Flourishing in Faithfulness
3 John 1:1-5
July 22, 2001 | Brian Bill
Someone asked me a couple weeks ago if the jokes I hear about Wisconsin offend me. I told him that I ask for it by bringing up “God’s Country” so often in my sermons. That reminds me of the man who decided to write a book about churches from around the United States.
He started with a very large church in California when he noticed a golden telephone on the wall with a sign that read, “$10,000 a minute.” He tracked down the pastor and asked him about the phone. The pastor told him that it was a hotline to Heaven and if he pays the price he can talk directly to God. He thanked the pastor and continued on his way.
As he visited churches in Nevada, Texas, Florida, New York, Michigan and Minnesota, he found more fancy phones, with the same sign and the same explanation from each pastor. He finally crossed the “cheddar curtain,” arrived in Wisconsin, and walked into a church. He saw the usual golden telephone but this time the sign said, “Calls: 35 cents.”
This fascinated him and so he asked to talk to the pastor, “Reverend, I’ve been in cities all across the country and in each church I’ve found a golden telephone and have been told that it’s a direct line to Heaven. But, in all the other churches the cost was $10,000 a minute, and here the call is only 35 cents. What’s up with that?”
The pastor smiled and replied, “Son, you’re in Wisconsin…here it’s a local call.”
This morning we’re focusing on how we can call out to God in deep faith so that we will flourish in the fruit of faithfulness. As we come to the seventh fruit of the Spirit, let’s read Galatians 5:22-23 together: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control…”
If you want to go deep and long in your faith, let me recommend two books that have greatly impacted my understanding of what it means to be a faithful follower. Some of what you will hear this morning can be attributed to insights that I’ve gleaned from these outstanding authors:
Fresh Faith by Jim Cymbala (Zondervan, 1999)
If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat by John Ortberg (Zondervan, 2001)
Strictly speaking, the word in Galatians 5:22 is faith, which is one of the most common terms in the New Testament. It can be correctly translated as faithfulness because it has the idea of fidelity as well. The English word was originally linked to the thought of personal dependability and meant, “to fasten oneself to.” I like that image because it shows that we are to fasten ourselves to Christ before we can become reliable people.
The Greek word for faithfulness means a “firm persuasion, conviction and belief in the truth.” When the Hebrew words “faithful” or “faithfulness” describe God in the Old Testament, the focus is on firmness, steadiness, safety, and certainty. It’s the same root that gives us the word “amen.”
Number 12:7 tells us that Moses was faithful. Acts 6:5 describes Stephen as a man who was “full of faith and the Holy Spirit.” Psalm 36:5 describes God’s reliability: “Your love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies.” The faithful God overflows with faithfulness and His faithful people follow Him.
When Paul decided to send Timothy back to the church in Thessalonica, he didn’t want to know how many people they had, or if they had a building, or how much their offerings were. His primary concern was whether or not they were flourishing in their faithfulness. Let’s look at a few verses from 1 Thessalonians 3:
Verse 2: “We sent Timothy…to strengthen and encourage you in your faith.”
Verse 5: “…when I could stand it no longer, I sent to find out about your faith.”
Verse 6: “But Timothy has…brought good news of your faith and love.”
Verse 7: “…we were encouraged about you because of your faith.”
Verse 10: “Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith.”
When Jesus told the Roman centurion in Luke 7 that He would go to his house to heal his servant, this commander told Jesus to just say the word and his servant would be healed. When Jesus heard this tremendous expression of faith, verse 9 says, “…He was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following Him, He said, ‘I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.’” On the other hand, when Jesus went back to his hometown of Nazareth, He couldn’t do any miracles there because Mark 6:6 tells us, “He was amazed at their lack of faith.”
When Jesus looks at you this morning, is he amazed at your faith or is He astonished by your fickleness? I’ve asked myself this question all week: Is my faith flourishing or am I floundering in fear? Am I pulling the trigger of faith so that God’s power is released in my life and in this church, or am I just going through the motions? Paul’s words in Galatians 3:3 echo through my soul: “Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?”
One of the most vivid pictures of faith is found in the well-known story of Peter walking on the water. Please turn in your Bibles to Matthew 14:22-33. Let’s set the context. 5,000 men had walked nine miles around the northern edge of the Sea of Galilee just to be with Jesus.
If you count the women and children, it’s quite possible that over 15,000 people gathered around Jesus. Matthew 14:14 tells us that Jesus had compassion on them and healed those who were sick.
