1 Lord, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill?
2 He whose walk is blameless and who does what is righteous, who speaks the truth from his heart 3 and has no slander on his tongue, who does his neighbour no wrong and casts no slur on his fellowman, 4 who despises a vile man but honours those who fear the Lord, who keeps his oath even when it hurts, 5 who lends his money without usury and does not accept a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things will never be shaken.
33 Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.’ 34 But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35 or by the earth, for it is His footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. 37 Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No, No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.
Christians are called to be faithful. Those who have the Spirit of Christ are called to exhibit this quality of faithfulness. Faithfulness is to be one of the main characteristics that we display in our lives – both in faithfulness to God and towards each other. Imagine living in a world where people could just be trusted to do what they promise to do – a world where as the old saying goes, a man’s word is his bond. God wants us to be faithful, and as faithfulness is a Fruit of the Spirit, He can and does equip us for faithfulness.
Firstly though, we need to try and understand what exactly this faithfulness that comes from the Spirit is, as we can be very easily confused here.
There are many types of faithfulness, but not all of them are good. A common definition of faithfulness is reliability. That’s a good definition, but not all instances of reliability are commendable. Take Judas Iscariot for example. He agreed to betray Jesus for 30 pieces of silver, and he did it. The chief priests relied upon him and he did not let them down. He was faithful to his promise. But that kind of faithfulness is not a virtue but a vice. It’s not good, it’s evil, and it is clearly not the kind of faithfulness that comes from the Spirit.
Another definition of faithfulness is loyalty. Again, that’s a good definition, but not all instances of loyalty are good. During the dark days of Nazism, every German soldier was required to swear the Reichswehreid. It was an oath of total allegiance and loyalty to Adolf Hitler. History records the awful results of those who took that oath of blind, unquestioned loyalty seriously.
As we’ve seen throughout this series on the Fruit of the Spirit, there is unity and a sense of connectivity which joins all of the various aspects of the fruit together. Each quality on its own has value, but all nine actually make a lot more sense when seen together as one fruit with many different parts or qualities. So it is certainly no accident that faithfulness immediately follows goodness in Galatians 5. If we were to remove faithfulness from goodness, it would be huge mistake. The faithfulness that we are to display is a faithfulness that is related to goodness. There is a moral element that’s involved here, because it’s not just any kind of faithfulness that the Spirit works in us. There must be a clear distinction between good faithfulness and evil faithfulness! Faithfulness as a Fruit of the Spirit is a faithfulness that is directly linked to and related to the good character of God.
One commentator has described the Godly, faithful person as someone who is “dependable, trustworthy, and loyal, who can be depended upon in all of his relationships, and who is absolutely honest and ethical in all of his affairs.”
That sets the bar very high, but what else would God expect of us? Godly faithfulness is tied to honesty and ethical behaviour. One of the best ways to understand a particular quality is to examine the opposite – what it is not meant to be. The opposite of faithfulness are things like corrupt and negligent, whereas those who are faithful are dependable, reliable, and loyal. They are good, they do their duty, and they keep their word.
When we talk about this kind of faithfulness, we are talking about a quality of God that we are called to emulate. Ephesians 5:1-2 says, “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
The faithfulness that Galatians 5 lists as a Fruit of the Spirit is a characteristic of God. God is faithful and His faithfulness is tied to His character, and the faithfulness that we are to exhibit is to be a faithful representation of God’s faithfulness.
It is part of living the heavenly life, the life of God, here on this earth. As Christians we are no longer citizens of this world. We may well live here, but we are foreigners in a foreign land. We are a Kingdom people, living here on a temporary visa. The Bible also calls us ambassadors. That is an excellent way of understanding how we are to live. We don’t belong here. We belong in Heaven – our true home – but so long as our temporary, diplomatic visas (otherwise known as life on this earth) remain valid, we live by the standards of our Master Jesus, not the standards of the world. The world is to see Christ living in us. That means that the faithfulness we display is to be a faithfulness that is like God’s.
We bear His Name. You may remember from our series on the Ten Commandments that blasphemy is more than merely using God’s name as a swearword. Every time we misrepresent His nature in whatever way, we are not being faithful representatives of the nature and character of God.
