On Dec 5, 1914, Ernest Shackleton embarked on what he called “the last great polar expedition.” His goal was to cross Antarctica by dogsled—an uncharted journey of 1,500 miles over the most inhospitable terrain on earth. His crew of 27 was handpicked from a field of 5,000 applicants. The ship that would carry them was named Endurance.
For six weeks they fought their way through frigid seas and ice floes trying to reach the continent, until finally their ship became frozen in the ice pack. At that point there was nothing to do but hunker down for the winter—and wait for the spring thaw to release the ship. And—after ten months in their wooden icebox—spring finally arrived. But instead of releasing the vessel, the shifting ice floes began to crush it to pieces. Shackleton realized they had no choice but to abandon ship. He gathered his men and announced his NEW mission: to get every man home safely. They set up camp on a giant ice floe, hoping the current would carry them toward Paulet Island, where they had provisions stored.
Shackleton devoted every waking moment to preserving his men’s health, morale, and unity. Day after day he walked from tent to tent, checking on each man. When spirits began to sag, he would order the cook to come up with some hot drink—or call for a talent show. When it became apparent that the floe was carrying them out to sea, Shackleton ordered the men into three lifeboats they had preserved from the Endurance. After seven harrowing days and nights fighting powerful currents, freezing rain, and massive icebergs, they made it to an uninhabited slab of rock called Elephant Island. For the first time in 497 days, they set foot on land. But they were not safe by a long shot because Elephant Island was far from any shipping route, and no one on earth knew they were there. With morale and provisions running out, Shackleton determined their only course of action was to take one of the boats and head for a whaling station on South Georgia Island for help. That would mean a journey of 800 miles across the most treacherous waters on the planet. As he shoved off with five members of his crew, Shackleton promised the rest he would come back for them—and the 22 men left behind assured themselves that if anyone could save them, it was Shackleton.
For 14 days the small boat battled gale-force winds and 20-foot seas. They took only four navigational readings during the 800-mile journey. If they were off by even a degree, they would miss South Georgia entirely and be lost at sea. On the 14th day, they spotted land, but the outgoing tide wouldn’t allow them to get to shore, so they had to spend another night in their waterlogged boat.
That night a hurricane hit, and for nine hours they fought for their lives. When daylight broke, they were able to land in a rocky cove—only to discover they had been blown to the wrong side of the island. The only way to get to the station would be to hike across 22 miles of mountainous terrain that had never been charted or crossed before.
Shackleton and the others trudged 36 hours straight over mountains and glaciers before stumbling into the whaling camp like walking corpses. Shackleton allowed himself one night’s sleep, before setting about the task of rescuing the rest of his men. He would have to acquire a ship, and re-cross those hazardous waters. His first three attempts failed, as sea ice prevented him from reaching Elephant Island. During those months, Shackleton’s hair literally turned from brown to gray—due to worry over his men. On his fourth try, Shackleton made it through the ice, and as he approached the island, he saw men gathering on the shoreline to greet him. Anxiously he counted one, two, three—but it wasn’t till he reached 22 that he breathed a sigh of relief. “They’re all there,” he said to his mate, “they’re all well.”
Shackleton kept his promise—and delivered every one of his men safely home.
In my thinking his actions give us a great illustration of the next fruit of the Spirit in our study—namely, faithfulness. Let’s read our text for this series. Again, I’ve left out the fruit we have studied thus far.
Galatians 5:22 – the fruit of the Spirit is l , joy, peace, p , k , g , faithfulness, g________________ and s – . Against such things there is no law.
Okay—what exactly is faithfulness? The dictionary meaning reads like this: “loyalty; dependability; a firm and unchanging attachment to a person or idea.” I would add that, bound-up in the meaning of faithfulness is honesty—integrity. The prophet Daniel is a good example of this aspect of FAITHFULNESS. Daniel 6:4 says that his rivals, “tried to find grounds for charges against him in his conduct of government affairs, but they were unable to do so. They could find no corruption in him because he was trustworthy—faithful—and neither corrupt nor negligent.”
Here’s something else we must understand about this particular fruit. By definition, there is an inference that faithfulness is something that will be challenged. It certainly was in Daniel’s life—and Shackleton’s as well. But faithful people withstand those challenges—over and over and over again—such that people who know them—know they can be relied on. Of course—the supreme example of faithfulness is God. Repeatedly, the Bible reminds us of this attribute of His character.
