March 10, 2019
Norwalk First United Methodist Church
Fruits of the Spirit
Psalm 26 (NRSV)
This week we begin the first of our final three Fruits of the Spirit, faithfulness. The final three, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, reflect the Christian believer’s attitude with himself or herself. These three fruits make us ask the questions: In our personal lives will we manifest the fruit of faithfulness in dependability and in accountability in our service to God and people? Will we manifest the gentleness in Christlike behavior in every situation of life? And will we manifest the fruit of self-control in the God-given ability to harness natural passions for the purposes of salvation?
Faithfulness means we are dependable and accountable in our service to God. The technical definition of faithfulness in the dictionary says something like this: “To follow through with a commitment regardless of difficulty.” I think that is even a good definition of faithfulness for a Christian. Being a Christian in today’s world is not always that easy. But faithfulness is about making a commitment and following through.
Hallmark has a card out that pretty much fits the mood of our times. It reads: “I can’t promise you forever, but I can promise you today.” Wow! That’s about as deep a commitment as some people are willing to make. However, Christian faithfulness requires a forever commitment. God is our model for faithfulness. God is faithful forever. Psalm 100:5 says, “The Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.” And if we are created in the image of God, our faithfulness should also continue forever. Being a Christian means we are to have and practice the fruit of faithfulness.
One pastor I read said he likes to remember faithfulness this way, “Faithfulness is love hanging on.” It is love saying, “I will not quit. There may be misunderstandings, there may be disappointments, there may be discouragements, but I will not quit.” Faithfulness is love hanging on.
If a husband says, “I really love my wife,” and then he goes out and has an affair, you may call him a liar. You may call him a cheat. But most of all, you will say, “He is unfaithful.” And no matter how strong his arguments may be, no matter how loudly he proclaims his love for his wife, you will not believe him because his unfaithfulness negates his proclamation of love.
And if someone says, “I really love the Lord,” or “I really love the church,” and then is unfaithful in attendance, or never cracks open a Bible, or does nothing to promote the gospel, or lives a life completely opposite what Jesus taught, then it’s hard to believe that he or she really does love the Lord. Because, you see, faithfulness and love always go hand in hand. Faithfulness is love hanging on.
We may get discouraged from time to time. Or we may be disappointed. But faithfulness says, “Even though there is discouragement and disappointment, I will not let go, I will not quit. I will keep on attending and giving and serving, because God has called me to be faithful. Without a doubt, the scriptures challenge us to be faithful.
1 Corinthians 4:1-2 challenges us to be faithful in stewardship. Ephesians 6:21 talks about being faithful in service. 1 Timothy 5:9 speaks of being faithful in our marriages. Revelation 2:15 speaks of being faithful in witnessing. Romans 12:12 says we are to be faithful in prayer. Colossians 1:7 speaks of being faithful in ministry. Revelation 2:10 challenges us to be faithful unto death and then we’ll receive the crown of life. Faithfulness is love hanging on. Faithfulness is following through on a commitment even when things get difficult.
But if you are like me, you want concrete examples of how you can demonstrate to yourself and others your faithfulness. David, when writing this Psalm, Psalm 26, shows us what can make a wholehearted Christian faithful. I hope you will have your Bibles open to this Psalm as we explore it further. But first, would you pray with me?
As Psalm 26 opens, David is probably in the Tabernacle about to offer a sacrifice to God. He wants his sacrifice to be worthy and pleasing to God and knows that he himself must be holy and pleasing to God before offering it. David’s whole purpose in this psalm, while talking with God, is to receive vindication, that is, exoneration or pardon of anything that might stand between him and God. Look at what David says: Vindicate me, O Lord, for I have walked in my integrity, and I have trusted in the Lord without wavering.
David wants to do right but still needs God’s mercy and redemption in his life. This is really a bold act for David, for anybody for that matter. How many of us call on God for judgment? I know I don’t. I’m afraid of the consequences. But David says right here, I have faith in you God. I want you to test me. Examine me, O Lord, and try me; test my heart and mind.
So what makes a faithful wholehearted Christian? One, when we desire to be tested by God, and two, when we have faith in God. Why? Because when we have faith in God, we know that God will test us not in anger and wrath, but in love and mercy. We can depend on him to judge us with fairness and justice that no human could ever do. And when we are judged by God, we can with certainty know that even though things may get difficult for us, he will bring us through stronger on the other side. We will have been tested and refined.
Then look at verses 3 – 5. David says to God. Read my lips. I’ll prove that I have integrity, that I’m of good Spirit, that I have been faithful to you. I will prove to you that you can vindicate me and redeem me. And with that David proceeds to list six things that he has done in his faith walk with God.
- Your steadfast love is before my eyes.
- I walk in faithfulness to you.
- I do not sit with the worthless.
- I do not consort with hypocrites.
- I hate the company of evildoers.
