SERMON: Faith Or Faithfulness by Dennis Ngien
Now during those days, when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food. And the twelve called together the whole community of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should neglect the word of God in order to wait at tables. Therefore, friends, select from among yourselves seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this task, while we, for our part, will devote ourselves to prayer and to serving the word.” What they said pleased the whole community, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, together with Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. They had these men stand before the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them. (Acts 6:1-6)
By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. (Galatians 5:22-23)
In Acts 6, a proposal was made that the church should select seven men to do the ministry of caring for widows. One of these was named Stephen, whom the Scripture described as: “a man full of faith or faithfulness [synonymous] and of the Holy Spirit.” (acts 6:5) Like Barnabas, Stephen was “a man of faith,” because he was a man who was “full of the Holy Spirit.” What a compliment!
The word faith or faithfulness means firmly and resolutely to stick to a person, to stay committed to a group, a cause or a belief without wavering. To be full of faith or faithful is to be constant, unwavering, loyal, and dependable.
May I say that this quality is in short supply, since so many people are yearning for popularity. Theodore Roosevelt proposed a contrary perspective: “It is better to be faithful than famous.” Mother Teresa said: “I do not pray for success, I ask for faithfulness” – unwavering trust in God and a stubborn dedication to the task assigned by the Master. Saint Paul said that what is required of a servant is that he must be found faithful. (1 Corinthians 4:2)
Let me propose that we consider together three areas where faithfulness is needed.
Firstly, in the area of marriage and the family, faithfulness is an absolute necessity, without which marriages and families will disintegrate and collapse.
There is an intrinsic link between faithfulness and truthfulness. Revelation 19:11, in speaking of the name for Jesus, brought these two together: His name is “faithfulness and truth.” A faithful spouse is a truthful one – he is true in his vows, his words, and his promises. I ask myself: am I true to my wife? If I am true to her in my words and deeds, then I shall remain faithful, because you cannot have faithfulness without truthfulness. Nor can we have truthfulness without faithfulness. A truthful spouse is a faithful one; the marriage will last to the end. This is the character of Jesus, whose “faithfulness and truth” co-exist in his person perfectly. No wonder Marcus Cicero said, “nothing is more noble and more venerable than fidelity.” He expands the word fidelity to include truth. “Faithfulness and truth are the most sacred excellences and endowments of the human mind.”
We need faithfulness and truthfulness for our marriages to blossom, and to keep the original valentine love flaming and burning until the sunset hours.
I suggest one practical point, without oversimplification, that we may seek to follow: “to make up our mind before we make our bed every morning.”
This is not achieved through romance, although we need this and are all better and stronger because of it, but it is resolution that keeps marriages together; and through resolution, we are able to conquer temptation. It is when we are double-minded, wavering in our minds, that we fall into temptation, and then bail out of a seemingly happy marriage.
However, with daily resolution we are able to shut the door to temptation; we will stay away from the lusts of the flesh. Without resolution, we will inevitably end up in a ditch from which there is no return. Resolution is to be made between a living room or the bedroom; between burning passion within the marriage or outside a marriage. There are people who are always looking for greener grasses. Do you not know that all green grasses will fade? As we age, we grow older with a fading beauty. Beauty is fleeing; but virtue is everlasting. In the times we live in, with an increasing number of marriages ending up in divorce, this particular quality of faithfulness is particularly needed. If God brings you a wonderful mate and wonderful children, then he expects you to be found loyal and faithful in your personal relationships with them.
Make a daily commitment to your spouse that he/she is your valentine love. Make up your mind to love your mate before you make up your bed. Strong commitments are not made at the wedding ceremony when the organ is playing, the romance is flowing, the flowers smell good, the people are beautiful and brilliant with their attractive gowns and attire, plus all the tears of joy, kisses, and embraces – all of these help to adorn the wedding occasion. Rather, strong commitments are made daily – I make up my mind to stick with my wife before I make up my bed. Marriage does not end at the wedding ceremony, but begins there. It ought to be nourished and nurtured, not simply through romance but through daily resolution: I must make up my mind before I make up my bed.
I once read a resolution prayer of commitment to marriage, which I now recite frequently:
I am standing for the healing of my marriage! I won’t give up, give in, give out, or give over till that healing takes place. I made my vow, I said the words, I gave the pledge, I gave a ring, I took a ring, I gave myself, I trusted God, and I said the words, and meant the words. . . in sickness and in health, in sorrow and in joy, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in good times and in bad times, so I’m standing now, and won’t sit down, let down, slow down, calm down, fall down, look down, or be down till the breakdown is torn down.
In a world of filth, I’ll stay pure; surrounded by lies, I will speak the truth; where hopelessness abounds, I’ll hope in God; where revenge is easier, I’ll bless instead of curse; and where the odds are stacked against me, I’ll trust in God’s faithfulness. I’ll listen not to the prophet of gloom and doom. I’m a stander. . . I have made my choice, set my face, entered the race, believed the Word, and trusted God for all the outcomes. I will not blow up or give up until my marriage is healed up or built up.
Make up your mind daily before you make up your bed, and faithfulness may be assured.
Secondly, in the area of our service, faithfulness is necessary; without it we will surely quit or resign.