Because it was getting late, the disciples wanted Jesus to send the people away, but Jesus had other plans and fed everyone with only 5 barley loaves and two fish. Their growling stomachs had been replaced with grateful hearts. There was even enough food left over to fill 12 baskets. John 6:14 tells us that the people were very excited and said, “Surely this is the prophet who is to come into the world.” Verse 15 reveals that Jesus knew they wanted to stage a coup and make him king by force. They wanted a Messiah who would turn the nation of Israel into a world power.
The Faithfulness of Jesus
We see the faithfulness of Jesus demonstrated in four ways.
1. He sends.
Matthew 14:22: “Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while He dismissed the crowd.” Jesus took “immediate” action with his disciples and “made” them get into the boat. This word means to “compel by force.” The disciples didn’t want to leave this celebration. They didn’t want to miss out on what was about to happen. But Jesus knew that they would be influenced by all this flattery and so he got them out of there right away. Jesus recognizes that the people’s motives weren’t right and neither was their timing. He also knew that the disciples were not mature enough in their faith to handle all this attention.
2. He prays.
Verse 23 tells us that the next thing Jesus did was to pray. I think He prayed for two reasons. First of all, He was facing the same temptation He encountered with Satan in the wilderness when He was tempted to use His miraculous power to gain followers. He needed to “call” on His Father so that He could reestablish His mission and marching orders. Second, He also felt the need to pray for his disciples. Even after seeing and hearing so much, they still were in danger of missing the whole point. Hebrews 7:25 says that Jesus still prays for His followers today: “Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.”
3. He cares.
Verse 24 describes the boat being several miles from shore as it was buffeted by the wind and waves. The Greek word here literally means that they were “tormented” by the waves. The Sea of Galilee is 13 miles long and 7 miles wide and is usually pretty calm. However, because there are two mountain ranges to the north that together form a wind tunnel, sometimes the storms blow in with a tremendous velocity. The squall was so bad that the disciples, many of whom were professional sailors, were fighting for their lives. Here’s what it may have looked like. (I bet you didn’t know that one of the disciples looked like George Clooney!)
There are at least two kinds of storms that you and I face today.
- Storms of correction. Like Jonah, sometimes the storms of life are meant to get our attention.
- Storms of perfection. Like the disciples, God allows these types of storms to build our character and to cause us to deepen our dependence upon Him so that we can flourish in faithfulness.
When Jesus sends us into storms, we can be confident that He sees us and that He cares for us
I want you to notice in Mark 6:48 that Jesus “saw the disciples straining at the oars because the wind was against them.” When Jesus sends us into storms, we can be confident that He sees us and that He cares for us.
4. He Comes.
Jesus did not just send, pray and care from a distance, Matthew 14:25-27 tells us that Jesus came to the disciples. He didn’t just observe…He acted! Friends, while Jesus came to the disciples, He also waited for about nine hours! The fourth watch of the night began at 3:00 a.m. and the disciples got into the boat around 6:00 p.m. Here’s a principle to remember: THE LORD ALWAYS COMES TO US IN OUR DARKEST HOUR.
When the disciples saw Jesus walking on the lake, they freaked out. Imagine the scene. The waves are buffeting the boat, the wind is howling, the rain is stinging their eyes, and it’s dark. And they look up and see someone walking on top of the water! They think it’s a ghost and cry out in fear.
Early last Sunday morning, when I was preparing myself for worship, our two-year-old Megan started screaming in her crib. Being the good dad that I am, I waited to see if Beth would go and comfort her! Sure enough, Beth went into her bedroom, picked Megan up, and started singing to her. Megan eventually went back to sleep. When Beth came out she told me that Megan was screaming because she had woken up and saw Elmo in the corner of her crib and freaked out.
In the darkness of the room the shadows made her red buddy with the big eyes look menacing. She was paralyzed with fear. Beth said she was huddled up on the opposite side of the bed as she kept pointing at the monster on her mattress. It was like she had seen a ghost. That’s similar to how the disciples felt when they saw Jesus walking on the water. They should have known who He was but they were filled with fear.
Do you know what the most frequently repeated command in Scripture is? “Fear not.” God knows that fear is the number one reason we avoid doing what He asks us to do. Someone has counted up all the “fear not” verses in the Bible and came up with 366. That’s one for every day of the year, including one for leap year!
Have you ever wondered why Jesus was walking on the water at 3:00 a.m.? Why didn’t He just calm the storm like He did one other time? Why didn’t he just show up in the boat with them? Why the water-walking gig?
Listen carefully. Jesus was far more interested in displaying His deity than He was in just making life comfortable for His followers. He recognized that they would not fully understand Him until they were faced with some stormy waters. The same is often true for us. We see Him as He really is when we’re faced with fear and wiped out by the waves of pain and suffering. But, we have to look for Him in order to see Him.
