In the 1950’s, a professor at Johns Hopkins University named Curt Richter conducted a series of experiments—and like many researchers he used rats as his test subjects. First, Richter took a dozen DOMESTICATED rats, put them into huge jars of water—and basically watched them drown. I know this sounds cruel—but he was trying to discover how long it would take—how long the furry—but friendly—vermin would swim before they gave up. And they did fairly well. Some swam for days before they gave up and sank to the bottom.
For the next part of his rat research, Richter took WILD RATS—taken straight from the sewers of Baltimore. One by one he dropped each furry but fierce rodent into the water-filled jars—and unlike their tame predecessors—they died very quickly—within minutes. Richter wondered why.
I mean, these sewer rats were supposedly renowned for their swimming ability. He theorized that the answer was a lack of hope. He thought that perhaps the domesticated rats had learned to expect to be cared for—which fostered hope of rescue in their tiny brains. Perhaps this kept them going when the wild ones—who had never experienced that kind of care—gave up.
He wrote, “The situation of these rats scarcely seems one demanding fight or flight—it is rather one of hopelessness. These wild rats are in a situation against which they have no defense and no escape. They seem literally to ‘give up.’”
Well, Richter decided to test his hypothesis. He took more wild rats—one at a time—and put them in one of the jars. But, just before the rat was about to drown, he picked it up, held it a little while, and then put it back in the water. Well, this small interlude made a huge difference. This time each of the wild rats swam much longer. He decided that this proved his hypothesis. He said—when these wild rodents learned that they were not doomed, that the situation was not lost, that there might be a helping hand at the ready—that there was HOPE—they would keep going.
They would not give up, and they would not go under. At the conclusion of his experiment Richter wrote, “With the elimination of hopelessness, the rats do not die.”
Now—I’m not saying you and I are rats—but like these furry little sewer dwellers, in order to keep going in this fearful world—to keep our heads above the water when the storms of life are raging—we need hope. We need something to cling to. Let me put it this way, we need a reason to keep “swimming”—something or someone has to motivate us to keep going.
This week I read a report from National Geographic magazine that says:
- Humans can survive for just 2 to 3 minutes without air.
- Humans can survive for up to 7 days without water.
- Humans can survive for about 45 days without food.
But studies like Richter’s point to the fact that we all go down very quickly without HOPE.
As someone once put it, “Hope is the oxygen of the soul.” Hope is what we cling to when hurricanes come ashore destroying everything in their path or when doctors give us fearful diagnoses. Hope is what keeps us going when a friend of family member dies—and when job layoffs come our way.
Well, as Christians, of course the Source of our hope is God. Our faith in God’s faithfulness is an anchor we can cling to. We know that God will ALWAYS come to our aid—like the old hymn puts it,
“From sinking sand He lifted me. With tender hand He lifted me! From shades of night to plains of light, Oh praise His name He lifted me.”
I mean, we’ve all experienced the “lifting hands of God.” This is what inspired King David to write: “The Lord is trustworthy in all He promises and faithful in all He does. The Lord upholds all who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down.” (Psalm 145)
Well, Jeremiah, the “weeping prophet”— Jeremiah learned this principle. He had been through horrible trials. I imagine his life felt like the experience of those last set of rats. Time and time again things got so bad he felt like he was going under, and time and time again God lifted him up and gave him hope.
Take your Bibles and turn to Lamentations 3:19-23. If able let’s all stand in respect as the Word of God is read.
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.
These verses tell us that Jeremiah had learned that in the uncertainty of this world, God IS certain. Jeremiah clung to the fact that God does not change. He is faithful—and always so. He proclaims the fact that we can trust God completely—because God is always completely faithful.
Today is the last Sunday in our eight-week study of God’s attributes—and as you can see in the bulletin—we are looking at His FAITHFULNESS. Now—to go a little deeper—what do we mean when we say He is faithful? I imaging these synonyms are going through your minds: “steadfast, loyal, dependable, trustworthy, constant.” Those are great words to help us understand this aspect of God’s character. And—if I were to summarize them into a sentence I’d say that basically, when we say God is faithful, we are saying that He can be counted on 100% of the time. I like how Ingram puts it. He says, “God will never let you down. He may not do what you want Him to do exactly when you want Him to or even how you want Him to. He may not orchestrate it in a way that you can understand it now or perhaps ever. But He will NEVER let you down.”
