The author of Proverbs once sighed, “Many a man claims to have unfailing love, but a faithful man who can find?“ (Prov. 20:6). The Psalmist also complained, “Help, LORD, for the godly are no more; the faithful have vanished from among men” (Psa. 12:1). We might well utter the same sigh and voice the same complaint today. We wonder, where are the truly faithful people? While most of us are quite familiar with faith, we may not be so familiar with the idea of faithfulness. The two concepts are closely related, but slightly different. Both faith and faithfulness spring from the same Hebrew root, aman. It is the same root from which we get our word “amen.” Even the word “amen” expresses the idea of God’s faithfulness, since it means, “verily,” “it is steadfast,” or “so be it.” Let us now look at the subject of faithfulness, and let us examine it from two different perspectives.
GOD IS FAITHFUL
We need to get one thing clear in our minds. God is a God of faithfulness. He is a God of absolute reliability, of steadfast love, and of loyalty. He is stable, constant and true. Unlike all the pagan deities of past eras, God is not capricious and he is free from fickleness. He does not change his mind (Num. 23:19). He is a God who keeps his word forever (Isa. 40:8). He also keeps his promises and his covenants with man.
Early in the Bible God reveals himself as the faithful God. God speaks through Moses in Deuteronomy 7:9 “Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands.” In Deuteronomy 32:4, God is said to be “A faithful God who does no wrong…(KJV).” All his works and his commandments reveal his faithfulness (Psa. 33:4; Psa. 119:86).
It is clear in the Bible that God’s faithfulness does not wear out with time. In Psalms 119:90, the Psalmist declares of God, “Your faithfulness continues through all generations….” God’s faithfulness is particularly displayed in his eternal covenant love expressed to Israel. In Hosea 2:19-20, the Lord speaks of this love in terms of the marriage covenant. He says of Israel, “I will betroth you to me forever; I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion. I will betroth you in faithfulness, and you will acknowledge the LORD.”
This eternal covenant which God made with Israel has come into question today, even in some Christian circles. The various strands of replacement and restoration theology all deny that God is keeping his covenant with his ancient people, Israel. It would have been much easier to understand the rise of this type of theology a century ago when there was no nation of Israel and scarcely any movement in that direction. However, it is indeed difficult to understand such theologies springing up today when the land of Israel is partially restored and millions of Jews have now returned home to their land.
In the New Testament we continue to see an expression of the idea of God’s faithfulness. In regard to Israel, Paul queries in Romans 11:1: “I ask then: Did God reject his people…? The Apostle seems to be aghast at such an idea and exclaims “…By no means!….” (v.1). Even in regard to man and his feeble attempts at faithfulness, Apostle says, “If we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself” (2 Tim. 2:13).
We learn several other things about God’s faithfulness in the New Testament. We learn that Christ is faithful. In fact, in Revelation 19:11, he is given the title of “Faithful and True.” We learn that God is faithful and just to forgive our sins when we confess them to him (1 Jn. 1:9). He is faithful to help us (1 Cor. 1:9). He is loyal in regard to all he has promised us (Heb. 11:11). He is faithful to us, in that he will not allow our temptations to go beyond what we can endure (1 Cor. 10:13). God even promises to faithfully preserve his people until the second coming of Christ (1 Thess. 5:23; Phil 1:6).
GOD EXPECTS US TO BE FAITHFUL
Since God is a faithful God and we are his children, we are expected also to be faithful. This quality is literally the hallmark of the Christian life. We see it mentioned as a characteristic of several early Christians ministers. For instance, there is Onesimus (Col. 4:9), Timothy (1 Cor. 4:17), and Epaphras (Col. 1:7).
Our faithfulness is merely the necessary and expected response to God’s faithfulness. Thus, faithfulness is something that is primarily expressed toward God. It simply means “full of faith” or “trustful.”
However, faithfulness, if it is genuine, will also find expression in our relationships with others. It will affect the way we speak (Prov. 12:22). It will keep us from speaking about the secrets others have entrusted to us (Prov. 11:13). The expression of faithfulness in our lives will cause us to be esteemed by others who trust in us. Proverbs 25:13 tells us, “Like the cold of snow in time of harvest Is a faithful messenger to those who send him, For he refreshes the soul of his masters” (NKJV).
Jesus gives us several illustrations concerning the effects of faithfulness in the area of human dealings. In Luke 12:42 we see that a faithful and wise servant does what he has been instructed to do. We learn in Luke 16:10; “He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much (NKJV).” The Apostle Paul goes on to tell us that it is required in stewards that a man be found faithful (1 Cor. 4:2). We see reflected even in the New Testament the great emphasis upon deeds which has characterized Hebrew thought. In contrast, we Christians have often focused more upon creeds or proper theological definitions.
Faithfulness is said to be a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22), yet for so many supposedly Spirit-filled and Spirit-led people, there is less and less evidence of faithfulness. One example that comes up often today is the matter of keeping one’s word and not being fickle. For several years I directed volunteers in Israel. I cannot count the times when otherwise devout Christians committed themselves to come to Israel and do certain greatly needed jobs, and then backed out at the last minute. They would usually come up with that lame excuse like, “God is leading me to do something else…”
Years ago I worked in a real estate office. I was surprised one day when the other agent in that office requested that I start working with all the Christians. The other agent did not want to work with them because they were so prone to back out of commitments and contracts. Their reasoning was usually that God was suddenly leading them in some other direction. What a poor witness to our world when we cannot stand by our word and do what we have committed ourselves to do. God does not lead people to break their word or their vows. He expects us to follow his example, and keep our word. The Bible instructs us to keep our word, even when it works to our disadvantage. In Psalm 15:4, the writer speaks of the righteous man ” …who keeps his oath even when it hurts…. ”
There is another area of great unfaithfulness today in Christianity. It is the matter of our sacred agreements and life-long covenants with our wives and husbands. Just as God is faithful in his marriage relationship with Israel, and just as Christ is faithful in his marriage relationship with the church (Eph. 5:25), Christians are likewise to be faithful in their marriage relationships. This too is a sacred covenant relationship made before God, as we see in Malachi 2:14. In this passage we learn that God is very angry because “…the LORD is acting as the witness between you and the wife of your youth, because you have broken faith with her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant. “
Today the divorce rate among Christians has climbed slightly higher than the rate among non-Christians. In Israel, the divorce rate is still very low, but is now beginning to rise. The present low rate may well reflect their better understanding of a marriage based on the covenant relationship and of faithfulness, not merely emotion.
Well, we need to make a lot of changes if we are to be faithful people. The scripture assures us that God will preserve the faithful man or woman (Psa. 31:23). In Psalm 101:6 we have this precious verse where God himself says: “My eyes will be on the faithful in the land, that they may dwell with me; he whose walk is blameless will minister to me.“
– Jim Gerrish
This updated article is presented courtesy of Bridges For Peace, Jerusalem. Original publication date – 1995.