By Brother Michel Lankford
Question: Is the word faithfulness in the song “Great is Thy Faithfulness” misused, since faith is trusting on things not seen and God can see us?
Your confusion is completely understandable on one level. This is WHY CONTEXT matters. The big problem is that you are making a classic mistake when it comes to Scripture interpretation. Don’t feel bad. Many people fall into this classic mistake. You are operating on the incorrect ASSUMPTION that a key Bible word or phrase has only ONE meaning. Every language, (including the Bible languages of Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek), all have words and phrases that can mean MORE than one thing. In all cases, it is the CONTEXT of the paragraph that surrounds the phrase that identifies its true meaning and intent.
An Easy Way to Understand WHY Context Matters SO Much
Just for fun now, consider the fact that we use context rules in our own English language automatically. We are fully accustomed and comfortable with the idea that English words and phrases can have different meanings, and that we must use CONTEXT to identify WHICH version of the word or phrase is being used in our specific conversation at the time. The thing is, we do it without thinking because we are comfortable in our own language. In our English language, HOMONYMS are words that sound alike or are spelled exactly alike, but which have vastly DIFFERENT meanings depending on CONTEXT. Here are some fun examples to jog your memory:
Example: A “BAT.” It can refer to a nocturnal rodent that sleeps upside down in a cave, OR it can equally refer to a specialized piece of wood that one uses to hit a baseball. If somebody 2000 years from now were to read a paper that we wrote about using a bat to hit a baseball, but they ASSUMED that a bat could only refer to the rodent that sleeps upside down in a cave, wouldn’t they think that we were strange for using a rodent to hit the ball?
Even funnier still, consider the phrase, “Going to BAT for someone.” We know that this does not mean that we chased down a nocturnal rodent for someone. Using that phrase in the context of our language, we know that it means that we rise to someone’s defense or that we speak in favor of someone’s position on an issue. Again, to understand how the word BAT is being used in this case, we would have to understand CONTEXT.
Example: Here is another good one that folks don’t often think about until we are directly confronted with the vast differences. It’s the word “RUN.” Have you ever considered how many different meanings that single word can have based on CONTEXT? Oh my goodness, it’s crazy.
- Run: It can mean to proceed on foot at one’s best speed to win a foot race.
- Run: It can mean to score a point in the game of baseball (i.e. He scored a RUN on that play).
- Run: It can mean to go to a particular location to perform a task or an errand (i.e. I’m going to RUN to the store). That’s interesting too because you don’t always do it on foot either.
- Run: It can mean to take someone to an appointment (i.e. I’m going to RUN mom to the doctor’s office for her appointment).
- Run: It can mean analyzing and reviewing data and information to confirm that one’s conclusions are correct (i.e. I’m going to RUN the numbers to verify this).
- Run: it can mean a series of good or bad circumstances in sequence (i.e. a RUN of good luck, or a RUN of bad luck).
- Run: It can mean a vertical rip in a woman’s silk or nylon stockings (i.e. a RUN in her pantyhose).
- Run: It can mean performing a specific series of tasks or procedures in hopes of winning a game or achieving some goal (i.e. I’m going to RUN that play so that we can win the football game).
- Run: It can mean that one is responsible for the day-to-day operations of a business or project (i.e. to RUN the show, or to RUN the shop).
- Run: It can mean that one plays pool or billiards so well that they won the game in a single turn (i.e. to RUN the table). So, to “RUN” the table’ on something, when you are not discussing the game of billiards or pool can also mean that a person did an excellent or amazing job at a task or a competition.
- Run: It can refer to one’s job performance over a period of time (i.e. she had a good or a bad RUN in her career as a chief librarian).
- Run: It can refer to a proper sequence of cards in a card game (i.e. I had a RUN of 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9, of diamonds in my hand, and I won the card game).
- Run: It can refer to controlling or manipulating a person or situation to gain an unfair advantage (i.e. don’t try to RUN me ragged or RUN me around by the nose).
- Run: It can mean that someone did such a BAD job at something that they RUINED or destroyed a person, or a business, or a situation (i.e. to RUN something or someone into the ground).
- Run: it can mean competing in a campaign in hopes of gaining power or political office (to RUN for president of the Student Council, or to RUN for U.S. Congress).
Are you getting the idea yet? This is WHY CONTEXT matters so much. That is a whopping 15 different possible meanings for the three-letter English word, “RUN.” Notice that some meanings for this word are similar or only slightly different, but other meanings of this word can have vastly different or even opposite meanings, depending on CONTEXT. Remember, if you RUN the tables in a situation, it means that you did an EXCELLENT job. Conversely, if you RUN a situation into the ground, the same English word in that context means that you did a HORRIBLE job at something. It’s the SAME word, but it can mean something completely DIFFERENT, depending on CONTEXT. Now, imagine that you are 2000 years into the future and you are reading a translated letter from English into your language, but you didn’t realize that the English word RUN could have at least 15 different meanings. Let’s say that you incorrectly ASSUMED that the word RUN could only mean ONE thing. You could draw some highly incorrect conclusions because you are unaware that the author could have 14 other meanings for the word RUN that you are now seeing translated into your common language, some 2000 years after it was first written. The author who originally wrote the text knew what he meant. He was writing to his audience from a certain point of reference. If you are reading a translated letter 2000 years later, you might not be aware of what the author is actually saying.
