Fruit of the Spirit: “Faithfulness”

 

Fruit of the Spirit: “Faithfulness”
A Message on Luke 16:1-13

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
July 8, 2018
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

Luke 16:1-13 (NRSV)

 

Then Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. 2 So he summoned him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’ 3 Then the manager said to himself, ‘What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. 4 I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’ 5 So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’ 7 Then he asked another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill and make it eighty.’ 8 And his master commend the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. 9 And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.
10 “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. 11 If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? 13 No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

 

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On the surface this parable seems to be about money. But what if it uses money to make a point about something else? What if that “something else” is faithfulness?

 

Listen to what Jesus says after telling the parable. “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches?  And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own?” (Luke 16:10-12)

 

Did you pick up that the word “faithful” was used four times in that scripture? Yep. I counted them. Twice.

 

Here’s my theory: Jesus is using money to make a point about faithfulness.

 

We have to remember who Jesus is talking to in these scriptures. If we back up to the beginning of the 15th chapter of Luke we find that the Pharisees were grumbling about Jesus. He wasn’t acting in religiously respectable ways. He was actually welcoming sinners and — horrors!– he was eating with them!

 

So when Jesus heard this grumbling and criticism of his behavior he responds with a series of parables, or stories.

 

First he tells the parable of the Lost Coin, about the woman who looks all through her house until she finds the coin she lost. From a religious standpoint it means that Jesus came to seek the lost and the lost was found.

 

Second Jesus tells the parable of the Prodigal Son. The father celebrates when the wayward son returns home, in spite of all the damage he has done to his father’s reputation as well as that of the family. Again, the lost was found and is celebrated.

 

And then we come to the parable we read today about the dishonest steward. It’s puzzling parable. It’s almost as if Jesus is saying it’s okay to cheat and steal and to put your own needs first before others.

 

But I don’t think that’s what Jesus is saying. I think it’s about faithfulness. He told a parable about money to point out that our faithfulness in this life can have an eternal effect.

 

Faithfulness is listed as a fruit of the Spirit by Paul in the 5th chapter of Galatians. We’ll be teaching the elementary church camp kids the fruit of the Spirit song: “Cause the fruit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.”

 

The fruit of the Spirit is the fruit we produce when we live our lives like Jesus. It is what happens when we live lives of righteousness and allow the Holy Spirit to work in our lives. The fruit is nine attributes of living in the Holy Spirit.

 

Being a Christian is not a part-time activity. When we ask Jesus into our lives and make a public commitment to walk in his footsteps and the waters of baptism initiate us into God’s holy church that’s not the end of it. It’s a new beginning. And in making that covenantal oath we promise to be faithful. We practice faithfulness.

 

Remember the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from the third chapter of Daniel in the Old Testament. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon had captured pretty much of the whole world and three young Hebrew men, whose Hebrew names were Hanania, Mishael, and Azaria, were brought to Babylon to serve the King. He gave them new names and put them to work.

 

But then the King built a huge golden statue in the plain of Dura and passed laws that everyone in the kingdom had to kneel down and worship the statue. Anyone who didn’t would be thrown into a furnace and burned alive. Well This didn’t sit well with the Hebrew teenagers who knew the 10 commandments and the one about not worshipping any other gods. So they refused. Said, “Sorry, but we can’t do that.”

 

King Nebuchadnezzar got mad and decided to teach them a lesson. So he told the three Hebrews that they would be thrown in the furnace and they said, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to present a defense to you in this matter. If our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire and out of your hand, O king, let him deliver us. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods and we will not worship the golden statue that you have set up.” (Daniel 3:16-18)

 

The King blew is top. The scriptures say he got so mad that his “face was distorted.” He ordered the furnace be heated up to seven times hotter than it already was, had the three Hebrews tied up, and then had his strongest men throw them in the furnace. It was so hot that the heat killed the soldiers throwing them in.

 

But then a strange thing happened. The King, who was so mad that he wanted to personally witness the demise of the three, saw four people walking around in the furnace. He couldn’t believe it. He called out to the three and told them to come out, and they did, unscathed. They didn’t even smell like smoke. Then the king made a decree that anyone who bad mouthed the God of the Hebrews would be torn limb from limb.

 

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were faithful, weren’t they? They were willing to die for their God they were so faithful. They didn’t know for 100 percent sure they were going to live through the ordeal so they said that even if they died they would not worship a golden statue.

 

It makes us question our faithfulness. Are we faithful to God as followers of Jesus Christ that we are willing to die for our faith? Are we willing to die for God? Or perhaps more importantly, are we willing to live for God?

 

Faithfulness.

 

When I was thinking about the scripture and the message for today about faithfulness, I kept thinking about the same thing. Or I should say the same couple.

 

This is Jimmy and Birdie Hines. Jimmy is 96 and Birdie is 88. They live down the street from me and I drive by their house frequently. Sometimes when I drive by, like this past Friday, I’ll see them outside at their carport. Birdie has some health problems that create some physical challenges for her. She’s in a wheelchair most of the time.

 

But almost every day Jimmy will roll Birdie out to their carport where he will gently lift her into his pickup. He then drives her out to their farm where they drive around and check on things. Then he drives home, helps get her out of the truck and back into her wheelchair, and wheels her into the house.

 

This couple has been married for 68 years. They both know grief and sorrow. Birdie’s first husband died in an accident, and Jimmy’s fiancé also died in an accident. Jimmy and Birdie found each other, and they have been together ever since, convinced that “The Lord put us together.”

 

I asked them how they have been so faithful to each other all these years. Birdie said one thing they do is to consider everything as belonging to them as a couple, not individually. She said, “It’s OUR money, OUR car. It’s never MY money or MY car.”

 

Jimmy said that the longevity of their marriage is “no secret.” “If I take an oath, then I am bound to it. I’m not going to break it.”

 

That, folks, is faithfulness.

 

What if we, in our Christian walk, were as faithful to Jesus as Jimmy and Birdie Hines are to each other? What if all Christians did that? How would the world be changed?

 

We should be faithful because God is faithful. But are we?

 

“Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much.”

 

Yesterday Gene and Donna Brumbleow renewed their wedding vows. They once again said the words that created a covenant bond between them. They renewed a “vow.”

 

Years ago a guy named Geoff Moore, kind of a rock’n’roll contemporary Christian musician (he’s the one who recorded “Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music”) wrote a song called “The Vow.” Here are the lyrics of the chorus:

 

Right here, right now
In the midst of the crowd
I stand alone and make my vow
Whatever it takes I will be faithful
Right here, right now
Let there be no doubt
Let every whisper, with every shout
Let the whole world know I will be faithful
This is my vow

 

So my challenge to you this week is to renew your vow to be faithful not only in your relationships with others, but also be faithful in your relationship with God. Keep your vows. Jesus Christ paid the ultimate cost on the cross through his painful death so that our sins may be forgiven and we are able to be reconciled to God, something we could never do on our own.

 

God is faithful. Let us be faithful.

 

And if you get a chance to stop by and see Jimmy and Birdie Hines, do it. Thank them for being faithful.

 

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

 

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