In Exodus 34:6 God described Himself to Moses saying, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, is slow to anger, abounding in love and FAITHFULNESS.”
Deuteronomy 32:3-4 says, “God is the Rock! His work is perfect, for all His ways are just; A GOD OF FAITHFULNESS and without injustice, righteous and upright is He.”
Psalm 33:4-5 says, “For the word of the Lord is right and true; He is faithful in all He does. The Lord loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of His unfailing love.”
Psalm 36:4 says, “Your love, Lord, reaches to the heavens; Your faithfulness to the skies.”
1st Corinthians 1:9 says, “God, Who has called you into fellowship with His Son Jesus Christ our Lord is FAITHFUL.”
My favorite is 2nd Timothy 2:3 where it says, “Even if we are faithless, God remains faithful.” Can you think of a time when God was faithful to you—even when you weren’t faithful to Him?
I think we all can. This is why Solomon rejoiced that God’s “mercies are new every morning—great is His faithfulness.”
GOD is faithful.
I like how Chip Ingram puts it. He says, “God will never let you down. He may not do what you want Him to do exactly when you want Him to or even how you want Him to. He may not orchestrate it in a way that you can understand it now or perhaps ever. But He will NEVER let you down.”
And, of course as Christians, we are called to be like God. As I’ve said repeatedly in this series, all the qualities we are talking about—including faithfulness—are the fruit of His indwelling Spirit. So—the body of Christ should be a place where this fruit flourishes.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work that way. This week I read about a church consultant who shared the results of a study he was hired to do of a large seemingly vibrant church. The pastor of this church sensed that something was wrong, even though attendance was up and things looked like they were going well. When the consultant interviewed members of the church, he found they were very enthusiastic. “We love it here,” they said. “The music rocks. The sermons are relevant to my needs. My kids love it.” But when he asked them what would happen if the pastor left, or the music changed, or the kids’ programs declined in quality, one after another, without hesitation, said, “Oh, I would leave, and find a church that meets my needs.” What this consultant discovered is that this church—and many churches today—especially those that are “mega”—are simply a collection of individuals pursuing their own interests—rather than a community of people faithfully committed to one another’s well-being. He said, the only way to get beyond this consumer-mentality is to connect people to one another in deep, caring, and long-lasting relationships. In his report he reminds us that ultimately, our loyalty isn’t to an institution or a building or a program, but to people—to brothers and sisters who are counting on us—and to our LORD Who has brought us together to serve Him and the people of our community. Do you see the importance of this particular fruit? A church can only function as well as its members bear the fruit of faithfulness.
I don’t know if you realize this but as a church we have pledged to be faithful to one another. This official pledge is written down on paper—most of us have held it in our hands. If this is a surprise to you it’s understandable. I’ve never referred to this pledge—and I don’t think the pastor before me did either. I’m talking about the covenant that is part of our constitution and by-laws. There’s a copy of it on an insert in your bulletins. In business meetings we often refer to the larger SECOND part of the by-laws booklet—the by-laws themselves—but we never refer to the FIRST part—our covenant. I read through it this week and it’s very much like one we used to read responsively in the church I grew up in. It was in the back of our hymnals. When I was a kid, we read this covenant together monthly. This pledge of faithfulness was a regular part of our worship. It was a public way for us to renew our covenant to bear this fruit—our pledge to be faithful to one another and to our Lord—and this morning I’d like to pull some principles from Redland’s version of that covenant—to help us see how this fruit should be seen in our relationships—both within the church—and without. I mean, if we learn to bear this fruit here—we can do a better job of bearing it out there. So take that insert out—and keep it handy—along with your Bibles as we study.
(1) First this covenant reminds us that we must be faithful in our RELATIONSHIPS.
Look at it. It says, we will: “…avoid tattling, backbiting and excessive anger; watch over one another in brotherly love; remember each other in prayer; aid one another in sickness and distress—cultivate Christian sympathy in feeling and Christian courtesy in speech. We will be slow to take offense but always ready for reconciliation.”
