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To be a Christian is to be called to a life of faithfulness. But the duty of Christian faithfulness, properly understood, should be seen as our response to the faithfulness of God. Of course, before we can speak of God’s faithfulness to us, we must first remember that God is supremely faithful to Himself. He always acts in perfect conformity to His own holy character and purpose. His singular objective is His own glory, and He is unfailingly faithful to that goal. In Isaiah 48:9–11, the motive of the Lord in restraining His judgment is Himself and the glory of His own name:

For my name’s sake I defer my anger;
for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you,
that I may not cut you off.
Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver;
I have tried you in the furnace of affliction.
For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it,
for how should my name be profaned?
My glory I will not give to another.

Similarly, the great promise of the new covenant in Ezekiel 36 is made in the context of God’s resolve to act for His own sake:

Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord GOD: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. . . . I will sprinkle clean water on you. . . . And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. . . . And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. (Ezek. 36:22–27)

God’s glory, the honor of His name, is at stake in all that He does. So, God is always faithful first of all to Himself. In 2 Timothy 2:13, the reason God remains faithful even if we are faithless is that “he cannot deny himself.” For God to be unfaithful, even in the face of our many infidelities, is impossible. God must be faithful to Himself. This necessary fidelity of God toward Himself is the ground of our hope and the fount of every blessing we can ever know. From it springs every display of God’s glory, greatness, and grace. Upon it rests the dependability of His every promise. It is the foundation of the gospel and the root of the redemption won for sinners in Jesus Christ. The incarnation, sufferings, and glory of our Savior can all be understood as the outpouring of divine fidelity. Jesus came, bled, and died because God is faithful to Himself.

The faithfulness of God to Himself, and of Christ to the Father, provides the deep roots of God’s faithfulness to His covenant people.

This explains the faithfulness of Christ toward God. Contrasting Christ with Moses, the writer to the Hebrews urges us to

consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession, who was faithful to him who appointed him, just as Moses also was faithful in all God’s house. . . . Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son. (Heb. 3:1–2, 5–6)

The faithfulness of Christ to God is the faithfulness of the Son toward His Father, in pursuit of our salvation according to the terms of the covenant of redemption. This means that whenever we speak of the faithfulness of God in Christ toward us, we are seeing only the tip of the iceberg. The faithfulness of God that we experience in the gospel is the part we can see above the waterline, but underneath this truth, giving it buoyancy, holding it up for us to know and delight in, is the greater part of God’s faithfulness, often unnoticed and overlooked: His faithfulness to Himself and the faithfulness of the Son to the Father in the accomplishment of our redemption for the glory of God’s name.

To change the metaphor, the faithfulness of God to Himself, and of Christ to the Father, provides the deep roots of God’s faithfulness to His covenant people. This glorious, intra-Trinitarian vision of divine fidelity in turn supplies the life of which our faithfulness to God becomes the fruit. We are faithful to God because He is faithful to us. But, as we have seen, He is faithful to us because He is faithful to Himself. He acts for His “name’s sake.”

This is why Christian faithfulness is described as a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22). Himself the gift of divine faithfulness, the Spirit brings to fruition in us the grace of faithfulness to God. The saints to whom Paul addresses his epistles to the Ephesians and Colossians are called the “faithful in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 1:1; Col. 1:2). Faithfulness marks Christians, not as the ground of their acceptance with God, but as the evidence of it.

Sometimes faithfulness in the New Testament has to do with perseverance. In Acts 11:23, when news of the church begun in Antioch reached Jerusalem, the Jerusalem church sent Barnabas, who “when he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose.” Similarly, in Revelation 2:10, the church is exhorted to “be faithful unto death, and [Christ] will give you the crown of life.”

However, it is instructive to note that the New Testament most commonly uses the vocabulary of faithfulness in the context of the stewardship of our gifts for ministry and service. One thinks here of the stinging rebuke of the scribes and Pharisees by our Savior in Matthew 23:23. They tithed “mint and dill and cumin” but “neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness.” We notice that faithfulness here is coordinate with justice and mercy and must therefore refer to our faithfulness toward our neighbor in service to God. Or, think of the searching parables of Matthew 24:45–51 and 25:14–30, in which the faithful and wise servant enters into the joy of the Lord because he has acted wisely with the resources of his master’s house. By contrast, the unfaithful servant is judged most severely and cast into the outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. The great evidence of being rightly related to God is faithful stewardship of His grace in our lives for His glory. A failure of faithfulness demonstrates that we are not good stewards and do not belong in His kingdom. Inactivity in service to our Lord, when we claim to have been made the recipients of His faithfulness to us in Christ, is a very dangerous thing indeed.

Furthermore, Paul repeatedly commends faithfulness as the essential mark of a fellow servant or gospel minister (Timothy in 1 Cor. 4:17; Tychicus in Eph. 6:21 and Col. 4:7; Epaphras in Col. 1:7; Onesimus in Col. 4:9). In 1 Corinthians 4:1–2, Paul says that “this is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful.” Faithfulness is the mark of gospel ministers and Christian servants. That’s why Paul urges Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:2 to pass on Paul’s teaching “to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.”

Clearly, then, faithfulness entails the wise stewardship of the Word of God. It implies both diligence in work ethic and skill in opening up the truth whenever opportunity allows. This is what it means to be a faithful steward. But faithfulness is a ministry term applied to every Christian, not only to ordained ministers of the gospel. In 3 John 5–6, for example, the Apostle describes the practice of Christian hospitality as an act of faithfulness: “Beloved, it is a faithful thing you do in all your efforts for these brothers, strangers as they are, who testified to your love before the church.”

The wonder of the biblical depiction of Christian faithfulness is that when believers hear at last the “well done, good and faithful servant” of our Master in whose house we have been servants, we will know—in ways we only glimpse and often overlook here—that all our faithfulness on earth was but the product of God’s faithfulness to us and the fruition of God’s faithfulness to Himself. No small part of the joy of the Lord into which we shall one day enter will be the discovery that Christ rewards us for the fruit of His own great work for us at the cross and in us by His Spirit. We will bow down and confess that we are unworthy servants, having done only our duty (Luke 17:10), but Christ will lavish on us His glory and welcome us into His presence with joy in the crowning act of covenant faithfulness. “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it” (1 Thess. 5:24).

God Is Faithful

Biblical Exemplars

Keep Reading Faithfulness in the Little Things

From the July 2019 Issue
Jul 2019 Issue