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“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and this morning we consider, ‘faithfulness.’
Whenever we talk about faith, we always want to understand that faith is one of those things that cannot stand all alone. “Faith” all by itself, is a meaningless word. Faith must always have an object. It must always be faith in something or someone. To say, “I have faith,” means absolutely nothing. But to say “I have faith in the government,” or “I have faith in my horoscope,” or “I have faith in Jesus Christ,” now that means something. It means that you put your trust and your confidence in the object of your faith.
“Faithfulness” works the same way. “Faithfulness” never stands alone. All by itself, it’s a meaningless word. It must always be “faithfulness according to” something. And that ‘something’ is the promises and commitments we make. The quality of our ‘faithfulness’ depends on how will we keep the promises that we make. ‘Faithfulness’ is a matter of keeping your word. “Faithfulness” and “promises” go hand in hand.
What that means is that the quality of our faithfulness is based on history and past performance. Are you faithful? Will you keep the promises that you make to me? What’s your track record? If I’ve been ‘unfaithful’ in the past, then you have good reason to doubt that I’ll be faithful in the future. But if I’ve kept my word in the past, then you have good reason to believe that I’ll be faithful in the promises that I am making in the present and will make in the future.
All of this becomes much more real and practical as soon as we’re asked to do something or commit to something based on someone else’s faithfulness. If I were say, “please loan me $100. I promise I’ll pay it back to you.” Your response depends a great deal on your trust in my faithfulness. And the greater the risk I ask you to take, the greater my faithfulness needs to be for you to respond positively and confidently.
When we fail to keep our word and the promises that we make to others, it makes it harder for others to trust that we will keep the promises that we are making in the present and will make in the future. And the greater the promise that is broken the harder it is to earn back the trust. For example if a spouse is ‘unfaithful’ to the vows he or she made at their wedding, it’s very difficult for the other to believe the unfaithful one if they say, ‘trust me, it will never happen again.’ “Faithfulness” is a matter of dependability. “Can I depend on you to keep your word?”
Where this is all leading of course is the faithfulness of the God whom we call our Lord and who calls us, His bride.
Our God makes promises. And He wants us to trust that He will keep the promises He makes based on past performance.
God promised to deliver His people Israel from their slavery under Pharaoh in Egypt. After the Exodus was accomplished, God’s promise fulfilled, whenever God asked Israel to put their trust in Him, He always began by reminding them of how He had kept His promise to them in the past. “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” (Ex.20:2).
To be sure, it wasn’t because Israel was faithful to God that God was faithful to Israel. Moses says, “It was because the Lord is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that He brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, THE FAITHFUL GOD, who keeps His covenant.” (Deuteronomy 7:8-9). He is the God who keeps His Word because He is, by nature, faithful.
There was old saying in the early church that St. Paul refers to in his letter to Timothy. “The saying is trustworthy, ‘If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself.'” (2Tim.2:11-13). He is by nature, faithful.
The greater the promise kept, the greater SHOULD BE our trust in His faithfulness in the present. But poor Israel always worries and frets because, even though they know that God has kept His great promise in the past, they still don’t trust that He will be faithful to His lesser promises in the present, like His promise to feed them and guide them and protect them.
The greatest promise that God made was the very first promise He made. No sooner do the original husband and wife prove unfaithful to God and subsequently unfaithful to each other, than God made the promise of all promises. So great is this promise that it affects not just Adam and Eve, the original sinners, but all sinners thereafter. The promise is actually made to the devil. Pointing to the woman, God promises the devil, “the offspring of the woman shall crush your head and you shall bruise his heel.” (Gen.3:15).
God has kept this most wonderful and awesome promise. Jesus Christ is the seed of the woman. He was bruised on the tree of the cross by the devil’s disciples who hammered the nails into His hands and feet and plunged the sword into His side. But on the third day when He rose from the dead, He crushed the devil head. He did exactly what He promised He would do. God has kept His promise in Jesus Christ. “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, alleluia!”
