God’s Requirement Of Faithfulness
Luke 9:57-62 "And it came to pass, that, as they went in the way, a certain [man] said unto him, Lord, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest. And Jesus said unto him, Foxes have holes, and birds of the air [have] nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay [his] head. And he said unto another, Follow me. But he said, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. Jesus said unto him, Let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the kingdom of God. And another also said, Lord, I will follow thee; but let me first go bid them farewell, which are at home at my house. And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God."
I Cor 4:1-2 "Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful."
As we look back upon the year that has just passed into the annals of history, we can surely say that God gave all of us many blessings and much for which to be thankful. We could praise Him forever and never sufficiently express the gratitude our hearts should feel for the continuing love, mercy and grace He has poured out upon our lives. The value of our salvation and the abundant spiritual blessings He daily showers upon us defy definition and description. The blessings of family, friends and freedom are forever beyond our capacity to fully comprehend, much less truly be thankful for.
A backward glanced will also reveal that the past year has been a year of sorrow and heartbreak for many. Natural disasters, the war on terrorism and the continuing threat of mass destruction and worldwide catastrophe makes the year one of the most memorable and challenging in history. As we pause and survey the situation and set our face toward another New Year, it would be good to heed the admonition of the weeping prophet, " Let us search and try our ways, and turn again to the LORD." (Lam. 3:40)
We will not have search too far or examine matters too closely to come to the conclusion that it would be very easy to wonder if it really has been worth it all. Just how much light has our little candles cast into the dark corners of sin in our community? Just how much preserving effect has our salt had upon the wicked world in which we walk and work? Most of us who try to witness to our Christ rejecting world find it increasingly difficult to effectively do so. It would be all too easy to throw up our hands in discouragement and back away in despair; retiring from the fray.
In light of all this, we could perhaps be forgiven for being weary in well doing. It would be understandable if we were to ask, "What can we do to make a difference in our world? Just what does God want from us in the year ahead? In a world such as ours, just what does God require of me in the New Year?"
Is it not amazing the Word of God has all the answers to all our questions, even before we can conceive them or ask them? What does God require of us in the year ahead? Just what he required of us in the year that has just passed. In a word, "Faithfulness."
There is nothing in the world like good, old-fashioned dependability. One of the ultimate character compliments has to be, "You can depend upon him!" Even when the going gets tough he will be there for you. As someone has said, "When the going gets tough, the tough get going!"
That’s clearly what Jesus is getting at in this passage. It is obviously what Paul is saying as well. Staying power is the greatest power of all. Remember what Dr. Luke said about those in that first church in Jerusalem? He said, "They continued steadfastly in the apostles doctrine.." I really do like that. After the grand beginning at Pentecost when three thousands precious souls were added to the church. After the emotion and blessing of that great moment. After all the euphoria associated with such a mountain top experience. Even when they began to be jailed and martyred. They stuck in there. They didn’t look back at all. Come pain, persecution or poverty they persisted and persevered. The kept studying, praying, witnessing and growing.
Faithfulness and staying power will bring us through most of life’s experiences. This is not just true for the missionary, pastor or Christian, but for the business man, student or homemaker as well. It is the one who keeps on keeping on who wins out in the end. The story of the tortoise and the hare is so timeless and ageless because it so simply and succinctly illustrates this one great lesson.
The tradition of the marathon race speaks of this. History records that after gasping out his all important message of victory that first runner fell dead of exhaustion. It is said the great Belgium marathon runner was asked before one of his most difficult races if he thought he would win. He reportedly replied, "If I am still on my feet I will." And he did! Many of us can recall the image of the Olympic marathon runner staggering and falling again and again as he kept on keeping on, until he made it across the finish line.