I know that word “tattling” is unfamiliar. It’s from a Greek pronounced “tattlous” —just kidding. It’s an old-fashioned word that refers to gossip and slander.
Well, this part of the covenant is inspired by all the “one-anothering” commands in the Bible—commands that describe the kind of relationships that are born from this fruit of faithfulness. I’m thinking of verses like:
Romans 12:10 where it says, “Honor and respect one another.”
And, I love the way J. B. Phillips paraphrases it. In his version it says, “Let’s have no imitation Christian love. Let’s have real warm affection for one another as between brothers and a willingness to let the other man have the credit.” This verse and others like us are a reminder of the fact that healthy, faithful, relationships are marked by courtesy and respect. When this fruit of the Spirit is present—people come together as equals—eager to hear each other’s viewpoints.
This week I read about a church in Santa Fe, New Mexico where there is a hand-lettered sign that hangs over the only door into the sanctuary. The sign says, “SERVANT’S ENTRANCE.”
There isn’t any way in or out of that church except through that “service door.” I like that—because it reminds those believers that they are all servants—they are equal. Everyone who enters, from the pastor on up—is a servant. No one is “above” anyone else.
Another one-anothering verse that makes for faithful relationships is Romans 15:14 where Paul says, “For I myself feel certain that you, my brothers, have real Christian character and experience—and that you are capable of keeping one another on the right road.” In healthy churches we are in essence each other’s loving counselors and guides—faithfully steering one another toward God’s best.
In his book, Bad Religion, Ross Douthat points to a sad trend in our culture. He argues that as families have weakened—and true friendships have waned, we have tried to fill the vacuum by relying on professional caregivers. Obviously, many of these professionals truly care about their clients, but this trend also indicates a deeper problem. Douthat writes:
“As [the philosopher] Ronald Dworkin pointed out—the United States has witnessed a hundredfold increase in the number of professional caregivers since 1950. Our society boasts 77,000 clinical psychologists, 192,000 clinical social workers, 105,000 mental health counselors, 50,000 marriage and family therapists, 17,000 nurse psychotherapists—30,000 life coaches—and hundreds of thousands of nonclinical social workers and substance abuse counselors as well. Most of these professionals spend their days helping people cope with everyday life problems, not true mental illness. Under our very noses a revolution has occurred in the personal dimension of life, such that millions of Americans must now pay professionals to listen to their everyday life problems. The result is a nation where gurus and therapists have filled the roles once occupied by spouses and friends.”
I’m thinking that professional counselors wouldn’t be as over-worked as they are—if Christians were more faithful to counsel one another—keeping one another headed down the right road.
Another one-anothering verse I think of is Hebrews 10:24 where it says, “Let us think of one another and how we can encourage one another to love and do good deeds.” I have to point out that the Greek word for “Holy Spirit” is “para kaleo.” I’m not kidding about Greek this time. The cool thing is that “para kaleo” is similar to the Greek word for “encouragement.”
It means “called alongside to help.” This underscores the fact that we are bearing this fruit—when in the power of the Holy Spirit we are faithful to come alongside one another and give words of encouragement—words that we all need to keep going in this discouraging world.
I want to mention one more aspect of faithful relationships. It’s found in Galatians 6:2 where it says we are to, “Bear one another’s burdens.” In a church where faithfulness abounds—members make one another’s burdens their own. As the covenant says, they “watch over one another in brotherly love; remember each other in prayer; aid one another in sickness and distress.” In a healthy church—a church whose members bear this fruit, all burdens—sorrows—struggles—are MUTUAL—they are shared—born by all. We count on each other to be faithful to lighten each other’s loads.
Summing all this up—in a church whose members bear the fruit of faithfulness, they get their “one-anothering” right. Their relationships are Christlike—they stick together—they give evidence to this lost world that Jesus dwells in this body of believers. It’s one way we all acknowledge that He is the HEAD.
Pastor Ray Ortlund writes, “The kind of God we really believe in is revealed in how we treat one another. The lovely gospel of Jesus positions us to treat one another like royalty, and every non-gospel positions us to treat one another like dirt. But we will follow through horizontally on whatever we believe vertically.” Ortlund then goes on to identify the “One Another’s” he could NOT find in the N.T.: “Humble one another, scrutinize one another, pressure one another, embarrass one another, corner one another, interrupt one another, defeat one another, shame one another, judge one another, run one another’s lives, confess one another’s sins, intensify one another’s sufferings, point out one another’s failings.”
