Fruit of the Spirit: FAITHFULNESS

Fruit of the Spirit  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  24:24
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God’s covenant faithfulness to his people is the foundation for us to bear the spiritual fruit of faithfulness.

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For many years I would take groups of high schoolers backpacking in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. One of the features of the trip is climbing to the top of a 13,000 ft summit. That altitude is well above the tree line, so the entire summit ascent is over bare rocks and boulders with little tufts of grass here and there. At that altitude, there is no more trail to follow. Navigating the way up is not difficult because you just keep eying the peak in front of you. Even so, I would stop ever 200 yards or so and set up a cairn along our path. These small piles wouldn’t make that much difference going up, but they make all the difference in the world when coming back down.
The mountain only has one peak, so there really is only one destination point towards the top. But there are countless options for ways to come back down. And many of those downward routes may end up coming to a deadens cliff or impassible ridge. It all kind of looks the same from the top looking down. And up above the tree line there is no distinguishable trail. Remembering the exact steps we took to get up to the top is almost impossible. That’s where the cairns come in. When it is time to lead the group down from the mountain, all I had to do was find the closest cairn we set up, and hike down towards that. Once we reach that point we look to see what direction the next closest cairn is, and hike down towards that—and so on and so on till we get down low enough to see the trail once again heading into the trees.
In order to make a journey like that through the mountains, you have to intentionally set up markers behind you as you go. In all the twists and turns of those mountain trails, the only way to have confident assurance about the steps to take is to somehow keep track of the steps behind you. Memory alone is not enough. Every now and then you need to stop and set up intentional markers to help you remember the right way to go. Only by keeping track of the steps behind us could we keep going with confident assurance. Today’s passage from Lamentations is about finding those markers that help identify the path ahead with confident assurance; and what that looks like as a spiritual fruit which shows up in our own lives.
Lamentations 3:19–24 NIV
19 I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. 20 I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. 21 Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: 22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. 23 They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. 24 I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.”
The passage we are looking at today is about memory.  The writer of Lamentations draws a powerful reference here to his memories.  Let’s set some context to understand what the author is talking about.
first chapters are a sort of catalogue of Israel’s wrong-doing
Tradition holds that Lamentations is written by Jeremiah.  The lament is certainly written by someone living in Jerusalem during the days when the city was besieged by Babylon—as Jeremiah would have been.  In the first two-and-half chapters of the lament, the author offers the grief of Jerusalem in the face of the LORD’s judgment upon her.  Those first chapters are characterized by a sort of back-and-forth conversation.  There are sections where Jeremiah pronounces the judgment of the LORD upon the city of Jerusalem.  And there are sections where Jeremiah answers that judgment as if speaking collectively for all the people.  Those first chapters are a sort of catalogue of Israel’s wrong-doing.
Hebrew word “remember” is repeated three times in verses 19-20
And the passage we read today forms the central high-point of the entire lament.  Jeremiah concludes his recounting of God’s judgment by summarizing it in verses 19 and 20.  Twice in these two verses Jeremiah says that he remembers all these things.  In fact, in the Hebrew the word “remember” is repeated three times in those verses.  The author is calling attention to it.  This is important stuff. What triggers this sudden memory of God’s faithfulness. I think it is no coincidence that the verse right before—chapter 3:18—is the very first mention in Lamentations of YAHWEH by name. The moment when Jeremiah brings to mind the name of the LORD is the same moment when the LORD’s character of faithfulness comes flooding into his memory.
Israel is shaped by her memories — example: Passover
Israel is shaped by her memories.  The Passover feast for Israel was a yearly ritual that Israel used as a way to again remember who they were—that they were slaves, but God gave them freedom—that they had no homes, but God gave them a land.  The law of God given to Moses on Mount Sinai begins with the reminder: "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery." (Exodus 20:2, NIV)  Israel’s identity is built around remembering who they were and where they’ve been as a people.  And in this particular instance Jeremiah is painting a picture for us of Israel’s memories being etched with affliction.  Jerusalem is facing collapse to the Babylonian empire and now Israel is taking a mental account of everything that they’ve done wrong.  Jeremiah is calling to mind all the ways they’ve found themselves turned away from the LORD.  That’s what’s happening through the first two-and-a-half chapters of Lamentations.
And they can’t help but wonder: has God abandoned them?  As Jeremiah churns over the memories over and over it seems that Israel has to consider the possibility that God simply isn’t there anymore.  Why else would Jeremiah be so insistent on looking for hope unless Israel had thought all hope was gone?  They blew it.  They knew they had blown it.  And the memories of this past now continue to afflict them.
faithfulness requires memory
You and I can be somewhat familiar with these kinds of circumstances.  We’re shaped by our memories as well.  We know what it’s like to be stuck in the past at certain moments of our lives.
A young woman falls in love with the man of her dreams only to have the relationship turn sour and leave her brokenhearted.  Now she avoids entering another relationship because she is afflicted by her memories of the past.
A married couple desires to have children of their own; they lack the financial means to pursue fertility assistance or adoption; and they have been subjected to one miscarriage after another.  When the opportunity for a pregnancy turns out positive, they are afraid to get their hopes up.  They’ve been down this road before.  Their memories afflict them.
