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We value faithfulness

November 30, 2011 No Comment

Six words on a school sign generally incite one of two reactions: great expectation or great fear. They mean a great deal to children and parents alike: “Report cards go home this week.”

Most of us have received a report card at some point and know how intimidating it can be to open the envelope. Whatever other feedback teachers give, report card time is the moment of truth. We finally see exactly what our teachers think of our efforts. Are we faithful students, doing our best to learn what we were supposed to?

No doubt we can get pretty wound up over school report cards. But what if God handed out report cards in the same way? What might He say about our spiritual progress?

In some ways, the events surrounding Christ’s transfiguration recorded in Matthew, Mark and Luke might be considered a kind of celestial report card from the Father on the progress of His Son. God thunders from the clouds, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him” (Matthew 17:5 ESV). God, for the benefit of Jesus’ disciples, announces His evaluation of His Son’s work… and it is a definite A-plus. The Father affirmed Christ’s faithfulness to Him throughout everything He had done in His earthly mission.

Just as Christ is faithful to the One who sent Him, as God’s people, we are called to be faithful to God.

Just as Christ is faithful to the One who sent Him, as God’s people, we are called to be faithful to God.

In this final article on the core values of Lutheran Church–Canada, we consider faithfulness: “In faith, as Christ’s ambassadors,” our vision statement reads, “we value faithfulness.” We learn from the Saviour, whose faithfulness is affirmed by the Father, how we can also be faithful in our service to Him who has brought us into the kingdom of His Son.

If your paper carrier skipped your house every second day, would you consider him or her faithful? If you failed to come to work three or four times a month, would your boss consider you faithful? If you missed a couple of mortgage payments during the year would the bank consider you faithful?  If you failed to show up at home once or twice a month would your spouse consider you faithful?

Faithfulness is not good intentions about doing the right thing. Even managing to do the right thing most of the time doesn’t make you faithful. True faithfulness is loyalty that never fails or falters—the kind of loyalty we only see in Jesus Christ. When He speaks of His work, He says, “I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me” (John 6:38 ESV). He held Himself accountable to His Father in everything He did.

If Christ had faltered at any point, decided the way of the cross was too much and the Father’s will too hard, He would not be what the author of Hebrews calls Him: “the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, who was faithful to Him who appointed Him, just as Moses also was faithful in all God’s house” (Hebrews 3:1-2 ESV). If His life showed the smallest hint of sin, then we could never be sure of our salvation. Only the death of the sinless Son of God could redeem sinful people like us. Only a Perfect Sacrifice could save our fallen world.

When Jesus was in the wilderness, the devil tempted Him to forsake faithfulness to the Father. Luke writes, “And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, ‘To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours’” (Luke 4:5-7 ESV). In effect, Satan offered Jesus the very world He had come to redeem—everything He wants, without suffering the pain of the cross. All He had to do was bow down to the devil. But Christ resisted. He knew the kingdoms of the world do not belong to the devil nor are they his to give, so He rebuked Satan: “It is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve’” (Luke 4:8 ESV).

Christ remained faithful to God despite temptation. And we see the Father’s assessment of that faithfulness in His words during the Transfiguration of Christ.

At this moment in time, the Father does two things. First, He affirms to Peter, James and John that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. “This is my beloved Son,” the voice declares from the clouds.

Second, God commends the faithfulness of the Son “with whom [He] is well pleased.” These are the same words He spoke at Christ’s baptism. That event marked the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry; the Transfiguration occurs near the end. The point is clear: from beginning to end, from birth to death to resurrection, Christ remained faithful to the Father. He was the Perfect Sacrifice we needed to save us from our sin. And He continues His faithful work today, interceding for us at the right hand of the Father. This is the Son in whom God is “well pleased”: an A-plus if ever there was one.

We as Christians benefit from the Son’s faithfulness. Not only has He been faithful to the Father; God in turn is faithful toward us! Again and again the Scriptures assure us of the faithfulness of God to humanity. St. John tells us, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9 ESV). Paul assures us, “If we are faithless, He remains faithful – for He cannot deny himself” (2 Timothy 2:13 ESV); and again, “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:9 ESV). Even in the midst of spiritual struggles, we have the promise that “no temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation He will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13 ESV).

The hymn writer Thomas O. Chisholm puts it well: “Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father; there is no shadow of turning with Thee. Thou changest not: Thy compassions, they fail not; as Thou hast been, Thou forever wilt be” (LSB 809). Great is the faithfulness of God indeed. We can look ahead in hope and joy to the glory of heaven, because He is faithful. We have been washed by the blood of the Lamb in baptism because He is faithful. We are fed and nourished with the very body and blood of our Saviour because He is faithful. Through faith in the Faithful One, we hear the Father assure us in grace, “You also are my beloved child, with whom I am well pleased.”

Through faith in the Faithful One, we hear the Father assure us in grace, “You also are my beloved child, with whom I am well pleased.

God calls us to faithfulness too. As the Spirit works through the Word and Sacraments, He moves us to faithful lives before Him. Guided by His Word, we know the Father’s will, and we seek to be faithful to His calling on our lives as His children. The same is true for us as a church body. God’s faithfulness to us calls us to faithfulness in our mission to the world. We must be faithful to the truth of Holy Scripture, even if the whole world should turn against it. We must remain faithful, even if it should mean facing persecution.

That faithfulness reveals itself in the way we work, live and act as a church. When our vision statement says we value faithfulness, it uses three words to describe how we live that out: in integrity, in excellence, and in accountability. For some in this world, it has become hard to believe that the Church has any integrity left. We hear news reports of pastors and priests guilty of abuse and indiscretion. We see people who use the ministry and mission of the Church for their own selfish ends. The singer Ray Stevens has a song which asks, “Would Jesus wear a Rolex on His television show?” The song criticizes preachers who are clearly wealthy themselves yet keep asking others to support their personal ministries. The song almost screams: “Where is the faithfulness? Where is the integrity?”

As a church body, we promise to do things differently. Where the world would be faithless, we pledge, by the grace of God, to be faithful. We strive for integrity in a world without honour.

We also value faithfulness as we seek excellence. In doing so, we remember St. Paul’s words to the Philippian church: “It is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ” (Philippians 1:9-10 ESV). We seek that excellence in a number of ways. We continue to study the Scriptures, to learn and understand God’s will for His people. We proclaim the truth of God in our worship, so that others may know what is good and right in His sight. We set high standards as we train pastors and deacons, so that they may be well equipped to serve the Church.

But if we are to be truly excellent; if we are to have true integrity, we must be held accountable to God’s standard. We are to be good stewards of the resources, gifts, and grace He has bestowed upon us. And when we fail – as we certainly will – He holds us accountable through the preaching of the Law, calling us to acknowledge and repent of our failures. Then, assured of His forgiveness because of the sacrifice of Christ, He sends us back out to bear the Gospel to the ends of the earth. And He does not send us empty-handed; He equips us for the task, giving us His Holy Spirit to empower our ministry throughout the world.

God has been faithful to us, and so He calls us to be faithful to Him. But our strength to do so does not come from us. It flows from Christ’s faithfulness to His Church. Blessed, free and forgiven through the faithfulness of Christ, we go forth in faith, trusting His eternal promise: “Be faithful unto death,” Christ says, “and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10 ESV). And that, by God’s grace, is exactly what we will one day receive.

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Rev. David Bode is pastor of Foothills Lutheran Church in Calgary. Photo by Chris Bruer.

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