Over the last month & a half, we’ve been in a series called Borne Identity because whose you are transforms who you are and changes what you do. When you begin to follow Jesus, your identity changes—you’re not the same anymore—and you begin to bear new fruit, new actions, new passions, all according to that new identity in Christ.
To help us consider this Borne Identity, we’ve looked at the famous fruit of the Spirit passage from Paul’s letter to the Galatians, where it describes new qualities such as love, joy, peace, and so on. Today, we’ve come to: faithfulness. We’re going to see several things today, but they’re all encompassed within this one idea, that:
Faithfulness in the eyes of God looks different than in the eyes of the world.
Let’s take a moment to ask for the Lord’s help in this time.
Father, I realize we may be sitting in the same room, but our minds are probably in a hundred different places—finances, sickness, broken relationships, unemployment, fear, anxiety, despair—Lord! No matter where we find ourselves this morning, what we need most is to see that you are with us, and to quiet our hearts so we can hear you speak! Sanctify us by the truth; Your Word is Truth. Holy Spirit, reveal Jesus to us. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be pleasing to you, our Rock & our Redeemer. Amen.
Turn with me to Luke 19:11-27.
11 As they heard these things, [Jesus] proceeded to tell a parable, because he was near to Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately. 12 He said therefore, “A nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and then return. 13 Calling ten of his servants, he gave them ten minas, and said to them, ‘Engage in business until I come.’ 14 But his citizens hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to reign over us.’ 15 When he returned, having received the kingdom, he ordered these servants to whom he had given the money to be called to him, that he might know what they had gained by doing business. 16 The first came before him, saying, ‘Lord, your mina has made ten minas more.’ 17 And he said to him, ‘Well done, good servant! Because you have been faithful in a very little, you shall have authority over ten cities.’ 18 And the second came, saying, ‘Lord, your mina has made five minas.’ 19 And he said to him, ‘And you are to be over five cities.’ 20 Then another came, saying, ‘Lord, here is your mina, which I kept laid away in a handkerchief; 21 for I was afraid of you, because you are a severe man. You take what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.’ 22 He said to him, ‘I will condemn you with your own words, you wicked servant! You knew that I was a severe man, taking what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow? 23 Why then did you not put my money in the bank, and at my coming I might have collected it with interest?’ 24 And he said to those who stood by, ‘Take the mina from him, and give it to the one who has the ten minas.’ 25 And they said to him, ‘Lord, he has ten minas!’ 26 ‘I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 27 But as for these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slaughter them before me.’”
What does this story mean?
Let me start by telling you the interpretation I’ve heard most frequently of this passage: Jesus is the nobleman who dies & comes back to life, goes to heaven, then will one day come back in the future with power & authority. He’ll reward the faithful who use their lives & talents well and will give them cities to govern in the new kingdom that he’s about to establish. But for those who did not follow him, for those who did not choose to put their faith in Jesus & let him reign over their lives, in this last Day, Jesus will bring them to himself and slaughter them. The end.
Faithfulness, then, is seen as working within the current system and being a faithful steward what we’ve been given. It means multiplying what you have, then you’ll be rewarded with more.
If you have a thousand dollars, faithfulness is investing that money so it increases to five or ten thousand. And when God sees it, he’ll give you more. If you are an artist or musician, faithfulness is growing that talent so you will gain more & more influence. Then, one day, you’ll be rewarded with more fame. If you’re a teacher, faithfulness means stewarding your classes so well that eventually, God will see fit to make you principal, or maybe even superintendent.
Faithfulness, we often think, equals fruitfulness.
Now, are those things true? I don’t want to completely deny these principles necessarily, because there are other places in scripture that absolutely make clear that God has given humanity the responsibility to steward things faithfully.
Proverbs talks about the righteous rich & the unrighteous rich, as well as the righteous poor & the unrighteous poor, because character is not directly correlated to your circumstance. Whether you’re rich or poor, whether opportunity is given or withheld from you, whatever the case, no matter the situation: your circumstances don’t change your character, they merely reveal it.
When you are faithful with little, there are times the Lord says, “Well done, good & faithful servant, here’s some more for you to handle.” Absolutely! However, given the context here in Luke 19, I do not think that’s what Jesus was getting at with this parable.