I agree—that’s not Biblical one-anothering. In a church healthy believers we are FOR each other. We help each other. We stand by each other. We cheer each other on. We are FAITHFUL in our relationships with one other.
(2) Here’s a second thing our covenant stresses. It leads us to be faithful in our LABORS.
Quoting from it again: “We engage, therefore, by the aid of the Holy Spirit, to work together in Christian love, to strive for the advancement of this church—to sustain its worship, discipline and doctrines—to contribute cheerfully and regularly to the support of the ministry, the expenses of the church, the relief of the poor—and the spread of the Gospel as witnesses of Christ unto the uttermost parts of the earth.”
In short, this part of the covenant reminds us that a healthy church is one in which its members are faithful to work together to complete the tasks God has given us. In fact, our covenant says that when God moves us to another part of the world, we pledge to find a local church to join so we can continue to do His work. It says, “When we depart from this body of believers we will, as soon as possible, unite with another church—where we can use our talents to carry out the spirit of this covenant and the principles of God’s Holy Word.”
I like this part of our covenant because it underscores the fact that a church is so much more than a place to attend and be served. It is a place to JOIN and SERVE. Being in a church should not be a spectator sport. It’s a place to WORK. I can’t help but think of RBC camp. It takes hundreds of people to make it happen. And hundreds of people commit to help—work every year—because we are faithful to this—the largest “mission trip” of our church year. In 1st Corinthians 12 Paul reminds us that all Christians are given spiritual gifts—but we are given them not for our own benefit—but “for the good of all.” In other words, we are each uniquely gifted to serve in a local church—like Redland. Joining a church and getting involved there is an answer to God’s call in our lives. As 1st Peter 4:10 puts it every Christian, “…should use whatever gift he or she has received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” As Christians, we have a job to do. Do you remember our Lord’s commission?
He said, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28)
We DO have a job to do—and a limited time to do it. We must be faithful to this job—and the way to do that is TOGETHER as members of a local church.
An old hymn text comes to mind: “To the work to the work we are servants of God — Let us follow the path that our Master has trod. To the work! To the work! Let the hungry be fed; To the fountain of life let the weary be led; To the work! To the work! There is labor for all; For the kingdom of darkness and error shall fall; And the love of our Father exalted shall be, In the loud swelling chorus, “Salvation is free!” To the work! To the work! In the strength of the Lord, And a robe and a crown shall our labor reward, When the home of the faithful our dwelling shall be, And we shout with the ransomed, “Salvation is free!”
If you know it sing the chorus with me: “Toiling on! Toiling on! Toiling on! Toiling on! Let us hope! Let us watch! And labor ‘til the Master comes!” I know I’ve talked about the Tuskegee Airmen before but when it comes to being faithful to a task, I can’t help but think of them.
I wonder how many of them are still alive today—and if any headed to France last week to celebrate D-day. These guys are also known as The Red Tails because of the way they painted the tails of their P-52 fighter planes became famous. They were the first African-American military aviators in the United States armed forces. But the Red Tails hold a special significance in American history, not just racially, but militarily. In the European air war, U.S. bombers were getting shot down at increasingly alarming rates. The problem arose when the enemy attacked.
Fighter pilots, protecting the bombers, would leave the bomber to engage enemy aircraft. This seemed like the obvious response, but it meant leaving the bombers vulnerable to attack. The Tuskegee Airmen were brought in and given a different strategy: Never leave the bombers. Never. Regardless of what was happening around them. When the enemy attacked, stay the course and defend your charge. As a result of their steadfast devotion only 25 of the hundreds of bombers they protected during the war were lost. Their stellar reputation became legend: If you flew a bomber, you wanted the Red Tails with you because they were known to be faithful in the labor—the work—the job given them. Their motto was: “The last plane, the last bullet, the last man, the last minute, we fight!”
Our covenant reminds us that we have a LABOR to do—a job to do—and faithfulness is seen in our sticking together no matter what to do it.
