What would you tell them if a friend asked you to describe God? Many of us who consider ourselves “seasoned” Christians take our understanding of who God is for granted. Today is the first in a 4-part series entitled “Who Is This God of Ours?” which is designed to help us identify some of the important attributes of God so that we can talk with others about it.
Today’s focus is God’s FAITHFULNESS.
Scripture: Psalm 57:1-11
30 years ago this past September 9, Caroline and I stood before God, family, and friends, and promised to live together in holy marriage through sickness and health, and that “forsaking all others,” we would “be faithful to [the other] for as long as we both shall live.”
Marriage is a unique relationship. In fact, there’s no other relationship between two people that’s the same as marriage. And that’s because marriage is a covenantal relationship. The promises made in a marriage vow create a covenant between husband and wife.
The word “covenant” literally means ‘a binding agreement.’ It’s more than a promise, and it’s more than an agreement – although it’s both. It’s a binding agreement – an agreement that binds, or fastens, or secures two parties together. This was the point Jesus was making about marriage when he quoted from the Old Testament story of creation, saying, “a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one” (Genesis 2:24; Matthew 19:5). Later on, the Apostle Paul reinforces this truth about the covenantal nature of marriage when he also quotes that same passage from Genesis (cf. Ephesians 5:31). The point is, the relationship of husband and wife goes far beyond any other type of relationship-of-promise—including our modern understanding of engagement—in that the two parties are joined together as one. It’s a binding agreement that’s so solemn in God’s eyes that the only thing that can break it without lasting consequences is death.
As far as I can tell, God is the originator of covenant-making. No doubt, people have been making promises and entering into contracts with each other for as long as we’ve walked the face of the earth. But the notion of a contract that binds two parties together in such a manner that death is the only thing that can bring it to a legal end, was instituted by God.
It’s important to note that when it comes to the covenants initiated by God, even though it’s an agreement between two parties, the terms of the agreement are set down by God. There no negotiating when it comes to a covenantal relationship with God. God says, “Here are the terms,” and we either accept them or reject them.
There’s another important aspect of covenants that makes them “binding agreements.” Because these promises are from God, he is “bound” by his nature to keep his promises. When God makes a promise in the form of a covenant, on account of his nature he can never break it. So, a covenantal promise made on day 1 and fulfilled a million years later is as good as done on day 1 as it is a million years later. It’s fulfillment comes a million years after being made, but the moment it’s made it’s as good as done.
There are four major covenants found in the Old Testament. The first covenant mentioned is the one God made with Noah, which you can read about in Genesis 9. Even though it’s given TO Noah, it applies to all humanity and all other living creatures. In this covenant, God promises never again to destroy all life on earth by a flood, and gives the rainbow as a visible reminder of that promise.
The second covenant is the one God made with Abraham (Genesis 12-17). We’re introduced to Abraham in Genesis 12 where it begins, “The LORD said to Abram, “Leave your land, your family, and your father’s household for the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation and will bless you. I will make your name respected, and you will be a blessings. I will bless those who bless you, those who curse you I will curse; all the families of the earth will be blessed because of you” (vv. 1-3). So, the first part of the promise is that God will cause Abraham and Sarah’s descendants to become a “great nation” which will have the effect of blessing the whole world.
It’s important to note that this promise was made to Abraham and Sarah while they were still childless, and would remain childless for another 25 years or so.
Genesis 15 speaks to the second part of that covenant, which is the promise of land. Abraham’s family were nomads; they didn’t own land. But one day God tells Abraham to “look up and gaze to the north, south, east, and west, because all the land that you see I give you and your descendants forever” (Genesis 13:14-15). And then later on specifically identifies it as the land from the rive of Egypt to the Euphrates River, at that time known as the land of Canaan. In that land his descendants would eventually settle and call their own. This land later became known as the Promised Land,the land promised by God to Abraham.
The third covenant is the one God’s made with Moses, and it comes down to this: God promises to make the Israelites his treasured possession among all the people and nations of the world, to make them into a “holy nation,” but only if they follow God’s commandments and laws. In this binding agreement, God basically says, “If you follow me and do as I tell you to do, then I will be your God and you will be my holy people.”
There’s one more important covenant in the Old Testament I need to mention, and that’s the one God made with King David. In 2 Samuel 7, we read that God promised David that he would secure his dynasty and kingdom forever, and that “your throne will be established forever” (v. 16).
So, why do I tell you about the covenants God made with these four important Old Testament leaders? Because we can’t talk about the essence of God’s faithfulness without first identifying the substance of his faithfulness. To what is he faithful? His promises; he’s faithful to the promises he makes. And those promises are the substance of these covenants, these binding agreements.
King David understood the depth God’s faithfulness. When the prophet Nathan revealed God’s covenant to David, the king responded with a prayer. That prayer concludes this way: “You are God, O Sovereign Lord. Your words are truth, and you have promised these good things to your servant. And now, may it please you to bless the house of your servant, so that it may continue forever before you. For you have spoken, and when you grant a blessing to your servant, O Sovereign Lord, it is an eternal blessing!” (vv. 28-29). Your words are truth, or trustworthy. For you have spoken, and when you speak a blessing, it’s an eternal blessing. It’s a blessing without end. It’s doesn’t have an expiration date.
