by Steve Wallace
Synopsis: While goodness and faithfulness are both important, Steve affirms that faithfulness calls for a greater commitment than does goodness.
Solomon wrote, "Most men will proclaim each his own goodness, but who can find a faithful man?" (Prov. 20:6). "Goodness" has various shades of meaning. It is rendered "kindness" in Proverbs 19:22. This trait makes a person likable. According to our proverb, "most men will proclaim each his own goodness." Solomon does not dispute this. God's people of both Testaments are called upon to maintain good works (Lev. 19:1-37; Titus 3:8). Yet, the section of this proverb we focus upon follows the adversative "but." Something else must be considered.
Focusing upon the second half of our proverb, the key word is "find." It goes beyond what people might say about themselves to what we discover them to be. Our proverb states that it is easy to find people who will proclaim their own goodness, but it implies that faithfulness in a person, whether to God or man, is something harder to find.
Let us pause for a moment to get a better understanding of a faithful man.
A faithful man will not lie (Prov. 14:5). Although lying can make for an easier path in many situations, a faithful man will not engage in it.
A faithful man will be faithful in matters of lesser importance. The two servants who multiplied their talents were told by their master, "Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things" (Matt. 25:21, 23). Jesus said, "He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much…" (Luke 16:10).
A faithful man will teach others what he has learned from God's word (2 Tim. 2:2). Only the gospel is God's power to save (Rom. 1:16; Mark 16:15). It must be taught faithfully for the lost and erring to believe and obey it. Therefore, it must be taught as it was delivered to the apostles and prophets by the Spirit (Eph. 3:3-5; 1 Cor. 11:23; 15:3; Gal. 1:1, 11-12).
A faithful man will obey God (Luke 19:13-16). Hypocrites take the easy path of pretending obedience but practicing disobedience. After all, disobedience may be concealed until the final day. Concerning his responsibilities before God, Paul wrote, "Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts…" (1 Cor. 4:5). Peter and John's faithfulness is clearly seen in their words to the Jewish leaders: "We ought to obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29). Faithful men will obey God even when it is difficult or unpopular to do so.
The words of our proverb imply that faithfulness calls for a greater commitment than mere goodness. With these things in mind, let us look at some relevant examples.
In Matthew 7:21-23, Jesus made a clear difference between the one who says, "Lord, Lord" and he "who does the will of My Father in heaven" (v. 21). Many will proclaim their own goodness in the last day (v. 22). Instead of recognizing them as faithful, Jesus says they practiced lawlessness (v. 23). He did not deny their good works. The problem was one of intent—they were not faithful to His word and did not do the will of the Father.
Consider Paul's account of his confrontation with Peter:
Now when Peter had come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed; for before certain men came from James, he would eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing those who were of the circumcision. And the rest of the Jews also played the hypocrite with him, so that even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter before them all, "If you, being a Jew, live in the manner of Gentiles and not as the Jews, why do you compel Gentiles to live as Jews?" (Gal. 2:11-14, NKJV)
Many good people are pictured in this passage, including Barnabas, who was "a good man" (Acts 11:24). However, there was only one faithful man in the matter addressed in the passage (vv. 11, 14)! We do not help good men who go astray by going along with them or remaining silent. Faithfulness, in God's and man's sight, is seen in helping such a one to understand his error.
Consider Paul's praise for Onesiphorus who proved to be a true friend:
This you know, that all those in Asia have turned away from me, among whom are Phygellus and Hermogenes. The Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chain; but when he arrived in Rome, he sought me out very zealously and found me. The Lord grant to him that he may find mercy from the Lord in that Day—and you know very well how many ways he ministered to me at Ephesus (2 Tim. 1:15-18).
In verse 15, Paul is not saying that all those in Asia had turned away from the Lord; rather, they had turned away from him. He later reported, "At my first defense no one stood with me, but all forsook me. May it not be charged against them" (2 Tim. 4:16). Perhaps Paul had written to some of them, requesting their presence. Let us remember that Ephesus was in Asia. Recalling the tears that were shed when Paul took his leave from the Ephesian elders (Acts 20:36-38), it is hard to believe such things as he describes above could happen! Whatever the case, there might have been many good men included among those whom Paul mentions in verse 15, but there was only one in this passage who was faithful to him as a friend and brother.
Goodness and faithfulness are both desirable traits. However, faithfulness calls for a greater commitment than does goodness.
Faithfulness controls conduct. Paul was undaunted by the fact that the rest of the brethren at Antioch sided with Peter in his hypocrisy. Onesiphorus was not controlled by the opinions of others. When we are faithful to God and man, true goodness will naturally result.
In marriage, a faithful mate is preferable to a good mate. Christians sometimes marry non-Christians. In some cases, I have heard it said, "He's a good man, but he's just not a Christian." Some such marriages end with the husband leaving his wife. Too often, a mate is good to his spouse only as long as he wants to be. Remember Jesus' teaching in Matthew 19:4-6. Young people, listen carefully to the words of the one with whom you are starting to get serious. If that person lies to someone, recognize the very real danger that he/she may lie to you—regarding their wedding vows! Look for faithfulness first.
Faithfulness makes a good life. Many people want to live well—enjoying physical health, long life, good relationships, adequate possessions, etc. Jesus said, "But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you" (Matt. 6:33). As the context shows, "these things" refer to the physical necessities of this world (vv. 25-32). Faithfulness is seeking first God's kingdom and righteousness. It gives hope and makes life worthwhile, no matter what our fortunes on this earth may be (Matt. 25:21).
Those in error need faithful men to withstand and correct them (Gal. 2:11-14). They do not need the many who proclaim their goodness. They need faithful brethren who will snatch them out of the fire (Jude 23).
Faithfulness in a person is seen—in marriage, as parents, in the local church, at work, etc. As we noted above, Solomon wrote, "Who can find a faithful man?" By their works you shall know them.
Faithfulness is a personal responsibility which generally calls for Christians to be different from those around them. It may call for a Christian to be different from other Christians. Faithfulness to God and man is the key to being a light in the church and in this world.
Author Bio: Steve has worked with the church in Round Lake Beach, IL for three years. He and his wife, Mary, have been married 33 years. He can be reached at email@example.com.