Amen Chip! God won’t let us down because God’s very ESSENCE is faithfulness. I mean, faithfulness is not some minor or secondary part of God’s character that we can chose to ignore—because if God wasn’t faithful, He wouldn’t be God. In the same way that we say God is LOVE—we can say God is FAITHFUL.
The late Bill Bright, President of Campus Crusade for Christ once compared the attributes of God to an AUTOMOBILE ENGINE. An engine is of course made up of pistons, fan belts, water pumps, and thousands of moving parts that all whirl around within a small space, making power for us to drive our car. These various parts all work together harmoniously as components of the engine. Well, that’s the way God’s attributes function. Each attribute is a NECESSARY part of God. For example: If you were to take away LOVE, God’s character would be incomplete. God’s love works with all the other attributes, like justice, to produce the right kind of results. A. W. Tozer puts it this way, “All of God’s acts are consistent with all of His attributes. No attribute contradicts any other—but all harmonize and blend into each other in the infinite abyss of the Godhead.”
So, each of God’s attributes are an essential part of Who He is. With this word picture in mind, we could compare God’s faithfulness to THE OIL in the engine that keeps each of the internal parts running smoothly—because God’s faithfulness is what allows each attribute in His character to work at full capacity at all times. For example: Last Sunday Peggy taught us about God’s love. Well, when does God’s love fail? Never, because He is faithful. He will ALWAYS love us. A few weeks back Kevin taught us that God is Holy. Well is God ever less than holy?
No, because His character is pure and He is always faithful to Who He is and to what He says.
I could go on and on citing example after example as to how God’s faithfulness affects each of His attributes. I won’t do that for lack of time but I hope you see that God’s faithfulness is not something to take lightly—it is foundational to His nature. He is knowable, holy, the Creator, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, just, sovereign, and loving precisely BECAUSE He is faithful to His own character. I mean, His faithfulness shines through all His other attributes so you can’t leave it out.
You could say that God’s faithfulness is seen in the fact that in everything He says and does, GOD IS TRUE TO HIMSELF. Now, think about that for a moment. When we say that someone is true to himself or herself we usually mean to pay that person a compliment. We’re saying they are individuals of integrity, but there’s a problem when it comes to using this phrase to describe a human like you or me. You see, most DESPOTS are true to themselves. So are predators, swindlers, and sexual deviants. And—before you point the “aha” finger of blame at those people of “authentic” character, examine yourself. You see, most of our sinful acts come from our being true to our self—our sinful self! Don’t they? Every day we are true to our fallen nature as we show in word and deed that we are sinners. Well, as Buchanan puts it, “The good news is God is DIFFERENT from you or me. God is faithful to Himself—He is true to Himself—and the Self God is true to is true!”
So, as I said, God’s faithfulness is not something to take lightly. To ignore it is to misunderstand God completely. I think this is why the Bible repeatedly affirms this attribute of God. Let’s take a quick sampling of verses and you’ll see what I mean.
- Way back in Exodus 34:6 God described Himself to Moses saying, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, is slow to anger, abounding in love and FAITHFULNESS.”
- Deuteronomy 32:4 says of God, “He is the rock, His works are perfect, and all His ways are just. A FAITHFUL God Who does no wrong, upright and just is He.”
- Psalm 25:10 says “All the ways of the Lord are loving and FAITHFUL…”
- Psalm 36:5 says, “Your love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens, Your FAITHFULNESS to the skies.”
- 1st Corinthians 1:9 says, “God, Who has called you into fellowship with His Son Jesus Christ our Lord is FAITHFUL.”
- And then Deuteronomy 7:9 says, “Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; He is the FAITHFUL God—keeping His covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love Him and keep His commands.”
And—please note: this verse from Deuteronomy spotlights one PROOF of God’s great faithfulness. Did you catch it? This verse reminds us that God keeps His promises. He keeps His covenants. In fact, as Joshua 21:45 says, “Not one of all the Lord’s good promises to the house of Israel failed; every one was fulfilled.”
And, the Biblical record shows us that God has indeed always done what He said He would do.