You are making the SAME mistake now with the word, “FAITHFULNESS.”
It’s true that ONE meaning for faithful is to trust and believe, even when we don’t see or perceive in our physical eyes and physical circumstances (Hebrews 11:1; John 20:29). IF that was the ONLY meaning for the word faithful, then your question would make perfect sense. After all, how can the Almighty God who sees EVERYTHING, operate on “FAITH” since He sees everything? God CAN’T operate on what He has NOT yet seen, since He sees and knows EVERYTHING. So how can God be, “Great in Faithfulness?”
Don’t forget though, words can and do have DIFFERENT meanings and applications, and it’s the CONTEXT of how the word or phrase is used that identifies WHICH meaning of the Word is the correct definition we should use. The word “FAITHFULNESS” operates the SAME way. Faithfulness CAN mean that you have faith and trust before having seen.
However, faithfulness CAN ALSO mean to be RELIABLE; to be TRUSTWORTHY; to be FAITHFUL; to be DEPENDABLE; to be STABLE, and STEADFAST; or UNCHANGING. Faithfulness can mean that one is full of faith and reliance upon God before having seen Him, OR faithfulness ALSO CAN mean that one is WORTHY to put faith in; one who is worthy to be trusted, and relied upon. It’s the CONTEXT where the word or phrase is found and how it is used that identifies WHICH use of the word “FAITHFULNESS” is the correct one for your situation.
So, now put the pieces together yourself. Go ahead and review the song in a hymnal, or on video. In the CONTEXT of the phrase, “Great is Thy Faithfulness,” referring to God, WHICH application of the word “FAITHFULNESS” do you think the author of the song is using in this case?
Crucial Kingdom Application
Since God is “Faithful,”(meaning also that He is trustworthy and dependable), God also expects and REQUIRES us as His Children to grow to become more faithful, trustworthy, and dependable too, just like our Heavenly Father is. In other words, just believing in God and Jesus Christ in your head is NOT enough. You can START there, but you best NOT STOP there and think you are okay. If your FAITHFULNESS in God and Jesus is REAL, then you are going to PUSH to GROW in “FAITHFULNESS.” You are going to want to and progressively be able to become MORE faithful, reliable, and dependable, just like God is (Philippians 2:13; Ephesians 5:1; 1 Peter 1:14–16; 2 Corinthians 6:14–7:1). That is part of growing up as HIS Child and His disciple. How do I know this is true? Well, I believe in the Scriptures. God has made becoming and being faithful, trustworthy, and dependable, a REQUIREMENT for staying in His House. Don’t just take my word for it, Read, believe, and Practice obeying what the Scripture clearly teaches for yourself:
As it is written: Lord, who may abide in Your tabernacle? Who may dwell in Your holy hill? He who walks uprightly, And works righteousness, And speaks the truth in his heart; He who does not backbite with his tongue, Nor does evil to his neighbor, Nor does he take up a reproach against his friend; In whose eyes a vile person is despised, But he honors those who fear the Lord; He who swears to his own hurt and does not change; He who does not put out his money at usury, Nor does he take a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things shall never be moved.” (Psalm 15:1–5, NKJV)
“O YHWH, who may Abide in Your Tabernacle?” (Psalm 15:1).
- He who walks with integrity.
- One who works righteousness.
- One who speaks truth in his heart.
- He does not slander with his tongue,
- He does not do evil to his neighbor.
- He does not take up a reproach against a friend, meaning that he is not quick to believe a bad report about a friend.
- In whose eyes a *reprobate is despised in short, a reprobate is someone who thoroughly delights and enjoys practicing What YHWH Says is wicked, without repenting or rejecting and overcoming that sin. Such a person should be despised by anyone who loves Abba-YAH and His Righteousness.
- Who honors those who reverence YHWH.
- He swears to his own hurt and does not change.
- He does not put out his money at interest.
- He does not take a bribe, but especially he does not take a bribe to harm the innocent.
- He who does these things will never be shaken.
Please, think about it. How important is the character trait of reliability and being trustworthy to God? He made it a REQUIREMENT to live in HIS Household, for goodness’ sake. Starting with believing faith in God and Jesus Christ is an important first step, but GROWING in FAITHFULNESS to become a dependable person who also can be relied upon to keep our word is highly CRUCIAL as well. It’s part of growing up into a true child, saint, and citizen of God’s Household. Faithfulness is more than believing. It’s also about becoming a dependable person.
I do hope that this information helps you.
Thank you for your kind attention.
Brother Michel Lankford