He reveals who He is in three very powerful ways:
- By walking on the water. Moses, Joshua, Elijah and Elisha were involved with water miracles, but no human had ever walked on water before. When Jesus strolled on the sea, He’s showing that He is no mere man but God Himself. In Job 9:8 we read that only God can take a stroll on the sea: “He alone stretches out the heavens and treads on the waves of the sea.”
- By showing Himself. In Mark 6:48 we read, “He was about to pass by them.” This phrase “to pass by” is used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament to refer to a theophany, which are those defining moments when God shows up in a vivid and profound way to a select group of people by revealing His glory. He did it with Moses in Exodus 33:19: “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name in your presence.” Jesus wants them to see His glory.
- By revealing His name. This is striking and should have created a sense of awe and wonder among the disciples. While the waves are battering their boat and they’re huddled in fear, in Matthew 14:27 Jesus says, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” When Jesus said, “It is I,” His answer is literally, “I AM” and alludes back to God’s self-revelation in Exodus 3:14: “I AM WHO I AM.” Jesus knows that fear can fillet our faith and so He tells us to be courageous by remembering who He is. He is the great I AM.
The Faith of Peter
We come now to the most familiar part of this story as we focus on the faith of Peter. Let’s look at three faith-building things that Peter did:
1. He called out.
After being profoundly moved by this appearance of Jesus, Peter calls out in Matthew 14:28, “Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water.” Peter recognized that if this was really Jesus, then he wanted to be with him. Because Jesus is the great I AM, Peter wanted a clear command from Him. In order to grow in our faithfulness, this is the first place to start.
Peter was actually saying, “If you are really the Lord, if you are really my Lord, then let me join you where you are.” Joining Jesus in what He’s doing is an act of faith. As believers we should not be asking Jesus to get in the boat with us, but to join Him on the water. We’re not to just dream up something big and ask Jesus to bless it. Instead, we’re to see what Jesus is blessing and then “fasten ourselves together” with Him in it.
Ortberg writes, “This is not a story about risk-taking; it’s primarily a story about obedience. That means I have to discern between an authentic call from God and what may simply be a foolish impulse on my part.” Ask God to let you know what it is that He wants you to do. Call out to Him. Immerse yourself in the Word and claim His promises. Plead with Him to reveal His will to you.
2. He got out.
All Peter needed to hear was the word, “Come,” and he was out of the boat! Verse 29 tells us that he started to walk on the water and was coming toward Jesus. Can you imagine how this must have felt? It would be a big enough miracle to walk on calm water, but the waves were pounding at his feet! And yet, He walked on water. Do you feel that urge to experience something more than just sitting in the boat? It’s time to get out. If you want to walk on the water, then you’ve got to get out of the boat! Peter did just that.
When God tells us what it is that He wants us to do, it’s imperative that we do it! I’m sure Peter was afraid, but because of who Jesus is, and in obedience to His clear command, he leapt onto the lake! We must do the same. What is God asking you to do right now? Is He asking you to get out of the safety and security of your boat? While Peter was experiencing the joy and exhilaration of water walking, there were eleven guys who were controlled by their fear. In the battle between fear and faith, one got out while there were a bunch of boat potatoes who were immobilized by the monster of unbelief.
3. He cried out.
Poor Peter takes it on the chin by many preachers at this point. Instead of continuing to walk on water, he sees the wind and the waves and starts to sink. Before we get too tough on Peter, let’s remember that at least he got out of the boat! Verse 30 reveals that he started to go under because he took his eyes off Jesus and started focusing on the wind and the waves. Fear pushed out his faith. The only way that Peter was able to walk on the water was because of His faith in the faithfulness of Jesus. Once his faith faltered, he was down for the count.
We’re the same way, aren’t we? When we focus on Christ we can walk by faith but when we allow ourselves to lock into life’s storms, we begin to capsize. The wall builders did a similar thing in Nehemiah 4:10. They had started the rebuilding project full of faith and then they allowed their eyes to focus on the rubble. Once they saw all the junk and rocks lying around them, they lost heart and gave up. They became rubble-gazers instead of God-gazers.
Where are you looking this morning? There will always be waves and rocks. The real issue is whether or not we will put our faith in the faithful one who made the mountains and the water. Don’t allow the problems of life to get so big and frightening that you lose sight of how big and awesome Jesus is.