- I will not sit with the wicked.
Not a bad list. Remember, we can demonstrate our faithfulness when we desire to be tested by God and when we have faith in God. From this list we can add two more. Three, when we adhere to the Word of God, or as David puts it, walk in faithfulness, and four, when we separate ourselves from the enemies of God. In other words, we don’t resort to those things which drive us further from God, like being around deceitful, hypocritical, evil, and wicked people.
We now come to verse 6 in Psalm 26 which is probably the keynote of the entire Psalm. It is also our fifth item in demonstrating our faithfulness. We can demonstrate our faithfulness by offering sacrifice to God. Look at what David says: I wash my hands in innocence, and go around your altar, O Lord, singing aloud a song of thanksgiving, and telling all your wondrous deeds.
The act of washing your hands before going to God was an act of cleansing ones’ self of all the filth and sinfulness of the physical world. It is an act of making yourself clean and pure before God. If any of you grew up Catholic or have been to a Catholic Mass, you will see the altar boy bring a small bowl of water and towel to the priest. The priest will wash his hands and dry them on the towel as a symbol of purification before handling the bread and wine of Holy Communion.
As Christian’s offering ourselves to God, we, too, need to purify ourselves by asking God’s forgiveness as we come to him in prayer before even starting our petitions on behalf of other people. But what is also important and is our sixth demonstration of faithfulness, is to offer God thanks for all that he has given us and to testify before others of the awesome wonders of a mighty and just God.
So far David has taught us six of the eight features of a faithful, wholehearted Christian. One, we desire to be tested by God. Two, we have faith in God. Three, we adhere to God’s Word. Four, we separate ourselves from the enemies of God. Five, we offer sacrifice to God, that is, we ask forgiveness and to be made holy. And six, we testify of God’s greatness.
Then, David says, we need to love the house of God. Verse 8, O Lord, I love the house in which you dwell, and the place where our glory abides. David loved to be in the Tabernacle. It was truly his sanctuary from the outside world and from the rigors of being a King over a very messy, and many times, sinful people.
I agree with David. I find peace when I come into this sanctuary. I lose myself in this church when I work here through the week. It feels like home.
Now as David closes out this Psalm, verses nine and ten become very interesting. He once again reiterates his ability to keep away from bloodthirsty men. I want to read this section from my New American Standard Bible, because I think the translation is more vivid. Verse 9, Do not take my soul away along with sinners, Nor my life with men of bloodshed, In whose hands is a wicked scheme, And whose right hand is full of bribes.
Here’s why it is interesting that David said this. It is believed that David wrote this Psalm just a short time before he discovered a certain Bathsheba bathing on the rooftop across from his palace. He just happened to be looking down from one of his windows and noticed her and immediately thought he needed her as one of his wives. You see, it would only be a short time before David had Bathsheba’s husband, an Israelite general, killed in the thick of battle so as not to bring suspicion to Bathsheba’s pregnancy by David. David would soon become one of those “men of bloodshed” with whom he didn’t want to be associated. David’s faithfulness was not going to be long lasting.
And lastly, as wholehearted Christians, we can demonstrate our faithfulness by praising the name of God every chance we get. Beginning with verse 11, David says, But as for me, I walk in my integrity; redeem me, and be gracious to me. My foot stands on level ground; in the great congregation I will bless the Lord.
It all boils down to this. Faithfulness is love hanging on. As Spirit-led Christians, who are attached to the vine that is Jesus Christ, we can produce great fruit because it is the natural thing to do. We are attached to a love-filled Christ whose life was about producing the Fruits of the Spirit. Attached to the vine that is Christ, we don’t have to sit around and think about producing fruit or analyzing it. It will happen as long as we keep our focus on Jesus. But we do have to be careful that our branch is never detached from the vine, or that some disease will destroy our fruitfulness and consequently our faithfulness.
You see, we still need to realize that temptations will come and we will be tempted to be unfaithful. But we must choose to stay on the vine. We will be tempted to be like the rest of the world, which is not a predominantly Christian world, and pulled away, being unfaithful in church attendance, unfaithful in our prayer lives, and unfaithful in studying the Word of God. But we must choose to stay connected to the vine. And finally, we may be knocked down by Satan and other evil doers from time to time, but we must choose to get back up and continue Christ’s work in the world. The Apostle Paul endured persecution, beatings, and imprisonment many times as people tried to stop his ministry. But Paul endured. He remained faithful even through difficult times. We must choose to stay connected to the source of our power, Jesus Christ.
I challenge you this week, to reflect on your faithfulness to Christ and your own faithfulness within yourself. Are you still attached vigorously to the vine or are you just a small thread away from falling off? David wanted to know. He asked God to judge him. He asked God to test his mind and heart. He asked God to truly examine him. Are you willing to do that? Am I willing to do that? How great is our faithfulness?