It takes no superior intelligence or super stamina to quit. Any fool or failure can do that. A person may have brains and talent, but if he does not stick to it, he is ultimately headed for absolute failure. To such a person the grass always seems greener on the other side of the hill. The tragedy of it all is that if he would just stick in there and fertilize the ground on his side of the hill, he could have a time of great harvest for the Lord. The place of greatest opportunity is often just right where we live and work. The little chorus tells us we should brighten the corner where we are. There are many who might be viewed as a flash in the pan, spiritually, but God values that one who once having placed his hand to the plow, remains faithful where He has placed him.
The following is from my book: "Gleanings Gospel Gold."
"The Measure of Faithfulness" - We can only be faithful in what we have, and that is enough. We can only use the intelligence with which God has blessed us , sing with the voice He has given us, witness and praise with the lips and tongue He has placed in our mouths or serve with the hands that are ours.
Too often we find ourselves seeking to measure our grain in another’s bushel. Our visions of spiritual grandeur become no more than wistful thinking about what might be or might have been. There is no pleasure or profit in this fanciful approach to spiritual faithfulness. In fact, quite the contrary. As has often been said, "Of all the words of tongue and pen, the saddest are, ’It might have been."
We hear a beautiful melody rendered with great inspiration and sigh and say, "If only I had such talent, I would sing to the glory of God!"
We read an inspiring book and close it and think, "If I could only write, I would write a book that would point men to God.!"
We hear an oration delivered with great skill and sincerity; that moves and motivates those who hear it. We respond, "If I could only speaks so eloquently, I would give out the message of Jesus Christ."
We meet an honest and prosperous businessman who has accumulated a store of this world’s goods, and we are sure that if God would only bless us with such wealth, we could and would use it all for the cause of Christ and God’s ultimate glory.
We hear a visiting missionary tell of the challenges and blessings of a difficult far away field and are convinced that if we could only go there we could become great winners of the lost and that God would use us to lift the spiritual darkness from a spiritually destitute and oppressed people.
As one who attended a theological school and who has been around in the ministry of the gospel for many years, I tend to be a bit dubious of the young student pastor who attends a Bible College four years, preparing for the gospel ministry at home or abroad as a missionary, and never seems to get involved in personal soul winning, jail ministries or other vital outreach ministries in a local church. If he has no burden for the lost all around him, why should we expect a sudden development of a vision for souls as he boards a plane to his chosen field of labor?
God has only asked us to light the corner where we are. We are to be faithful in little things if we expect Him to bless us in all things. He has never asked us to responsible for someone else’s field or ministry, but requires us to be faithful in all things He has given us in the place He has placed us."
THE RECORD OF GOD’S FAITHFULNESS is given for our example and inspiration. We read, "God is faithful.." and we know it is so. We sing, "Great is Thy Faithfulness," and we know it is true. He was and is always faithful to His peculiar people. He is always faithful to His eternal purpose in Christ as well. The weeping prophet also said, "[It is of] the LORD’S mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. [They are] new every morning: great [is] thy faithfulness." (Lam. 3:22-23) The Psalmist also said, "Thy faithfulness [is] unto all generations: thou hast established the earth, and it abideth." (Psalm 119:90)
God’s faithfulness is one of His primary attributes. It stands in and of itself. It is not dependent upon situations or circumstances nor is it triggered or precipitated by outside factors or people. If we look at His dealings with His people, Israel, we find that His faithfulness prevailed and was consistently expressed even in the times of their greatest infidelity and faithlessness. God reminds Israel of that in some of the very last words of His testament to them, " For I [am] the LORD, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed." (Mal. 3:6)
THE REASON FOR OUR FAITHFULNESS lies in His example. This leads us to conclude that our faithfulness has nothing to do with the faithfulness or work of those around us. It should be an innate inward quality that does not relate to others who might not finish faithful. It is a characteristic that should be measured vertically rather than horizontally. Remember our Savior’s response when Peter asked Him about the future requirement of faithfulness of the other disciple? He said in effect, "What is that to thee? Follow thou me.."