The world, whether we like it or not, will form their opinion on what God is like, based on the behaviour, nature and character of those who represent Him. Christians.
We are God’s people, and we are to display His characteristics.
Integrity and faithfulness are sadly lacking in the world, and unfortunately, we have allowed this to creep into the Church. Christians have been affected by our society.
Just listen to what other believers say sometimes. Listen to the words that come out of your own mouth, and you’ll see what I mean. We distort the truth. We don’t own up to our faults and mistakes – instead, we deny them, minimise them, or try to shift the blame away from ourselves. We exaggerate things and in so doing we give people a false impression of the real truth. And we do these things without a second thought. James was right when he wrote in 3:2, “We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check.”
We need to be faithful. We need to be absolutely honest. We need to be more like Jesus. In Romans 12:2 the apostle Paul tells us, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is - His good, pleasing and perfect will.”
JB Philips, in his paraphrase of the New Testament, has a wonderful translation for this verse: “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God re-mould your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all His demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity.”
Unfortunately, far too often, we allow the exact opposite to happen. We’ve let the world squeeze us into its mould, and there is very often little difference between Christians and non-Christians. We should stick out like sore thumbs, but instead we’ve become conformed to the pattern of this world.
I found a story of a minister who was on his way out to see someone, but just before he opened his front door, the doorbell rang. Standing there with a small plate of cupcakes was his neighbour’s 6-year-old daughter. “I baked these for you,” she said. He was very touched by her kind gesture, so as politely, but as quickly as possible, he accepted the cakes and put them down before rushing out to keep his appointment. He made the mistake though of just putting them on a small table near the front door, within easy reach of the family dog, so you can guess what happened.
The next day he dutifully cleaned the little girl’s plate and gave it back to her over the garden fence. “Did you enjoy them?” she asked with an expectant look on her face. “Yes, thank you. They were delicious,” he replied.
He had saved himself from embarrassment and the little girl from disappointment, but he hadn’t been truthful.
It’s an interesting example, because you could say that no real harm was done, but where do we draw the line? To be quite honest, I would probably have done the same, and I’m sure most of us would too. After all, who wants to break a little girl’s heart over a few cupcakes?
What do you think? Does truth matter?
This whole matter of lying and not being absolutely honest is a slippery slope. In our society today the truth is in trouble. People have lost sight of what honesty is. We fudge the truth. Some people today even say that that truth is whatever you want it to be. If you don’t want to admit that you did something you can just say that you didn’t do it and that becomes the truth. Truth has become relative, and is no longer absolute.
But does God play fast and loose with the truth? Absolutely not. Does He ever go back on His promises? Is God ever unfaithful to the truth? Truth is one of His attributes. Hebrews 6:18 tells us that it’s impossible for God to lie. Truth is part of His character, and so it is to be part of our character.
Psalm 33:3-5 says, “The word of the Lord is right and true; He is faithful in all He does. The Lord loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of His unfailing love.”
God is faithful in all He does, and He sets the bar for our faithfulness. Psalm 119:89-90 says, “Your word, O Lord, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens. Your faithfulness continues through all generations.”
God does what He says He will do. He does not fudge the truth.
One of the greatest promises that Jesus makes is in John 6:37. “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.”
Can you imagine if someone like the criminal on the cross, or me, or you went to Jesus and His reply was, “Oops, sorry. I didn’t really mean you.”
We can be grateful that we love and serve a covenant-making and a covenant-keeping God.
He is trustworthy, and His word is truth. In the words of Deuteronomy 32:3-4, “I will proclaim the name of the Lord. Oh, praise the greatness of our God! He is the Rock, His works are perfect, and all His ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is He.” We often sing those words – Ascribe greatness to our God the Rock. How do we ascribe greatness to Him? One of the ways is by being like Him. We must be faithful, reliable and absolutely honest.
We can smile at the cute little story about the girl with her cupcakes, but when we cut through all the details, we have to ask, was the man showing a lack of faithfulness when he told that lie? Yes, he was. True faithfulness would tell the truth.