But even earlier in life, before he was king, he had reason to express trust in God’s faithfulness. After he’d established himself as a successful warrior leader he found himself being hunted down by the current king, who was threatened by his success. At some point David hides out in a cave, and tradition has it that he penned Psalm 57 based on that experience. In this psalm, he gives voice to his anxieties. He says, “My life is in the middle of a pack of lions. I lie down among those who devour humans. Their teeth are spears and arrows; their tongues are sharpened swords” (v. 4). I believe David was aware of the reality of the situation. He probably knew he could die at the hands of King Saul. But he also knew that should he die, it would not be a sign of God’s faithlessness to his promises or to his love for David. That’s why he was able to proclaim God’s love even while he was hiding for his life. He writes, “I will give thanks to you, my Lord, among all the peoples; I will make music to you among the nations because your faithful love is as high as heaven; your faithfulness reaches the clouds” (vv. 9-10).
Here’s how Moses put it when he was telling his people about God’s covenantal promise: “The Lord did not set his heart on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other nations, for you were the smallest of all nations! Rather, it was simply that the Lord loves you, and he was keeping the oath he had sworn to your ancestors (the oath he made to Abraham). That is why the Lord rescued you with such a strong hand from your slavery and from the oppressive hand of Pharaoh, king of Egypt. Understand, therefore, that the Lord your God is indeed God. He is the faithful God who keeps his covenant for a thousand generations and lavishes his unfailing love on those who love him and obey his commands” (Deuteronomy 7:7-9).
He is the faithful God who keeps his covenant for a thousand generations. Just to be clear, that doesn’t mean his covenant ends at the thousand-and-first generation. No, it’s a poetical way of saying that it’ll never end. I did a little bit of research about generations, and if we stick to the known family trees mentioned in Scripture, and without getting into a discussion about whether or not Adam and Eve were actual people, then you’d probably be surprise to learn that between Adam and today there have only been about 145 generations. If I did my math correctly, this means we have another 855 generations to go, or about 34,5000 years before we hit the 1000th generation mark. Think about that. We’re only at the year 2019, and the 1000th generation will roll around over 34,000 years from now! Can we agree that that is some serious faithfulness on God’s part!!
I don’t have time, nor is it the purpose of this message, to get into all the data about how the various Old Testament covenants have or haven’t been fulfilled to-date. But one promise in particular we Christians believe was fulfilled by Jesus Christ. God promised King David that his throne would be established forever. We believe Jesus fulfilled this promise in at least two ways. First, his lineage can be traced back to David. Both Matthew and Luke provide this family tree. Second, because we believe Jesus is the eternal Son of God who is alive today, his kingdom is eternal. In Jesus Christ, the Davidic dynasty is fulfilled.
But the fact is, there are other aspects of God’s promises that are yet to be fulfilled, and won’t be fulfilled until Christ’s return. In fact, and this is a significant point of this morning’s message, when Christ returns, every covenantal promise God’s ever made, and every non-covenantal promise God’s made, will be fulfilled. Think about that – every promise God’s every made to every person who’s received that promise will be fulfilled. And that’s because God has no problem fulfilling promises many generations after the initial promise is made. And that’s because God doesn’t view each of our lives as only one generation in length; your life and my life contain the “seed” of multiple generations henceforth. From God’s perspective, a promise made to you today can fulfilled through your “seed” 15 generations from now. At that point, then, fifteen generations from now, it could be said, “God was keeping the oath he made to your ancestors.”
What does this mean for us, today, right now? Well, I’ll tell you what it means for me. This idea that God’s promises will always be fulfilled, even if it’s generations from now, is a recent learning for me. And by recent, I mean this week. This happened to be one of the main points in this week’s lesson in the Prayers That Heal the Heart small group. The take-home was that because God is faithful to his promises, we can let go of the doubt we often experience when our personal current experience of life doesn’t necessarily line up with God’s promise.
Haven’t we all been there? Where we know God says A, but our experience is B? When that happens, what most of us do is we start to doubt A, God’s promise. We say, “Well the promise doesn’t line up with my experience, and since there’s no doubt about my experience, then it must be that A, God’s promise, isn’t so trustworthy. I haven’t seen any evidence of it.”
This is what happened to Abraham when 12 or so years passed after God told him he would have children, and he was still childless. He doubted the promise, and ended up taking matters into his own hands. But what is faith—literally, the definition of faith? Hebrews 11:1 says that faith is the reality of what we hope for, the proof of what we don’t see. Our faith – our belief – is the evidence we’re looking for. When we can believe the promise even if we don’t see the evidence of it, then that’s when we’re living by faith. And living by faith is what makes God smile. And, quite frankly, living by faith is a lot easier on us than having to have all the proofs of God’s promises. And yes, I believe living by faith is a matter of choice.
If there are any promises of God that you struggle with and find difficult to believe because you haven’t seen evidence of it, then I’d encourage you to consider doing this: whatever the promise is, verbally state out loud that you believe God’s promise. Period. You may not actually believe it right away, but my guess is that the more you declare it for the truth it is, the more God will honor it, and at some point God will drop the feeling into you to match the words.