A man works hard at a career for forty years and is set to retire.  He intends to spend his days on the golf course and his weekends visiting grandchildren.  But instead he gets one bad report after another from his doctor about his failing health.  Each time he returns to the doctor’s office for more tests he remembers the bad news he got the time before.  His memories afflict him.
From failing health, to broken relationships, to shattered dreams; our world is full of examples where memories of things gone wrong in the past stay with us and won’t let us go.  And like the Israelites in Jerusalem during Jeremiah’s time, we face trials from time-to-time that leave us asking: Where is God?  Is God here?  Does he care?
verse 22 — “Because of his great love we are not consumed”
Jeremiah summarizes that thought in verses 19 and 20 that we read this morning.  But Jeremiah wastes no time in answering his own doubts and pointing Israel to the foundation of their belief.  He says in verse 22, “Because of his great love we are not consumed.”  It is the great love of the LORD that gives Jeremiah something to hold on to.  But what exactly is Jeremiah talking about?  What is he referring to when he points the Israelites towards the great love of God?
for the Israelites this word hesed is packed full of meaning
Well, as we’ve already seen, this section of Lamentations summarizes the first two-and-a-half chapters.  And the turn that takes place here in verse 22 is the central turning point of the entire book.  He uses the word “remember” three times in the verses just prior to this.  Jeremiah is setting up his readers.  Now he’s saying, “Don’t forget the great love of God!”  “Remember God’s great love!”  The Hebrew word that Jeremiah uses here for love is the word hesed.  For the Israelites this word hesed was packed full of meaning.  Even though our English Bibles translate it as “great love” or “kindness” or “mercy” the Israelites knew this word held a special designation for God.
Out of the 245 times that the word hesed appears in the Bible, the vast majority of those times are references to God.  This is a word that had special meaning about God.  It had to do with God’s loyalty; God’s faithfulness; God’s covenantal love—his promises.  When Jeremiah sets up his readers for something huge in the middle of this lament and then begins with the word hesed, he unleashes a new flood of memories into the minds of the Israelite people held up in Jerusalem.
memory of Exodus 34
In the midst of their remembering trouble and affliction, Jeremiah points them to the reality of God’s covenant promise.  As soon as Jeremiah says hesed the people would immediately call other passages of scripture to mind.  Perhaps most prominent among those other passages is the scene from Exodus where God shows his glory to Moses.  Maybe you remember the story where Moses comes off the mountain and his face is glowing so brightly that he has to wear a veil because of the radiance of God’s majesty.  What was it that Moses saw when God revealed his glory?  Or maybe a better question here is: what did Moses hear God say when his glory was revealed?  It happens in Exodus 34:6.  The people of Israel had worshiped a golden calf at the foot of Mount Sinai.  God had threatened to wipe them all out, but Moses begs God to relent.  So we have this scene where the Israelites have done something terribly wrong.  They deserve to be punished.  And God turns from destroying them, and instead he reveals himself to Moses.  That’s the setting where Moses hears God say these words,
Exodus 34:6 NIV
6 And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness,
Jeremiah is saying, “Don’t forget who our God is!”
This is the kind of story that Israel would call to mind when they heard Jeremiah say those words to them in Lamentations.  Jeremiah gives them something new to remember.  He gives them a memory even more powerful and formative to Israel than any type of circumstances that they may be facing.  Jeremiah is saying, “Don’t forget who our God is!”  “Don’t forget what he has done!”  “Don’t forget the promises he’s made!”  Israel knows that even when things look rough; their God will keep his promises.  God is still there for them.
faithfulness — collective repetition and buildup of the other spiritual fruits consistently over time
this is why Lamentations makes such a strong connection between God’s faithfulness and our memory
This is how faithfulness works as a spiritual fruit. It is interesting to me that faithfulness really just seems to be the collective repetition and buildup of the other spiritual fruits consistently over time. This is why Lamentations makes such a strong connection between God’s faithfulness and our memory. We are required to turn around and look back at God’s actions in the past in order to see his enduring faithfulness. The faithfulness of a good friend is not measured by good intentions or present action; faithfulness is measured by what that friend has consistently done in the past. It is the continual buildup of goodness, gentleness, patience, and so on which becomes the measurement of faithfulness. Faithfulness gives us confident assurance based upon past action. Faithfulness requires us to be people who mark and hold onto past memory.
God’s faithfulness opens a path for us to always return to him
God has remembered his covenant promise.  We see in Jesus the ultimate expression of God’s hesed—his faithful love.  In Christ we have been a gift worth cherishing in our memories.  When it seems like afflictions surround us and we don’t know where to turn to find God; we remember that Christ faced afflictions too, and he remembers—because it was for us that he faced those afflictions.  When it seems like God is absent and you feel like you’ve lost all sense of direction—you’re not sure where your life is heading; we remember that Christ knew exactly where he was heading—because it was for us that he came to earth and lived among us.  When past mistakes come back to haunt us and we feel like there is little we can do to escape the memory of their grasp; we remember that Christ has forgiven our past and made our future secure.
May we be people who bear the spiritual fruit of faithfulness, always remembering God’s great love for his people. And in so doing, may we always treat others with the same faithful love the Gods has shown to us in our lives.
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