Three years ago a newspaper posed the question to its readers – is anyone faithful any more? A question it proceeded to answer and conclude that it was impossible to be faithful. Therefore we have to teach ourselves to accept that and live with it. The tragedy of the article was not just in its conclusion, which gives a hopeless picture of life, but also in its limited understanding that faithfulness goes beyond marriage. All areas of our lives require some form of faithfulness. A society in which people are increasingly unfaithful in marriage will undoubtedly lead to faithlessness in other areas e.g. work, citizen obligations. Sin is contagious.
The secular vision of faithfulness stands in sharp contrast biblical faithfulness. When the Bible speaks of faithfulness it goes beyond marriage. When Paul wrote the letter to Colossians it was one of the most things that were front and centre on his mind. He introduces himself with a clear statement:
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To God’s holy people in Colossae, the faithful brothers and sisters in Christ
There are three things we observe about the Colossian's faithfulness from this verse.
First, the Colossians were a faithful family of God – “the faithful brothers and sisters ”. Paul starts by commending the Colossian's faithfulness. The original word for "faithful" actually means trustworthy, reliable or someone you can trust. You can bet your life on them. Their word is bond. The Colossians could write you a cheque and you were sure it would not bounce, because the value of the cheque placed in your hands was guaranteed by their faithfulness. To call someone faithful is an extraordinary moral commendation.
But notice that he does not use the word “faithfulness” in isolation. He uses it with “brothers and sisters”. That is to say the Colossians were faithful Christians. The term “brothers and sisters” imply that they had now become members of the Christians family alongside other believers. Paul is acknowledging these young Christians as faithful family members. In other words, they had not abandoned their walk with Jesus. They had stuck it out and were faithful in following him. This faithfulness is later expanded in verse 3-8 where Paul explains that they had remained in Christ and continued to grow from the day they heard the gospel until now.
Paul does something strange here. He is commending them really for just being Christians. For having remain true to their faith! Why would he do that? He is partly acknowledging that it is not easy remaining true to faith in Jesus. Being a Christian after all comes at heavy cost. They say, salvation is free by grace but it will cost you everything! But I think more than that, Paul rightly reminds me that being a Christian is indeed the highest commendation. Remaining true to Christ is no small thing! It is being the Lord’s follower! Because after all being a Christian is bearing the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. What can be greater than that? So then we must rejoice daily for the salvation I have received and that God enables me to remain a faithful follower of his in Christ Jesus!
But there’s a second dimension – the Colossians were also a faithful family in God. That is to say they were faithful brothers and sisters”. Paul is commending them for their faithfulness to him and other fellows Christians. Paul is saying, you are faithful brothers to me and believers around you! In fact Paul later uses Epharas, Tycchicus and Onesimus who are fairly close to him as examples. In doing so, Paul not only draws the connection that the Colossians are as faithful as these guys in their service to God but also that the Colossians shared their faithful loyalty to Paul and other believers.
The question then I need to ask myself is how faithful am I, vertically and horizontally? Am I faithful to God? Am I faithful to my family? Am I faithful to the church? Am I faithful to the employer? Am I faithful to my country? In short, am I faithful in all the relationships that God has placed in my care? Is faithfulness the word others would use to describe me? Steve Green has said “may those we live behind find us faithful”. Will people say after me, yes that fellow was faithful?
The Christian’s faithfulness of course requires more precise definition than simply one found in a dictionary. And so we come to final point, they were a faithful family in Christ – “the faithful brothers and sisters in Christ”. Paul is keen that the believers understand that their faithfulness is located squarely in Jesus Christ and no one else!
Our understanding of words is shaped by our experiences. When I hear the word courage, a vision of courage may enter my mind. Perhaps a war hero I have read about. When I hear the word endurance, I think of another person, etc. When Christians hear the word faithfulness, our minds naturally gravitates to the One who is the full essence of faithfulness. Who not only defines it, but exemplifies it. That person is Jesus Christ. The Bible repeatedly tells us that Jesus’s name is Faithful. Paul encourages the Thessalonians by declaring, “the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one” (2 Thessalonians 3:3). The writer to the Hebrews calls Jesus, “a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God” (Hebrews 2:17). The title given to Jesus in Revelation is “Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth” (Revelation 1:5).
Jesus is both the definition and exemplar of faithfulness. He is the definition because he is the standard of faithfulness. I am not faithful unless God judges me to be faithful! He is the one whom I answer because only He is the ultimate standard of faithfulness. Jesus is the example because He is the one who has run the race of life faithfully (without sin) and finished it. By commending the Colossians as faithful, Paul is saying, you are being just like the Lord Jesus Christ. You are faithful as he is faithful! Your faithfulness is genuine because it is a reflection of Him calls you by name. It is genuine because it is rooted in the true and faithful witness!
In other words Paul is not just giving a definition of their faithfulness here. He is also making it clear to them that their faithfulness is not independent of Christ! Their faithfulness is not acquired by their effort, but it is given to them by Jesus Christ. They are faithful in the same they “saints” or “brothers” , that is “in Christ”. In other words, their faithfulness is a location. Paul is making it clear that being faithful is a position first and foremost before it becomes a relational attribute. It is a position of being in Christ. You internally become dependent on Christ who then establishes your faithfulness externally. I cannot be faithful apart from Christ. True faithfulness in all my relationships is only possible in Christ. This of course is obvious because Jesus is the standard of faithfulness, so apart from him I can do nothing! But more importantly, in Jesus, God already looks at me as faithful. Which of course is mind boggling because in many areas of life I am not as faithful as Jesus Christ! My life is littered with areas of faithlessness. And at one level the Colossians being human would have also had the same experience. But the remarkable miracle of the gospel of Jesus is that for those who have trusted him, our faithfulness is rooted in Jesus Christ. This is a tremendous source of encouragement and reassurance!
So what can we say about faithfulness in Jesus? Faithfulness is three things in reverse:
Faithfulness is a statement of fact. I am a faithful member of the family in Christ. I am faithful because Jesus has made me faithful in him. That is my position and my assurance! My faithfulness is a free gift of God!
Faithfulness is a statement of commendation. I am a faithful member of the family in God. In growing in in my faithfulness I am becoming more and more like Jesus, the truth faithful witness. All true believers grow in faithfulness, and so am I!
Faithfulness is a statement of exhortation. I am a faithful member of the family of God. I must continue to press on to be faithful as Jesus is faithful. No resting on current faithfulness, but pressing to be ever faithful in Christ, according to the energy he powerfully works in me!
Lessons from Colossae : Who Am I?
Lessons from Colossae : I am A Saint
Lessons from Colossae : Who Am I?
Lessons from Colossae : I am A Saint