There really is no such thing as a little white lie. Not in the Bible, at least.
One dictionary defines faithfulness as something that is “consistent with truth or actuality.” If something is consistent, it is constant and does not change.
So-called little white lies are little acts of unfaithfulness. No matter how small the lie, we are to some extent being unfaithful to the truth.
But being people of faithfulness is not just about owning up when we do something wrong. We need to go beyond that. We need to be faithful in the first place. Faithfulness has to do with integrity.
When the minister in our example accepted the cupcakes, there was a personal interaction with the little girl. She was delighted to make them for him and to personally give him the gift. She was doing something good for him. There was a meeting of two people. But he failed her as soon as he carelessly put the cakes where he shouldn’t have. Had he been faithful in accepting them, he wouldn’t have put them where the dog could eat them.
Again, this may seem like a trivial little example, and there are far bigger issues in the world and in our own lives for us to concern ourselves with, but the principle remains the same. Do what’s right, say what’s right, be honourable and faithful. It is one of the most effective ways of avoiding putting ourselves in a position where we find ourselves compromising the truth.
I’ve shared this story with our Wednesday Bible Study group before. When I was in Standard 6 we had a “corrections” book for our maths homework. Each morning the teacher would have all the correct answers on the blackboard, and we’d have to re-do the questions we’d done incorrectly in our corrections book. On one particular day, I hadn’t done my homework, so while everyone else was busily writing in their corrections books, I just sat there. Unfortunately the teacher spotted me.
“Nigel, did you get them all correct?” “Yes sir,” I replied. “Okay, let’s have a look.” It was one of those moments when your blood drains to your feet and you know you have nowhere to turn. I sheepishly opened my homework book to reveal a blank page. “So, where is it?” asked my teacher. I just stared at the blank page and said incredulously, “It was there!
It took the class about 10 minutes to stop laughing. I had the same maths teacher throughout high school, and he never let me forget that moment of embarrassment and shame. I was in standard 6 in 1977, and I’m sure that if I bumped into that same teacher today, 40 years later, he would take great delight in reminding me just how much of a fool I made of myself that day.
But had I just done the right thing and been faithful in doing my homework in the first place, I’d have saved myself a lot of trouble and embarrassment.
Again, it’s the kind of thing we can laugh about now, but I do know that God wasn’t giggling along with my classmates that morning…
Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13:6-7, “Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” Love is the first quality of the Fruit of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5, and if we learned to love each other with the love of Christ, being faithful to God and to each other like He is to us would become a second nature to us.
The first 7 years of my ministry were spent in a sugar cane farming district, and most of the farmers also grew mielies which they would use as their annual “slush fund.” That’s probably the most polite way to describe it. It was cash only, and no money went through the official farm books like the cane crops. Some of them make some really good pocket money this way, but one Christian farmer bucked the trend and declared all of his income, and so paid the taxes he was meant to pay on his mielie crop too. Most of the other farmers just thought he was being silly, but he actually faced a fair amount of criticism, because there were some who were worried that the Receiver of Revenue might start snooping around, asking why only one farmer was paying tax on his mielie crop.
Jesus said in Revelation 2:10, “Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.”
Sometimes the truth hurts. Faithfulness to God often comes at a cost. For some it comes at a huge cost.
We need to be faithful, even to the point of death. I quoted from James Montgomery Boice a couple of weeks ago, and this is what he says about Biblical faithfulness: “Faithfulness means trustworthiness or reliability. Truth, a part of the very character of God, is at issue here. Faithful servants of Christ will die rather than renounce Him or, to put it on a less exalted plane, will suffer great inconvenience rather than go back on their word. Those who are faithful do what they say they will do.”
Jesus puts it best. Just let your yes be yes, and your no be no.
Psalm 15 describes faithfulness and integrity:
“Lord, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill?
He whose walk is blameless and who does what is righteous, who speaks the truth from his heart and has no slander on his tongue, who does his neighbour no wrong and casts no slur on his fellowman, who despises a vile man but honours those who fear the Lord, who keeps his oath even when it hurts, who lends his money without usury and does not accept a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things will never be shaken.”