Sun. a.m. AGCC 7/23/2000

TEXT:      Gal. 5:22,24-25 Hosea 4:1-12


One of the most important qualities in all healthy relationships is "faithfulness." In a culture that emphasizes success it is difficult for the importance of this quality to be fully appreciated. And yet, when we look at the life and teaching of Jesus we don't hear ANYTHING about success, Jesus didn't say, "Well done, you successful servant" He said, "Well done, you FAITHFUL servant." Even parables that mention elements of success the emphasis is on faithfulness and not success - such as the parable of the talents and their investment by all but one wicked servant who never invested the one talent he was given. The focus of the parable was not the doubling of the investments by the others, but their faithfulness to invest. Yet, as Christians we live in a culture that values things like success and reputations … and faithfulness is hardly ever the focus! ILLUS:Be more concerned with your character than with your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are. -- John Wooden former UCLA basketball coach, Marriage Partnership, Vol. 13, no. 3. There is a great challenge for Christians living in a culture that has placed other values much higher than faithfulness … yet it is this very quality that characterizes the fullness of the Spirit in our lives! It is NOT an option in the Christian life, nor is it a value that can be minimized. PROP. SENT:      The Word of God teaches us that faithfulness IS THE characteristic of a Christian's commitment to Christ, faithfulness is love's commitment.

I. FAILURE       Hosea 4:1-12

A. Challenge     4:1-2 1. Hosea found himself in a culture similar to ours today. a. Israel was coming to the end of a very prosperous time in her history. b. Corruption within institutions, religion, and politics was extremely high. c. There was plenty of religion but little true worship of God. Religious leaders compromised their own morality to gain financial benefits, and compromised to gain political power. (take heed religious leaders of America!) d. Sexual immorality was rampant within the society of Israel, encouraged by the sensual nature of the Baal worship. e. There was wide toleration to a variety of vices, and those who spoke out against such lax morality were ridiculed and mocked. f. The institution of marriage was in serious trouble throughout Israel, this was evidenced even within Hosea's own marriage. 2. Some things never change!!!! 3. Faithfulness was not exactly considered an important quality; success, power, influence, tolerance, freedom … these were the emphasized qualities within the culture. a. Hosea's call to commitment and faithfulness was largely ignored. (1. He even named his children with the hopes that Israel would get the message from his own children's names! (2. Their names "Jezreel" meant "dispersion" and "Lo-rohamah" meant "not beloved" … yet they still didn't respond! b. Those who did practice a life of faithfulness were probably considered "old fashion" and basically unimportant, naοve and uninformed. 4. The focus and calling of Hosea for his life was to demonstrate FAITHFULNESS as well as call for it. a. He married an adulterous woman and remained faithful to her in spite of her constant drifting into an immoral lifestyle. b. He called on his wife to change her ways and loved her faithfully in order to draw her towards this. c. In this way he mirrored God's faithful love for His wayward people, and His call for them to REMEMBER, REPENT, and RETURN to Him. 5. God's people needed a radical FAITHFULNESS, a return to a commitment NO MATTER WHAT! a. This is the kind of commitment Christ calls us to. b. There is no room for a "casual" relationship with God! c. How strong is your commitment to being faithful to God? (1. Is it based on how good you feel? (2. Is it based on how well things are going? (3. Is it based on what you want? (4. Or is it based on an absolute commitment to Christ NO MATTER WHAT? ILLUS:In Living Above the Level of Mediocrity, Chuck Swindoll writes: On Sunday, believers arrived at a house church in the Soviet Union in small groups throughout the day so not to arouse the suspicion of KGB informers. They began by singing a hymn quietly. Suddenly, in walked two soldiers with loaded weapons at the ready. One shouted, "If you wish to renounce your commitment to Jesus Christ, leave now!" Two or three quickly left, then another. After a few more seconds, two more. "This is your last chance. Either turn against your faith in Christ," he ordered, "or stay and suffer the consequences." Two more slipped out into the night. No one else moved. Parents with children trembling beside them looked down reassuringly, fully expecting to be gunned down or imprisoned. The other soldier closed the door, looked back at those who stood against the wall and said, "Keep your hands up--but this time in praise to our Lord Jesus Christ. We, too, are Christians. We were sent to another house church several weeks ago to arrest a group of believers." The other soldier interrupted, "But, instead, we were converted! We have learned by experience, however, that unless people are willing to die for their faith, they cannot be fully trusted." -- David Waggoner in Fresh Illustrations for Preaching & Teaching (Baker), from the editors of Leadership. 