Adam, Eve, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, Mary, Joseph, Peter, Paul, the disciples—each of these people would testify that God has been absolutely faithful in keeping His promises.
Here’s something else. God’s written Word doesn’t just SAY that He is faithful—It tells us SPECIFICALLY HOW He is faithful. Before we share communion, let’s review a few of those ways—examples of God’s faithfulness to you and me.
(1) First, the Bible says that God is faithful to help us resist TEMPTATION.
1st Corinthians 10:13, says, “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is FAITHFUL; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”
Now, we’re all tempted every day—millions of times over the course of our lives we’ll be tempted to do something contrary to God’s will. And this text tells us that one hundred percent of those times, you and I can overcome temptation—not because we’re strong—but because GOD IS FAITHFUL. He will always provide a way of escape
Here’s something else the Bible tells us.
(2) It says that God is faithful to us—even when we are UNFAITHFUL to Him.
2nd Timothy 2:13 says, “If we are faithless, He will remain faithful, for He cannot disown Himself.” This verse promises that, as I said earlier, God’s steadfast love for us will never stop—even if we reject it. And the history of the church shows this—God has been faithful to scoundrels, to murderers, to adulterers. I mean, no matter what we do, God remains FOR us.
My favorite seminary professor was Dr. Clyde Francisco. I was fortunate enough to have him for both semesters of Old Testament Survey. I feel like Bill were in his class together—and I’m sure he’d agree that he was an excellent teacher—a very Godly man. I remember the day we came to Proverbs 22:6 which you may remember says, “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” When we came to this verse Dr. Francisco told us about his son, Don. At that time Don Francisco was a very popular Contemporary Christian musician. He had written several “top ten” Christian songs—almost always in the form of ballads—stories. He has kind of a “Johnny Cash” style—of voice.
If I had time, I’d sing a few and I’m sure you’d remember them. Well earlier in his life, Don, had rebelled against God and his parents’ teaching and had fallen into a life of drug and alcohol abuse. After years of “living in the Far Country,” Don finally responded to the persistent loving guidance of his father and others who constantly prayed for him and urged him to repent. With God’s help he left his addictions and began his music ministry—a ministry that God richly blessed. Dr. Francisco told us this story—and he teared up as he said, “God is faithful. He was faithful to my son, even when Don was not faithful to Him. I want all you young ministers to hear this. As a father I have found that just as God promises in His word…train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.”
A few weeks later Don Francisco did a concert on campus and I still remember, Dr. Francisco hobbling down the aisle toward his front row seat—with a special smile of thanksgiving and pride on his face. This father had learned that God is faithful—He knew that God’s faithfulness doesn’t stop when ours does! This leads to a fourth way that the Bible says God displays His faithfulness.
(3) God is faithful to shape us into Jesus’ IMAGE.
Now, it’s easy to see God’s faithfulness in the good He brings us—our homes, food, cars, children. But, as we’ve learned in this series, His faithfulness extends to the point of even using the bad in life for our good. Romans 8:28 promises that, “…in ALL THINGS God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to His purpose.”
And then it goes on to specify that purpose—the good He’s working for us. In verse 29 it says,
“For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son, that He might be the Firstborn among many brothers.”
This text tells us that God is faithful to use every circumstance of life—good and bad—to shape us to being more and more like Jesus. In the same way that Michelangelo removed all the stone that encased the “David” by chipping away all the marble which surrounded that striking form—God is in the process of hammering the chisel of blows against the stone of our human nature. The “hammer” He uses is often DIFFICULTY and the “chisel’ is TRIAL. God uses temporary pain for our eternal gain—making us more and more like Jesus. He does this because as our Creator He sees in each of us that which is beautiful, much as Michelangelo saw David in that rough piece of marble. 1st Thessalonians 5:23-24 talks about this principle when it says, “May God Himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul, and body be kept blameless at the coming of your Lord Jesus Christ. The One Who calls you is FAITHFUL and He will do it.”
In our text for this morning from Lamentations we can see that the prophet Jeremiah understood this aspect of God’s great faithfulness. In spite of his affliction—in spite of the bitterness of his life experience—Jeremiah clung to God’s unchanging love—His compassions that never fail.
