Friday, August 5, 2011

Fruit of the Holy Spirit (part 8): faithfulness (AKA: Shooting Star or Faithful Servant?)

How many people have seen a shooting star?
They are amazing things, light trails across the sky as meteorites travel through our atmosphere and burn.

  But don’t blink you’ll miss it. An amateur astronomer  set up his video camera for two nights and in that time managed to catch two shooting stars, all up seven seconds of video from over twenty four hours. They are spectacular and special when you see them but they are there one minute, if your fortunate, and gone the next. You could say they are flash and gone in a flash.

The total opposite to that is the north star.  For centuries cultures in the northern hemisphere, Asian and European have been able to navigate at night across deserts, the vast expanses of continents and vaster expanses of oceans by the stars and in particular by the north star, that despite the rotation of the earth seems to stay stationary close to the north pole. It’s reliable a fixed point that as long as you can see it gives you a chance to orientate yourself. It’s not as flashy and spectacular as shooting stars it’s reliable and faithful. Faithfulness says Paul is a fruit that develops in our lives as we walk with the Holy Spirit.

In a series of monthly sermons at a nAuckland church I've been working my way through Paul’s list of the fruit of the Holy Spirit in Galatians 5. The character traits that develop in a person’s life as they walk with God’s Spirit, opening themselves up to being guided not by natural desires, or the flesh, but by the Holy Spirit. Paul says one of those character traits is faithfulness: being faithful. The Christian life is not just a flash in the pan spiritual high or experience or encounter, but a lifelong relationship with God, a faithful following, expressed in faithfully committing oneself to being God’s people together.

The word Paul uses in this list is ‘Pistis’ or as the King James Version translates it ‘faith’. It’s the same word that Paul uses three other times in Galatians as Richard Longenecker puts it “to signify a person’s response to trust regarding God’s salvation provided in Jesus Christ”. It’s putting our trust in God’s saving acts. It’s the ‘salvation by faith’ that was one of the catch cries of the reformation. We shouldn’t be surprised that this faith and trusting in God’s grace should be a fruit of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives. In Jesus teaching on the Holy Spirit in John’s gospel we see that it is the Spirit that convicts us of sin, it is the spirit that convicts us of our need for God, it is the Spirit that reveals all truth to us. And as continue to walk with the spirit, we develop the virtue of living that trust in our lives over the long haul.

The other used for the word ‘pistis’ in scripture is in the LXX (Septuagint): the very early Greek translation of the Old Testament, where the word is used to describe the faithfulness of God. We shouldn’t be surprised that a fruit of the Holy Spirit should reflect the nature of God, as we’ve seen they all reflect the God whose Spirit we are walking with each day. God is faithful, this is the story of God’s relationship with his people Israel. God is faithful to his promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, it is this faithfulness that leads to his hearing the cries of his people suffering in Egypt and rescuing them, in Psalm 136 we see it said over and over again twenty six times as the story of Israel being taken out Egypt and lead through the wilderness into the promised land that ‘His steadfast love’ his covenant faithfulness’ endures forever’. We see it in the cycle of life in Israel through judges and the kings. Israel is not faithful to their covenant relationship with God, so just as God has said, things happen, their enemies overtake them, then they cry out to God and confess their sin and God saves them. Even the exile in Babylon that must have really tested the faith of Israel in God’s goodness is shown in the histories of Israel, which the Jews actually call books of prophecy, is a sign of God’s faithful love, he has kept his promise and removed them from the land, as generation after generation have not kept the covenant, and after 70 years people like Daniel and Nehemiah can have confidence that God will restore the people to the land, because he is faithful. In the midst of the destruction of Israel the writer of lamentations can find hope in one thing… the steadfast love of the lord endures forever, his mercy never come to an end they are new every morning, great is your faithfulness’. God is faithful.

