Hidden among the nine shining fruit of the Spirit is a virtue some men might find bland. Compared to other marks of Christlikeness, its grandeur may seem small; its glory, dim. The labor required to cultivate this grace can feel unequal to the rewards it offers. Many of us are tempted to forsake the pursuit of it in search of nobler successes or achievements.
And yet, if we lack this fruit of the Spirit, we lose every good thing given to us. Our youthful resolves give way to adult indifference, our marriages and ministries slowly wilt, and our best ambitions eventually fade with a sigh. This quality is certainly not the only mark of a godly man, but without it a man will not stay godly for long. In fact, he will not stay anything for long: not devoted to his family, not diligent in his work, not zealous in his Master’s business.
What is it? Not love, joy, or peace; not patience, kindness, or goodness; not gentleness or self-control — but faithfulness (Galatians 5:22–23).
Words with Weight
Like many of the Spirit’s fruits, faithfulness is not all that difficult to understand. Faithful men are reliable, dependable, trustworthy. They give their word to what matters, and then they live as if that word has weight.
We find faithfulness first in God himself. When we say “God is faithful” (1 Corinthians 1:9), we mean, in large part, that he always does what he says he will do: “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it” (1 Thessalonians 5:24). No word that goes out from God’s mouth comes back to him empty or untrue (Isaiah 55:10–11). With a faithful God, what you hear is what you get.
A faithful man, in his own imperfect way, reflects this same trustworthiness. He does not “make plans according to the flesh, ready to say ‘Yes, yes’ and ‘No, no’ at the same time” (2 Corinthians 1:17). Rather, so far as it depends on him, he “swears to his own hurt and does not change” (Psalm 15:4).
“A faithful man is as valuable and yet as inconspicuous as a beating heart.”
When this man says he’ll do something — whether as significant as loving a woman for life or as trivial as taking out the trash — others don’t need to wonder whether he actually will. He does not need constant oversight, regular reminders, or daily prodding to fulfill his responsibilities. Nor does he need to add extra assurances on top of his bare word in order to win trust; a simple “Yes” or “No” suffices (Matthew 5:37).
So, faithfulness is not all that difficult to understand. Just to live.
In Search of Faithful Men
Ours is not the first age to struggle with faithfulness. Some three millennia ago, a wise man said, “Many a man proclaims his own steadfast love, but a faithful man who can find?” (Proverbs 20:6). Desiring a reputation for faithfulness without actually being faithful; expecting others’ trust without living in a trustworthy manner — these temptations are ancient as well as modern.
We need not wonder why. For one, true faithfulness grows slowly. This grace reveals itself not in a day or a week or a month, but over years — even over a whole lifetime. Almost any man can sprint for a hundred yards; only faithful men can run the slower, lifelong race of faith without giving up or getting distracted.
Faithfulness is also hard work. Many days come when faithful men would prefer a different course than the one in front of them — when they would rather take a break from killing their sin, pursuing their wives, disciplining their children, laboring at their job. But while other men say, “Not feeling like it,” and retreat to the couch, these men get on their knees, plead with God, and do the next thing.
Finally, faithfulness is often thankless. By its very nature, it goes largely unnoticed: rarely showy, ever steady, a faithful man is as valuable and yet as inconspicuous as a beating heart. That he can be taken for granted is, in a sense, his glory.
Yet despite the difficulties that attend true faithfulness, the world desperately needs such faithful men. Men whose word means something more than maybe. Men whose resolve does not crumble before monotony or hardship. Men who keep covenant in marriage for a lifetime. Men who do not flit from job to job, but who gladly plod on the same paths until their Lord directs them elsewhere. Men who burn to hear spoken over them those words that will echo through eternity: “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21, 23).
Land of Little
Where does such faithfulness come from? How do men like us, faithless by nature, strive to “be found faithful” (1 Corinthians 4:2)? We can begin by remembering the place where faithfulness grows and the person whom faithfulness glorifies.
Consider first the place where faithfulness grows. No matter how faithful we are at this moment, more faithfulness will grow in the same place where the Spirit so often cultivates his fruit: in responsibilities and tasks that feel small, unimportant, ordinary. In other words, in little things.
“The faithfulness that so often goes unnoticed on earth will by no means be forgotten in heaven.”
Jesus gives us the principle, “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much” (Luke 16:10). Many men dream of much: of family legacies and lasting ministries, of great awakenings and large followings. Whether God glorifies his name through us in these ways is ultimately a matter of his providence and good pleasure. But one thing is certain on our end: fickleness in little will never produce faithfulness in much.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote, “It is the mark of a grown-up man, as compared with a callow youth, that he finds his center of gravity wherever he happens to be at the moment, and however much he longs for the object of his desire, it cannot prevent him from staying at his post and doing his duty” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Brief Life, 74).
Bonhoeffer’s “post” at the time of writing was a prison cell. Our post at the moment, though less confining, may still feel constricted: an entry-level job when we’d like to own a business, a house with roommates when we want to be married, a youth-pastor position when we’d prefer to be preaching. But here — in this post, in this place of “very little” — we learn to be faithful.
Lord of Little
We would be wrong, however, to treat the little in front of us merely as a waiting room for the much of our dreams. No act of faithfulness, no matter how unseen and seemingly insignificant, is simply a stepping stone. Each act is a new opportunity to glorify and commune with our Lord.
Jesus, our faithful Savior, has his eye on the small places, on the forgotten moments, on the little things. And in the face of every unwelcome duty, he would have us remember that “whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord” (Ephesians 6:8). When our eyes are lifted toward our Master, whatever good we do — whether much or little, great or small — will come back to us. The faithfulness that so often goes unnoticed on earth will by no means be forgotten in heaven.
In every faithful word to your family, in every hour of Bible-study or sermon preparation, in every small but painful conversation that lies in the path of love, can you feel your Savior’s pleasure? Can you hear the first whispers of “Well done, good and faithful” (Matthew 25:21, 23)? Can you grasp the promise that every faithful work will be found in heaven’s ledgers? And can you see, as you set one unremarkable stone on top of another, what you are building by the grace of God?
Our faithfulness here, even in little, is no little matter. In the unremarkable moments of life, God is shaping his fickle sons into the image of his Faithful One (Revelation 19:11). Every day, he forgives our lingering faithlessness, and every day conforms us to Christ’s faithfulness.