************ Sermon on Galatians 5:22g ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on August 29, 2004
"The Fruit of the Spirit is ... Faithfulness"
Topic: FaithfulnessThis Chinese pastor and church, we would have to say, are faithful.
The narrow lane led deep into the heart of Canton, China. As Fergus Bordewich picked his way through the jam of pedestrians he finally found the right address. Climbing two flights of steps, he entered a room packed with handmade pews. There were racks of Bibles and piles of hymnals. Twenty or more students, businessmen, and elderly women were kneeling on the concrete floor. Their voices swelled, and old Christian hymns echoed through the room. This was the Chinese underground church. According to a Reader's Digest article by Bordewich, everyone in the attic church knew the gathering was illegal. Police might burst in at any time to beat them and drag away their pastor, Lin Xiangao. Years before, Xiangao had been asked to denounce Christ. He refused, saying, "Even if you prolong my sentence or kill me, I can't criticize Christ."
Today, we want to look at the fruit of the Spirit known as faithfulness. Spirit-filled churches and Christians – and there are no other kind – have the fruit of faithfulness.
I The Weed to be Rooted Out
A "But the fruit of the Spirit is ... faithfulness." As in a garden or field, we have to root out the weeds before we can expect to reap a harvest. When it comes to faithfulness, the weed to be rooted out is unfaithfulness.
The unfaithful man or woman is undependable. You can't have confidence in them or place your trust in them. Unfaithfulness is very close to disobedience and unbelief. Consider the case of the Israelites who escaped from Egypt. They could not enter into Canaan because they were unfaithful. And, their unfaithfulness came to expression in unbelief and disobedience. Moses speaks of Israel's unfaithfulness in the song he recited shortly before his death.
(Deut 32:15-18) ... He [that is, Israel] abandoned the God who made him and rejected the Rock his Savior. (16) They made him jealous with their foreign gods and angered him with their detestable idols. (17) They sacrificed to demons, which are not God-- gods they had not known, gods that recently appeared, gods your fathers did not fear. (18) You deserted the Rock, who fathered you; you forgot the God who gave you birth.Israel was unfaithful. There is only one result for unfaithfulness:
(Deut 32:19-20) The LORD saw this and rejected them because he was angered by his sons and daughters. (20) "I will hide my face from them," he said, "and see what their end will be; for they are a perverse generation, children who are unfaithful.
We don't have to look only at Israel to find unfaithfulness. Look at our society today. Look at the number of husbands and wives who are not faithful and true till death do them part and end up with a divorce. Look at all the children growing up without one of their parents because dad or mom aren't faithful to their parental duties.
Unfaithfulness is costly. Thousands of dollars are spent on legal fees when husbands and wives divorce each other. State governments spend millions of dollars trying to make fathers and mothers pay child support; if parents were faithful this would not be necessary. Think of how much money the IRS would save if it did not have such a large staff and complex equipment just to make sure our tax returns are trustworthy. And, of course, the same is true of the Immigration Service, the Department of Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration, the Federal Housing Authority, Social Security, and so on.
I'm afraid there is unfaithfulness even within the church. There are preachers who cling to their pulpits, and elders and deacons who cling to their office, even though they no longer believe the Apostles' Creed. There are groups that call themselves church, yet they are nothing but social clubs. There are members who rarely attend worship services, put little or nothing in the offering plate, and never get involved in church life. There are Christian parents who don't do all that they can to raise their children in the fear and instruction of the Lord – even though they make that promise when their children are baptized.
In this light, think of our Scripture reading, the Parable of the Talents. The man who buried the one talent he had was not a "good and faithful servant." Instead, he is called wicked and lazy. He was unfaithful. And, when we bury our talents instead of using them for the Lord, we too are unfaithful.
Unfaithfulness in churches and Christians is costly. In a world of darkness, unfaithfulness means the light of the Gospel is no longer shining. In a world of hurt, unfaithfulness means there is no place of healing and rest. In a world looking for direction, unfaithfulness means there is no one to give moral guidelines.
B "But the fruit of the Spirit is ... faithfulness." When it comes to faithfulness there is not only a weed to be rooted out but there is also an artificial fruit to be detected. The artificial fruit is half-heartedness. We see half-heartedness instead of faithfulness at the time of Malachi. Instead of offering animals without blemish, they brought lame and sickly animals for sacrifice. Instead of freshly baked bread, the show-bread on the table in the holy place was moldy. Instead of giving the Lord ten percent, they gave one or two percent. God curses such behavior (Mal 1:14).
