By Pastor Glenn Pease
Andrew Carnegie was the richest man in the world at the beginning of the 20th century. His life illustrated both the positive and negative sides of the fruit of faithfulness. You would think that faithfulness would always be positive, but the fact is, every virtue can be a vice if it is linked to the wrong value system. Even love can be a vice, for as Paul says, the love of money is the root of all evil. Carnegie had a love for money that made him faithful to his goal of becoming rich. He ruthlessly underpaid his steel workers, and made them work 12 hours a day 7 days a week. His labor practices led to one of the bloodiest strikes in labor history. In the town of Homestead, Pa. 14 people were killed and 163 were seriously injured in that strike.
Carnegie made 40 million dollars in profit in the year 1900, because he was faithful to his commitment to become rich. But once he became the richest man in the world, he changed his whole perspective and decided it would be a disgrace to die rich. He decided to give his fortune back to society. He found he could not give it away fast enough, for it was growing so rapidly, so he formed the Carnegie Corporation Foundation. 90% of his fortune was given away, and 3,000 libraries were endowed. 350 million dollars were given away, and when he died in 1919 he had just 30 million left, and 20 million of that went to the Carnegie Foundation for educational purposes. The other 10 million went to family and relatives.
Here was a man faithful in making a fortune, and faithful in giving it away. His faithfulness was a burden to some and a blessing to others. Thus, we see the duel nature of this virtue which can also be a vice. The Pharisees were faithful to the law, and refused to forsake their legalism, even in the face of the miracles of Jesus. People can be faithful to cults, cruel leaders, and every form of evil you can imagine. I read of how even animal faithfulness can be a problem. Jonathan Daniels was a newspaper man who covered the races. The one that stands out in his mind is a race between 5 camels. It was at a Carolina carnival. It was an unusual race and people all over the state were betting on the outcome. But bookies noticed that Arabs were putting all their money on the camel named Ben Ali. They watched the race with eagle eyes for any sign of dirty work.
The race seemed to be fairly run, and all jockies pressed their mounts with equal fervor and determination. Yet Ben Ali was the easy winner. Daniels interviewed some Arabs and asked why they put all their money on Ben Ali, and one of them explained with a grin. "Ben Ali is what is known in our country as a bell camel. From the day of their birth all other camels are taught to follow the bell camel." These Arabs were not gambling at all. It was a sure thing, for they knew the other camels would be faithful to their training, and never pass up the bell camel.
What you don't know can hurt you. That is why it is important to recognize the paradox that virtues can be vices if they are focused on the wrong values. Faithfulness is not a fruit of the Spirit if it is not directed toward the revealed will of God. There are people who are faithful to their commitment to get drunk every weekend, or faithful to their commitment to play poker every Saturday night. You and I can be faithful to buy our gas at the same station every week, or where only brand of shoes for life, or a thousand and one other things. This is not necessarily either good or bad, but it is not the fruit of the Spirit.
The fruit of the Spirit, which is faithfulness, is an absolute loyalty to Jesus Christ regardless of the cost. Jesus put it plainly to the Christians in Smyrna in Rev.2:10, "Do not be afraid of what you about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for 10 days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life." Faithfulness means a lot to Jesus, and He will greatly reward it. This is the fruit that took Him all the way to the cross. He could have been the world's greatest teacher, healer, and miracle worker, and still have failed to be our Savior had He not been faithful even to the point of death.
When John saw into the future, this was one of his visions in Rev.19:11, "I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider was called Faithful and True." This is a name Jesus will wear forever. He never forsook the plan of God even though the cost was beyond calculation. You can count on Jesus when He says I will never leave you or forsake you, for He is absolutely faithful. And this is what He expects from His disciples. Christians are to be people you can count on because they are faithful to their commitments.
I John 1:9 says, "If we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive our sins...." What does this mean? It means you can count on Christ to be consistent. He will not be moody, one day forgiving you, and the next day saying tough luck. The book of Hebrews calls Jesus a faithful high priest. He would not let you down by inconsistencies. He is dependable. And He is greatly pleased when His disciples are also dependable. In the great and final war against evil, we read this description of those on the winning side in Rev.17:14, "They will make war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will overcome them because He is Lord of lords and King of kings-and with him will be his called, chosen and faithful followers."
The highest compliment the New Testament can give to a Christian is that they are faithful. It will be the greatest reward to hear Jesus say in the day of judgement, "well done thou good and faithful servant." Paul could give no higher recommendation than to say one was faithful. He writes in I Cor.4:17, "I am sending to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord." In Eph.6:21 he writes, "Tychicus, the dear brother and faithful servant in the Lord will tell you everything...." Paul could not have accomplished what he did without the help of faithful servants. Many forsook Paul and did not have the fruit of faithfulness, but the few who were faithful help him change all of history. One of the things that Paul was most grateful for was that Jesus considered him to be faithful. He writes in I Tim.1:12, "I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful appointing me to His service."
This brings us back to the paradox of faithfulness and to another aspect of it-the good side of bad faithfulness. Paul had bad faithfulness before he was converted. He was a faithful fanatical Pharisee who would persecute fellow Jews who became Christians. He was not about to forsake his faithful commitment to salvation by works of the law. His faithfulness to Judaism made him a very cruel and dangerous man, thus, illustrating again, just how bad a thing faithfulness can be. It is a force behind all hatred, bigotry, and prejudice. But here is the good side of bad faithfulness. If a person is faithful to their values, even if they are wrong and perverted values, they have the potential, as Paul did, of becoming faithful to right and true values. The point is, if Paul had been a rotten Pharisee, who was breaking his own laws and being unfaithful to his commitments as a legalist, he would not have been a good candidate for an Apostle of Christ. It was his faithfulness to his wrong convictions that made him a good candidate for one who would be faithful to right convictions.
