Be Faithful To One Another
August 15, 2004 | Randy Smith
Be Faithful To One AnotherProverbs 28:20
Sunday, August 15, 2004
Pastor Randy Smith
I've been greatly encouraged as to how much the Lord has ministered to your hearts through the past two sermons on legalism. I have no doubt that application in this particular area will promote greater unity amongst ourselves and greater honor to God. Many of you have commented how your understanding on this serious and often misunderstood subject has been clarified. I praise the Lord as that was my primary intention.
However, what I was not expecting was the degree to which God indirectly used this subject to minister to your hearts by conveying to you the truth about grace. You see, the errors and sins pertaining to legalism stem from a misunderstanding of the doctrine of grace. We cannot begin talking about legalism without presenting a biblical view of grace.
Legalists believe that God is a performance orientated God. In this capacity, they are correct. God made it clear that "cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, to perform them" (Gal. 3:10) and "for whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all" (Jas. 2:10). But legalists also believe that they have the capacity to personally earn that acceptance from God based upon their own good works. In this capacity they are incorrect. The Word of God teaches us that receiving God's love and earning His acceptance is based entirely on grace through faith. "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast" (Eph. 2:8-9).
God is performance orientated, but since we are unable to perform, God performed on our behalf in the Person of Jesus Christ. Therefore our standing and acceptance with God is based upon trusting entirely in Christ's work (His death and Resurrection) and not our own. This is the reality of amazing grace. Many of you have felt liberated by coming to a better understanding of this precious truth as well.
However, when we discuss legalism, we must discuss another truth, in addition to grace, lest the pendulum shift too far the other way. With all this talk about grace and forgiveness and unconditional acceptance, we have a tendency to think our actions are of little consequence. In other words, we can live as we please, ignoring God's Word and the lordship of Christ, and still expect to enter heaven. Such an attitude is called licentiousness (license to sin) or antinomianism ("in opposition to law"). God wants us to avoid the sin of legalism on one end but also to avoid the sin of license on the other.
To sing, "Now I'm a Christian, Oh the blessed condition, I can sin all I want, and still have remission" is an insult to the One who died for these sins and an abuse of the doctrine of grace. Two thousand years ago, the Apostle Paul strongly addressed this error. "The Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it" (Rom. 5:20-6:2)?
God has called us to "be holy as He is holy" (1 Pet. 1:16). We are to "walk in the same manner as (Jesus) walked" (1 Jn. 2:6). We have been set free from our slavery to sin to be "slaves for obedience" (Rom. 6:16). We have been "created in Christ Jesus for good works" (Eph. 2:10). A godly life not only gives glory to God for His transforming power, but also gives us assurance that His Holy Spirit dwells within us (Rom. 8:9). Christlike actions do not save us, but they do give evidence that we are saved. James said, "Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself" (Jas. 2:17). The Reformers put it well: "We have been saved by faith alone, but the faith that saves is never alone."
So with all this as an introduction, I would like to cover another subject that is essential for church and home unity, but is also essential for the individual who seeks to live his or her life pleasing to the Lord as a recipient of grace. Neglect of this subject has led to much disorder, frustration and hurt within the church and family. And unfortunately it is rarely spoken of from the pulpit or in informal conversations. As a matter of fact, I believe some of you may even be indifferent or totally ignorant of this biblical topic, a topic that I believe is one of the surest indicators of Christian maturity and personal integrity. The subject is faithfulness.
Now there are two kinds of faith spoken of in the Bible. First there is what theologians call "active faith" (pistis). We are all familiar with active faith since it is commonly used to speak of our faith, reliance and belief in the Almighty God. Second there is "passive faith" (pistos). Passive faith speaks of our reliability or faithfulness to be trusted. For example, all of you were faithful to attend church this morning.
God has called His children to be faithful, but how many of you really understand the biblical call to be faithful? How many of you know of specific ways you can be more faithful? How many of you realize that faithfulness is a "fruit of the Spirit" (Gal. 5:22)? How many of you value this "fruit" on par with the fruits of peace, joy and kindness? How many of you pray for greater faithfulness in your own lives? How many of you encourage one another in areas of faithfulness?