This was the “default” setting for Jeremiah’s mind—when trials came He instantly credited it to God lovingly working for His good. Like St. Augustine, Jeremiah learned to, “trust the past to God’s mercy, the present to God’s love and the future to God’s providence.”
Here’s one more way we experience this attribute of God.
(4) He is always faithful to FORGIVE our sin.
1st John 1:9 says that if we confess our sins God, “…is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
The Bible tells us that God never tires of extending forgiveness to us. He is always faithful to forgive. I mean, God doesn’t give up on us when we fail.
Max Lucado tells the story of being dropped by his insurance company because he had one too many speeding tickets and a minor fender bender that wasn’t his fault. He received a letter in the mail, informing him to seek coverage elsewhere. As he reflected on how he wasn’t good enough for his insurance company he saw the spiritual tie-in. He writes, “Many people fear receiving such a letter [from God]. Some worry they already have.” Lucado then imagines this correspondence, straight from “The Pearly Gates Underwriting Division:”
“Dear Mr. Smith,
I’m writing in response to this morning’s request for forgiveness. I’m sorry to inform you that you have reached your quota of sins. Our records show that, since employing our services, you have erred seven times in the area of greed—and your prayer life is substandard when compared to others of like age and circumstance. Further review reveals that your understanding of doctrine is in the lower 20 percentile and you have excessive tendencies to gossip. Because of your sins you are a high-risk candidate for Heaven. You must understand that grace has its limits. Jesus sends His regrets and kindest regards and hopes that you will find some other form of coverage.
Angel in charge of Fire Insurance
We’ll never get a letter like that—for as Jeremiah puts it, “God’s compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.” By the way, the English word for “new” in this verse is the Hebrew word “hadas.” It would be translated, “never before experienced.”
So, God is using Jeremiah to remind us that His mercies—His compassions—His blessings—are always literally NEW. I mean, today’s mercy is different from yesterday or the day before or the day before the day before. Mark Batterson writes, “Just as the seasonal flu vaccine changes from year to year, God’s mercy changes from day to day. It’s a new strain of mercy. Why? Because you didn’t sin today the way you did yesterday!”
Try this little exercise: Figure out how old you are—not in years but in days. For example, today I am 23,428 days old. That’s the sum total of different kinds of “new every morning” mercy I’ve received in life—to-date. I’m sure it’s more than that—because I sin more than once a day. But sticking with the daily model, the time you’re twenty-one, you’ve experienced 7,665 unique mercies. When you hit midlife, it numbers 14,600. And by the time you are 65, God has mercied you at least 23,725 times. God is always faithful to forgive!
As we come to the table, let me remind you that whenever we share this meal, we celebrate this aspect of God’s character. You see, the coming of Jesus was not some last minute plan of God to save the human race. No—this was the plan all along. In the Garden of Eden immediately after sin entered the world, God promised that Satan’s power would be broken by Someone Who would be virgin born, “the seed of a woman.” Then over and over the Bible records the fact that down through the millennia God repeated His promise to send a Redeemer/Messiah. Through His prophets—prophets like Daniel—He told where the Child would be born…what He would do…how He would die for our sins—and even that He would rise, conquering death on our behalf. So, one of the main truths communion was intended to convey is that God is completely faithful. It shows us that God SAYS what He means and MEANS what He says and therefore DOES everything He says He will do. Communion proclaims the fact that, as Paul puts it in 2nd Corinthians 1:20: “Jesus is the ‘YES’ to every promise of God.” These elements remind us that from the beginning of time God has been faithfully working out His plan to RESCUE us from sin.
If you are our guest this morning and are a Christian we invite you to join us at this table. Even if you are not a member of this church, if you are His, this is yours.
THE ORDINANCE OF COMMUNION
This morning as we sing our closing song I would like us all to make it into a song of praise to God—praise for His great faithfulness to us as individuals and as a church. You may even want to come to the altar offering a prayer of thankfulness to God for His faithfulness to you. And if you’re here and you aren’t a Christian then I would ask, “Would you like a relationship that you could cling to—one that can give you strength and hope-no matter what?” Then decide today to accept Jesus as your Savior and Lord. God has promised that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. Claim that promise today. God may be leading you to join our church….but come now as He leads.