Let's try to discover some contemporary equivalents to this: the church school teacher who hastily prepares his lesson late on Saturday night or early on Sunday morning; the preacher who slaps together a superficial sermon; the special music that is not properly rehearsed ahead of time; the "A" student who settles for a "C"; the Christian who gives a smile instead of taking the time to talk and listen; the individual who measures faith by the number of things he is involved in rather than by the fruit of the Spirit. The Lord does not care for such half-heartedness.
II The Fruit Itself
A "But the fruit of the Spirit is ... faithfulness." Faithfulness is an attribute of God. Over and over again the Bible tells us God is faithful (Deut 7:9; 32:4; Ps 25:10; 33:4; 145:13; 146:6; Is 49:7; Zech 8:8; 1 Cor 1:9; 10:13; 2 Cor 1:18; 2 Thess 3:3). Faithfulness surrounds God and is central to His being (Ps 89:8). We have to be thankful that God is faithful regardless of the circumstances of our lives. Nor is His faithfulness withdrawn because of the faithlessness of His people. Jesus was faithful in dying for us. And, right now Jesus is faithful in taking care for us.
B "But the fruit of the Spirit is ... faithfulness." Filled with the Spirit, and the fruit of the Spirit, our faithfulness should be like God's. We should never allow circumstances to keep us from being faithful. Our sense of dependability should not rest on another's faithfulness. And, our faithfulness should not cease when another is found to be unfaithful. Our faithfulness, like God's, should be central to our being.
Listen to these outstanding examples of faithfulness that I came across this past week:
Subtopic: What Is Faithfulness?
A shepherd once came to the city of Edinburgh from the country. He had his small obedient dog with him. While there, the man died and was buried. That little dog lay upon its master's grave - not for a day, a week, or a month, but for 12 years. Every day at one o'clock a gun was fired in the castle of Edinburgh. When the gun was fired the dog would run to the local baker who gave it food and water. Then back to the grave it would go. This continued till the dog died 12 years later. That was faithfulness!
A man threw a goose, which had been run over and crushed by a car, into an oil drum. For seven years the gander, that goose's mate, never went more than ten feet away from that oil drum. That was faithfulness!
George Mueller prayed for 52 years for a certain man to come to Christ. A pastor visited an elderly man 21 times before being admitted, but then he befriended the man and led him to Christ. That was faithfulness!
A Welsh postman had the British Empire Medal conferred upon him by Queen Elizabeth; he had not missed a day's service in 43 years. That was faithfulness!
Paul Dhrlick, the chemist, performed 605 unsuccessful experiments; the 606th was a success! Thomas Edison made 18,000 experiments before he perfected the light bulb. After experiencing 50 failures on another project he said, "I have found 50 ways it cannot be done!" That was faithfulness!
During the Korean War a man buried himself in the muck and mud of a pig sty (except for his nose and mouth so he could breathe) for eight days and nights rather than betray his buddies and surrender to the enemy. That was faithfulness!
C "But the fruit of the Spirit is ... faithfulness." When the Holy Spirit has its way in a community of believers, the result is faithfulness. I think of the time King Joash commanded that offerings be taken for the repair of the Temple (2 Kings 12). The workmen and their foremen were faithful, trustworthy, dependable. The Bible says:
(2Ki 12:15) They did not require an accounting from those to whom they gave the money to pay the workers, because they acted with complete honesty.
In the Parable of the Talents the master found the same kind of faithfulness in the servant who received five talents and the servant who received two talents. They knew the master expected them to put the money to work. So they were faithful to their calling and duties. Jesus lays out a principle here: those who are faithful with a few things can also be trusted with many things (Mt 25:21,23). The reverse is also true: those who are unfaithful with a few things cannot be trusted with many things.
III Cultivating the Fruit
A "But the fruit of the Spirit is ... faithfulness." In our age of pleasure-seeking and selfish pursuit, in our age of faithlessness, it is important that the man and woman of God be faithful. God, the Divine Gardener, looks for the spiritual fruit of faithfulness just like a gardener looks for fruit. Let me mention some areas where we, as Christians, can and should be faithful.
First and foremost, we need to be faithful to God. Unlike Israel, we are not to pursue other gods. For us, of course, these gods are not Baal, Ashteroth, or Dagon; nor, are they graven images or golden calves. Today's gods are pleasure, money, things, sex, sports, recreation, TV, computers, science, and technology. Unlike Israel, we are to practice obedience to God. Unlike Israel, we are to put God first in life and keep Him there. We need to be faithful to God and Christ even in the face of persecution. I think of Polycarp, a member and the bishop of the church of Smyrna.
He stepped forward, and was asked by the proconsul if he really was Polycarp. When he said yes, the proconsul urged him to deny the charge. "Swear, and I will set you free: curse, denounce, Christ."Polycarp was faithful to God and Christ even though it meant being burned to death.