Most of us wrestle with God because we are very impatient with his slowness to act. We bombard Heaven with passionate prayers and cries, complaining that he does nothing when we think he should have done something. When we don’t see the desired outcomes of our labor, or the fruits of our ministry, we ask, “Why?” Why did you not work? How come there are no signs of fruits, after the many years that I have served in this fellowship? We even doubt whether we should be serving at all and,, even worse, we call into question God’s call in our lives. And we lose our patience because we interpret God’s slowness to act as his indifference, as meaning that he doesn’t care.
My mentor said this to me: You have to pray for patience before you can remain faithful and steadfast, since patience is the gasoline that keeps the engine of faithfulness running. Just as the people of Israel through patience inherited the promises of God, so also we through patience remain steadfast and unwavering in our loyalty to God. It is through patience that faithfulness is guaranteed; and it is through faithfulness that we read the end.
Mary Moffat, one of the early missionaries to Africa, labored among the primitive African tribes for seven long years with no apparent results. However, she hung in there, serving laboriously and patiently. A friend from England wrote asking whether she needed anything. “Yes,” she wrote back, “send me a communion set – cup and plate. We shall need them some day.”
In those times, it took a year for her letter to reach England, and another year for the communion set to reach Africa. During that time, a breakthrough came. A group of Africans became Christians through Moffat’s patience and faithful labor. The packet containing the communion set arrived exactly on time for the first communion service.
What is Christian faithfulness? It is a rooted conviction that God’s time is:
(a) always the best time;
(b) the right time, and
(c) the only time. No one stays committed to him will ever be disappointed.
He may delay in answering our requests, but as F. B. Meyer said it well: “God’s delay is not his denial.”
Faithfulness enables us to believe that God will make all things beautiful in his time. And with that conviction, no frustrations, setbacks, or sufferings can deflect us from our master’s business, which alone is the main business.
Thirdly and finally, faithfulness is needed in our walk with God; this quality is required in our personal relationship with God.
Once you have entered into a true personal relationship with God, one of the first things to learn is how we can hold fast to the Lord and stay faithful to him for the rest of our lives into eternity. There is no turning back – ever! But how can I remain loyal, faithful, or truthful to my Lord? Here are two teachings that may help:
(1) Faithfulness as attitude, that I am sustained by God’s faithfulness. I believe in the faithfulness of God, which is the basis of my faithfulness towards him, my perseverance, my steadfastness. God alone is faithful, not by a faithfulness that he himself is. His name is “faithfulness and truth,” through whose name I persevere.
This alone is the basis of the perseverance of the saints. It is a comforting doctrine, and I still believe it. The fact that I can still persevere is precisely because of his name. I can persevere in my relationship with God because I know that, although I am faithless, he will remain faithful. His grip on me is stronger than my grip on him. I know my own wayward heart, a heart that is prone to wander – Lord, I feel it – and the frailties of people in general, I know very well that we can falter, fail, and fall. We can turn our backs on God in stubborn disobedience, but he will never, never turn his back on us, nor will he cast us out of his strong, everlasting arms.
The hymn writer was right to say: “He holds onto me, forever I know; he holds onto me, and never lets go; I am trusting in him; I am happy and free; for I know my Lord is holding onto me.”
(2) Faithfulness as action, that which is impinged on us. Yes, it is by his power that we are kept faithful, but do not forget the other side of the story: it is also our responsibility to be faithful. Not only is faithfulness an attitude, it is also an action. For there to be a continual, real, and deep relationship with God, faithfulness through action is required of us. However, we cannot achieve this alone.
Therefore, Saint Augustine said: “What he demands of you, he shall supply.” When God demands faithfulness of us, he knows that we, by ourselves, can never fulfill his demands. Our faithfulness never measures up, and in fact is often a letdown. He knows that our faith is crummy, weak, and impure; if left alone, we are doomed to destruction and to forsaking Christ. But God does not leave us there, to our own devices; rather, he supplies us with the enabling Spirit, who works faith and faithfulness in us. It is by the power of the Spirit that we are able to persevere in our walk with him until the end of our life’s journey. This explains what Saint Augustine meant when he said: “What God demands of you, he shall supply.” He enables you to fulfill the demands he places upon you. It is his power and our responsibility – the two work together. The Christian life is never passive, but always active if we truly love Christ.
He demands faithfulness of us, but at the same time he supplies the dynamism for it, i.e., the Holy Spirit, who creates in us the fruit of faithfulness. My first mentor, Henry Blackaby, emphasized: “If God saves me, and leaves me alone to fight the battle of the flesh, I would never want to be a Christian. Just as I am powerless in my salvation, so am I powerless in my sanctification.” But knowing that we cannot do it on our own, he gives us dynamism in the gift of the Holy Spirit. A dynamic faith is indeed a possibility.
John Gladstone said: “Faithfulness can be within our reach, it can be our possession, our glory, and our wealth,” if we are rooted in the Holy Spirit. Notice that the Spirit is the root, and faithfulness is the fruit. Being rooted in the Holy Spirit, Stephen was a man who was “full of faith.”
This is the Good News. God did not save us to leave us alone to fight the battle of the flesh; he indwells us by the power of the Holy Spirit. Therefore we are able to remain strong and steady under the fierce winds of change, doubt, temptation, and bitter disappointment.
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