For one, for that to be the interpretation here means that Jesus identifies himself as the tyrannical nobleman who is both harsh & exploitative (see v22 where he says, “I will condemn you with your own words, you wicked slave! You know that I am a severe man, taking what I do not deposit & reaping what I do not sow.”). For Jesus to be understood as this character is fairly problematic on a number of levels.
But another issue with that interpretation is what Luke chooses to include before and after the parable. v11 gives us a clue for the context when it says, Jesus told this parable “…because he was near to Jerusalem, and because they—those around Jesus—supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately.” This suggests that Jesus intends to communicate something contrary to their preconceived notions.
They perceived the Kingdom of God was coming very very soon, & they are near Jerusalem, where they’d hoped Jesus would ride in & claim the throne. The story Luke writes after this parable is of Christ’s entrance on a donkey when they all waved palm branches, shouting “Hosanna! He’s come! The Savior is here! Now we’ll be free from Roman Oppression! Now we’ll be a nation under God! Make Israel Great again!”
Mark 10 gives us insight into the sort of Kingdom they hoped for when James & John asked to be on the right & left of Jesus when he’s in glory. That’s what they wanted. Even those who followed Jesus closely desired a Kingdom of power as the world understands power and how faithfulness to that authority is measured as a result, but Jesus tells this parable to break those preconceived ideas…& they still don’t get it.
Because just days later, the same voices that shouted “Hosanna” would cry out “Crucify!” …because Jesus’ kingdom is not a kingdom of this world. And if it’s not a kingdom of this world, then perhaps faithfulness to this kingdom is something out of this world too.
Jesus tells this parable to break their preconceived ideas, & they still don’t get it. And I’m afraid many of us don’t get it either. Because Faithfulness in the eyes of God looks different than in the eyes of the world. In the eyes of the world, faithfulness leads to fruitfulness & success. The way of the world is built on an oppressive system that keeps the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer.
Which leads us to the last contextual clue for us in v11, where it says “As they heard these things, Jesus decided to tell a story,” meaning: something was happening around them—something took place before this parable was told—that we need to consider before we apply this for ourselves so we can know what Jesus meant by it. Directly before this parable, Luke tells the familiar story of Zacchaeus.
Now Zacchaeus was…a wee little man. He was a tax collector, and in that day, that was a serious offense. Israel was under Roman oppression, and one of the ways Rome got at the Jews was through taxes. To be a tax collector was to align yourself with Rome and in effect to turn on your own people. There were Jewish laws that forbade Jews from exploiting others monetarily, and Zacchaues broke those and more.
The story ends with him meeting Jesus, realizing he’d been cheating people out of their money, and saying in v8 & 9, “Lord, I’ll give half of what I have to the poor, and restore fourfold to the ones I defrauded.” And Jesus responds, “I’ve come to seek and to save the lost and today, salvation has come to this house.”
Zacchaeus was faithful in the eyes of the world’s system built on oppression and exploitation, which is how his money multiplied before, but he was lost in the eyes of God. But Jesus says “salvation has come to this house” after Zacchaues says, “No more. I’m no longer going to live in that former way. I’m choosing a new way. I won’t be faithful any longer to the way of this earthly kingdom I used to be part of before.”
Consider the three servants from our parable again. The massive profits made by the first two suggest that corrupt practices were involved, but the third servant would not give into those means of multiplying money—instead, he stuffed it away (rather than putting it in a bank to collect interest like the nobleman said he should’ve done, which is very interesting considering the law of Moses forbids Jews from collecting interest. Yet again, evidence that nobleman probably doesn’t represent Jesus).
The third servant, then, provides an example for us of what it looks like to faithfully resist participation in unjust activities that fuel human lusts for power.
With all this in mind: it would seem that Jesus uses the parable to say that the kingdom of God is not yet coming in its fullness (as they would soon think with Jesus entering Jerusalem), and as a result, Christ’s followers should expect to live in corrupt times and follow an ethic of resistance that remains faithful to Jesus’ teachings and the characteristics of God’s kingdom. And at times, faithfulness to God’s kingdom, will mean rejection according to the world’s.
