The Fruit of the Spirit – Faithfulness

Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father;
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not;
As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be.
(Hymn 66:1)

To gain a deeper understanding of what faithfulness implies for us, it is necessary to first of all gain insight into God’s faithfulness as the goal for which we must strive. Bridges observes, “… a study of the sixty references to the faithfulness of God couldn’t do justice to the subject: The entire Bible is a treatise on the theme. God’s faithfulness appears in precept or illustration on almost every page. It is impossible to describe the acts of God without in some way touching upon His faithfulness to His own.” Indeed, it is readily apparent that every aspect of our lives rests upon the faithfulness of God.
God’s glory, the honour of His Name, is at stake in all that He does. So, God is always faithful first of all to Himself, and therefore also to His promises to us, His people. In 2 Timothy 2:13, Paul explains that the reason God remains faithful even if we are faithless is that “He cannot deny Himself.” For God to be unfaithful, even in the face of our many infidelities, is impossible. God must be faithful to Himself. This necessary faithfulness of God toward Himself is the ground of our hope and the fount of every blessing we can ever know. From it springs every display of God’s glory, greatness, and grace. Upon it rests the dependability of His every promise. It is the foundation of the gospel and of the redemption bought for sinners in Jesus Christ. The incarnation, suffering, death, resurrection and glory of our Saviour can all be understood as the outpouring of divine faithfulness.

But what exactly is faithfulness? provides this explanation:
• strict or thorough in the performance of duty: e.g. a faithful worker.
• true to one’s word, promises, vows, etc.
• steady in allegiance or affection; loyal; constant: e.g. faithful friends.
• reliable, trusted, or believed.
• adhering or true to fact, a standard, or an original; accurate: a faithful account; a faithful copy.

When we unpack these related meanings we get the picture that the faithful person is one who is dependable, trustworthy and loyal, who can be depended upon in all of his relationships and who is completely honest and ethical in all of his affairs. For example, it was said of Daniel that his rivals “tried to find grounds for charges against Daniel in his conduct of government affairs, but they were unable to do so. They could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy (i.e. faithful) and neither corrupt nor negligent.” (Daniel 6:4 NIV)
It is also instructive to note the use of the word faithfulness in the context of the parable of the talents in Matthew 25: 14 – 30, in which the two faithful servants enter into the joy of the Lord because they had acted wisely with the resources of their master’s house. To them, their lord could say, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things, enter into the joy of your lord.” By contrast, the unfaithful servant is judged most severely and cast into the outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. Inactivity in our service to our Lord, when we have been made the recipients of His faithfulness in Christ, is a very dangerous thing indeed.
Every particular calling in life, in every specific situation, presents us with unique opportunities for faithfulness in those little things – “a few things”. We tend to emphasise faithfulness in the “big things” in life, such as the vows we make: at our public profession of faith, our marriage solemnization, the baptism of our children and at our ordination as office bearer, and faithfulness to these vows certainly needs to be emphasised. But have we considered our everyday callings, and what distinctive opportunities they present for demonstrating faithfulness? Whether at work, at home, or in the Church, whether as father or mother, whether as husband or wife, whether as friend or neighbour, God wants us to please Him with our faithful service —not just in the big, public moments, but especially in the secret and seemingly insignificant incidents such as faithful habits of reading and studying God’s Word, habits of prayer, habits of family devotions after mealtimes, habits of honesty and integrity and humility throughout the day—all are just little things in themselves. But together, they build up the Christian character in our personal lives and in our families, and they enable us to remain faithful to those important vows we make in our lives referred to earlier.
Many of us give half our waking lives to our workplace, so it should be no surprise that the apostle Paul emphasizes these often-unseen aspects of our work. “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men” (Col. 3:23), “rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man” (Eph. 6:7). Twice he accents “sincerity of heart” and speaks of serving “not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers” (Eph. 6:5–6; Col. 3:22).
These little things add up over time, like how we treat our employer’s property and resources, how efficiently we make use of our time and how diligently we work when off-site or out of sight, how we are supportive to our co-workers and how we are willing to give a few extra minutes of our time to complete a task. It is in these small things that we can: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matt. 5:16)
Such faithfulness in the small things often begins when we are students. Academic life teems with small, seemingly insignificant moments in which we either train ourselves for a career of diligent, energetic labour, or learn to default to laziness and cutting corners. At school or on campus, Christian students can demonstrate faithfulness and honour God by developing self-discipline and knowledge, studying diligently and practicing academic honesty.
For most of us, the home is, by nature, more private than the workplace. So our lives at home, all the more, can be sequences of one little thing after another. For those who work outside the home, being at home can be a temptation to laziness. If we go out “to work,” we might assume, particularly as husbands, that we come home only to eat, rest and sleep, but the home is certainly not at all solely for those purposes. That is especially true when young children are around. Here the unseen moments often matter most. For husbands in particular, it can be the smallest of considerations in being faithful to our marriage vows. How readily do we tackle household chores to save it from piling up on our spouse? How eagerly do we roll up our sleeves to do the dishes? And how willing are we to invest the extra energy it takes after a long day to think of and speak affirming words to our wives rather than just expressing frustrations? And most importantly of all, how much of an effort do we make as fathers to provide leadership in word and deed in setting the tone of a faithful Christian household – also in the daily family devotions?
Consider how the qualifications for elders are, by and large, little things. We read in 1 Timothy 3:1 – 5: “A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behaviour, hospitable, able to teach; not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous; one who rules his own household well, having his children in submission with all reverence ….” These are the little things of faithful Christian living that all add up. What we need from our office bearers is not world-class intellect and learning but the kind of faithfulness in the seemingly little things that is the very heart of Christian maturity and thus serves as an example for the flock.

Faithfulness, too, is a fruit of the working of God’s Spirit in our hearts and lives. The wonder of the Biblical concept of Christian faithfulness is that when believers hear at last the, “Well done, good and faithful servant” of our Master in whose kingdom we have been servants, we will know—in ways we only glimpse and often overlook here—that all our faithfulness on earth was but the product of God’s faithfulness to us and the fruition of God’s faithfulness to Himself. No small part of the joy of the Lord into which we shall one day enter will be the discovery that Christ rewards us for the fruit of His own great work for us at the cross and in us by His Spirit. We will bow down and confess that we are unworthy servants, having done only our duty (Luke 17:10), but Christ will welcome us into His presence with joy in His crowning act of covenant faithfulness.

GW van der Wal
FRC Albany

Bridges, J. The Practice of Godliness. 2008, NavPress, Colorado Springs, Ch. 12
David Mathis in

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