What Does It Mean to Be Faithful?

We in the Christian/Church realm use the term “faithful” a lot.  Why not? It is an extremely important term used across the Bible. Sadly, I believe our contemporary (especially American version) gospel realm has adopted the secular, wordly meaning instead of the Biblical definition and example.

Screen Shot 2019-11-19 at 11.08.19 AM
Merriam-Webster.com, screen shot 11/19/2019

As the image shows, the Webster’s definition of “faithful” is divided into a definition of the term as an adjective and as a noun. Both are used in Christian terms, but again – let us compare the secular term vs. the biblical use.

Merriam-Webster defines the adjective faithful as steadfast in affection or allegiance, firm in adherence or observance of duty, or the meaning most closely connected to the biblical definition: true to the facts, to a standard, or to an original. Sadly, it is this last (but most applicable in our context) meaning that is most forgotten.

I regularly hear the term mentioned in conjunction with funerals and memorial services, or connected to teachers, preachers, and writers. But I don’t believe the way it is used is always accurate.

Faithful does not imply (from a biblical perspective) perfection. Lets begin from the perfect example of “Faithful”.

Know therefore that the LORD your God, He is God, the faithful God, who keeps His covenant and His lovingkindness to a thousandth generation with those who love Him and keep His commandments; but repays those who hate Him to their faces, to destroy them; He will not delay with him who hates Him, He will repay him to his face. Deuteronomy 7:9-10

God is described in His own Word as the “faithful” God, with identifying fruits of that faithfulness as evidence: He keeps His covenants, His lovingkindness to the generations of those who love Him and keep His commands. But God’s faithfulness is also pictured as Him repaying those who hate Him – destroying them. God’s faithfulness here also (necessarily) includes His justice.

Jerusalem is referred to in Isaiah 1:21 as formerly faithful, but now a harlot. Why? Because they formerly were just (and from the larger context, had been a center of the worship and service to God).

Paul used the term often. One example is in the greeting of his epistle to the Ephesian church:

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,
To the saints who are at Ephesus and who are faithful in Christ Jesus: Ephesians 1:1

Paul’s use of the term πιστός (pistos) implies yielding, believing, true, credible, trustworthy in their faith. The sense is that Paul had confidence that the believers to which he was penning this letter were solid believers who were sticking true to “the faith once delivered to them” (paralleled in Jude 1:3).

While the label “faithful” can mean a lot of things – when we use the term in relation to a professed Christian, the implication is more than them being reliable (they attend church regularly), but also presupposes that they cling to truth (the Word), that they stick to their faith and live it – it assumes fruits of said faithfulness.

Sadly, the term has so lost meaning that it is readily applied to those who are wildly popular and active in the “Christian” realm, yet are anything but faithful to the Word of God. Can we rightly apply the term “faithful” to a Christian speaker or writer who puts out good quotes, but holds to a blatantly heretical gospel?  Can we accurately call a professed Christian “faithful” if they deny the inerrancy of God’s Word? Does a person earn the faithful title because their name appears on a church roll and “faithfully” gave to the church?

Is a Christian “faithful” if their viewpoints are more easily shifted by cultural preferences than the black and white text of Scripture?

And are we being “faithful” when we jump to to the defense of those who teach and push false gospels and unbiblical teaching – hitching ourselves to these false teachers with the name badge of “faithful”?

And lest we forget, those individuals that God directly labeled as faithful were not simply mechanically reliable (in fact, some had reliability issues), but were counted “faithful” because they stuck to the foundation of truth God revealed and unwaveringly trusted in His Word, not man’s opinions and preferences.

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