Faith In His Faithfulness
The website “Stories of God’s Faithfulness,”
provides people the opportunity to share their story about how God
was faithful to them. I read a story about a women who constantly
prayed for her children. One day her daughter and husband were
tearing down an old house for the wood. The daughter insisted that
her husband put on a hard hat. Within moments of him placing the had
on his head a large chuck of plaster fell from the ceiling unto his
head. He staggered slightly dazed. Without the hard had he may have
had severe head injury. Mom believed that God was faithful in
protecting her child. If so what do you say to Christina Green’s
parents? Why wasn’t God faithful in protecting their little girl
from something far worse than a concussion?
I believe that God is faithful. And I believe that
God protects and answers prayer but I am uncomfortable with people
who are too exuberant in announcing how God protected them from a
recoverable injury or healed them of an uncertain sickness. For every
one of those stories there is a story about unanswered prayer and
that leads to death or severe injury. So how to are we to understand
the faithfulness of God? Paul gives us some insight in the opening
paragraph to his letter to the church in Corinth.
Paul started the church when visited the city of
Corinth during his Third missionary journey. He traveled from the
city of Athens and stayed with a fellow convert named Aquila who was
forced out of Rome along with all the other Jews by Emperor Claudius.
(Rome also had problems with immigration.) Every Sabbath Paul went to
the synagogue and discussed the passages in Scripture that pointed to
the Messiah. The Jews listened at first but then became abusive so
Paul went next door and started a house church. After receiving a
vision in a dream reassuring him of his ministry, Paul stayed in the
city for 18 months preaching and teaching. The Jews brought him into
court and charged him with proselytizing but the Governor refused to
hear the case. In their anger the Jews turned on Sosthenes, the ruler
of the synagogue who had succeeded Crispus. Sosthenes was probably
the person responsible for pressing charges against Paul. The Jews
may have been venting their frustration out on him for losing the
case. By mentioning him in the letter Paul indicates that Sosthenes
had become a convert. The Christians at Corinth would have
undoubtedly considered him a hero. This was probably Paul’s reason
for mentioning his name in the opening verse.
After Paul left the city he never returned but he
stayed in touch with church affairs through various co-workers. Some
actually traveled to the congregations on Paul’s behalf to assess
how the congregations were doing. Paul never lost his sense of
responsibility for the spiritual development of the congregations
that he had started.
We do not have any historical documents giving us
an account of the development of the church at Corinth. Scholars are
forced to surmise the situation based upon Paul’s letter. We may
assume that the church grew enough for it to have significant
controversy. Paul expresses his shock and alarm over the quarreling.
The apostle to the Gentiles had obviously never served on the
governing body of a church. The church also found itself in a city
known for its immorality. The term, Corinthianize, was part of the
pop culture of Greece and it meant to practice immorality, and a
Corinthian girl was a temple prostitute.
The Corinthian church found itself in an
environment of unfulfillment. We will later learn that the church
itself was marred by the sins of the secular community. Spiritual
life and ministry was difficult. It was a struggle to be a Christian
and to be a member of the Christian community. The church had many
unanswered prayers. They would not have read the words of Paul
describing the faithfulness of God to imply that God would quickly
answer prayers according the intent of the petitioner.
In my study of this text three phrases stood out
for me in describing what Paul’s understanding of the faithfulness
of God. I hope that you are not too surprised by them.
Paul begins his letter as he does all the others
(except his letter to the church in Galatia) with a prayer of
thanksgiving. But this prayer is different from all the others. The
apostle to the Gentiles does not thank God for the good works or the
outstanding faith of the people in Corinth. The focus of this
thanksgiving is different. Paul praises the God who is at work in
them. Paul is writing this letter because of the turmoil and flagrant
sin in the church but he does not scold them. He announces to them
that he has faith in the faithfulness of God. Paul believes that God,
first will be faithful in enriching them.
The Greek term for enriching is usually used in
reference to making someone wealthy. However since Paul says that God
is enriching the church in its speaking and in its knowledge. He is
writing this to the average member of the Corinthian congregation who
was feeling inadequate. They were holding onto these negative
feelings about themselves because some teacher had visited them and
told them that growth in the spiritual life requires the obtainment
of a higher form of wisdom through an ecstatic experience.
Most of us can appreciate the Corinthians’
struggle. We as a society have a deep gnawing sense of inadequacy.
We compensate for it through bright expressive clothing that attracts
attention. We drive high powered cars with an amplified exhaust
system. We withdraw into our own little world and do not dare to take
chances or risks. Young boys express their inadequacy by bullying
their younger class mates. Girls do it through catty chats that
review every major and minor flaw in the personality of another girl.
