Devote Yourself to Faithfulness

How to Cultivate a Quiet Virtue

If you’re a Christian, no doubt you highly value God’s faithfulness, the precious reality “that what God [has] promised, he [is] able to perform” (Romans 4:21 NASB). You believe that Christ upholds the entire cosmos “by the word of his power” (Hebrews 1:3). Therefore, all of reality, not to mention your eternal future, literally depends on God being true to his word.

True to your word. That is a concise, clear definition of what it means to be a faithful person. There is consistency between what you say and what you do, between what you believe and how you behave, between what you promise and what you perform.

“A faithful person keeps the faith of those who put their trust in him.”

When we (and the Bible) describe someone as “faithful,” we’re almost never referring to how much faith that person possesses, but to how much faith others can place in that person — how much others can trust him to perform what he promises. A faithful person keeps (cherishes, maintains, guards) the faith of those who put their trust in him.

We all want to think of ourselves as faithful, but we all fail at different times and in different ways. As a character quality, as a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22), faithfulness is all too often in short supply. It always has been, which is why this proverb is in the Bible: “Many a man proclaims his own steadfast love, but a faithful man who can find?” (Proverbs 20:6).

So, beginning with ourselves, how might we resolve to become more faithful disciples of Jesus? One way we can do so is by meditating on this crucial verse:

Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. (Psalm 37:3)

Graze on Faithfulness

Psalm 37 was written by David, whom God “took from the sheepfolds . . . to shepherd Jacob his people” (Psalm 78:70–71). David’s experience as a shepherd might explain his choice of the phrase translated “befriend faithfulness,” although the English Standard Version doesn’t convey to us modern readers the full meaning of what the Hebrew words rə‘êh and ’ĕmūnāh meant to David and his original readers. No translation does. Here’s why:

  • The word rə‘êh, which the ESV translates as “befriend,” can mean “feed, graze; drive out to pasture; shepherd, protect, nourish” (ESV OT RI).
  • The word ’ĕmūnāh, which the ESV translates as “faithfulness,” can “steadfastness; trustworthiness, faithfulness; firmness, security; honesty” (Ibid.).

This phrase is a translation challenge because David used a nuanced pastoral allusion — an allusion that his original readers would have intuitively understood (given how familiar they were with sheep), but one that is lost on the majority of us today. So, translators work hard to interpret and convey his meaning in a way we understand. Which explains the variety of different attempts (besides “befriend faithfulness”):

  • “Verily [truly] thou shalt be fed” (King James Version).
  • “Feed on His faithfulness” (New King James Version).
  • “Enjoy security” (Revised Standard Version).
  • “Cultivate faithfulness” (New American Standard Bible).
  • “Enjoy safe pasture” (New International Version).

Perhaps we’d get closest to what David meant if we could somehow infuse the NASB’s “cultivate” with the NKJV’s “feed,” such that we’d come away with a sense of “diligently cultivate [by grazing on] the virtue of faithfulness” (Keil & Delitzsch, 5:283).

But “cultivate,” “feed on,” and “befriend” all give us some sense of what David wants us to do: devote ourselves to developing faithfulness until it becomes part of us.

How to Grow Your Faithfulness

David’s command fits with how the Bible instructs us to pursue all aspects of godliness. We are called to build ourselves up in our most holy faith (Jude 20). And the way we build ourselves up spiritually is similar to the way we build our capacities for anything: we exercise what we want to grow.

Bodily strength is increased through the exercise of bodily strength. If we want to grow strong in our muscles or our minds, we must exercise them. We must push against internal and external resistance. We must endure the discomfort and persevere with the limitations of our current capacities until the discomfort decreases and our capacities increase. And we must not give in to the part of us that offers all kinds of reasons for why we should give up.

We all like the idea of stronger, trimmer bodies, but we all find it hard to work out and eat healthier. We all like the idea of growing more proficient in our skills, but we all find it hard to keep practicing and studying. We all like the idea of building new, healthy, fruitful habits, but we all find it hard to consistently perform the habit until it becomes part of how we function.

“The only way to become more faithful is to practice faithfulness, to cultivate faithfulness, to feed on faithfulness.”

Likewise, we all like the idea of becoming more faithful with our talents and more trustworthy to those we are called to serve and serve with, but we all find it hard to “discipline [ourselves] for the purpose of godliness” in this area (1 Timothy 4:7 NASB). But the only way to become more faithful is to practice faithfulness, to cultivate faithfulness, to feed on faithfulness, to befriend (make a companion of) faithfulness, to devote ourselves to developing faithfulness until it becomes part of us.

Begin with What You’ve Been Given

The wonderful thing is that we don’t need some special faithfulness gym membership to begin growing our capacity for faithfulness. We have everything we need right now, right where we find ourselves. Jesus tells us, “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much” (Luke 16:10). And so, if we draw strength from Jesus to be faithful with a little, he will entrust us with much (Matthew 25:23).

The best place for us to start is by identifying the people and responsibilities that Jesus has entrusted to us. And then remember David’s exhortation:

Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. (Psalm 37:3)

The people and responsibilities in front of us are where God wants us to trust him. This is the “land” where he wants us to dwell, at least for now. These are the people to whom he wants us to do good. This is where he calls us to practice, cultivate, graze on, and befriend faithfulness.

If we are ever going to be men and women who are more consistently true to our word, for whom there is less discontinuity between what we say and what we do, between what we believe and how we behave, between what we promise and what we perform, we will become so here, in the land where God has placed us.

And if we devote ourselves to faithfulness here, someday we will hear our Master say to us, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:23).