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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Faithfulness

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1. Faithfulness of God.-The apostolic writers agree with the general biblical teaching in ascribing faithfulness to God as ‘keeping covenant and mercy with them that love him and keep his commandments to a thousand generations’ (Deuteronomy 7:9). Two general examples may be given. (l) Among the faithful sayings in the NT letters, there is found one in 2 Timothy 2:11-13, where the writer speaks of the sufferings that he gladly endures, for ‘if we died with him, we shall also live with him … if we are faithless, he abideth faithful; for he cannot deny himself.’ God’s faith-fulness rested upon His own nature and not upon any human contingencies.

(2) The writer or Hebrews elaborated this truth when he dealt with the blessings that were to come in and through Abraham. In order that he and all believers might have greater assurance, God not only made gracious promises, but also interposed with an oath so that He might show more abundantly unto the heirs of the promise the immutability of His counsel. God’s faithfulness was assured both by promise and by oath (Hebrews 6:13-20).

This Divine faithfulness was made by the apostles the ground of forgiveness and cleansing to those who confessed their sins (1 John 1:9), of deliverance in temptation from the power of evil (1 Corinthians 6:13, 2 Thessalonians 3:3), and of confidence in the final salvation of those who were called into the fellowship of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 1:9, 1 Thessalonians 5:24).

2. Faithfulness of Christ.-It is noteworthy that in the Apocalypse, where Christians are being encouraged to endure, the faithfulness of Christ is made prominent. Thus He is called the faithful witness (Revelation 1:5; Revelation 3:14), and victory is ascribed to Him who is ‘faithful and true’ (Revelation 19:11). But it is in Hebrews again that we find this faithfulness enlarged upon. In the earlier sections of that Epistle, where the writer is comparing the work of Christ with that wrought by angels and prophets, he shows that both Moses and Christ were examples of faithfulness, but Christ excelled, insomuch as a son’s faithfulness over God’s house excels in quality that of a servant in the house. ‘He hath been counted of more glory than Moses, by so much as he that built the house hath more honour than the house’ (Hebrews 3:1-6).

3. Faithfulness of Christians.-In the background of every Christian life the apostles placed the example of Christ and the attributes of God, and thus the faithfulness they sought to practise and instil was linked with the faithfulness of God. For this reason St. Paul repelled with heat the charge of fickleness that had been brought against him by critics in Corinth (2 Corinthians 1:19-22). He acknowledged that there had been an alteration in certain details of his plans, but he asserted that this was due not to any passing inconsistency in his mind, but to greater faithfulness to his unchangeable desire to help them. He had not changed his plans capriciously, saying ‘Yes’ to-day and ‘No’ tomorrow, but he had adhered to principles as un-changeable as the gospel he preached. As God was faithful to His promise, so the Apostle did not vacillate; as Christ was unchangeable, so was St. Paul. The steadfastness of St. Paul and of all Christians found its source in the Divine stablishing in Christ. This is only one example of the apostolic belief that constant faithfulness in Christian life came from faith in Christ, ‘the faithful and true,’ while apostatizing from the living God came from an evil heart of unbelief (Hebrews 3:12).

The faithfulness urged by the apostles covered the whole of life. It must be shown by Christians in their ordinary callings. When many were inclined, in view of the near approach of the Day of the Lord, to abandon their ordinary occupations, St. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians that all must work with quietness and eat their own bread, and that none must leave their common work and live in idleness (2 Thessalonians 3). In like manner St. Paul wrote more than once that those who were called to be Christians must abide faithfully in their callings and perform their duties. Masters must put a new spirit into their oversight; slaves must become only the more diligent and faithful in their service; husbands and wives must remain faithful to their marriage vows, even when the new bond to Christ has been fashioned.

Within the Christian Church those called to any duty were required to exercise their gifts faith-fully. He who was called to be a minister of God was reminded that a steward must be found faithful (1 Corinthians 4:2). Each one must be faithful to the graces given by the Spirit, whether of prophecy, teaching, giving, or ruling (Romans 12:6). St. Paul claimed that he exhibited his faithfulness in teaching when he was dealing with the ease of fathers and their unmarried daughters (1 Corinthians 7:25). When he was expressing his judgment on this matter he said that he had no ‘command’ (ἐπιταγήν) to convey, but he gave his settled ‘opinion’ (γυωμήν), conscious that in so doing he was faithful to his stewardship under Christ.