This is the topsy-turvy, upside-down, inside-out world that the parable invites us into. It’s a dizzying story that’s intended to disorient us so severely that we stumble into a new world order—a kingdom not of this world but of our Lord & of his Christ, that shall reign forever and ever.
We saw last week that what the world calls goodness may not necessarily be goodness in the eyes of God; could the same not be said of what the world calls faithfulness? This is what Jesus is trying to communicate in this parable.
Faithfulness in the eyes of God is different than faithfulness in the eyes of the world, because Faithfulness is not measured by fruitfulness (like in the eyes of the world), but by faith. Faithfulness is not measured by your success but by faith.
What is Faithfulness except “full-of-faith-ness”? And interestingly enough, the very same word in the greek used for Faithfulness is used for Faith. I’m serious. The same word for faith in the greek is the word for faithfulness. Follow that to its logical end sometime and see what you come up with.
Faithfulness is the outworking of faith. When you have faith in something, you faithfully give yourself to that thing. The two are inextricably linked. This can be seen in a hundred different illustrations.
As Hebrews 11:1 says that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen,” if you are certain of something beyond a shadow of a doubt, you will give yourself to that very thing 100%. Hebrews 11 traces through Genesis, Exodus, and beyond to show example after example of people who were faithful even when they couldn’t see. Faith is not fixed on the moment but on a future hope. Faithfulness is the evidence of such a faith.
Hebrews 11:7 tells us about Noah. Poor guy. God told him a flood was coming so he needed to build a big boat, but for years, everybody around him called him a fool. Yet still—day by day—by faith, he remained faithful and built that boat—not focusing on the moment, but looking ahead.
v8 says…“By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.” He didn’t have a clue where he was going, but he knew why: because God had something in store for him there. The momentary didn’t matter, because the purpose for his future was clear and he had faith in the God who called him to go.
v23-28 tell us about Moses, who chose not to be identified as the son of Pharaoh (the most powerful leader of the known world at the time) but instead as a child of God. v25-26 say Moses chose “to be mistreated with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin, because he considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than all the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward.”
Faith looks to the future, even through the temporal. Faithfulness—full-of-faithness—is the outworking, then, of that faith.
Were these men successful? Were there lives…fruitful? Perhaps not necessarily according to the Kingdom of this world, but according to the Kingdom of God? They were faithful—full of faith—because Faithfulness in the eyes of God looks different than in the eyes of the world.
The prophet Jeremiah was another guy of faith. He preached the word of God for years. He was told to preach, so he did, but no one listened! That’d be like becoming a dentist and the whole world dying of gum disease, despite what you’ve been telling them for years!
Yet he continued to preach—Jeremiah 25 says he preached for twenty.-three. years.—23 years without a single convert! 23 years without a single person listening! He gave up 23 years of his life with the only purpose being to preach the gospel, and then not see a single change of heart…from ANYBODY.
WHAT possibly kept him going? …In the beginning of his book—in Jeremiah 1:5—he explains God’s call on his life. God said, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you & before you were born I set you apart & appointed you to be a prophet…”
That’s it. That’s what Jeremiah was going on…for 23 years! “God, I don’t know why you’re asking me to do this—obviously it doesn’t seem I’m very good at it—but you want me to do this, so I will. My faith rests in you, not in the fruit of my efforts, so I’ll be faithful.”
Another prophet says it this way in Habakkuk 3:17-18…
17 Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
God doesn’t ask for fruit—he asks for faith—and faith is evidenced by faithfulness, despite what everything else around you seems to be saying. God’s not looking for fruitfulness, he’s looking for faithfulness.
So even if everybody around you is seeing their money multiplied, you be faithful to God (not to the corrupt practices of this world). When others increase in popularity, don’t cut people down to try & gain fame & influence. When you see other businesses or churches or families grow in size, you still remain faithful to the God who has—for whatever reason—allowed it to happen. Don’t cut corners. Don’t oppress or exploit others.
BE faithful, because you’re living by a different code—you’re living by faith, NOT by sight—according to a kingdom that’s not of this world, and your faithfulness in the midst of it all is the evidence of where you belong.