We are to be like Him in all things, especially in the matter of a walk of faithfulness: "He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked." (I John 2:6) The closer we walk with Him and the more we come to really know HIM, the more we will reflect His divine qualities, including faithfulness. He is the Living Word in faithfulness. He set His face toward Calvary from eternity past.
He remained faithful to the very end. When He was on the cross the said, "Save yourself and us." The crowd cried, "Come down from the cross." Many today are saving themselves. But our Savior said we should take up our cross and lose ourselves for His sake. People everywhere are quitting their crosses today. They are coming down and joining the world’s crowd. Many would say, "But you ask too much. It is just human to quit and cave in when the going gets really rough and the burden is unbearable." Yes, but it is DIVINE to hang in there and our Savior set the example in faithfully hanging in there.
THE REQUIREMENT OF FAITHFULNESS is the only basis for real success in God’s service. Notice, faithfulness is not suggested or recommended it is REQUIRED. Faithfulness is not an option, but an obligation and an opportunity. You cannot find a command of God requiring us to be successful, but He does require us to be faithful. He does promise real spiritual success to those who finish faithful. The Psalmist said, "He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves [with him]." (Psalm 126:6) The great apostle said, "And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not." Many of our Savior’s parables had as a central lesson the same clear, critical concept.
God’s great men in every age have clearly understood and lived out the requirement of faithfulness by their God. God inspired the writer of the Hebrew letter to give us what some call a great roll call of the faith. But in reality it is a great roll call of the faithful ones. The record tells that no matter how unusual the circumstance or difficult the situation, these remained faithful.
It is said that one of our great forefathers of the faith was arrested and informed he would be burned at the stake for his faithfulness. The record indicates that the night before he was to die he readied himself by holding his hands over a burning candle in preparation for his final test. His greatest fear was to fail at the very end and not finish faithful.
We are told repeatedly in the scriptures to be faithful. "Stand fast in the Lord.." (Phil. 4:1) "Stand fast in the faith." (I Cor. 16:13) "Be thou faithful unto death." (Rev. 2:10) Bob Jones Sr. once said, "The greatest ability is dependability. Don’t doubt in the dark, what God has revealed in the light."
THE RESPONSIBILITY OF FAITHFULNESS is particular and requires an absolute and unshakable personal faith. It all begins with an absolute saving faith. Although it goes against the grain of man’s pride, this is the starting point. God’s original creation was perfect. But from the very beginning man has been vainly trying to improve upon it. God’s spiritual work is also perfect. Only He can make men new spiritual creatures in Christ Jesus. Ironsides said, "I would not work my soul to save, for this my Lord hath done, But I would work like any slave, for love of His deal Son."
This is where the responsibility of faithfulness lies. Responsible faithfulness requires that we love and serve Him in all circumstance and all seasons because He first loved and served us. This responsibility continues with the acceptation by faith that the great God of our salvation can empower us in any possible circumstance of adversity to remain faith to Him. Our situations and feelings may fluctuate, but His Word and precious promises remain the same.
Is it not strange how conditions seems so often to effect our responsibility to be faithful? Some seem to have the right side of the bed pushed against the wall all the time and thus feel compelled to get up on the wrong side. Others get up and say, "I feel so good that if I felt any better I would have to take something for it!" But how is God in both cases? He remains the same.
The responsibility of faithfulness also requires that we serve Him in relation to our own God-given time, talent and treasure. The parables of Jesus on stewardship often focus upon this principle. Those who are blessed with much are responsible for much. Those who are blessed with little are responsible for the wise use and investment of what they have been given as well. We cannot consider the responsibility of faithfulness without counting the blessings God has poured out upon us as well.
