Friday, November 27, 2015

Fruits of the Spirit: Faithfulness

I can think of no better Biblical analogy of the faithfulness described as the seventh fruit of the Spirit than the story of David and Jonathan. Their story is one of breathtaking loyalty and trustworthiness, even in the face of brutal circumstances (an awesome storyline for a future novel, perhaps?). Both were young men of great courage. Jonathan and his armor bearer single-handedly took on a whole garrison of Philistines; David killed a giant no one else dared face with only a sling and five stones.

These two valiant men became fast friends after David defeated Goliath. As it says in 1 Samuel 18:1:

Now it came about when he had finished speaking to Saul, that the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as himself.

It is no doubt that they were kindred spirits. Jonathan saw in David a young man on fire for Yahweh, an obedient servant who was so confident in the Lord that he would face down a giant and still be sure of victory. This attitude was something Jonathan himself possessed, so it is no wonder that he was attracted to David so deeply. Right then and there the two young men made a covenant with each other, and Jonathan even freely surrendered his princely robe, armor, and weapons to David, recognizing, no doubt, that David would one day be king of Israel.

The covenant they made that fateful day would be tested soon after. You know the history. Saul, Jonathan’s own father, the king of Israel, burned with envy toward David. You see, the tale of this young youth’s bravery quickly spread among the people of Israel, and he almost instantly became a national hero. Saul, who obviously had a big problem with pride, couldn’t stand the attention David was receiving, and eventually his envy drove him to try and kill David. He first tried to pin David to the wall with a spear, twice. Thankfully, he missed both times, and David escaped with his life. His rage only growing stronger, Saul then set up a deadly snare for David with his daughter Michal as the bait and 100 Philistines as the steel jaws of the trap. David survived that, too.

Saul must have been pulling his hair out in frustration at this point. He was now openly David’s enemy, and clearly desperate to vanquish him, Saul recruited his son Jonathan and all his servants to put David to death. Jonathan now had a choice: break his covenant with David by literally stabbing him in the back, or disobey his father’s outrageous demand and help David stay alive. He chose the latter.

In a stunning picture of faithfulness, Jonathan risked his relationship with his father and even his life to remain faithful to David. He saved David at least twice from death, remaining loyal to him even in very dangerous circumstances. And there were serious repercussions. In an ultimate example of a father-son relationship gone wrong, he too was almost pinned to the wall by the spear of his father because of his loyalty to David. Jonathan was one faithful dude.

It should be our desire to have this kind of (using teenager lingo again) “epic” faithfulness. First and foremost, we should have this kind of faithfulness for our Lord God. We should never waver in being faithful to the One who deserves all our devotion. After all, He Himself is faithful--the absolutely perfect picture of it:

"Know therefore that the LORD your God, He is God, the faithful God, who keeps His covenant and His lovingkindness to a thousandth generation with those who love Him and keep His commandments. (Deuteronomy 7:9)

Secondly, we should be faithful to our sisters and brothers in Christ. Paul clearly had a great respect for the servants of Christ who were faithful to God and to each other (he describes Timothy, Onesimus, Tychicus, and Epaphras as such, for example). We should love and care for one another wholeheartedly.

Now for some practical application to live out this “epic” faithfulness.

Practical Application

Faithful to God

One practical way to be faithful to God is to take the responsibility He has given us seriously. This idea is found in Jesus’s parable of the talents in Mathew 25:14-30. In this parable, a man gathers his servants together and entrusts them with different amounts of talents to keep safe before he went on a journey. One servant was given five talents, another two, and the last servant was given one. A talent was a specific weight of gold or silver that was worth a considerable amount of money, and it was implied that the servants would not only be faithful in keeping the money safe but also in using it to increase their master’s wealth while he was gone.

The first two servants did just that. While their master was gone, they wisely traded the talents entrusted to them and doubled their master’s wealth. The servant entrusted with five talents had ten at hand when his master returned, and the servant with two talents had four ready to give back to his master at his arrival. The last servant, however, did not do the same.

Instead of increasing his master’s wealth, this third servant buried the one talent given him and did nothing to increase it. He convinced himself that his master was a “hard man, reaping where he did not sow and gathering where he scattered no seed (v24).” Apparently, this servant was afraid that his master would “steal” any profit he, the servant, made with the one talent given him, failing to realize that the talent belonged to his master anyway and that any profit made from it belonged to him. In short, this servant did not fulfil his responsibility to his master, and he paid the price for it. This slave, worthless to his master, was thrown in the outer darkness, the place of weeping and gnashing of teeth (v30).

The master in this parable is Jesus Christ; we are the servants. The talents represent the different levels of responsibility we have been entrusted with (at least according to John Macarthur, they are not the “gifts” we have been given). Jesus only desires for us to be faithful with our responsibilities, as seen in that the master rewarded both the faithful servants the same, even though the first servant gained more talents than the second. This is further brought out in the fact that though the third servant did not lose the one talent he was given, he was not faithful in fulfilling his responsibility to make profit with it. Jesus cares less about the end result of our faithfulness, but He cares deeply for our faithfulness to Him.

In whatever responsibilities God has given us, whether it be small like walking the neighbor’s dog, or big like pastoring a church, let us be faithful in fulfilling them and giving God all the glory!

Faithful to each other

There are many ways we should be faithful to human beings like other Christians, our parents, our spouse (ahem, if you are married yet), exc., but simply put, it all comes down to love (yep, the love that is the first fruit of the spirit). As Jesus commanded:

"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:34-35)

This commandment came after a touching passage where Jesus washed the disciples feet in an act of humble service. After He had washed the disciples feet, He said this:

"If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.” (John 13:14-17)

As Christians, it is our duty to humbly serve one another. I will not even begin to try and explain what this service should look like, for it looks like many things. However, here is what our attitude should look like as we do serve:

Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 2:1-5)

Okay, so you may never have the chance to show the epic faithfulness of Jonathan to another human being, but still it is our job to faithfully serve one another, selflessly and without conceit, regarding one another as more important than ourselves. Let us all be faithful to fulfill our calling, and may it be said of us as it was to the faithful slave in Mathew 25:

“Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.”