So let’s get practical: what does faithfulness to God look like for you: as a mom with two kids? As a grandparent who’s just beginning retirement? As a teacher or administrator or entrepreneur or student? What does faithfulness look like for you?
We’ve seen several things so far, but they all fit within this main idea:
Be distinct, not distant.
That can mean a number of things:
Don’t boycott like the citizens who hated the nobleman and wrote letters of disdain against the elected official. Maybe that means stop writing Facebook posts about not wanting so & so to be elected president.
Because remember what you’re faithful to. You’re Christians first, not Americans. I remember when Bin Laden was captured and killed: so many people I knew were running around like chickens with their heads cut off, “Yes! We’ve got him! WE GOT HIM GOOD” They were celebrating his death, but something came over me…a deep remorse: did I ever pray for this man? I understand he was an enemy of the state, but did I ever plead with God to save his soul? Are we americans or christians, first?
Distinct, not distant, so engage in culture. But as you do, don’t participate in the corrupt practices of it. Rather than building a comfortable kingdom on the misfortunes of others, Jesus came to build a kingdom on grace which is far more costly, yet entirely free.
Sometimes, faithfulness to God means doing the right thing, even though it may cost you (Whether it’s forgiveness, or kindness, or generosity, or whatever it may be).
But isn’t there an easier way? Does faithfulness to God really have to cost you? Must it require sacrifice? This past week, I stumbled onto an interview of actor Jim Caviezel, who’s known for playing the Count of Monte Cristo, as well as Jesus Christ in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. He said something so powerful that I needed to share it with you along the lines of how faithfulness to the Lord in our culture requires sacrifice.
I look at not just our Lord’s death (which was for all), but understand that modern day christians, often say to me “but Jesus sacrificed himself” as if “since Jesus did it, I don’t have to.”
So I say, “Okay then, why did Peter have to do it? Why did John have to? Why did all the rest of the apostles have to? Why did they have to sacrifice themselves if Jesus had done that. What about all the martyrs of the 20th century? What about our brothers & sisters who are being executed now at the hand of extremists in foreign lands? Where is our Lord with them? Does God hate them?
We cannot continue as christians to sit here & say “Well, I’ll only be a christian if it’s about prosperity & having plenty.” You must understand, though people are going to choose evil, you don’t. Because the devil’s going to try to sift you out. He’s going to look right now & see where are you weak? “I can get this guy. A million bucks & he’ll turn. Ten million for him, fifty for her. We say, ‘Oh, choice. Choice. I have freedom to choose.’ Every generation of american christians needs to know that freedom exists not to do what you like, but having the right to do what you ought.
Don’t just blend in & do what all your pagan friends are doing so they’ll think you’re cool because that’s what you think you need. There’s nothing cool in this. The only thing lacking in you is you don’t want to be holy. Stand apart from this corrupt generation, my brothers and sisters. You weren’t made to fit in, you were born to stand out.”
We read earlier from Hebrews 11 where it describes these wonderful saints who have gone before us—this “cloud of witnesses” as 12:1 says—all who lived by faith, and not by sight. Listen to this incredible recap from Hebrews 11:32-38…
32 What more shall I say? I don’t have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. 35 Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. 36 Some faced mockery and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were put to death by stoning; they were sawn in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins: destitute, persecuted and mistreated—38 the world was not worthy of them…
When you are faithful to God & his kingdom not of this world, the world will not be worthy of you either, because you weren’t made to fit in, you were born to stand out.
But faithfulness requires sacrifice, which is why Hebrews 12:1 picks up with this…Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to this life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.
Faithfulness to God will require sacrifice at times. The nobleman gave a mina to each servant, but the third one wrapped it up & put it away. He chose to be faithful to God & his ways and sacrifice not finding success on the backs of others’ misfortunes.
What have you been given that you need to wrap in a handkerchief & put away? Take time this week to consider the question. What has been handed to you that you need to lay aside?
We are not distant, but we are distinct. Learn to live faithfully to God in this world. Don’t participate in the practices of the world because you are citizens of another place! So be in this world, but not of it! Distinct, but not distant for you are citizens of heaven—begin living faithfully to that kingdom now!—and as you do, you’ll find the kingdom of God coming to earth as it is in heaven in a far more subtle way.