6. Faithfulness can be a huge challenge in an ungodly culture, but it must not be compromised! B. Collapse!     4:3-4 1. The moral underpinnings of Israel's existence as a once godly nation were gone! a. There were still some within the nation that held true to God, but as a whole they were no longer a nation that worshipped God. b. The unraveling of their moral underpinnings led to the collapse of their institutions and relationships. c. In the process they had become preoccupied with success rather than faithfulness. 2. When a culture or society measures its greatness by standards of success rather than standards of character it is a sick culture and poised for collapse!!! - Dennis Marquardt a. And yet, this is precisely where America is today! b. There are some voices still speaking for character and faithfulness, but how many are listening? ILLUS:Mother Teresa of Calcutta once was asked, "How do you measure the success of your work?" She looked puzzled for a moment and then replied, "I don't remember that the Lord ever spoke of success. He spoke only of faithfulness in love. This is the only success that really counts." -- James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988), p. 470. 3. Hosea declares an interesting dynamic in his statements here about Israel's moral collapse … the environment was becoming damaged and was suffering due to the lack of responsible living by faithful citizens, not even their wealth or government programs were working to preserve the environment! 4:3 a. The point is simple: As goes the spiritual, so goes the material realm! b. We would do well to heed this in our country … another point also: when we are faithful to God we are faithful to His creation … faithfulness is a quality that works it's way through every system of life. c. Why would this be so? If people only care about what they get they are not likely to care about what they give … and faithfulness is all about giving! 4. Faithfulness is required NO matter the results … and while "success" may not always result from faithfulness, it is still faithfulness that God values and rewards even when success eludes us! ILLUS:Both Eli and Samuel had disappointing results with their children. Yet, Jehovah punished one for his ineffective parenting and blessed the other. We need to teach our people that it is the faithful process of parenting, not the end results, that God evaluates. -- Eunice Vanderlaan, Leadership, Vol. 13, no. 4. 5. This again can be a difficult concept for Christians in a culture (or a Church!) that can't get faithfulness out of its citizens unless there are some "guarantees" involved like success, wealth, power, etc. a. God's character is faithful no matter what …. b. And if His Spirit lives in us the same characteristics should show in our life! C. Callous     4:6-12 1. Israel's passion for prosperity and success rather than a passion for qualities like faithfulness had actually produced a callousness toward spiritual things. a. God's word had been rejected … b. Even the religious leaders ignored God's Word … probably thought it too crazy to really believe that written Scriptures could actually be God's Word! (sounds familiar to many religious leaders today who do not hold the Bible to be God's Word!) c. Though the priests didn't teach God's Word anymore, they did try to keep the people coming to services since their portion of payments were their cut of the best meat of the sacrifices. They evidently found ways to keep the people bringing sacrifices so they could feast and get rich off the people they ministered to! (see 4:8) d. The priest's own lives however were no better than the compromising culture they lived in, the results were disastrous spiritually for everyone! 2. They may have continued teaching moral lessons, but they figured no one would listen so they themselves didn't listen to their own teaching! They said one thing out of one side of their mouths and practiced another thing at the same time! ILLUS:A college man walked into a photography studio with a framed picture of his girlfriend. He wanted the picture duplicated. This involved removing it from the frame. In doing this, the studio owner noticed the inscription on the back of the photograph: "My dearest Tom, I love you with all my heart. I love you more and more each day. I will love you forever and ever. I am yours for all eternity." It was signed "Diane," and it contained a P.S.: "If we ever break up, I want this picture back." Charles Krieg -- James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988) pp. 97-98. 