The faithfulness that matters

“In ministry, what matters is faithfulness, rather than results.”

If you’re involved in any kind of gospel ministry, you’ve probably heard this kind of sentiment expressed by others; perhaps you’ve even uttered it yourself. I actually agree with the statement wholeheartedly. However, I think it’s very important to clarify exactly what we mean by ‘faithfulness’. What or whom are we supposed to be faithful to?

You see, it’s possible to think of ‘faithfulness’ principally in terms of ministry structures. In this understanding, a ‘faithful’ minister is somebody who faithfully reproduces whatever particular pattern of ministry he learned in his youth. ‘Faithfulness’, in that case, means avoiding new-fangled ministry techniques, doggedly sticking to familiar patterns (e.g. 25-minute 3-point expositional sermons every Sunday), and lamenting the good old days. In that case, the expression “what matters is faithfulness, rather than results” sounds a bit lame. In fact, it sounds suspiciously like an excuse for avoiding hard questions about why hardly anyone is listening to what you have to say.

But that’s not what the Bible means by ‘faithfulness’ at all. Here’s a selection of passages from the New Testament that talk about faithfulness in ministry:

  • The ‘faithful’ servant is somebody who manages well and exercises godly, other-person-centred leadership. He takes seriously his responsibility as a servant entrusted with the welfare of others. He does not live for self-gratification (Matt 24:45-51 / Luke 12:42-46).
  • The ‘good and faithful servant’ is somebody who does something with the knowledge of God which has been given him; taking active steps to ensure that this knowledge bears fruit and grows (Matt 25:15-23 / Luke 19:12-17).1
  • The ‘faithful’ servant is somebody who doesn’t live for worldly wealth; instead, he actively uses worldly wealth to make friends in eternal dwellings (Luke 16:9-13).
  • The ‘faithful’ steward sticks with the seemingly weak and foolish message of the cross; he doesn’t change or tailor the message simply to win the approval of his congregation (1 Cor 4:1-5).
  • ‘Faithful’ ministers encourage people to hold fast to the apostolic teaching and way of life (1 Cor 4:17; Col 4:7, 9; Eph 6:21-22).
  • The ‘faithful’ minister communicates Christ to people (Col 1:7).
  • ‘Faithful’ teachers are committed to transmitting the message of Jesus Christ rightly from one generation to another. A key task for the ‘faithful’ teacher is to actively raise up future faithful teachers (2 Tim 2:2).
  • The ‘faithful’ hold on to Christ even in the face of persecution and death. They suffer, they struggle and if necessary they die for Jesus (Rev 2:10, 13).

Do you believe that faithfulness matters? If so, you might want to use the list to see how your faithfulness is going. And if, like me, you’re a bit discouraged when you compare yourself with the biblical ideal of faithfulness, remember the words of the apostle Paul:

I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, …
The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. (1 Tim 1:12, 15-16).


1 I’m assuming that the money in the parables represents knowledge of the kingdom of God. If you want to know why, compare Matt 25:29 with Matt 13:10-12; also compare Luke 19:26 with Luke 12:48.

5 thoughts on “The faithfulness that matters

  1. Pingback: The faithfulness that matters « Forget the Channel

  2. Hi Lionel, I am picking up on your second bullet point that the faithful servant takes steps to ensure that the knowledge of God grows and bears fruit.

    Do you think this image includes growth in numbers, i.e. of converts/believers/follows of Christ?

    The whole image of bearing fruit seems to imply multiplication of fruit, hence new plants, and likewise the monetary investments grow numerically.

    I know we shy away from fruitfulness = numbers for many reasons, including godly worries about bad comparisons and compromise to get numbers, etc.

    But I still tend quite strongly to this view, for example, because of Colossians 1:6

    All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God’s grace in all its truth. (NIV84)

    In this sentence, “bearing fruit and growing” must refer at least to people’s conversion, since the example given (“just as”) is when the Colossians understood the grace of the gospel Epaphras taught them. That is when the gospel began to bear fruit and grow among them.

    These two verbs are used elsewhere in the NT and sometimes they seem to refer to what we might call maturity, but other times they seem to refer to numerical growth. This seems clear for example in Acts 6:7

    And the word of God continued to increase [i.e. same verb as ‘”grow” in Col 1:6], and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem… (ESV)

    In this verse, God’s Word growing is immediately and clearly spelled out in terms of numerical growth, which is quite a theme for Luke at other places, sometimes even with specific numbers.

    What do you think?

  3. Hi Sandy, I agree that numerical / conversion growth has to be factored in to the idea of growth and fruit; but (as you also note) it has to be factored in very carefully.

    You picked up on my phrase, “bears fruit and grows,” and realised rightly that this phrase is an allusion to Col 1:6. I agree with you that conversion / numerical growth must be at least a part of the growth and fruit-bearing that Paul has in mind here. On the other hand, the growth that Paul is most explicitly interested in here is the spiritual growth of the Colossians themselves (Col 1:10), so I think it’s possible to make too much of this.

    I think an even stronger argument can be made from the passages I was explicitly referring to, especially Matt 25. That’s because of the implied connection between this passage about investing for the sake of growth (which occurs just before Jesus’ death) and the “great commission” of the risen Jesus in Matthew 28:18-20, where the command to make more disciples is clear. There is also probably some kind of connection (less obvious and direct) between Luke 12 and the Acts passages about growth that you mentioned.

    At the same time, we need to remember that a gospel minister never causes growth – God does (1 Cor 3:6-8). The minister’s faithfulness is not going to be judged directly, according to the results, but rather according to the work. The question for the worker is not whether there has been growth; the question is whether the worker has been working for the sake of growth: has the gospel worker been planting / investing (depending on the metaphor) in the right place?

    This is especially important to remember in our “instant” culture, which is often only interested in immediate results. We can’t necessarily judge the faithfulness of a gospel minister by whether there has been growth (numerical or otherwise) within a period of a few weeks, months or years. Sometimes the most important, growth-oriented, faithful gospel ministry takes decades or even centuries to bear fruit and grow.

  4. Hi mate, good on you for noting the connection of Col 1:6 to Col 1:10 – I had noticed it too, and then forgot about it as I looked more widely, but it is the only other verse where both verbs are used I think.

    You have reminded me of what I thought was a good article on a similar theme from Matt Perman over on What’s Best Next called Does God require Faithfulness or Fruitfulness? I think it is a good complement to your article.

  5. Thank Lionel .. A timely encouragement for me. Don Carson’s biography of his father has a very similar note of encouraging us to remain faithful to God and his gospel. Some good reflections on God’s word.

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