 It is the same faithfulness we see in Christ coming and dying on the cross for us and as we read through the gospels we see in the looking back at Jesus ministry being a fulfilment of scripture, a fulfilment of God’s faithfulness. In 1 John 1:9 we are told that our sins are forgiven because of God’s faithfulness… if we confess our sins “God is faithful and just’ and will forgive us our sins. There is a reliability and constancy that makes God good. A dependability about God, a stick-with-you-through-thick-and-thin-ability about God, a from beginning-to-end-ability about God that rubs off on his people as we walk with God’s Spirit as we nurture that relationship. God’s faithfulness as our friend, and Jesus says I don’t call you servants but friends, nurtures the same quality in us. 

Another aspect of the word ‘pistis’ is its use in Greek ethical writing and thinking. ‘Pistis’ is the highly valued attribute of being trustworthy or dependable. It fits in well with the fruit of the Holy Spirit being the way in which we relate to those around us.

It fits with the idea of the Fruit of The Holy Spirit being an outworking of love for each other, in that other passage where Paul expounds the virtues of love, 1 Corinthians 13, we see that trustworthiness of love that holds the Christian community together, with the repetition of the word always, It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres and finally ‘love never give up’ there is a sense that this faithfulness of God, nurturing a faithful trust in God in us is displayed in our faithful commitment to one another. It is the virtue that we commit to and aspire to in a marriage, to remain faithful to that person through richer or poorer, sickness and health, for better or for worse.’ We are faithful to one another.

More than that being trustworthy reflects some very practical things in our lives: Keeping ones word, doing what we say we would do, Jesus said it in Matthew 5:37 ‘let your yes be yes and your no be no”. now if you’re like me you’ll probably  realise that you can get into the situation of because of a need to be liked or valued, or out of a sense of martyrdom always saying yes, right and then living with the feeling of O Bother I’ve said I’ll do this, now I’ve got to’. Anyone wrestle with that? We need to realise that walking with the spirit that God is able to heal those kind of things within us so that our yes and no, you can say no,  are expressions of love and commitment not some warped self-image or self-need, they are selfless service, that we can live out faithfully.

In the parable recorded in Matthew 25:14-30, from Jesus teaching on end times,   we have that wonderful saying “well done good and faithful servant”, the accolade at the end of a life serving God. The parable picks up another aspect of what it means to be trustworthy and faithful that is the idea of stewardship, being able to be entrusted with the possessions of others. The sort of trustworthiness we hope for and have recently seen as lacking in those in whom we entrust our money to invest for us. In the parable it’s about using the gifts and talents and abilities and resources that God has given each of us, and investing them in the Kingdom of God. As the master was leaving on a long journey, an apt metaphor on the eve of Jesus death, he entrusts his servants with his money, giving different gifts to different people. We are not given any criteria for the entrusting of these gifts, simply that they are given. Two of the servant invest and use those gifts to make a return for their master. The other, with as we see in the end a warped understanding of his masters character, simply hides his away. When the master returns we see that he praises the servants who have wisely and faithfully used his investment in them and his reproach to the person who simply had horded and hidden his money away. We often think that those whom God will be pleased with are the ones with the flashy gifts who seem to have it all, but in actual fact it is that we are called to be faithful to use what we have been given and invest that into the kingdom of God. I very good friend of mine once said what God wants is not our ability, rather our availability, not our success but our faithfulness.

Let me finish with the inspirational example of John Stephen Akhwari.  He lives in a mud hut with a earth floor in the little village that he was born in in Tanzania, a quite unassuming lifestyle, but he has been an inspiration to millions around the world. He holds a world record that may not seem something people would wish.

 He jointly holds the world record for taking the longest time to run an Olympic marathon 3:25:27.  He set it in the 168 Mexico City Olympic Games. The sun has set, people were heading home and there were only a few thousand left in the stadium, they were about to turn the lights off  but as news that there was one runner still out on the course , those who were still there stayed to cheer on this faithful and courageous runner. Actually it’s best I show you in this clip from the wonderful ’16 days of glory’ documentary.

“My country did send me 5000 miles to start the race they sent me 5000 miles to finish the race”. And as we are prepared to walk each day with the spirit of God, he will develop that fruit in our lives including faithfulness, living out that trust in God by being trustworthy ourselves, and we  will finish the race and hear the words well done my good and faithful servant enter into the rest I have prepared for you. 

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