"For eighty-six years," replied Polycarp, "I have been his servant, and he has never done me wrong: how can I blaspheme my king who saved me?"
"I have wild beasts," said the proconsul. I shall throw you to them, if you don't change your attitude."
"Call them," replied the old man ...
"If you make light of the beasts," retorted the governor, "I'll have you destroyed by fire, unless you change your attitude."
Polycarp answered: "The fire you threaten burns for a time and is soon extinguished: there is a fire you know nothing about -- the fire of the judgement to come and of eternal punishment, the fire reserved for the ungodly. But why do you hesitate? Do what you want." ...
The proconsul was amazed, and sent the crier to stand in the middle of the arena and announce three times: "Polycarp has confessed that he is a Christian." ... Then a shout went up from every throat that Polycarp must be burnt alive.
The rest followed in less time than it takes to describe: the crowds rushed to collect logs and branches ... When the pyre was ready ... Polycarp prayed ... When he had offered up the Amen and completed his prayer, the men in charge lit the fire, and a great flame shot up.
B "But the fruit of the Spirit is ... faithfulness." Second, we need to be faithful in terms of religion and faith. We need to apply the same standards of faithfulness to church activities as we apply to other areas of our life. For instance, if your car started one out of three times, would you consider it faithful? If the paperboy skipped Mondays and Thursdays, would you say he is faithful? If you didn't show up at work two or three times a month, would your boss call you faithful? If your refrigerator quit a day now and then, would you excuse it and say, "Oh, well, it works most of the time." If your water heater greets you with cold water in the shower one or two mornings a week, would it be faithful? If you miss a couple of mortgage payments in a year's time, would your mortgage holder say, "Oh, well, ten out of twelve isn't bad"? If you miss worship or devotions or Bible Study meetings half of the time, a third of the time, a quarter of the time, are you faithful? If you show up for church or kingdom activities only when you have something to do, are you being faithful? If you involve yourself in church and kingdom work once every four or five years, are you being faithful? You know the answer: of course you aren't being faithful!
C "But the fruit of the Spirit is ... faithfulness." Third, we need to be faithful in our witnessing. Jesus is the faithful and true witness and we are to be like Him. Witnessing, evangelism, missions, and outreach is not something we do only during Mission Emphasis and Faith Promise. Rather, it is something we are to always work at.
D "But the fruit of the Spirit is ... faithfulness." Fourth, we need to be faithful in our fight against evil. There was a time when God looked for someone – anyone – in Israel who would stand in the gap and take a stand. But He found none. No one was willing to speak out. No one dared to make a difference (Ezek 22:30-31).
E "But the fruit of the Spirit is ... faithfulness." Fifth, we need to be faithful to our families. Husbands and wives need to be faithful and true to each other. This means no adultery. This means no strong emotional attachments to a member of the opposite sex. This means no activity should become so important that it robs your loved ones of the time and attention they deserve. This means parents spend time with their children and listen to them. This means that singles reserve sex for marriage.
F "But the fruit of the Spirit is ... faithfulness." Sixth, we need to be faithful as we await Christ's return. This theme is sounded throughout the Bible. In the Parable of the Talents the wicked and lazy servant didn't really seem to expect the master's return. So he was caught by surprise and punished for his faithlessness. Another time Jesus says, "when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith (or faithfulness) on the earth?" (Luke 18:8). It is so easy to be so earthly minded, so carnal, that you no longer live in the expectation of Christ's return. Your life can be so busy with making a living that you forget to make a life. Jesus tells the parable of the rich farmer who was so involved in building bigger barns that he forgot to build for eternity (Lk 12:16f). Peter tells us we need to "look forward to the day of God and speed its coming" (2 Pt 3:12).
"But the fruit of the Spirit is ... faithfulness." I like to end with the story of two churches. One was Ephesus. She started off so strong. But she faltered. She lost her first love for the Lord. We would have to say that she wasn't faithful. The other was Laodicea. She too started off strong. She too faltered. She was seduced by the wealth and gold of the world. We would have to say that she too wasn't faithful.
Christ warned and rebuked both churches. Laodicea refused to repent and was spit out from the presence of God. Islamic invaders swept into the city and utterly destroyed it. The church died out. The Ephesian church, on the other hand, listened to the Lord. In fact, so great was her revival that she was stronger than ever. The Emperor Trajan sent Pliny to that city to investigate whether the Christians should be persecuted. Pliny wrote back that Christianity had so flourished that heathen temples were almost neglected and persecution would mean city-wide rebellion. That, my brothers and sisters, is what happens when a church is faithful.
"But the fruit of the Spirit is ... faithfulness." And, I need to tell you, God blesses faithfulness.
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