An intelligent, independent young American man in his mid-20s showed up at the Siem Reap church building for mid-week services. He not only grew up in the church, but he even attended a “Christian” high school and one of our brotherhood universities. He is doing field research for an advanced degree in cultural anthropology, which brought him to Cambodia. He is a decent, inquisitive person seemingly intent on bringing positive change to this world, but upon leaving his home state after graduating college he ceased association with the church. When asked about his religious life, he said, “I don’t consider myself unfaithful, but I’m not attending the church right now. I guess you could say I’m taking a break.”
Rather than being a “what’s wrong with young people is…” or “what’s wrong with the church is…” article, I want to think in terms of what faithfulness or unfaithfulness is. Is it something we can gauge, and, if so, how? Can we claim faithfulness but fail to demonstrate it?
The Bible speaks of the faithfulness of God, for example. How do we know He is faithful? Moses suggests we conclude such based on His work, ways, and attributes (Deut. 32:4). The psalmist points to His word and work (Psa. 33:4). Faithfulness involved His working wonders and deliberately planning (Isa. 25:1).
In the same way, the Bible identifies faithfulness as something tangible and measurable, as visible as justice and mercy (Mat. 23:23), as demonstrable as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23). The very word refers to loyalty and trustworthiness (Utley, np). In Galatians 5:22, it “describes the believer’s new relationship with people, especially believers” (ibid.). In this list, it is more than trust or belief. The other eight words indicate ethical qualities, so this should be interpreted as such, too. In other words, being faithful is seen by how we live and what we do. Can we be faithful to Christ and His church when we do not attach ourselves to a local congregation, provoking others to love and good works as a manner of habit (Heb. 10:24-25). If we are not seeking to build up one another (1 Th. 5:11) or cause the growth of the body (Eph. 4:16), how is that not unfaithful? Twice in the gospels, Jesus tells parables concerning faithfully accomplish our Christian responsibilities (Mat. 25:14-30; Luke 19:11-27). There could be no judgment and accountability without there being concrete ways to measure and determine faithfulness.
We do not get to define it for ourselves. The Lord has already revealed what He considers faithfulness and unfaithfulness. Ceasing to work for and worship Him, failing to encourage the spiritual family, and abstaining from such service as soul-winning and moral distinctiveness are tangible indicators that we have ceased from faithfulness. Let us so live that in the end we can hear our Lord exclaim, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Mat. 25:21,23).