The greater the promise kept, the greater SHOULD BE the trust we have in God’s faithfulness.
God never changes and neither do the promises He continues to make to His people, the new Israel, the holy Christian Church. “I will supply all of your needs. I will defend you from all danger and deliver you from all of your enemies. I will forgive all of your sins. I will raise you from your grave.”
And that we might all the more, trust in His faithfulness, He put down a security deposit – the Holy Spirit in Baptism, His body and blood in His Supper. These are the assurance of His faithfulness to His promise to you.
And yet, just like Israel, we continue to doubt God’s faithfulness. And that’s why lack the confidence and trust to do what He asks us to do, to take the risks that He asks us to take.
Just one example ought to make the point. God challenges us to return 10% of our income, the tithe, to support the work of His church. “Bring the full tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house.” He attaches a promise, like He loves to do. “Put me to the test, see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.” (Malachi 3:10-11). What is our response?
St. Paul writes to the Corinthians saying, “God loves a cheerful giver.” (2Cor. 9:7). Our cheerfulness is the sign that we trust that God is faithful and will take care of us according to His Word. Our reluctance indicates that we’re not sure that we can trust that God is faithful with the lesser promises. We believe that He’s kept His word regarding our salvation, but we’re not sure we can trust Him to keep His word to supply my daily bread and fund my retirement. St. Paul makes the argument from God’s past faithfulness in the great things, to His present faithfulness in the lesser things. “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32)
We understand the nature of the faithfulness that the Holy Spirit works to create and produce in us, by understanding the nature of the faithfulness of God. The Holy Spirit works in us to restore us to the image of God that we will one day be fully restored to. An integral aspect of that divine image is faithfulness.
Luther notes that there are two kinds of faithfulness, faithfulness to God and faithfulness to one another. The first deals with what we’ve been talking about so far. We are faithful to God, not because we keep our promises to Him, but because we believe and trust that He keeps His promises to us.
The second kind of faithfulness deals with our faithfulness to our neighbor, to one another. This is not like our faithfulness to God. With our neighbor, our faithfulness depends on how we keep the promises we make to them. How we keep our word.
It strikes me that the Scriptures consistently direct us to trust that God is faithful with the lesser promises because He has been faithful with the greater promises. But when it comes to us men and women in whom the Holy Spirit is at work, it’s the opposite. The character of our faithfulness depends on the way we keep the little promises and commitments that we make to one another.
Jesus told a parable about 10 servants who were each entrusted with one mina apiece. Those who did well with this small trust were counted trustworthy with bigger things. Those who did poorly with such a little thing were counted unfaithful and even the little they had was taken from them. Jesus says to His disciples that “one who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is dishonest in much.” (Luke 16:10).
The ‘very little’ things that determine our faithfulness are the everyday, mundane promises and commitments we are busy keeping or not keeping. Parents, keep the commitments that you make to your children so that they may learn to trust your faithfulness. Children, keep the promises that you make to your parents so that they may learn to trust your faithfulness. Husbands and wives, there was a day when you declared to each other, “I pledge you my faithfulness.” You won’t have kept your promise until your spouse dies as your spouse – so stick to it. Employees, be faithful to your employer. You promised to put in an honest days work in exchange for an honest days pay. Citizens, be faithful to your pledge of allegiance. Pay your taxes. Keep the law.
We’re to be faithful in these ‘very little things.” But it is exactly here where we so often prove to be faithless instead of faithful. Fundamentally, it is because we do not trust God’s faithfulness to us that we have such a hard time being faithful to one another.
So the Holy Spirit works to produce and grow our faithfulness to one another, by increasing our trust in the faithfulness of God. When we are faithless, the Spirit speaks to us saying, “If we confess our sins, GOD WHO IS FAITHFUL, will forgive our sins and cleanse us of all [unfaithfulness]” just as He has promised. (1John 1:9). “If we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself.'”