THE REAL READING OF FAITHFULNESS is found in loving loyalty and fearless fidelity. In the context of our scripture reading we find the primary problem with those who proved unfaithful was divided loyalties. From the very beginning our Creator God has demanded absolute allegiance. He said, "Thou shalt have no other God before Me ...." The Great Commandment expands this concept. Moses drew a line in the sin cursed earth and said, "Who is on the Lord’s side, let him come unto me.." There was not middle ground to stand upon. Joshua did the same thing when he said, "Choose you this day whom you may serve..." The great prophet, Elijah, framed the challenge in these words, "How long halt ye between TWO opinions, if God be God, serve Him.." Our Savior had the last Word on the matter when He said, "No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon." (Matt. 6:24)
What is faithfulness in marriage? It is when your mate, in every way, in all situations is preferred above all others on this earth. Even when separated by ten thousand miles or ten years. You cannot have it any other way and say you are a faithful husband or wife. That is real faithfulness. As someone who served in the armed forces during wartime, I can recall the pain suffered by those young men who received what was called, "Dear John, letters." Perhaps they had gotten engaged or married too hastily.
I’m afraid that if many Christians were honest, they would send Jesus a "Dear Jesus" letter. (After all, Paul uses the husband/wife relationship in an analogy of the love and loyalty that should exist between a child of God and His Savior.) They would say, "I have found someone .. something else . . that is more valuable to me now than my loyalty and service to you." After placing their hand to the plow, they look back to the lures and lusts of the world. Much as Israel looked back and lusted for the leeks, onions and garlics of Egypt, they turn back to the world.
What is the real reading of faithfulness. We can say we are faithful, but how can this be proven and tested? Only by continuing obedience to Him and His Word. Trust and obey, there’s no other way, to be happy in Jesus. It seems some are always seeking some other way, but Jesus says, "If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them." (John 13:17) "Blessed [is] he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time [is] at hand." (Rev. 1:3)
Just knowing God’s commandments is not enough. It is not enough for me to read and preach the Word to you; although I must admit it does make me happy to do so and I really do enjoy it. It is a part of my faithfulness, and yours as well, to effectively hear it in my head and heart. But that is not even enough. It’s keeping it, obeying it, that ultimately counts for time and eternity. It’s what each of us does when we exit the doors of the house of worship and enter into the world’s greatest mission field that really counts. It is your walk and witness on your street. In your school. Across your garden fence. In your work place. That’s where it’s really happening. That’s how faithfulness is measured.
It is said that William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, was once asked what the real secret was to the obvious great joy he had in life. He replied, "I never say no to God!" Saying yes to God at all times and in all situations reflects real faithfulness.
THE REWARD OF FAITHFULNESS is found in faithfulness. Without faithfulness we constantly fall and fail. But real faithfulness gives Godly success and qualifies us for greater service to God. Paul placed it in these terms: "And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry;" (I Tim. 1:2) Those aspiring to higher levels of service should always remember that simple faithfulness in their present place is always the basic requirement. Pastors and churches should remember this as well. Those who will not be faithful in such simple things as attending all the services of the church and being a faithful witness, should not even be considered for a teaching or leadership position in a Church of Christ. Paul again said, "And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also." (II Tim. 2:2) The obvious implication is that those who are not faithful should not be able to teach others about faithfulness to God.
The reward of faithfulness will ultimately find its fulfillment in recognition for a job well done. What greater reward would one wish than to hear the voice of his Savior say one day, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant."? Such reward and recognition of faithfulness will reach its full fruition when rewards and crowns are given at the Judgment Seat of Christ. Jesus said, " .. be thou faithful unto death, and I will give you a crown of life." (Rev. 2:10) Paul said, "I have fought a good fight, I have finished [my] course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing." (II Tim. 4:7-8) Those who will really love His appearing will be those who have remained faithful. Others may be ashamed before Him at His coming.
I have a pastor friend who always signs his correspondence to me with these simple but potent words, "Finish faithful!" In light of the apostasy that is apparent even among those who call themselves ministers of the gospel, I really do appreciate his admonition and prayer for me. What greater tragedy could occur than to finish otherwise? (I Cor. 9:27)