Passive faith will be our topic for this morning. I hope to convince you through the Spirit how crucial this subject is in your walk with God.
1. GOD'S FAITHFULNESS TO US
In order to understand the priority of this subject, we must remind ourselves of the biblical injunction to be "imitators of God, as beloved children" (Eph. 5:1). This is not only a foundational Christian principle, but also a logical one. We are called to emulate God's character as children who want to be like their heavenly Father. We already covered this in the subject of "peacemaking." You'll recall the Beatitude. "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God" (Mt. 5:9).
This principle is stated throughout Scripture: Matthew 5:48, "Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." Luke 6:36, "Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful." Ephesians 4:32, "Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you."
Since we are to emulate the character of God our Father in His "communicable attributes," we need to ask ourselves the following question: "Is God faithful?" Maybe I should allow you to answer that question based upon your relationship with Him. Has God been faithful to you?
Listen to one woman's account: "Evelyn Husband lost the love of her life, space shuttle commander Rick Husband, in a national tragedy. A year later, she shares her message about God's healing hand. It's been nearly a year since Evelyn stood with the other families of the space shuttle Columbia's crew at the landing site in Cape Canaveral, Florida, waiting for her husband to return home. The shuttle was just minutes from landing when NASA's Mission Control lost contact with the shuttle crew. The next few moments were a blur of events: video images of Columbia breaking apart over the Texas skyline, NASA officials scrambling to move the family members away from view of television cameras. Evelyn remembers looking at the faces of her son, Matthew, and daughter, Laura, then 7 and 12. That was the beginning of Evelyn's efforts to deliver a powerful message: Even in the midst of intense suffering, God is faithful. 'Deep inside, I knew God was going to walk me through this somehow," she says. "I knew it because he'd walked with me through other crises earlier in my life'" (Corrie Cutrer, "Finding Purpose in Pain," Today's Christian Woman, Jan/Feb 2004). Do you have a similar dependence in God's faithfulness?
Let's see what the Scriptures say: King David in the Psalms blessed God by saying, "Your lovingkindness, O LORD, extends to the heavens, Your faithfulness reaches to the skies" (Psm. 36:5; c.f. 89:2; 145:5-6). In Psalm 100 we read about God's "faithfulness (extending) to all generations" (Psm. 100:5). God's faithfulness is eternally on display. No wonder so many biblical writers continually say "God is faithful" (1 Cor. 1:9; 10:13; 2 Cor. 1:18; cf. Dt. 7:9; Hos. 11:12; 1 Pet. 4:19).
The prophet Jeremiah clearly understood God's faithfulness. He knew that God was faithful to bring the righteous curses upon the nation of Israel for their disobedience just as He promised (Dt. 28:15). However, Jeremiah also saw hope in God's promise of future restoration and blessing. Jeremiah knew God was faithful to that blessing as well. Therefore after the destruction of Jerusalem he sung, "This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope. The Lord's lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness" (Lam. 3:21-23).
Faithfulness is even implied in God's covenant name (Ex. 3:13-15). He is the great "I AM," the rock, the secure object of our trust (Dt. 32:4). Because of God's unchangeable character and omnipotence, He is always faithful to all His promises (Heb. 10:23) and covenants (Dt. 7:9; Isa. 49:7). "The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever" (Isa. 40:8)
God is faithful to pardon sin through the blood of Christ: 1 John 1:9, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." There is no sin too great for Him to forgive due to His faithfulness to this promise.
God is faithful to maintain the physical laws of creation. After the Flood subsided in Genesis 8 we read, "While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease" (Gen. 8:22). One pastor said, "Because of God's faithfulness, the sun rises every morning and the moon rises every night. The earth circles the sun once a year and there are four seasons. Each season has its beauty. The earth maintains an average distance of 93 millions miles from the Sun, so that we have the right temperature to live. The atmosphere maintains a balance of 21 volumes of oxygen and 79 of nitrogen so that we can breath. The rain comes in the proper time and there is seed time and harvest. The earth keeps producing all kinds of food for us. There are thousands of physical laws operating and balancing each other to give us the right environment to live. Without the almighty God maintaining the order of the universe, without the faithfulness of God we cannot live even one day."
