Sunday, August 21, 2011

Juicy Fruit, Faithfulness - Galatians 5:22

I've told you before a little about my trip a couple of years ago to Yellowstone Park. 

One of the things I was looking forward to the most was seeing Old Faithful.  I was a little disappointed though when I found out that Old Faithful is, well, pretty faithful.   It goes off usually about every 90 minutes or so but sometimes it's a little later or a little earlier, sometimes even 5, 10, or 15 minutes different.  I guess to call it Old Pretty Faithful wouldn't draw as many tourists.

So, what does it mean to be faithful and what does it matter and to whom does it matter?  If we are talking about a naturally-occurring geyser of water then we can get away with saying it is faithful even if it's only pretty faithful.  But what about us?  What does it mean for us to be considered faithful?  Can we get by with being pretty faithful?  Or is more required of us?  Let's see what God's Word has to say about that today as we again turn to Galatians 5:22.

We have been going through the fruit of the Spirit and have talked about love, joy, peace, patience, kindness and goodness.  It's interesting to me that as we have gone through each of these I keep thinking to myself that, ok, this one is the most important.  Then we go to the next one and I think, no, this one is most important.  We started with love and it was obvious that love was the most important.  It was first on the list for a reason and you can't have any of the others without love so it must be most important. 

But you can say you have love and I have to believe you.  So surely kindness must be most important because as I said, kindness is love put to work.  You prove your love by your kindness.  Then last week I was thinking that goodness is probably the most important characteristic.  What better way to be attractive to non-Christians than to show that we are good inside and out.  People want what is good.  They want to live the good life so true Godly goodness must be the most important.

So, this week we come to faithfulness and guess what.  Surely faithfulness must be the most important.  If you love, that's great but what if you stop loving?  If you have goodness, wonderful but what if you are only good for a short time?  Is it really kindness is you only show it once and then something else comes out later?  So, the debate rages on about which one of these is most important but thankfully it is a moot point because, remember, these characteristics are not called the fruits of the Spirit, they are the fruit of the Spirit.  It's not a buffet to pick and choose which ones we like the best and thank goodness because poor little old patience would never get picked!

When we become believers and start to abide in Christ, as the Bible says, then these fruit start to grow and mature in out lives.  If you are not seeing these attributes in your life, then maybe you need to talk to God about your relationship with Him.  Maybe you're relationship has been disrupted by sin or neglect.  Maybe it is non-existent.  But we'll talk more about that later.

Turn to Galatians 5:22.  Let's read.

An Indiana woman who holds the Guinness World Record for most marriages says she'd consider going for husband number 24. Born Linda Lou Taylor and now known as Linda Wolfe, she has been married to a convict, a preacher, a musician, a homeless man, several men who beat her, and even two gay men. "I would get married again," she told the Gannett News Service, "because, you know, it gets lonely."

I hate to think of what her definition of faithfulness would be.  But in today’s world, that’s just a lifestyle choice.  It’s not necessarily good or bad, it’s just how she chooses to live.  The world might say she’s not wise or that she’s weird but the Bible tells us that as Christians, we are to be faithful.  These fruit of the Spirit will be manifested in the life of a mature Christian and if they are not, well, you can call it all kinds of things.  You can justify anything, right Mom?  (My Mom always said that.)

You can say that patience is not your strong suit.  Kindness is not your gift.  You struggle with loving the hard- to- love.  Well, as we taught the kids in VBS a couple of weeks ago, the Bible would tell us that anything that displeases God is sin.  You can blow your top and call it a moral failure.  You can “lose your religion”, say you had an “oopsie” or agree with everyone that “nobody’s perfect”.  But I can’t stand up here and call it anything but sin.  And sin is disgusting to God and it should be to us as well.

So, what does it mean to be faithful?  The original Greek word is “pistis” which means reliability or dependability.  And for once the dictionary gives us a pretty good definition of the word we are looking at but for our study this morning I would define faithfulness as “love that doesn’t stop”.  Kindness was love put to work.  Faithfulness is love that doesn’t stop.

Before we talk about why we should be faithful, let’s talk about why we are not.  What are some reasons why we decide to not be faithful to something?  Most of the reasons we could come up with are fairly valid.  We get tired, bored, hurt, exhausted, we are being taken advantage of, being used and we are uncomfortable or even miserable!  This is no way for us to live!  We deserve better than this!

I yelled at my TV the other day.  Sitting there by my self and a commercial came on and said that I deserved to buy their product.  “How do you know?  You don’t know me!”

I encourage you to learn along with me that just because you deserve something or have the right to do something, doesn’t mean you should do it.  And just because somebody does something that deserves to have a negative response from you doesn’t mean that it’s right to give that response.  Make sense?

In fact, the secret to every one of these characteristics is that we bear these fruit when the world says we don’t have to.

The world says when someone is mean to you, be mean back.  Jesus says to love them.

The world says when someone is getting on your nerves you should sue them.  Jesus says to have patience.

The world says if someone does you wrong then strike back even harder.  Jesus says to be kind.

