My husband’s family gathered at our house one summer for a Fourth of July cookout. When it got dark, we went outside for sparklers and fireworks in the driveway. As we lit some sparklers for the kids, my father-in-law’s phone beeped and he said, “I have a phone call. Go ahead—I’ll be right back.”
He walked down the sidewalk a little way to talk, and my mother-in-law gave me the details that he wouldn’t think to tell us. Every night at 9:00, he calls a former coworker. The coworker lives across the country and is the sole caregiver for his wife, who is in declining health. Often the conversation is short, just five minutes or so, to check in. But every day, a man who faithfully does the hard, lonely work of caregiving receives a phone call from his faithful friend. Quietly, persistently, without fanfare, my father-in-law and his friend both persevere in love.
Faithfulness is one of the fruit of the Spirit listed in Galatians. Paul writes,
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22–23)
Faith and Truth
When we think of the meaning of “faithfulness” in today’s English, we tend to associate it with our human relationships, like faithfulness in marriage or the faithfulness of calling a friend every night. But the worthy character attribute of faithfulness cannot be separated from its root word, faith. In the Bible, human faithfulness refers primarily to persistence in believing and trusting in God.
In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word for faithfulness can also mean “truth.” Messaging in popular culture can tell us that having faith in yourself or in some kind of self-defined belief system is the true goal. Faith for faith’s sake is useless. The gift of faith in the truth of Jesus and His work on our behalf is the solid foundation on which all of our human faithfulness rests.
Steadfast Love and Faithfulness
Over and over in the Old Testament, faithfulness and steadfast love are paired together as essential attributes of God’s character. In our exploration of “goodness” last month, we looked at Exodus 33, where God promises to show Moses His goodness. When God fulfills that promise, in Exodus 34, God speaks this about Himself:
The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Exodus 34:6)
Many psalms echo God’s words about Himself in Exodus, praising God’s steadfast love and faithfulness to His people. Here’s just one example of many:
He has remembered His steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God. (Psalm 98:3)
Love and faithfulness go together, in the character of God, and in the fruit of the Spirit.
An Arc of Faithfulness
The overarching story of the Bible is the story of a faithful God who perseveres in love toward His children, even to the point of giving His Son over to death for our sake.
God makes a promise of salvation, first to Eve (Genesis 3:15) and then to Abraham and the patriarchs after him. God rescues the Israelites from Egypt and leads them to the Promised Land, keeping His promises to their ancestors. Even when the Israelites are unfaithful to God, God remains faithful to them.
All through the Old Testament, God promises a Messiah, an eternal king. He faithfully fulfills that promise in Jesus. Even now, we await the final fulfillment of God’s promise, the return of Jesus and the new heavens and earth. God’s faithfulness spans the history of humanity, as He fulfills His promises of steadfast love and salvation to His people.
God’s faithfulness to us is shown not just in the grand arc of the Bible but also in the everyday lives of Christians—God’s presence during worship, a vocational calling, a miraculous healing, the steadfast love of a Christian community during a difficult time, the body and blood of Jesus in Communion, the words and water of Baptism, the transformative work of the Holy Spirit as we grow in faith.
When the Holy Spirit produces faithfulness in us, that spiritual fruit echoes and grows out of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness to us. When we recognize and celebrate the faithfulness of those around us—the unnoticed service of a caregiver, the persistent prayer of an elder saint, the weekly commitment to Word and Sacrament of a church community, the daily five-minute calls of encouragement to a friend—we are reminded of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness. May the Holy Spirit root our hearts and minds in God’s faithfulness and empower us to persevere in love for the sake of others.
Each session in Golden Fruit focuses on one fruit of the Spirit and considers how the life and story of one of nine biblical women convey that characteristic.