God is faithful to help us in temptation (1 Cor. 10:13). He is faithful to comfort us in suffering (1 Pet. 4:19). He is faithful to bring us to glory (1 Jn. 2:25). As a matter of fact, the Scriptures even declare that God is faithful even when we are not because His character and sovereignty are independent of His creation. His nature is unchanging. Regardless of our actions, He will not cease to be a faithful God. 2 Timothy 2:13, "If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself."
God demonstrated His faithfulness in fulfilling hundreds of prophetic announcements and sending Jesus to be our Savior. Even Jesus Himself, as an example of His own deity is called "Faithful and True" (Rev. 19:11; cf. 1:5; 3:14). He was faithful to live a sinless life and perfectly do the will of the Father, even when that plan included dying for the sins of the world. As the obedient Son, Jesus faithfully did everything that was expected of Him.
2. OUR FAITHFULNESS TO GOD
Because God is faithful, He is worthy to be served as a firm object of trust and confidence. We know that He keeps His Word. He cannot lie (Tit. 1:2). And He is faithful to all His promises. In the same way that God is faithful to us (moving to point #2), He expects us to be faithful to Him, to imitate this attribute of His as obedient children whereby He might find us trustworthy as well.
Satan is the epitome of unfaithfulness. He is forever promising his children fame, glory and success contrary to the Word of God. In the end his promises always come up empty and the best he has to offer his servants is an eternity in hell.
Since most emulate the unfaithfulness of Satan, Solomon, in Proverbs, could say, "Who can find a trustworthy man" (Pr. 20:6b)? His father, David, in Psalm 12 said, "Help, Lord, for the godly man ceases to be, for the faithful disappear from among the sons of men" (Psm. 12:1).
On the contrary, those who follow Christ are identified much differently. They are to demonstrate their faith in God through their faithfulness to Him. Ephesians 1:1b, "To the saints who are at Ephesus and who are faithful in Christ Jesus." Colossians 1:2a, "To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ who are at Colossae." The dead in Christ who join Him at His return are called, "Chosen and faithful" (Rev. 17:14).
In Psalm 101:6 God said, "My eyes shall be upon the faithful of the land, that they may dwell with me; he who walks in a blameless way is the one who will minister to me." Is it any wonder that God makes faithfulness a specific requirement for church leaders (1 Cor. 4:2; 2 Ti. 2:2), their wives, who are to be "faithful in all things" (1 Ti. 3:11) and even their children as well (Tit. 1:6 - if I am interpreting this correctly).
Throughout the Bible we read of God's greatest leaders both modeling and being identified as men of faithfulness. We think of Joseph who was given great responsibility over Egypt, second only to Pharaoh, because of his faithfulness (Gen. 41:41-44) and Noah who faithfully labored for 120 years to build an ark in the desert (Gen. 6:22). God defended Moses by saying, "He is faithful in all My household" (Num. 12:7; cf. Heb. 3:5) and Ahimelech defended David by saying, "And who among all your servants is as faithful as David" (1 Sam. 22:14). In the New Testament, Timothy was called a "beloved and faithful child in the Lord" (1 Cor. 4:17). Tychicus and Epaphras were called "faithful servant(s)" of the Lord (Eph. 6:21; Col. 1:7; 4:7). The Apostle Paul said, "I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service" (1 Tim. 1:12). We all know that he was faithful until the end. On his deathbed, awaiting martyrdom, he said, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith" (2 Tim. 4:7).
3. OUR FAITHFULNESS TO OTHERS
Now as we move to the third point, I want to come to the crux of this message and show you how faithfulness is essential for church and home unity. Here it is - One of the ways we demonstrate our faithfulness to God is being faithful to other people.
