Galatians 5:22-25 provides the famous list of the Gifts of the Spirit. Of course, this is only a partial list of all the virtues the Spirit of God inspires in His children, but it’s a list that forms the foundation of a godly life.
In studying this list myself, I became interested in what “faithfulness”— the seventh “fruit” in the list of nine – means in practical, everyday terms. So I looked it up in the Greek and found that the word used there is pistis, which is more literally translated, faith. It is the very same word used in Ephesians 2:8 where it says, “For it is by grace you have been saved through faith (pistis).”
The more expanded meaning of pistis means belief, trust, confidence, faithfulness, to be persuaded.
Translating pistis into the English word, faithfulness, is not inaccurate, but it is very incomplete. Faithfulness is certainly a fruit of true faith. But true faith goes beyond the virtue of faithfulness.
Case in point:
Although Abraham is known as the patriarch of faith, another man who would come from Abraham’s family line, his great grandson, Joseph, was also a great man of faith. In some respects, Joseph may have demonstrated even greater faith than Abraham in certain situations.
Let’s do an overview of Joseph’s life and what we can learn from it:
Pampered from youth. Joseph was born in the old age of his father, Jacob, and was very dear to Jacob. As a result, this doting father lit the fuse of jealousy and resentment toward Joseph in his other sons.
Big Dreams. Joseph was chosen by God to save the holy line of Israel. Jacob knew this, and so did Joseph. How full of enthusiasm he must have been when he realized that God was going to use him mightily and promote him to a position of great influence!
Youthful pride and foolishness. Do you know what you get when you take the big dreams of a 17-year-old young man and combine them with a pampered lifestyle that is favored over the other siblings? PRIDE! And with that youthful pride you get foolishness, such as shooting off his mouth about how great he will be one day to his already-jealous brothers. Dumb!
Life Thrown into Chaos and Confusion. You know you’ve had a bad day when your brothers throw you into a pit and leave you to die there of exposure and thirst, only to rescue you so that they can sell you into slavery, taking you away from the only life, people, and place you’ve ever known.
Faith and Character Tested by Trial. Joseph’s trial wasn’t a weekend thing. Some people think they are suffering if they have a bad day at work. But Joseph was stripped of everything. A trial of his faith had begun that would consume the next 13 years of his life. The faith and character he learned from his father and from God would now come under some of the most severe testing that we read about in all of scripture.
Seemingly Abandoned by God. Scripture doesn’t provide information about whether or not Joseph’s faith waivered. But who could blame him if it did? All those dreams that God had put in the heart of Joseph had seemingly evaporated in the hot Egyptian climate as Joseph worked for a slave-owner who cared nothing about Joseph’s dreams. Worse yet, you would think that Joseph’s faithfulness to God even through those first few years in Egypt would bring a swift reward by the Almighty. But even that didn’t happen. It just went from bad to worse. Joseph’s impeccable integrity landed him in prison accused of sexual assault. To the casual observer, it would truly appear that God had abandoned Joseph, if his God existed at all. Maybe Joseph felt that way a few times as he wasted away in a dank Egyptian dungeon. Whether he did or whether he didn’t question God, it is evident that Joseph’s dreams kept his faith kindled enough to keep him holding on.
Remained faithful to God for a very long time even when it didn’t seem to matter anymore or make sense to do so. Have you ever felt that way? Have you ever asked the question, “What’s the use?” Have you ever wanted to throw up your hands and quit? Have you ever questioned your own judgment for believing what you believe? Has the hope that your prayers and dreams ever being fulfilled started to wane? Have months turned into years, and the years stretched into a decade or more? Maybe those dreams don’t even seem to matter that much anymore because of the passage of time. Maybe you feel like the time of dreams has passed. If so, it’s time to rouse yourself like Joseph obviously had to do time and time again to hang on even when it seemed like everything was against him. Perhaps that doesn’t even seem to make sense at this point in your life. But if God has given you a dream, and it’s really from Him, then the passage of time doesn’t change God’s plan. It may simply mean that a big dream requires an extended time of testing and character development, just like Joseph went through.
Gigantic Reward, and thrust into Greatness. How quickly things can change! Just as Joseph’s comfort and familiarity was ripped from him in a single moment, the fulfillment of his destiny and a jaw-dropping reward were given to him just as quickly. Can you imagine it? In the dungeon one minute; running the most powerful nation on earth later the same day! Destitute one minute, wealthy beyond belief the next. Lonely and forgotten one minute, adored and obeyed by the masses the next. It kind of gives you chills when you really meditate on it!
Used by God Mightily. Oh, how God wants to use the faithful. But as Proverbs 20:6 says, “A faithful man who can find?” Where are all the people of faith who are truly faithful? And true faith is what inspired Joseph to remain faithful even when it made absolutely no sense in the natural to do so. Joseph held his faith with all his might like a life vest in a raging storm at sea. It literally kept him afloat when he felt he was sinking. Faith is why Joseph was faithful to serve a pagan slave-master. It’s why he was faithful to serve mankind as best he could even in prison. And it’s why God not only restored Joseph, but made Joseph a trophy of His faithfulness and divine providence.
The faith walk of Joseph makes the light and momentary afflictions that challenge our own faith to seem very pitiful in comparison. Joseph was truly walking by faith, not by sight. Something kept him going when all evidence suggested that he was holding on to nothing; vapors of a dream once dreamed but long dead. And that’s exactly how faith behaves.
Faith takes you beyond the realm of reason, beyond intellect. Faith doesn’t deny the circumstances, but it places more trust in what is unseen than what is seen.
And that’s true not only where your dreams are concerned, but also of your own character development. You may be discouraged today for a lot of different reasons. Perhaps you are disgusted at your own lack of godliness and wonder why you act the way you do. Maybe you have had some profound hurts and disappointments. Maybe people have broken your heart. Perhaps people you have looked up to and drawn strength from have fallen away or fallen apart. Maybe the church you once loved has disintegrated or changed so much that you don’t recognize it anymore. Or maybe, like Joseph, the hopes and dreams you so vividly held in your heart as a new Christian have faded in the background as the rocky road of your life seems to be anything but a dream fulfilled.
But faith demonstrates itself best when there is no evidence to hang your hope on. Doesn’t the classic definition of faith say exactly that?
Faith is being sure of what we hope for and the evidence of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1)
And faith is not the same as hope. Hope hopes. But faith KNOWS without seeing.
This is what it means in Proverbs 3:5-6 when it says, Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths.
Yes, He is directing your paths even when it seems like He is not. Hold on. Better days are ahead for those who do not give up.
Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. –Galatians 6:9