Faithfulness – a fruit of the Spirit of God - Luke 12:35-46 / 2 Peter 1:5-11
The secret to living faithfully
I start with a large caveat – today I am going to urge us all to be faithful in how we follow Jesus – but of course the danger is a rather large dose of hypocrisy on my part. I want to start by saying the heroes of the faith (those who are truly faithful over many years) have it seems to me managed to climb the mountain of faithfulness. I have some experience but I am not yet halfway to the summit and perhaps have only just left the foothills.
Remember also that Peter writes as one who, at the critical moment, was unfaithful to Jesus.
So with that said, here goes...
What is faithfulness?
I can come up with various definitions (loyal, trust worthy, committed...) but I think it is clearest in the example of people and some areas of their lives. I am not suggesting these are perfect or entirely faithful people, just that I see something of faithfulness in them
• The women who prayed for 30 years for a schools’ ministry
• The couple who returned and committed to a war zone
• The lady who still lives among the lowest of the low
• The Queen and how she serves our nation
Being faithful is counter cultural – relationships, workplaces, politics and churches. Faithfulness is something that we seem to understand but struggle to live out. It is something we want from others and want to be but it is not easy. It is all well and good imploring us all to be more faithful this morning but how?
Pharisees / legalism / personal effort
It seems to me that faithfulness is the ongoing symptom of a healthy discipleship. It is very much the grace of God. It is not (I think) the forever perfect or saintly person, rather it is one who recognises their unfaithfulness (in my case on a regular basis) and returns to God knowing, like the son in the Prodigal son story, that the Father welcomes me back with open arms. The son is able to return because he knows his father loves him.
For us to live faithfully is not some sort of forced commitment to God that is like being a slave, only obedient for fear of punishment (that is the old covenant – the flesh). Rather it is to live in the light of a Father’s love (a life of the Spirit). A love so deep that we are called children of God, co heirs with Christ. God is love. If we could grasp just the tails of this coat, like the woman who reached out to touch Jesus and was healed we would perhaps find faithful living something that is not a chore, or burden but that when we live faithfully, we live our best lives.
Faithfulness is the living out (words and actions) of what we claim we believe. It is the committed following of the way of Jesus. Note, not the perfect following but a commitment to this way...
But how do we live it. What is the essence of living faithfully? If we want it and want to be it, what stops us? I believe the secret to faithfulness is the willingness to listen and return to God.
“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife (another) and have eaten of the tree I commanded you “You shall not eat it.”
It shall come about if you ever forget the Lord your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I testify against you today that you will surely perish. Like the nations that the Lord makes to perish before you, so you shall perish; because you would not listen to the voice of the Lord your God.
Judges, Kings, Isaiah, Hosea...
It is also a challenge for the NT church
Paul repeatedly urges the churches he writes to, to follow the example of Jesus, to strive
John in Revelation writes to the church in Ephesus the words of Jesus, “But you have abandoned the love you had at first...”
To Smyrna he says, “Be faithful until death and I will give you the crown of life. Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.”
To the church in Sardis, “Remember then what you received and heard, obey it and repent.”
God longs for our faithfulness not because he is a control-freak (that may be a human driver for faithfulness (the driven boss, controlling partner or friend etc) but because he loves us and wants us to live our best life. We know this because God repeatedly steps in when his people show even a glimpse of returning to him and restores them, only for them to be unfaithful again. Is God a mug? No, he loves us so much he cannot do otherwise. Even exile was not final!
God like a jilted and rejected lover is desperate for his people to return. He cannot help but love us. He longs for us to turn our ears and hearts towards him.
Go and proclaim these words toward the north and say, ‘Return, faithless Israel,’ declares the Lord; ‘I will not look upon you in anger. For I am gracious,’ declares the Lord; ‘I will not be angry forever. ‘Only acknowledge your iniquity, That you have transgressed against the Lord your God And have scattered your favours to the strangers under every green tree, And you have not obeyed My voice,’ declares the Lord. ‘Return, O faithless sons,’ declares the Lord; ‘For I am a master to you,And I will take you one from a city and two from a family, And I will bring you to Zion.’
2 Peter 3:8-10
But do not ignore this one fact beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.
I reprove and discipline those whom I love. Be earnest therefore and repent. Listen! I am standing at the door, I will come in to you and eat with you and you with me.”
If you are a follower of Jesus you can be confident in the unbreakable love of God, even in your unfaithfulness. Jesus is the living testimony to the God who wants to be in relationship with us and just as the moment of unfaithfulness started in the Garden of Eden, God’s work to win and woo us back to him did too. God covered the nakedness of Adam and Eve and in that he showed his faithfulness.
If you are not someone who knows Jesus personally, as your friend then today you can. Many of you know the story of the faithful father in the Prodigal Son. The father who ruins his dignity in running, who stretches his arms in love and wraps them around his unfaithful son and who is not put off showing this outrageous love by the protests of the legalistic older brother. That is the God who is faithful to you.
Faithfulness is not a constant moving forward in our own strength driven by our will. Rather faithfulness is a constant returning to God who is our strength driven by his Holy Spirit.
With that in mind, that faithfulness is rooted in listening to God’s voice/returning to him what do the stories in Luke and the passage in Peter tell us about the nature of faithfulness then
Faithfulness is active
In the passage in Luke we read that the faithful servant is...
Ready for action, ready to open the door “The servant his master finds at work when he arrives”
The aligning of our actions and words with what we say we believe
2 Peter 1:5-7
How active is your relationship with Jesus? How do you demonstrably live and speak it out?
Faithfulness is fruitful
Blessed are those the master finds alert when he comes
“He will put that servant in charge of all his possessions”
Faithfulness = fruitfulness and therefore by definition unfaithfulness = unfruitfulness. As Paul writes a fruit, of a spirit filled life, is a faithful life!
As Jesus says elsewhere we are to be those who lead fruitful lives. In fact he is condemning of the unfruitfulness of the religious leaders of his time
2 Peter 1:8-9
Where do you see fruit? It may be small, but note it. If you are struggling, don’t condemn yourself but see it as an opportunity to grow
Faithfulness is committed
Both parables – the watchful servant and the faithful and unfaithful servant tell us of those who not concerned about when the master will return, there is no fear, they just continue to serve
It is not flighty, wistful, fickle, demanding of its rights
It is committed, persevering, will to stick at it, takes responsibility
Phrases in Luke are “Dressed for action / lamps lit / you must be ready / blessed is that servant who is master will find at work when he arrives”
2 Peter 1:10-11
Finally, I will say this, the call to faithfulness is not a solo task. It is no solo climb or circumnavigation. 2 Peter 1:12-15 / 2 Peter 3:1-3 – why we must keep reminding each other to stay faithful. We need to spur one another one, be iron sharpening iron, reminding each other, encouraging and challenging one another. We cannot do it alone.
How is your commitment to live out the way of Jesus seen? As I said earlier this is not some sort of act of the will but an utter reliance on the Father who is always ready to welcome you. You and I are going to get it wrong! But rather it is a commitment to listen to and keep returning, repenting and running to, the Father’s arms knowing how much he loves you. That is the secret to faithfulness.
If we are going to live faithfully I think we can only do it in the light of the faithfulness and love of God so think I God has put three questions to me that are for us if we are interested in displaying the fruit of the Spirit, of course you may not be, but if you are.
1. Who / What do you listen to? (what has your ear? - God or someone / something else?)
2. Where are the areas of your life where you need to return to the open arms of The Father?
Only you can answer for you. But even you may find it hard to answer these questions without some reflection. These are not easy questions.