

“We are going to live on that for a week?”

I chuckled, “Well, we’ll have hot dogs a time or two.”

Over the years, I have developed a modest repertoire of meals to cook during the week at the beach.  One morning I cook omelets, made-to-order for breakfast.  For lunch everyone foots for themselves, and at supper I fix a good meal that consists mainly of seafood.  I shop for all the groceries and do all the cooking.  Clare and our children love it.

When I go on this particular vacation, I preach a sermon at Pawley’s Island Chapel early Sunday morning.  I get up just as I do here and go off to do, as Clare says, “God knows what.”  After the service I take off my watch and shoes.  Then I can really say that I am on vacation.

Clare has always had a knack of reminding me of my priorities. Following those Sunday morning sermons, she advises, “Don’t forget that you are the grandfather.  You are not just the cook, and you are not just the provider who buys the groceries.  You are the grandfather.”  I know exactly what she means.  I have to make some sand castles, jump a few waves in the ocean, and take my grandsons crabbing in the marsh and fishing in the surf.  I have to sit on the porch, rock little granddaughters, and sing silly songs, tell stories, and remind everyone to say the blessing at meals.  Proverbs 28:20 says, “A faithful man will abound with blessing.”  The author of the verse might have been talking about grandchildren.

If you are a faithful man, you provide far more than just the bacon on the table.  I Timothy 5:8 offers strong words:  “A man that does not provide for his own family, and especially those of his own household, has disowned the faith and is worse than an infidel.”  You must show through example what it means to live the Christian life.  Psalm 31:23 says, “The Lord preserves the faithful.”  I am counting on that promise.

I can tell you that my dad, like everyone else, had a few flaws, but he tried his best to live in a faithful way.  He was always faithful to my mother and his family.

Near the end of his life someone asked him how he raised eight kids and his many grandkids.  He responded, “You do what you say, and you say what you do.  You do what is right every single day in excess of ninety years.”  That is what it means to be faithful.

Second, we must cultivate faithfulness in our church family.  You know that we are nominating deacons today.  Deacons must be reliable, trustworthy, and loyal.  Faithfulness to the church goes far beyond those characteristics though.  Is there anything more important than teaching our children about Jesus?  If you are willing to serve in the children and preschool areas, you will receive a blessing.  You might not get many accolades for your service, but you will make a huge difference in the lives of our children.  We still need some servants to make the commitment to be teachers in our nursery and preschool classes and servants to assist at the reception desk in that area.  We will train you in all you need to know.  If you are willing to serve in either of these locations, please call Carrie in the church office.  She is anxious to hear from you.

Some people treat going to church the same way they treat shopping at a grocery store.  Rather than asking, “How may I serve?” they ask, “What do you have for me today?”  “What kind of bargain can I find?”  “What are you going to do for me?”  “How are you going to entertain me?”  Being faithful means that you are a part of the church family just as you are a part of your own family.  It is important for all of us to understand that faithfulness to the church means finding a place of service. Church is not a spectator sport.  You are not here just to pay attention during worship.  As part of the church family, every person has a job to do.

Have you found your place of service, or have you left the work of the church to others? Some individuals just sit on the margin, not wanting to be involved, not wanting to be committed.  Some explain their reason for not wanting to join by saying, “I do not want you to send me offering envelopes.”  If you join, we will send you offering envelopes.  A financial responsibility is a part of your commitment of being in the church family.

Ask yourself these questions about faithfulness in your family and in your church family:  How do I feel when someone in my family fails to do chores?  Does every member take some responsibility for the wellbeing of our family?  If everyone is just as faithful as I am to this church, what kind of church would Morningside be?    Am I working hard, trying to help Morningside be the church that God has called us to be?

Faithfulness certainly means that we all have the responsibility of taking advantage of the opportunities that are ours to learn and grow in the Christian faith, the responsibility of giving of our financial resources and our energy, and the responsibility of caring for other church members.  It means that we invest ourselves in this church family, just as we do in our own families.  This great virtue of faithfulness will keep us moving forward as a church.

The third area I would call your attention to is our faithfulness to God.  This type of faithfulness is different from our faithfulness to our families and to the church.

We have a kind of collective malady known as ADHD, Attention Deficit Hyper-active Disorder.  ADHD is part and parcel of life.  We allow a thousand things to distract us from our faithfulness, and we certainly are hyperactive, always searching for activity.

Look with me at Luke 14:25-27, 33.

25 Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. 27 And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

33 In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.

Get this picture in your mind.  As many people were following Jesus, he turned around in the road and made a harsh comment.  Jesus affirmed the family in many ways, but here Jesus used Aramaic hyperbole in order to stress that no single person in our life can be more important than he is.  It is his way of saying, “Look.  Other relationships are essential, but no relationship is more important than your relationship to me.  That must be top priority.”

What does it mean for a Christian to take up his cross?  Does it mean that we have to die for Jesus?  No, taking up our cross means that we must present ourselves as a living sacrifice, as Paul writes in Romans 12:1.  God’s primary purpose for our lives is serving Christ.  We find in Matthew 6:33 these words:  “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and everything else will fall into place.”

Do these verses mean that we have to divest ourselves of all of financial resources?  Must we get rid of everything we own?  Again Jesus uses Aramaic hyperbole as a way of saying, “No possession you own is more important than possessing the kingdom of God.”  This key verse, which is part of Master Life, is summarized in this way:  No person, no purpose, and no possession can come ahead of God or Christ in your faithfulness.  He is first.

The verses of Matthew 25:14-30 are the very familiar Parable of the Talents.  You can interpret this story in different ways, but Jesus is actually addressing a master entrusting a sum of money to three servants.

14 “Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. 15 To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. 16 The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. 17 So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. 18 But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

19 “After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. 20 The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’

21 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

22 “The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’

23 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

We can interpret the master as being God, the talents as spiritual gifts and the resources at our disposal, and the servants as us. The key message here is that we must use our talents for God, not for someone else and not for personal gain.  The first two servants had done well with the money, investing it and increasing the amount.  The third servant, however, was afraid.  He buried the money and did nothing to increase its value.  Jesus is warning us not to bury our talents in the dirt.

Let’s consider Verse 23.  Other translations word the end of that passage, “‘Enter the joy of your master.’”

I used that particular verse at my father’s funeral because I believe that when Dad entered heaven, he heard the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant!   Enter the joy of your master.”  I want to hear those words of affirmation too.  I want to be faithful to the Lord though at times I fall short.  Faithfulness builds trust, the very foundation of the family.  Faithfulness also builds trust in the church family.  It is our responsibility to God to be found faithful in His eyes.

Let’s sing together the chorus of the morning anthem as an affirmation of our faithfulness.

            May all you come behind us find us faithful.
            May the fire of our devotion light their way.
            May the footprints that we leave lead them to believe,
            And the life we live inspire them to obey.
            May all who all who come behind us find us faithful.

Is the prayer of your heart to be found faithful?  It begins when you accept Christ Jesus as your Savior, when you make a decision to follow him.  This is the day for you to make that decision.  It is also a day for you to decide exactly what your responsibility is to the church.  We invite you to respond as Jesus leads.

 

Kirk H. Neely
© August 2012
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