3. Tragically, the more Israel compromised, the more they wandered away from God, and the more they attempted to move toward success and prosperity, the emptier their lives became! (see 4:10-12) a. This is the case today too … success has not made Americans happier or more satisfied, in fact just the opposite! b. Rather than gaining, we are losing when we move away from faithfulness to God. 4. Israel never did listen to Hosea or turn … and shortly after Hosea's day the Northern Kingdom called Israel was destroyed … and never did recover! a. May God help us before we move down that same path fully! b. And, while it is always easier to cry out against our nation and her sins, what about OUR FAITHFULNESS? Where are we headed? II. FRUIT       Gal. 5:22,24-25 A. Characteristic     5:22 1. The very characteristic of the Spirit filled life is FAITHFULNESS! a. Such fruit is the result of being Spirit filled. b. Faithfulness IS commitment … first to God and then to others. c. The fruit of the Spirit is the very character of the Spirit of God, and He can be nothing LESS THAN FAITHFUL! 2. There is no sense of doubt in the statement by Paul, "The fruit of the Spirit IS … FAITHFULNESS" - there is no room for flexibility as to whether there IS or ISN'T by the statement. a. Christians cannot "choose" whether they will be faithful or not, this is not like buying a car where we have "options" … it is STANDARD EQUIPMENT for the Spirit filled believer. b. There are institutions in this world where the concept of faithfulness is so absolute that it is not negotiable, and if the world can even recognize under certain circumstances how absolute the quality of faithfulness must be, why can't we in God's Church!? ILLUS:1967. We were at war with Vietnam. And there I was, at the U.S. Army Ranger School at Fort Benning, Georgia. It was brutal. I can still hear the raspy voice of the sergeant: "We are here to save your lives. We're going to see to it that you overcome all your natural fears. We're going to show you just how much incredible stress the human mind and body can endure. And when we're finished with you, you will be the U.S. Army's best!" Then, before he dismissed the formation, he announced our first assignment. We'd steeled ourselves for something really tough--like running 10 miles in full battle gear or rappelling down a sheer cliff. Instead, he told us to--find a buddy. "Find yourself a Ranger buddy," he growled. "You will stick together. You will never leave each other. You will encourage each other, and, as necessary, you will carry each other." -- Stu Weber, pastor of Good Shepherd Community Church in Boring, Oregon. Men of Integrity, Vol. 1, no. 1. c. The US Army understands that in warfare ABSOLUTE FAITHFULNESS is a must! They also understand that even BEFORE entering the war this must be practiced and learned so that it is second nature when you face the enemy, or too many innocent lives will be lost. (1. What about our faithfulness to God? (2. What about our faithfulness to His Church? (3. What about our faithfulness to our brother and sister in Christ? (4. What about our faithfulness to the lost of this world? 3. ARE WE ABSOLUTELY FAITHFUL, or does it only show when our lives are successful by the standards of this world or our own? B. Commitment     5:24-25 1. It is quite clear that while this quality of faithfulness is the fruit of the Spirit in our lives it is also the responsibility of us to act out a commitment for it to be realized. a. On the heels of Paul stating the fruit of the Holy Spirit he says, "And they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh…" b. This requires a commitment on our part as well as the work of the Spirit on God's part. 2. Jesus certainly demonstrated this very same cooperation between "spirit" and "flesh" … He WILLED himself to do HIS father's WILL … while empowered by the Holy Spirit … our model to follow! a. Faithfulness does not just come from "auto-pilot" by God's Spirit, it is also our commitment which must be unwavering too. b. It is the balance Paul states in verse 25, "If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit" 3. The signature of our life needs to be FATIHFULNESS! a. Is it yours? b. Is it our Church's? ILLUS:Newsweek (11/19/90) ran an article titled "Letters in the Sand," a compilation of letters written by military personnel to family and friends in the States during the Gulf War. One was written by Marine Corporal Preston Coffer. He told a friend, "We are talking about Marines, not the Boy Scouts. We all joined the service knowing full well what might be expected of us." He signed off with the Marine motto, "Semper Fi," Latin for "always faithful." The Bible says, "Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful" (1 Cor. 4:2). -- Richie Lewis in Fresh Illustrations for Preaching & Teaching (Baker), from the editors of Leadership. 4. If the Marine's can hold high their signature as "SEMPER FI" ("always faithful") certainly God's army must also! CONCLUSION:    Faithfulness is the basis of all healthy things -- whether the laws of physics being faithfully the same through time so the universe is predicatable and all things hold together, or our relationship to God and others remaining faithful so they remain constant and strong. Remove faithfulness from any system of relationships and deterioration occurs. Love's commitment is faithfulness -- is this aspect of God's Spirit showing in your life?