Friday, September 16, 2016

Luke 16:1-13 Faithful or Fruitful?

KEY TEXT: Luke 16:10-13 "One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another's, who will give you that which is your own? No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money."

KEY THOT: The word “faithful” is used 4 times in this short passage of 4 verses. It is a key concept, and yet it is one of the most misunderstood words in the Bible. The proverbial misunderstanding of the word "faithful" is the missionary who laboured in the mission field for years without any fruit and be assured that God rewards faithfulness, not fruitfulness. But if we understand the true implication of faithfulness, we will see that it must produce results. So in many of Jesus’ parables about stewardship, the steward (manager) is often commended for their faithfulness because they were fruitful. Like the servants with 5, 2 and 1 talents (Mt (25:13-30), it was the first two servants who multiplied the talents that received the commendation for being “good and faithful servant” (Mt 25:21, 23). However, the servant who hid his master’s money in the ground for “safe-keeping” was condemned for not being faithful because he produced no result from his “investment” in his ground-breaking venture of trying to grow money from the soil. 

In fact, the adjective “faithful” in Greek (pistos) has an active and passive meaning: the active is being trusting (or believing) and the other is being trustworthy (reliable). However, the noun of this word is pistis (faith). We may therefore conclude that in order to be faithful we must be faith-full (full of faith). Slogging on and on without result is not a indicator of fullness of faith but rather the lack of it. We are slogging on not because we are trusting God’s power to work on our behalf, but we are trusting in our own power and resource to do God’s work. If we have been trusting in God’s power (full of faith), we will see results and fruitfulness because it is the works of God, not man. That is the ultimate test of faithfulness in the Bible. In Galatians 5:22, pistis is the fruit of the Spirit. Except in KJV which translate pistis as "faith”, almost all modern versions translate pistis as “faithfulness”. 

Yet the same word pistis is invariably translated as "faith" elsewhere in the NT even by modern translations. It's strange that in this one occurrence in Galatians 5:22 it is translated as "faithfulness". Perhaps, it's the consequence of our misunderstanding of faithfulness as keep on keeping on when there is no result. Someone has defined insanity as "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result."

Be that as it may, we cannot separate faith from faithfulness because it is the same word. We need faith to be faithful. If we have faith, we trust God and God himself will produce much fruit on our behalf because it is His works and only His works glorify Him--not ours.

We should stop pitting faithfulness against fruitfulness by excusing our lack of fruit by insisting we are faithful. Faithfulness and fruitfulness are not contradictory but complementary. When speaking of faithfulness in today's lectionary text, Jesus implies that those who are faithful are fruitful. He says in verse 10 that if we are "faithful in very little" (achieving smaller results when we are entrusted with less), we shall be "faithful with much" (achieving bigger results when we are entrusted with more). Furthermore, if we are faithful in handling “unrighteous wealth” (investing money wisely), then we will be entrusted with “true riches” (inheriting God's eternal kingdom). Finally, if we are faithful as stewards (“that which is another’s”), then one day God will make us owners (“give you that which is your own”). 

Faithfulness is really about whom we are serving: God or Money. And we cannot serve both masters: “for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (v.13). The basic reason for lack of fruitfulness is often not that we are serving God, but rather we are serving money (saving money takes priority over saving souls) or even serving our institution or organization rather than God -- but in the name of God. It’s impossible to serve God, trust his promises and then produce no result. That’s not biblical faithfulness—it is more like biblical foolishness.

Father, we thank You that You are not a Sponsor of failing enterprises. When You call us to a task, You also empower us to ensure its success. Amen.

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