As apostles were expected to be faithful in their teaching, so all Christians were expected to be faithful to the teaching they had received. As some of them were in danger of being ‘carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, in craftiness, after the wiles of error’ (Ephesians 4:14; cf. Hebrews 13:9), they must all he on their guard to hold fast the faith of Christ, and, in spite of all anti-Christian influences, they must hold the traditions which they were taught, whether by word or by Epistle of the Apostle (2 Thessalonians 2:15). Indeed, in the Epistle to the Hebrews faith itself is almost identified with steadfast loyalty to the Unseen God, and thus passes into faithfulness, which marks the believer under manifold trials.

In the apostolic life faithfulness to friends, and especially to the se who were fellow-workers, was greatly prized. The first necessity for a Christian worker is that he should be, like Lydia, ‘faithful to Christ’ (πιστήν τῴ κυρίῳ, Acts 16:15); but he should be also, like Timothy, ‘faithful in Christ’ (πιστήν τῴ κυρίῳ, 1 Corinthians 4:17), i.e. faithful in the sphere of Christian duty. This faithfulness is required to be shown not only to those for whom work is done, but also to those with whom it is done. Thus when St. Paul speaks in the Epistle to the Colossians of Tychicus his messenger as ‘the beloved brother and faithful minister and fellow-servant in the Lord’ (Colossians 4:7), and of Onesimus as ‘the faithful and beloved brother’ (Colossians 4:9), he has before his mind chiefly the fidelity of these two brethren to himself the apostle and prisoner of the Lord, In 2 Tim. we have represented the unfaithfulness of Demas, who had forsaken the Apostle, ‘having loved this present world’; the faithfulness of St. Luke his companion-the beloved physician, who had remained true to him to the end; and the renewed faithfulness of John Mark, who had deserted St. Paul at one time, but who in later years was a proved and faithful servant (2 Timothy 4:10-11).

Christian faithfulness was to be observed throughout the whole of life, and especially through the many trials and tribulations of Christian experience. In the Epistles of St. Paul we find the Apostle on no fewer than six different occasions calling upon his readers to ‘stand fast’: ‘stand fast in the faith’ (στήκετε, ‘stand firmly and faithfully,’ 1 Corinthians 16:13); ‘stand fast in the liberty’ (Galatians 5:1); ‘in one spirit’ (Philippians 1:27); ‘in the Lord’ (Philippians 4:1, 1 Thessalonians 3:8); ‘and hold the traditions which ye were taught’ (2 Thessalonians 2:15). St. Paul was urgent that believers should he faithful to the highest in all their varied experiences. In the Apocalypse we find the same, insistence. The Church at Smyrna was exhorted to be ‘faithful unto death’ (Revelation 2:10), and the Church at Pergamum was commended for faithfulness even in the days when ‘witnessing’ for Christ became ‘martyrdom’ in the later meaning of that word (Revelation 2:13). This extreme faithfulness was founded on faith in God and love to Christ, but it was glorified still further by the expectation of ‘receiving the promise’ (Hebrews 10:36), of enjoying the ‘great recompense of reward’ (Hebrews 10:35), and of being awarded ‘the crown of life’ (Revelation 2:10). Even when faithfulness meant for apostolic Christians their resisting unto blood, they were sustained by the thought of the Master, who after enduring the Cross had entered into His joy and was set down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:2).

Literature.-W. A. Butler, Sermons2, 1st ser., 1852, p. 155; H. Bushnell, The New Life, 1860, p. 191; J. L. Jones, Faithfulness, 1890, p. 2; A. Shepherd, The Responsibility of God. 1906; W. H. G. Thomas, in Westminster Bible Conference, Mundesley, 1912, p. 143.

D. Macrae Tod.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Faithfulness'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/f/faithfulness.html. 1906-1918.

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