Now when we think of faithfulness to others, we naturally think of the "big things, " such as fidelity to a spouse or provisions for a child. But is abstaining from adultery the only way you are required to remain faithful to your spouse? Feeding and clothing your children is necessary for faithful parents, but does that negate a parent's responsibility to pray for their children, discipline their children, spend time with their children, teach them the ways of the Lord and model for them a life of godliness.
Are we faithful in ministry? Not just participating, but arriving on time with adequate preparation both of our own heart and with the necessary materials and plans to conduct the ministry. Do we faithfully continue our responsibilities such as prayer and evangelism and service even when there appears to be little or no observable fruit?
Is it excusable when people fail to show up for a nursery assignment and the coordinators are running around Sunday schools to recruit a last minute volunteer? Is that fair to the replacement or the coordinator or the children? Should we not be faithful to find our own substitutes, assist them in the planning and give them adequate time to prepare their hearts for this awesome privilege of ministering Christ to our children? Is it excusable when our library coordinator needs to remind us in the church bulletin to return our borrowed materials on time and in good condition? Is it excusable when classes are conducted and people consistently arrive late and unprepared to study God's Word?
Not only are these sins against God, they are sins against other people as well. I am extremely impressed with the faithfulness of this congregation. We saw a remarkable demonstration of faithfulness during last week's VBS. However, I would imagine that the average pastor would save 10-20% of his time, if people in "his" church would be faithful. The percentage would be even higher for the church secretary.
Do you realize that your little acts of unfaithfulness often cause additional effort and great discouragement in those who were counting on you? Do you realize that your little acts of unfaithfulness have ramifications that can dramatically affect many dependent on you?
What a difference one small act of unfaithfulness can make. Consider the following article from The New York Times: "J. P. Morgan & Company, a bank worth $21 billion, was disconnected from the Internet on June 13, 2000 for failure to pay a $35 bill. The venerable Wall Street firm found itself without a Web site or an e-mail connection to the outside world because it had failed to renew the registration of www.jpmorgan.com, the domain name that serves as its address on the World Wide Web. Throughout the day, clients were unable to visit the Web site or exchange e-mail messages with the firm's bankers and traders. All that frustration could have been averted if Morgan had sent a check for $35 for the annual registration fee to Network Solutions, a domain-name registrar in Herndon, Virginia. It pulled the plug on Morgan six weeks after Morgan's bill came due and after sending the firm at least three bills, said Chris Clough, vice president for corporate communications at Network Solutions" (Patrick McGeehan, "For Want of $35, J.P. Morgan Loses Its Web Site and E-Mail, New York Times, 6-14-00).
This past week the church had a wonderful time on Bill Burdge's ship. That is true. The rest of this story is fictional. After Mr. Burdge's gracious invitation, the following events happened behind the scenes. Again this is all fictional.
Instead of signing-up on the sheet as requested, the Fredas, the Smiths and Marie Zimet all told Kristin they'd like to come when they saw her at odd times. When the Fredas arrived they were offended that Kristin didn't remember because Mary clearly told her during VBS when she had nothing else on her mind. Kristin did call Marie to confirm, but Marie was still unable to give an answer and asked Kristin to call her back in a week. The Smiths failed to return any of Kristin's six phone calls, but nevertheless arrived at the outing. The Marsangos and Joe Neebe and the Stevensons signed-up, but never arrived, which could have made room for the Rennas, Doris Spilatro and the Martells, who wanted to go but were told there wasn't enough space. The Azzarettis and the Steenlands were assigned to bring drinks, but both of these families forgot so there were no refreshments to go with our dinner and cool our taste buds from Julie Cheverez's spicy chip dip. Kristin received ten phone calls for directions because Tyler Waltsak was two weeks late in posting them, and then due to inaccuracies, half the people arrived at the wrong location. The Kanes and the Fossas both arrived 30 minutes late so everybody that arrived on time had to wait and half of the activities for the evening were cancelled due to time constraints. Tara Constantino and Wendy McKnight called Kristin the night before at 10:00 p.m. and asked if was too late to sign up. The Nagys and Judy Muldoon arrived unexpectedly without signing up and forced Mr. Burge to exceed his limitations and compromise the safety of all. The Pardos who promised to watch the children of the Squicciarinis cancelled at the last minute which forced Pat and Tony to watch the grandchildren and not attend the outing themselves that they were looking forward to. The Pullens forgot to pick up Jo Erbe's birthday cake. And when the ride concluded the Taylors and LaForges left immediately, forgetting they promised to help clean up, leaving Jo Erbe, on her birthday work until 1:00 in the morning.
