“What we are about is not success but faithfulness.”

Clarence Jordan was born on July 29, 1912. His nephew, Hamilton Jordan, served as the White House Chief of Staff during the Jimmy Carter administration. If you’ve ever heard of Habitat For Humanity, Clarence Jordan was instrumental in its founding. Here is some history that has been published on Clarence Jordan:

Form an early age, he was troubled by the racial and economic injustice that he witnessed in his community. Hoping to improve the lot of sharecroppers through scientific farming techniques, Clarence enrolled in the University of Georgia, earning a degree in agriculture in 1933. During his college years, however, he became convinced that the roots of poverty were spiritual as well as economic. This conviction led him to the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, from which he earned a PhD in the Greek New Testament in 1938. 

Tim Hansel, in his book Holy Sweat, relates the remarkable story of Clarence Jordan. It is from this story that we have the context from which the quote above came. Clarence and his wife, Florence, decided to help poor people — both Black and White — in rural Georgia. So, in 1942, thee founded Koinonia Farm in Americus, Georgia.

Jordan’s idea didn’t resonate well at that time with the folks in the deep south. Segregation was a way of life. Ironically, the resistance often came from church folks. They tried everything to discourage and defeat Jordan, from boycotting him to slashing his workers’ tires when they came to town.

Finally, in 1954, the Ku Klux Klan had enough of Clarence Jordan. One night they came with guns and torches and set fire to every building on the farm, except Jordan’s house, which they riddled with bullets. They chased off every family except one Black family who refused to leave.

The next day, a local newspaper reporter, who had participated in the raid under the cover of a white sheet, came out to see what remained of the farm. Amid the smoldering rubble, he amazingly found Clarence Jordan working out in the field.

“I heard the awful news,” he called to Clarence, “and I cam out to do a story on the tragedy of your farm closing.”

Clarence just kept on hoeing and planting. The reporter said in a haughty voice, “Well, Dr. Jordan, you got two of them PhDs and you’ve put fourteen years into this farm, and there’s nothing left of it at all. Just how successful do you think you’ve been?”

Clarence stopped hoeing, turned toward the reporter with his penetrating blue eyes, and said quietly, but firmly, “About as successful as the cross. Sir, I don’t think you understand us. What we are about is not success but faithfulness. We’re staying. Good day.”

Jordan and his colleagues began rebuilding and Koinonia Farm is still going strong today. Faithfulness is what we, as Christians, are about. 

Some confuse faithfulness with success. One can be successful, but unfaithful in stewardship. Remember, faithfulness is not determined by success, but success is determined by faithfulness. 

Faithfulness is defined with great clarity in the Bible. One such text that explains faithfulness is Hebrews 3. To walk by faith is, of course, to be faithful. The true Christian does so (cf. 2 Corinthians 5.7) Paul explained “walking by faith” as follows: “While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal’ (2 Corinthians 14.18). 

Faithfulness is the simple concept of obedience. “Know therefore that Jehovah thy God, he is God, the faithful God, who keepeth covenant and lovingkindness with them that love him and keep his commandments to a thousand generations” (Deuteronomy 7.9; cf. 5.10). The example of the nation of Israel provides us indisputable proof that faithfulness (obedience) and unfaithfulness (disobedience) were the two conditions for which Jehovah blessed and punished his people. This is clear from Psalm 78. We find in vv. 36-37 that they “flattered him with their mouth,” yet “lied unto him with their tongue” because “their heart was not right with him.” It is recorded that they were not “faithful in his covenant.” Clearly, faithfulness equates to obedience. 

The faithfulness of most of the Israelites was as “the morning dew” (Hosea 6.4). This was because their heart was not completely devoted. This was the case with Simon the sorcerer (Acts 8.21). The heart must be fully devoted to do Jehovah’s will and obey his commandments. This is why Caleb and Joshua stood out from the other ten spies in the matter of spying out the land of Canaan. These two alone made it from Egypt to Canaan because they “fully followed” Jehovah (Numbers 14.24; 32.11-12). This simply speaks to their commitment and obedience. 

Christians, as God’s building (1 Corinthians 1.9), are not to be obsessed with being successful, rather with being faithful. The increase is God’s end of the stick to whittle on. We are to purposed in heart as was the apostle Paul: to magnify Christ in our body, whether by life or by death (Philippians 1.20). Let us remember the admonition and encouragement from the apostle John: “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee the crown of life” (Revelation 2.10).