With all of these, you have every right to retaliate.  You have valid reasons for wanting to get revenge, to put the other person in their place or to just give up and get out of there.  Jesus says to be faithful.  Give up your right to be mad, give up your right to be hurt, give up your right to get even.  The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness and faithfulness.  It’s what makes us different from the world.  It’s part of being holy.

In Matthew 26 Jesus takes the disciples to the garden of Gethsemane.  He leaves them to keep watch as He goes a little further and prays.  He comes back later to find them sleeping.  That happens three times.  The thing is the disciples had every reason to be sleepy.  It had been a long, stressful day.  They deserved some rest.  But Jesus just needed them to be faithful.

I relate to the Apostle Peter.  I like him because he made a lot of mistakes and I’m sure he had a lot of regrets.  I wonder how many times he thought about that night in the garden.  Even after Jesus left and Peter became a powerful, world-changing preacher, there had to be some times late at night we he thought about those times when he was unfaithful to Jesus.  I doubt if there are any of the other characteristics that cause as much regret when not manifested in the life a Christian than faithfulness.

The military knows the value of faithfulness and no branch values it more than the Marines who even made it part of their motto:  Semper Fidelis which is of course Latin for Always Faithful.  Don’t you think they should have come up with a better motto?  You know, one more fitting a bunch of tough guys like, “Kill em all and let God sort em out!” Or “The only easy day was yesterday.” Or “Better to die than to be a coward!”

The Marines understand that if you can’t count on somebody doing what they are supposed to, what they have agreed to do and are trained to do, then they are a detriment to the Corps.  And it’s the same way with us here today.  Have you ever thought that this church is counting on you?  This church needs you to be faithful in every way.  I understand that this church needs a pastor who is faithful in every way.  And your pastor needs you to be faithful as well.

We need to be faithful to attend as it says in Hebrews 10:25, Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another--and all the more as you see the Day approaching.  Your faithfulness to attend is encouraging to us and we need that.

We should be faithful to tithe.  Leviticus 27:30 says, ‘A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the LORD; it is holy to the LORD.  We should all give 10% of our gross income every week or month.  That’s Biblical.

We should be faithful in our witness.  We should be faithful in our service. 

In Luke 16:10 Jesus said, "He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much."

Rev. 2:10 "Be thou faithful unto death and I will give you a crown of life."

Prov. 28:20 "A faithful man shall abound with blessings."

Now, I realize I’m not telling you anything new.  We all know this and yet why is it that we all struggle with this?  I hear some of you out there saying, “Pastor Todd, I don’t really struggle with this.  I think I’m pretty faithful.  I’m pretty strong here.”  And that’s good.  I hope so although I think some of you may be faithful to do absolutely nothing and I don’t think that’s the point here.

Let me put it this way:  If your car starts 2 out of 3 times, is it reliable?

If your paperboy skips delivery every Tuesday and Thursday, is he trustworthy?

If you don’t go to work once or twice a month, are you a good employee?

If your refrigerator stops working every now and then, is it dependable?

If you miss a couple of loan payments every year does the bank say, “Well, 10 out 12 ain’t bad.”

The problem is many of us see ourselves just as volunteers rather than duty-bound.  For a volunteer almost anything is acceptable but for a bond-servant of Jesus, faithfulness is expected.  It’s expected because Jesus was faithful.  He had every right to call down angels to get Him off that cross, but He thought of you and was faithful to do what God sent Him to do.

Oh, now I hear you saying, “Yeah, but Todd, that’s old news out of some ancient Book.  That doesn’t have anything to do with me today.”

I hear you.  I’m sure you’re right but let me tell you a couple of things that have happened to me lately and then we’ll close.  About a year ago now I remember telling one of my best friends that I wanted to do something with my life that had eternal ramifications, something that would benefit the Kingdom.  I wanted God to use me but I knew that wouldn’t happen because I’m not educated or experienced to do that kind of thing.

That was a good 10 or 12 months ago now.  Then I said, “God, I’ll preach up there at that Runaway place as long as you want me to but I can’t do it for very long since I live so far away.”  I’ve lived in Bridgeport for several months now and love it.

Then I asked God what we were supposed to do about our music program.  I practically didn’t have the words out good and knock, knock…Hi, my name is Bill Lightsey and I’ve been leading music longer than you’ve been alive.

Not long ago I asked God how we were supposed to do VBS when I don’t even like kids much less have experience with doing it.  He sent the right people at the right time and it all worked out just like it was supposed to.

Now, I’ll tell you what the problem is.  Our church is in debt trying to pay off this building and we don’t have enough people here to do it.  There is no way we can pay off this note!  I mean, we have been doing it but it surely can’t last!  Surely this is the time that God has forgotten about us!  Surely this is the one time that He won’t be faithful!  Surely this is too much for Him!

Or maybe, just maybe Jeremiah was right…Lam. 3:22+23 "Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not, they are new every morning-great is His faithfulness."

How faithful have you been lately?  When you close your eyes for the last time and breathe your last breath what are going to be the words you hear next? “Depart from Me I never knew you” or “Welcome home, good and faithful servant”?

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