If you have ever coordinated an activity, you will agree that this fictitious account is not far from reality!
Are we "faithful in all things" as the Scriptures declare (1 Tim. 3:11)? Jesus said, "He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much. Therefore if you have not been faithful in the use of unrighteous wealth, who will entrust the true riches to you? And if you have not been faithful in the use of that which is another's, who will give you that which is your own" (Lk. 16:10-12). God wants us faithful in the "little things" as well. As a matter of fact, the principle throughout Scripture is that He will not entrust us with greater responsibilities until we are faithful with the smaller ones.
Consider the testimony from possibly the greatest of all preachers: "Charles Spurgeon preached to thousands in London each Lord's Day, yet he started his ministry by passing out tracts and teaching a Sunday school class as a teenager. When he began to give short addresses to the Sunday school, God blessed his ministry of the Word. He was invited to preach in obscure places in the countryside, and he used every opportunity to honor the Lord. He was faithful in the small things, and God trusted him with the greater things. 'I am perfectly sure,' he said, 'that, if I had not been willing to preach to those small gatherings of people in obscure country places, I should never have had the privilege of preaching to thousands of men and women in large buildings all over the land.'" Remember our Lord's rule, 'whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted'" (Wycliffe Handbook of Preaching and Preachers, W. Wiersbe, p. 221).
Here's another testimony from the famous missionary, Hudson Taylor: "It was a stormy night in Birmingham, England, and Hudson Taylor was to speak at a meeting at the Seven Street schoolroom. His hostess assured him that nobody would attend on such a stormy night, but Taylor insisted on going. "I must go even if there is no one but the doorkeeper." Less than a dozen people showed up, but the meeting was marked with unusual spiritual power. Half of those present either became missionaries or gave their children as missionaries; and the rest were faithful supporters of the China Inland Mission for years to come" (Wycliffe Handbook of Preaching and Preachers, Warren Wiersbe, p. 242).
F.B. Meyer said, "Don't waste your time waiting and longing for large opportunities which may never come. But faithfully handle the little things that are always claiming your attention." The little things that are always claiming our attention, things even outside the church like: returning phone calls, returning things you borrow in a reasonable time in the same or better condition, observing due dates on things like wedding invitations and library books and homework assignments, arriving on time. (Now this doesn't mean that we should be judging those who walk in late. We don't know their circumstances.) Following directions when given an assignment, keeping your word, following through on your commitments, even when something better comes along, thanking people for a favor done, and completing an assignment with excellence.
In response to His return our Lord said, "Who then is the faithful and sensible slave whom his master put in charge of his household to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes" (Mt. 24:45-46). One chapter later, in the parable of the talents that I read earlier, our Lord said, "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" (Mt. 25:21, 23). In Proverbs we read, "A faithful man will abound with blessings" (Pr. 28:20a).
Jesus wants His children faithful in all things. He does not hold us accountable for success (that's His prerogative), but He does hold us accountable for faithfulness. Everything we do should be viewed as a spiritual service unto the Lord. There is no division between the spiritual and the secular.
Does He find us faithful in "all things?" Are we emulating the character of God? Is our faithfulness a demonstration and overflow of our faith in God? Do you agree that faithfulness could be one of the greatest marks of integrity? Do we possess the "forgotten fruit" of faithfulness? Do we long to hear our Savior say upon our entrance to glory, "Well done (My) good and faithful servant" (NIV)?