Exodus 34:1-8, Matthew 25:14-23
October 18, 2009
Last week the word for the day was more complex than I first realized. The word was “goodness” And as a spiritual fruit, “goodness” also carried with it the idea of “excellence,” and even “generosity.” I hope we’ve been giving that some thought as we make our way through Stewardship Month.
This week’s word was not as complex as it was surprising for me. This week’s word is “faithfulness.” And I started out looking for various passages that had to do with being faithful people. But I was surprised. Because I found a lot of passages about faithfulness, but the vast majority of them had to do, not with us, but with God. There is much more written in the Bible about God’s faithfulness than ours. That’s where we begin today.
In many of the passages about God’s faithfulness, we often find the word paired with the words “steadfast love.” For example: Psalm 100 says, “…His steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness is to all generations.” And actually that was not surprising. Those are all very similar words. And in Hebrew the writers would often repeat a word or a phrase using slightly different words in order to emphasize it’s meaning. Scholars called that “parallelism.” (Scholars like to make up words like that!)
Well, that’s no surprise because God’s faithfulness was very important theme in the Old Testament. Faithfulness has to do with trustworthiness, constancy, reliability, fidelity, dependability – all those things. And those were considered to be important characteristics of God. That was very important given the Hebrew’s tendency to be unfaithful to God!
Look at this passage from Exodus. This is the story of the time when Moses was instructed to cut two new tablets of stone for the Law. Why? Because he broke the first! They were the greatest tangible connection between God and mankind and Moses smashed them. Why? Because of the people’s un-faithfulness! That was the history of those people. Yet God was always faithful to them! And that was a major theme in their whole theology!
As I said, the word faithfulness is paired with the words “steadfast love,” and they had a word for that. It was the Hebrew word “Hesed.” (Last week I gave you a Greek word, so it seemed only fitting that I give you a Hebrew word today!) And this word “Hesed” is the word we translate “steadfast love.” They often talked and wrote about “The Hesed of God.” It was a big theme, and it was all about “Faithfulness.” People could rely on God, they could “count on” his love – his Hesed – no matter what!
Several years ago there was a line of merchandise that came out that helped people remember that. It was centered around the word “Dog.” Maybe you remember it. It was in a lot of the Christian bookstores. “Dog” was an acronym that stood for “Depend on God.” So there were dog bone necklaces, and paw print wristbands and stationary, and all sorts of things. And all of them reminded people to “depend on God.” It was very cute. I probably still have some of that stuff around somewhere! A little later someone came up with a similar idea called “Frog.” That stood for “Fully Rely on God.” And there were smiling frogs all over the place. Those things were good. They were well done. And they were good reminders in a more modern way that God is faithful. God is reliable. God is dependable. His steadfast love is everlasting, and his faithfulness is to all generations.
Well, I’m sure Paul knew all those references in the Bible. And I’m sure he was well versed in the important concept of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness. But even so, I’m also sure that when he wrote this list, he intended for the word “faithfulness” to apply to us. So that’s what I’d like us to think about and take with us today. I’d like us to think about how this whole business of God’s faithfulness can then be our faithfulness, when we are “walking by the spirit.”
So think about that. Can God rely on us? If you think about your own life, I’m sure you know there are times when you have been right there with God! You were willing to serve. You were sharing everything you did with God. You were seeking his wisdom and guidance. You were sharing that joy with others. Then there are the other times. I’m sure there are times when you feel like the Jewish people must have felt when they had forsaken their God. When they had complained against him in the wilderness, when they had “grumbled” against Moses for bringing them out of their security in Egypt, when they had forgotten all that God had done for them. There may even be times in your life when you’ve felt the way the people must have felt in exile.
You see, part of what it means to be “faithful” means choosing to be God’s people even in the dark times. It means learning to find our way back to him, or to allow ourselves to be drawn back by God when he seeks us out. And I don’t mean to make that sound easy! It is not! This may be the fruit of the Spirit that takes the greatest strength the Spirit can give us. Faithfulness is hard sometimes! But it is important to our God – our God who is also the God of Abraham and Moses.
We read today from Matthew’s Gospel. And we read a part where Jesus talks about faithfulness. This is the Parable of the Talents. And I don’t want to get into all the “stewardship aspects” of this story today. (Although it is a great story for Stewardship!) I don’t even want to deal with the last servant and all the negative feelings associated with him. I had us read only the first part of this story. Because what I want you to see here is the praise the master had for the men who had served him well. You know these words, I’m sure. The master said, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant…” Our faithfulness is important to God. Our reliability is valued by God!
Sometimes I wonder if it’s even possible for us to see all this from God’s perspective. Can we even begin to imagine the feelings God had as he watched his people forsake him over the years. He had rescued them. He had nurtured them. He had loved them with steadfast love. (Hesed!) And then he watched them time and time again neglect the covenant and forget their relationship with him. There are a number of places in the scriptures where God expresses his anguish, where he pours out his heart about his people’s unfaithfulness.
So, can we even imagine God’s feelings about us. For he has also watched our struggles. He has anguished over our times of unfaithfulness – times when we have not been “reliable,” when we have neglected our covenant, when we have forgotten our relationship with him. If we could really imagine that, I think we would truly see how important our faithfulness is to God!
I know that’s hard to see. Because too often we think of God in very “formulaic” ways. We simply think, “God loves you.” “God saves you.” “God knows when you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake!” We forget that God feels – just like us. God is grieved, God is anguished when we fail him and forsake him. God longs for us to be reliable to him! We need to think of it that way!
While you’re thinking about that, I want you to notice that Jesus also tells in this story about the reward for faithfulness. The master says, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much.” Our faithfulness is rewarded by greater opportunities for service, and greater involvement in his kingdom. And greater personal interaction with God! When we are faithful, God trusts us with more. But there’s even more. The master says, “Enter into the (what?) joy of the Lord.” Not the service of the Lord. Not the kingdom of the Lord. And yes, there are those things. But Jesus is very specific in that moment. He says, “Enter into the joy of the Lord.” That’s what he wants for us!
With that in mind, I also want you to see here that faithfulness isn’t a “sometimes thing.” If it is, it isn’t faithfulness, is it. It’s like the sign I saw recently that said, “I asked the librarian where to find the self-help books, and she said, ‘If I told you it would defeat the purpose.’” Faithfulness, by definition, isn’t a sometimes thing. We need to be faithful to God all the time! Oh, maybe not perfectly, maybe not without fail. But at least to the point where it becomes one of our characteristics! Remember these fruits are outward signs.
Each week now, I’ve asked the “practical question.” But maybe I’ve been asking it slightly wrong. This time, instead of asking, “are you a faithful person?” I should be asking it this way. “Would others say about you that you are a faithful person?” That’s a more different question, isn’t it? But if we have these characteristics in our lives, they will be outward signs, and they will be all about the kind of people we are.
So, the word – the fruit – is faithfulness. So I challenge you to seek to serve and to love and to follow, and to live your lives so that someday you too may hear the words, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of the Lord.”
Eternal God, we need your power, your strength so that we can choose to be faithful to you. Help us to walk more closely to you in the power of your Spirit and the joy of your kingdom. For these things we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.