If you question my assumption consider the purpose
of inspirational quotes. They are many that have been used to
inspire women and men to achieve their goals. We do not know the
source of many of them. Any record of the person who first spoke the
words has long been lost but their wisdom survives.
Failure is taking the path that
everyone else does, success is making your own path.
Don't judge those who try and
fail, judge those who fail to try
However, many others were spoken by men or women
who achieved greatness in politics, science, literature, business or
I have not failed. I've just
found 10,000 ways that won't work.
Thomas Alva Edison
A hero is no braver than an
ordinary man, but he is braver five minutes longer
Ralph Waldo Emerson.
There are many ways of going
forward, but only one way of standing still
Franklin D. Roosevelt
The authority of words come from the greatness of
the author as much as the wisdom of the saying. We rely on
inspirational quotes to lift our eyes to see past the obstacles and
barriers that are before us. We use them to convince ourselves that
we have the wisdom, the cunning, the courage to accomplish the
challenge before use. Paul offers his own version of inspiration by
telling the Corinthians that they have been enriched in every way.
They have all they wisdom that they are ever going to need. They
posses all the knowledge that they need to have.
This is as true today as it was back in Corinth.
Publication after publication tries to sell us on the idea that if we
just knew this one bit of information, if we would learn one more
technique, just one other form of prayer, we would master the
The quest for greater wisdom and knowledge was
also connected with an emphasis on spiritual gifts. He gives a list
of them in the twelfth chapter. The higher wisdom and greater
knowledge was gained through the use of spiritual gifts especially
prophecy and speaking in tongues. The false teachers attempted to
convince the people in Corinth that unless they had certain gifts
that they would not be able to know God at a more advanced level.
We are a technique driven society. We believe that
success can only be achieved if we master the technique. We have
dissected every movement in our factories, offices, the ball field,
the golf course and anywhere else people are working and competing.
Our hope is to find the most efficiently effective technique to
success. We have even transferred that mindset into the church and
even into our spiritual life. With one breath we are saying the
prayer is nothing but talking to God but then we write volumes of
books and conduct a plethora of seminars and workshops to teach
various techniques of prayer in the pursuit of an effective prayer
On the flip side of this, I have heard many people
from every congregation that I have served defend their refusal to
serve on a particular committee or in a particular role by claiming
that they are not qualified. They do not have the training or the
expertise to fulfill the role and responsibility. Paul tells us that
we have every spiritual gift that we need to accomplish his ministry
Notice the trend. God is faithful in giving us the
abilities and the tools we need to live the Christian life. We only
lack one other trait—strength to the end. There is a long time
between the promise and fulfillment. Remember the story of Abraham
and Sarah. God promised them a land and a son. They only saw glimpses
of the land. They traveled through but they never really took
ownership of it. They had to wait several years before Sarah would
bear them a son. Moses had to flee for his life after murdering an
Egyptian. He tended sheep for 40 years before God spoke to him from a
burning bush. Jeremiah was thrown into prison for telling the king
that the city of Jerusalem was going to be conquered. In another
letter to the church in Corinth Paul would describe the type of
strength that they would need.
8 We do not
want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered
in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our
ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. 9 Indeed, in
our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we
might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. 10 He
has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On
him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, 11 as
you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf
for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many. 2
During my search for a story about God’s
faithfulness I also discovered a story from a mother who believed in
the faithfulness of God even in the presence of unanswered prayer.
Due to the difficulties I’ve
faced (some of my own making and some not) I have been “refined as
silver is refined”.
gone through such trials as cancer by age 21, an unfaithful husband,
the death of two children and the great challenge of being married to
an alcoholic who doesn’t yet know Christ… but God is so faithful!
No matter what crisis has arisen in my life, God has given me His
Word to encourage and strengthen me.
He has enabled me to fight off
self-pity and bitterness through His Word.
That really is closer to the thoughts of the apostle
Paul than any of the other stories. Paul’s reference to the
faithfulness of God comes not from answered prayers but during times
of unanswered prayer.
I hope that you have seen the contrast between what God
promises and what we expect. God does not promise to make us rich. He
does not promise us health and vitality. He does not promise that we
would become community leaders. He does not commitment himself to
protect us from accidental harm. However, he does promise that he
will be faithful to enrich for teaching and knowledge, endow us with
spiritual gifts, and give us strength that we need to stand to the
end. The purpose of this is not for our immediate enjoyment but so
that we will be blameless on the day of Christ Jesus. The Greek word
used there also conveys the idea of someone or something that is
Times will come when we will question whether God is at
work. We will wonder why circumstances seem so stacked against us but
rather than doubt his promises, we are encouraged to place our faith
in his faithfulness.