(3) Our covenant also reminds us or the need to be faithful in our ETHICS
In it we pledge to, “walk circumspectly in the world; to be just in our dealings, faithful in all our commitments and exemplary in our deportment—to abstain from practices that would, in any manner, be harmful to our bodies or that would be a detriment to our Christian witness.” That word, “circumspectly” means “watchful.” It reminds us that our neighbors are looking at the way we live—and in this covenant we are pledging to live like Jesus would want us to. We vow to stay away from practices like gossiping and slander—abusing alcohol, losing our temper—any behavior that would hurt our Christian witness. In short, we covenant to make sure our walk matches our talk. This week I read about a police officer who pulled a driver aside and asked for his license and registration. The driver said, “What’s wrong, officer? I didn’t go through any red lights, and I certainly wasn’t speeding.” “No, you weren’t,” said the officer, “but I saw you waving your fist as you swerved around the lady driving in the left lane, and I further observed your flushed and angry face—as you shouted at the driver of the Hummer who cut you off, and how you pounded your steering wheel when the traffic came to a stop near the bridge.” “Is that a crime, officer?” “No, but when I saw the ‘Jesus loves you and so do I’ bumper sticker on the car, I figured this car had to be stolen.”
This covenant is a pledge to LIVE what we believe—to be known for our Christian ethics.
(4) Finally, this covenant is our pledge to be faithful in our BELIEFS.
Look at how it begins: “Having been led as we BELIEVE to receive the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior and on the profession of our FAITH—” we covenant all these things. The fact that this BEGINS our covenant reminds us that our belief is what unites us—it’s the foundation for our faithfulness. We list our beliefs in the Baptist Faith and Message. They are also part of our constitution and by-laws. In that document we affirm teachings of the Bible like:
- There is only one God—Who created everything in the universe.
- All people are sinners—lost—separated from God.
- In spite of our sin, God loves us—and proved that by sending Jesus, His only Son.
- Jesus died on the cross in our place—and is the ONLY WAY for us to be forgiven and reconciled with God—the only way for us to have the assurance of eternal life.
- The Bible is God’s infallible Word.
- Human life is sacred from womb to tomb.
- The Baptist Faith and Message says we believe sex is God’s gift to mankind—but must be practiced only between a man and a woman who are married.
Being faithful to our beliefs is increasingly difficult. Going against the flow is hard. It’s not easy to hold to our Biblical convictions.
In the days before the fall of the Iron Curtain there was a famous sculptor known as Niezvestny. He designed Nikita Khrushchev’s tombstone—and because of his Christian faith was eventually forced into exile in Switzerland. The “last straw” that led to his exile concerned a job Niezvestny did for a Communist Party building. He constructed a huge sculpture some fifty feet high and fifty feet wide, that covered the entire facade. He submitted the design but in sections, each of which was approved by Party officials. Only at the unveiling did they see it as a whole—and when they did, they gasped in horror. A huge cross covered the front of the Communist headquarters. Interestingly enough, the cross stayed in place. And we all know that the state that opposed it did not.
Thankfully we don’t have it as hard as Niezvestny did—yet. No—at this point in history it’s not defending our beliefs—as much as it is living them out. Obeying Jesus in a fallen world—is hard.
Do you remember what happened in October of 2006 in a small Amish school in West Nickel Mine Pennsylvania? That was the horrible day a troubled milkman named Charles Carl Roberts barricaded himself inside the school, murdered five young girls and wounded six others. Roberts committed suicide when police arrived on the scene. It was a hard time for the Amish community of West Nickel Mines, but it was also a hard time for Marie Roberts—the wife of the gunman—and her two young children. On the Saturday after the killings, Marie experienced something truly countercultural while attending her husband’s funeral. That day, she and her children watched as Amish families—about half of the 75 mourners present—came and stood alongside her and her children in the midst of their own blinding grief. Despite the crime the man had perpetrated, the Amish came to mourn Charles Carl Roberts—a husband and daddy.
Bruce Porter, a fire department chaplain who attended the service, described what moved him most about the gesture: “It’s the love, the forgiveness, the heartfelt forgiveness they have toward the family. I broke down and cried seeing it displayed.” He added that Marie Roberts was also touched. “She was absolutely, deeply moved by the love shown.”
It can be hard to be faithful to our beliefs can’t it?