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We have all had people break their promises, not show up when they said they would, bail on us when we needed them, reverse their good opinions of us, or just disappear from our lives. It hurts when someone is unfaithful. I think we all agree that the world would be a better place if everyone was faithful, but this character trait does not come easy. Becoming faithful people, people who reflect the nature of a faithful God, does not happen by sheer determination and will-power. Just as we learn to love by being loved, we learn to be faithful by trusting the Faithful One.
If we look at the word, faithful, it means one who is full of faith. The Greek word for faith (pistis) has two different modes: In the active voice, it means trusting and believing in someone or something. In the passive voice, it means being someone who is trustworthy and dependable, inspiring faith. In other words, we have faith in someone who is faithful. The Latin word for faithful is fidelis and it means firmly and resolutely staying with a person, group, cause, belief, or idea, without waver, despite the circumstances. The motto of the United States Marines, Semper Fidelis (always faithful), reflects their unswerving commitment to each other and to their mission. In Hebrew, there is no one word consistently translated as faithfulness, but chesed (goodness, lovingkindness, steadfast love) is often used together with emeth (firmness, truth) to emphasize God's loyalty to his people. The idea here is that of holding fast or steady, of inspiring trust in others. In the Hebrew Bible, God reveals himself as a covenant-maker (which is not the same thing as a deal-maker), faithful to himself and to his promises, even when the other party, Israel, is not.
We are called to have faith in God and trust him because he has shown himself to be a faithful God. Faith is a response to the revelation that God is loving, kind, and trustworthy. "But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness" (Psalm 86:15). "The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning" (Lam 3:22-23). Faith and faithfulness are meant to work together, each one supporting and expanding the other. God reveals himself as faithful, therefore we have faith in him. As we trust him more, we see more of his faithfulness, so we rely on him more and more. In the process of learning to trust, we begin to become faithful people ourselves, more prone to reliability than doubt, duplicity, and hesitancy. Being in relationship with a covenant God means that we are called to be covenant people. Because faith and faithfulness are intricately related, very often a lack of faithfulness on our part can be a sign that we are having trouble trusting God.
In the book of Daniel, we read about three friends who exemplified faithfulness. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego were taken from their home in Judah when Nebuchadnezzar conquered Israel and forced its finest youths to live and work in Babylon. They were expected to adapt to a foreign culture with strange food, different religious practices, and a new set of values. Their captors called on them to work not for the well-being of their own nation, but for the prosperity of their enemies. For all intents and purposes, it appeared that God had forsaken these young men. However, they worshiped the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Though Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego could perhaps not recognize the faithfulness of God in their immediate circumstances, they no doubt knew their history, that God had been faithful to Abraham, and then to Isaac, and then to Jacob after that. The covenant-making God had proved his faithfulness in generations past, so even though this particular chapter (captivity in Babylon) wasn't looking so good, the three friends trusted that God would keep his promises.
When the megalomaniac king, Nebuchadnezzar, erected a giant statue for all to worship, they refused. The angry monarch threatened to toss them into a fiery furnace, asking them, "What god is there who can rescue you out of my hands?" Even though God had not rescued the three young men from captivity in Babylon, they responded with faith in God's ongoing faithfulness. "O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to answer you on this point. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to rescue us from the furnace of blazing fire, and He will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up!” (Dan 3:16-18). Whether or not God would rescue them from death in a furnace was not the basis of their faith. They knew that the larger story which there were a part of, the story which had at its core the covenant God made to bless Israel and all the nations of the world, would never be derailed. God was a faithful God, and an angry, powerful king was no threat to God's trustworthiness. Therefore, they did not hesitate to be faithful witnesses to this God. The story goes on to tell about their remarkable rescue from the fire and the presence of a fourth man in the flames.
When God is described as the God of God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, it refers to a God who keeps his promises from generation to generation. This phrase receives a new twist when Nebuchadnezzar responds to the miraculous turn of events he has just witnessed: “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, who has sent His angel and rescued His servants who believed in, trusted in, and relied on Him! " (Dan 3:28). The three friends now had their own story of God's faithfulness to pass down to future generations. This story gives me hope (and I don't mean to be presumptuous) that someday people will look at my life and respond similarly: "Blessed be the God of Matte who rescued her and has done great things for her." The story of the covenant-making, promise-keeping God is told in each generation in its own way.
Most of us won't encounter a fiery furnace scenario in which we can demonstrate faithfulness, so let me suggest a few other areas in which faithfulness can be practiced.
1. Time: Faithfulness is not a one-time thing. It is demonstrated by regularity, consistency, and longevity. It is doing the loving thing over and over and over again. The psalmist declares to God: "Your faithfulness endures to all generations." (Psalm 119:90)
2. Action. Faithfulness means that words and actions match up. In other words, we don't say one thing and do another or say something and never get around to it. Read the creation account in Genesis 1 to see how inseparable words and actions are for God.
3. Presence. Faithfulness means that we show up, we are not absent. We do not excuse ourselves from difficult or challenging situations. "The Lord is near to all who call on him" (Psalm 145:18).
4. Integrity. Basically, this means being true to oneself, being dependable, being a covenant person. Even if everyone else bails out or changes their mind, a faithful person remains true. "If we are unfaithful, He remains faithful, for He is not able to deny himself" (2 Tim 2:13).
5. Selflessness. A faithful person is not self-interested, only doing what they want. They look out for the interests of others. Just ask a US Marine which is more important: their own safety or the safety of their unit? We see this same attitude in Jesus: "The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve" (Matthew 20:28).
6. Generosity. Faithfulness is not an equal exchange. Just because a person breaks a promise to you does not mean that you are excused from being faithful. Our covenant God gives freely, not expecting to be paid back, because faithfulness is based in steadfast love, not reciprocity.
7. Being Invested. Faithfulness means that we invest ourselves in something greater than ourselves. We recognize that what we do matters, so we do not expect others to pick up the slack while we relax or rely on others to clean up our messes. We take ownership of our areas of responsibility. The good and faithful servant in Matthew 25 was an investor.
I believe God is calling us to be faithful people in a faithless world, but not merely because it is the right thing to do. We are called to be faithful, covenant people because our God is a faithful, covenant God. And the more we love him and trust him, the more we become like him. God says: “I will never [under any circumstances] desert you [nor give you up nor leave you without support, nor will I in any degree leave you helpless], nor will I forsake or let you down or relax My hold on you [assuredly not]!” (Hebrews 13:5, Amplified Bible).