Today I would like to reflect on faithfulness.
Faithfulness is a way of life, and it is the best way to live. There is something wonderful about faithfulness, that makes life more beautiful. A faithful person is loyal, committed and unwavering, even and especially when things get very difficult. Faithfulness brings about deep relationships and community. Faithfulness is enduring.
Faithfulness is the word used very often to describe God throughout the Bible. God is faithful to his people, even when they have turned against God and done wrong. God continually forgives, takes care of, comforts, and pursues his people. God is faithful.
Faithfulness grows out of love. Faithfulness is the steadfast living out of love through any circumstance. That is how people experienced God throughout the Bible. This is how we experience God too, when we look back on our lives with faith. Because of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness, we experience salvation.
Jesus was the ultimate example of faithfulness. Jesus was faithful to God and to loving others. When he got persecuted, rejected and abandoned; even when he was crucified, Jesus was faithful. Because of Jesus’ faithfulness, we are saved.
When we are surrounded by faithful people, we find comfort in it. We feel comfortable, assured and solid. Faithful people bring about trust. Faithful people bless those around them.
Faithful living is how we should live life. It’s the most beautiful way to live life.
In This World
But we know that life in this world often lacks this kind of faithfulness. Our own lives lack it. We live in a world driven not by faithfulness, but by seeking the greatest advantage in each situation. We are not constant in our commitment, but shift according to the circumstance. We often believe that those who get ahead in life are those who take advantage of each situation and take care of themselves first. Being faithful seems futile or naive.
Living in a faithless world affects us. It makes us more cynical. More jaded. When we see others looking only after their own interests, we too start thinking we should just take care of ourselves first.
Living in such a world affects our faith. God doesn’t seem present in this kind of world. Faith seems kind of naive and doesn’t make sense. We can’t see how God is faithful, when everyone else is unfaithful. When faithfulness is not present, there is cynicism and cold-heartedness.
This was the situation that Malachi was addressing. The fathers and grandfathers of his audience were those who had come back to Jerusalem and Judah to rebuild the Temple after living in exile in Babylon for 75 years. They came back with great hope and expectation of restoring the Temple and the former glory of Israel. But more than a generation had passed since that hopeful return, and the Temple wasn’t rebuilt. It still lay in shabby ruins. Not only that, Jerusalem and the land surrounding it remained but a small province of the mighty Persian empire. They didn’t have their own independence or autonomy, let alone any of their former glory. The generation that Malachi spoke to lived in a world in which they were small and insignificant. They were surrounded by a much larger world driven by power. They saw those with power using it for their own advantage. They lived in a world not of faithfulness, but one where everyone looked out after their own interests.
They knew about the God of their ancestors, but that God seemed distant and irrelevant to them. Malachi begins with God’s declaration of love, but they question it.
I have loved you, says the Lord. But you say, “How have you loved us?” (Malachi 1:2)
They were cynical when it came to God. This is what they said:
“It is vain to serve God. What do we profit by keeping his command or by going about as mourners before the Lord of hosts? Now we count the arrogant happy; evildoers not only prosper, but when they put God to the test they escape.” (Malachi 3:14-15)
In their jadedness, they had no passion for life, and they saw no point in things. When it came to worshipping God, they were half-hearted and faithless.
“What a weariness this is,” you say, and sniff at me, says the Lord of hosts. You bring what has been taken by violence or is lame or sick, and this you bring as your offering! Shall I accept that from your hand?” says the Lord. (Malachi 1:13)
Not only with God, but with other people too, they were faithless.
Have we not all one father? Has not one God created us? Why then are we faithless to one another, profaning the covenant of our ancestors? (Malachi 2:10-11)
They had become a faithless generation. This faithlessness affected their life together. It broke down their sense of community. It eroded warmth and goodwill for one another. It took away joy and passion for life.
The psalmist describes two kinds of life: one that is faithful, and one that is not. He describes the faithful life like this:
They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper. (Psalm 1:3)
Faithful people are like trees planted by streams of water. They are solid. They yield fruit. Their lives are prosperous. Not necessarily or only materially, but also in relationships, in community, in joy and fullness of life.
Faithful people have deep roots. They are deeply rooted in their relationships with others. They are deeply rooted in their communities. They are deeply rooted wherever they spend their time. They are trusted and trustworthy people who are reliable and dependable. They are there not only in good times, but especially when times are tough.