I’ve loved this passage from Brian Zahn’s book, Water to Wine, where it says…
“When we imagine the kingdom of God coming as a tsunami of irresistible force, we think our public presence needs to be loud, demonstrative, and even combative. This is entirely wrong. Babylon is built by the noisy machinery of war, conquest, and power
politics, but not the kingdom of God.
Almost all of Jesus’ kingdom parables are quiet stories. According to Jesus the kingdom of God is like seed being sown, like plants growing, like bread rising. It’s domestic, not militant. It’s like a woman sweeping her house, like a shepherd searching for a lost sheep, like a wayward son coming home at last. It never gets much louder than the music and dancing of a house party.
Because we are obsessed with all things ‘big’ and ‘powerful’ in the conventional sense, we are convinced that to change the world the kingdom of God needs to sound like a deafening construction site—bulldozers and jackhammers. But the kingdom coming isn’t as much like a construction site as a forest growing.”
The kingdom coming isn’t as much like a construction site as a forest growing.
My friend Omar was at a soccer game overseas one time. Big stadium with over 30,000 people. And as a soccer fan—or really any sports fan—few things are more enjoyable than starting a chant and watching it take flight.
“Oléee, Olé, Olé, Oléeeeee…” People started looking around. He did it again but no one joined him, “Oléee, Olé, Olé, Oléeeeee…” Then, someone else jumped in, “Oléee, Olé, Olé…” then some more, “Oléee, Olé, Olé…” then another group, and another, until finally, the entire stadium erupted, chanting “Oléee, Olé, Olé, Oléeeeee… Oléee, Oléeeeee…”
This is what it looks like when you live faithfully to God in a faithless world. These tiny, subtle acts of faithfulness eventually take over and change the atmosphere. But it all starts with a seed. Not big, bombastic miracles, but little, steady, faithful moments that spread and build up like an enormous forest growing from a tiny seed.
Unless an acorn is split open, it will never grow into a mighty oak. In the words of Jesus, “Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it bears much fruit.”
Jesus is Faithful and True. He began so long ago what we have been invited to continue. His parable in Luke 19 describes the way of the world, which says “when your enemies reject you, slaughter them,” but what do we see in Jesus?
Within the world’s system, who else was taken out and slaughtered except our Lord Jesus himself? In Jesus, we see one who did not require those who rebelled against him to be slaughtered, but instead who would allow himself to be slaughtered for the sake of those who would not let him reign over them.
That’s why Hebrews 12, the climax of the hebrews 11 chapter of faith, says: “Look to Jesus! You want to know how to run this marathon faithfully? Look to Jesus! See him! Follow him!”
Watch him lay aside heaven & earth for you, then you’ll be willing to lay aside your single mina. Watch Jesus say, ‘Father Forgive them’ and you’ll forgive. Watch him endure & remain faithful in such a place as the cross and you’ll no longer be crushed beneath the weight of yours, but will endure whatever’s holding you down.
Before they were ever called Christians, do you know what the first christians called themselves in the book of Acts? “Followers of the Way,” because Jesus did more than die on a cross to save us from our sin—he also lived among us to show us a new way to live.
All who follow him find life, even if it means death in the process… but as it says in the letter written to the church in Smyrna from Revelation chapter 2, “Be faithful, even unto death”—and Jesus continues—“and I will give to you a crown of life.”
He’s the only Lord & Master worth serving, because when you’re faithless in the eyes of the world, you’ll be reamed for it. You’ll be slaughtered for it! But when you’re faithless to God—listen to the words of 2 Timothy 2:13, even “when we are faithless, God remains faithful because he cannot deny himself.” God is faithful. He is always faithful.
But you have to see it for yourself: Jesus was slaughtered, so you would never have to be. Look at Jesus. See his faithfulness, and when you do, it’ll change everything. Would you stand with me.
Lord, as we approach the table now, we recognize that though we are often so unfaithful—even in our faithlessness—you remain faithful still. Forgive us for where we’ve lacked in our distinction from culture, and forgive us for the times we’ve been distant. Help us to see Jesus, even now in the bread & cup, we ask in His name. Amen.