Response of Jesus
I love what happens next. While Peter took his eyes off Jesus and started to sink, he still knew who to call out to in verse 30: “Lord, save me!” At least he had the good sense to call for help when he needed it. Some of us wait way too long to ask for God’s help. Peter was not disqualified from a life of faithfulness just because he messed up. The same is true for us. Just because we allow our fears to paralyze us, we can always cry out and ask for a fresh start. Jesus responds in three ways.
1. He rescues.
Look at verse 31: “Immediately Jesus reached out His hand and caught him.” Jesus didn’t wait nine hours this time. As soon as Peter asked for help, he got it. And, even though he didn’t pass the water-walkers course, he knew the glory of walking in faith on the water and he knew the joy of being lifted up by Jesus in a moment of desperate need. When Peter couldn’t walk to Jesus, Jesus came to him
2. He rebukes.
Even though Jesus rescued Peter, He turned it into a teachable moment in the last part of verse 31: “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” Jesus is continuously asking that question of His followers today. Why did you doubt? Why don’t you trust me to do what I said I would do?
3. He restores.
Ortberg argues that because Peter was in a position to fail, he was also in a position to grow. I’m confident that he grew greatly in his faith as a result of this experience. It reminds me of the truth of 2 Timothy 2:13: “If we are faithless, He will remain faithful, for He cannot disown Himself.”
There are two results that took place when Jesus climbed into the boat. These two details are sometimes lost in the retelling of this water walking experience.
- The storm dies down. Verse 32 is really cool. As soon as Jesus climbs into the boat, He begins to restore peace to their lives. He’s banishing fear by His very presence. When Jesus climbs into our life circumstances we will always get the help we need.
- The disciples bow down. Think about all that the disciples experienced during this encounter with Jesus. They watched him feed over 15,000 people. They saw Jesus walk on water. They saw His glory when He passed by them. They heard Him boldly declare His oneness with God Almighty when He said, “I am who I am.” They saw Peter do something that was totally impossible. They watched as Jesus saved Peter. And they saw that the wind died down as soon as Jesus got in the boat. They responded the only way they knew how in verse 33: “Then those in the boat worshiped Him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.”
They were in the presence of God Himself and they broke out into worship. Can we do any less? Joe Stowell, the president of Moody Bible Institute, says that impression must always precede expression. We don’t worship just to express ourselves. We worship as a result of being impressed with the awesomeness of God. Our expression then must flow out of impression. The disciples were certainly impressed. As a result, they bowed down in worship.
We’re right back to where we started. This is what Jesus wanted to happen all along. He didn’t want them to just get giddy with excitement because the people wanted to make Him king. No, he sent them into the storm and gave them an opportunity to flourish in faithfulness, so that they would bow down in worship and grow in their faith. The way we live is a consequence of the size of our God. Tragically, many of us have a view of God that is way too small.
I believe that this is one of the ways Satan tries to trip us up. He wants us to keep God in a box, to view Him as small and irrelevant to our lives. Ephesians 6:16 challenges us to “Take up the shield of faith, with which we can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.” When a Roman soldier went out to battle, he wore some armor that regular arrows would bounce off of. Over time, the enemies learned to shoot arrows with a hollow shaft that was filled with flammable fluid. They would light the tip on fire and when the arrow hit the armor, the “lighter fluid” would trickle down into the seams of the armor and then explode, burning the soldier alive.
In order to combat these flaming arrows, a Roman soldier would carry a large shield that was big enough to cover his entire body. It was made of leather that had been soaked in water so that the fiery darts of the enemy would become stuck on the shield and burn out without any damage to the soldier.
We’re called to carry the shield of faith and to use it to extinguish the flaming arrows of the evil one. That’s our defensive weapon. We’re also called to do what Peter did as we call out, get out, and cry out. Not one person throughout all human history has ever depended upon God and found that God let him down. Never! Not once.
As we wrap up this morning, what are some steps that God wants you to take?
1. Call out.
Ask God to let you know what it is that He wants you to do. Spend the next week asking Him every day to reveal His will to you.
2. Get out.
What one fear is keeping you from getting out of the boat this morning? What is God asking you to do? Identify one step that you can take so that you get out of the boat a little every day. Ask yourself this question: What am I doing right now that I could not do without the power of God?
3. Cry out.
Are you slipping under the waves right now? Put up the shield of faith and don’t wait too long before you cry out to the Lord. He promises to hear when we reach out to Him.
4. Bow down.
When God calls, are you ready to answer? We don’t need a golden telephone because we already have a hotline to heaven. The real issue is that we don’t have to try to have more faith…we just need to get to know Jesus better. And, because He is faithful, the better you know Him, the more you’ll trust Him.