Faithful people have deep roots because they have cultivated those roots consistently and continuously over a long period of time. Over time, those roots have grown deep and strong. That large tree can no longer easily be shaken, even by mighty winds and storms.
The psalmist describes unfaithful people as chaff. They have no root, but are driven by the wind. If the wind blows one way, they go that way. If the wind blows another way, they go that other way. People who are not faithful cannot be relied upon, because you never know which way they will go from one moment to the next. You can’t trust them, because they are not consistent. People who are not faithful have no roots and are swayed by the circumstance or their feelings.
We don’t like people like that, and we don’t want to be this kind of person, but when we look around us, it’s hard not to be. Our whole modern world is centered around personal convenience. Everything is there for my own convenience and pleasure. It’s all about what I want and feel like at that moment. If I want to do something now, then I do it. If I don’t, then I don’t. If something becomes too difficult or unpleasant, or if we get hurt and disappointed, we can easily walk away. Our freedom has become the freedom to be flaky with our commitments and avoid difficulty. Convenience has become the enemy of faithfulness. The life centred on convenience is like chaff: it has no roots and blows wherever the wind does. Cultivating faithfulness in a world centred on convenience is so difficult.
The possibilities for faithful living seemed bleak in Malachi’s world. In fact, that bleakness would remain for a long time. Malachi is the last book of the Old Testament. He was the last of Israel’s prophets. After Malachi, it was like God went silent for about 400 years, until John the Baptist and then Jesus appeared on the scene. For 400 years, people would live in a world marked by faithlessness.
But in the midst of this bleak situation, Malachi spoke the words of today’s passage that remain with us today.
For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years. (Malachi 3:2-3)
Malachi is talking of a time when offerings to God will be presented in righteousness. Righteousness is another way of saying faithfulness. Abraham was regarded as righteous because of his faith in God and his faithfulness in trusting God. Jesus was the Righteous One because of his faithfulness to God. The present may have been a time of faithlessness, but there would be a time when people were faithful. For Malachi, God will be pleased when we become faithful people.
Malachi compares the process of becoming faithful to a refiner’s fire. There’s a story about a group of women who studied this very passage. Out of curiosity, one of the women decided to go to a silversmith to observe the refining process. She observed the silversmith holding the silver right in the middle of burning flames. He told her that the only way to purify silver was to hold it in the middle of the fire so that all the impurities are burned away. Remembering that it was God who did the refining in the verse, she asked the silversmith if it was important for him to stay there the entire time the silver was being refined, or if he could walk away and come back later. The silversmith told her that he not only had to stay there, he had to keep his eyes on the silver every second, because if it was left in the flames even a moment too long, it would be damaged. Intrigued, the woman asked how he knew the exact moment the silver was fully refined. The silversmith smiled knowingly and said “That’s easy. I know it’s refined when I see my image reflected in it.”
Advent means the beginning of an event or the coming of a person. It is the time we wait for God to come in Christ.
According to Malachi, when God comes to us, God will refine us into faithful people. God desires faithful hearts and lives – not only for God’s sake, but for ours. God knows that living faithfully is the best way to live life, and God desires what is best for us. The path to it is not easy. We are put to the fire in order to melt away the impurities that dilute our faithfulness. Our hurts, disappointments, fears, self-centredness, laziness, distractedness, our jadedness and cynicism. God melts all of these things away in the thickest fire. That is scary and daunting. That is why Malachi asks who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? But just like the silversmith, God watches over us and makes sure that we will not be damaged. Like the silversmith, God carefully and tenderly refines us to be pure and reflect God’s image God’s faithfulness. After going through the fire, we come out purified, ready to live faithful lives. To meet God is to be transformed into a faithful people.
My friends, the spiritual journey is the journey toward faithfulness. The way of faithfulness is the way of life. It is the best and most fruitful life. Be faithful in all that you do. In your relationships with your family, be faithful. With your friends, be faithful. Don’t be flaky. In your work, be faithful to the work and people you work with. You may not always enjoy it. There may come a season when change is due, but while you are there, be as faithful as you can be. In our worship, let us be faithful. Let us not come with casual attitudes and just give what’s left over. Let us give everything we have to God in our worship. Wherever you are, whatever you do, be faithful people. God will help you. Your faithfulness will be pleasing to God, and God will make your life flourish and prosper.