We need to see with the eyes of Christ as we look at the lost. We tend to say a certain person is so committed to his materialism that he would never be interested in the things of the Spirit. She is so loyal to her social organization she would never be interested in church things. We forget the good side of bad faithfulness, which is, it can become good faithfulness if it is converted and directed toward the service of Christ. The best servants of the Lord are often those who were the best servants of the devil. People who are faithful to folly can become people who are faithful to wisdom. That is why we need to see the faithfulness of sinners to their value system as potential values for the kingdom of God. Jesus saw this potential in Paul, and that is why a man so faithful to the law became the Apostle so faithful to love.
Unfortunately not all faithfulness gets a lot of attention or reward in this life. Some of the people Paul commends as faithful are obscure persons. The world is full of Christians who are faithful, and by their attendance, giving, and service keep the church alive and well. They are often taken for granted because they are faithful. You don't have to worry or wonder about them. They just faithfully do their thing as members of the body, and like the glands of the physical body they are crucial for health, but they are seldom given a lot of thought. But the very nature of faithfulness is that it does the job needed regardless of the recognition. If you only serve the Lord to be seen of men, Jesus says you are like the Pharisees. You may get your reward, which is recognition from men, but you will receive none from God.
The true test of faithfulness is, will you do what you are gifted to do for the body of Christ even if you are seldom to never thanked for it. It is not much of a virtue to keep doing what you are rewarded for doing. Even animals learn a lot of tricks because they are rewarded for their acts. This natural faithfulness is not bad at all. It gives us a lot of pleasure, and it is a part of good education. Rewarding is a good thing, but faithfulness is that virtue that says reward or not, recognition or not, I am going to do what pleases my Lord. I will be faithful.
This is a virtue that rises above the natural response of faithfulness to what gives you pleasure and reward. It is when you suffer calamity and great loss that this kind of faithfulness shows. Habakkuk reveals his faithfulness in Hab.3:17-18, "Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior." That is not natural-that is fruit of the Spirit faithfulness. A Christian who is only faithful when it pays off in some sort of reward is operating it the flesh. a non-Christian or even an animal can live on this level. But cut off the reward and seals will stop bouncing balls on their nose, whales will stop leaping over nets, lions will stop leaping through hoops, and the natural faithfulness of men will lead them to forsake the cause, whatever it is. Even the cause of Christ will be abandoned by Christians who operate in the flesh. Only those with the fruit of the Spirit faithfulness will continue to serve the Lord when the benefits cease, and there are only burdens to be carried.
The whole idea of taking up the cross and following Jesus is based on faithfulness. Cross-bearing is not for the unfaithful. They will abandoned Christ at the point at which the burden is greater than the benefit. "Demas has forsaken me having loved this present world, "said Paul of one of his unfaithful Christian servants. When the burdens of serving with Paul became greater than the benefits, he took off and went his own way. He was faithful only when it paid to be. This kind of natural faithfulness is not enough in any relationship of life. All relationships are tested, and the test is that they sometimes cost more than they pay. There is more pain than pleasure, and more burden than benefit.
The reason why Christians are into more divorces than ever before is because they are operating on the level of natural faithfulness. "As long as it pays off and their is more pleasure than pain, I will stick with the relationship. But when it costs emotional burdens to stick with it, I will be gone." It is natural to have these feelings, but the Christian is to operate on a higher level than the natural and overcome these feelings. When they do not do so by the fruit of the Spirit, they do the same things the non-Christian does. No relationship will escape the testing, and if Christians are not examples of faithfulness in all relationships, they will not be a very attractive witness to the power of the Gospel to change life. Faithfulness has no valid existence until it has to stick to a commitment when their is no pleasure in doing so. When their is only pleasure it is just self-satisfaction to be faithful. But when their is a burden to bear, and you are still faithful, that is fruit of the Spirit faithfulness. This is what we see in Jesus as He went to the cross for us, and what we see in all relationships that survive the valleys of life. Our salvation and our security depend upon the faithfulness of Christ. Nothing could be secure if He was not faithful. And nothing in the Christians life can be secure if they are not faithful. All security is based on faithfulness.
Dr. Charles E. Fuller had one of the most fruitful radio ministries in history. It was called, The Old-Fashioned Revival Hour, and it covered 90% of the inhabited world. Without faithfulness it never would have gotten to this level. He and his wife lost their first child. Then her health failed and they were separated. Then a serious financial crunch involved them in a hard five year battle to recover. 12 years after their first child died they had another child that almost died. Added to all this trial, they were deserted by some of their closest friends in the church. How do you get through all that, and touch the world for God? The only way is by the fruit of faithfulness. He could have let any one of his trials stop him, but he didn't. He was faithful when there was only pain, and God rewarded him beyond what he could have ever dreamed.
Jesus will be ever faithful to us, but the question always is, will we be faithful to Him. Peter Ainslie writes,
"I shall never forget the time I saw Poynter's great picture
"Faithful Unto Death." in the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool.
There stood the Roman guard on duty while the palace was
falling into ruins during the destruction of Herculaneum. The
dead were lying in the background; others were falling to the
pavement amid the red-hot eruptions of Vesuvius; everyone
who could was fleeing for his life. The Roman guard might
have made his escape, but there he stood like a marble statue,
preferring to remain at his post faithful unto death. The picture
clung to me like an individual--not simply the man standing at
his post of duty but the expression of faithfulness that showed
in his countenance. I have thought of it a hundred times since,
and have felt its influence as I have felt that of a living person."
Even natural faithfulness can reach great heights, and be a powerful example, but to be faithful to our Lord in day to day living we need more than natural faithfulness. That too is a valuable asset, but to be all that God wants us to be we need the fruit of the Spirit faithfulness.