Preface But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23 (ESV) When Jesus encountered the woman at the well in Samaria, He told her that the day would come when people would worship God “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24, ESV). Most of us understand that worshipping God “in truth” means we have to intentionally set aside time and effort to study God’s Word: to read it, meditate upon it, memorize it, and—most importantly—to live it or to be “doers” of the Word (James 1:22). We are commanded to hunger after the Word of God like a newborn baby hungers after milk (1 Peter 2:2), and to make every effort to “rightly [handle] the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15, ESV). However, do we understand that we must be just as active regarding the “in spirit” part of Jesus’ statement? As we begin our study of the fruit of the Spirit, we must make certain we understand the role the Holy Spirit plays in our lives. For without the Spirit empowering us, there will be no manifestation of His “fruit.” In his book The Basics, pastor Gene Cunningham writes that the Holy Spirit “instantaneously performs five irrevocable works in us” the moment we place our faith in Christ (80-81): 1. He baptizes us into the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13). 2. He makes us spiritually alive (regeneration or “born again,” Titus 3:5 and Ephesians 2:4-6). 3. He indwells us, providing us with inherent power that is activated by the filling of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:9-11, Ephesians 5:18).
ii 4. He gives us a unique spiritual gift (1 Corinthians 12:7, 11). 5. He seals us, which guarantees our eternal destiny (Ephesians 1:13,14; 4:30) While all are important, we will focus on the third work: the indwelling and filling of the Holy Spirit, and consider how these relate to the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23. Perhaps like me, you grew up in a church where the pastor and Sunday school teachers spoke often and eloquently about God the Father and God the Son; but the “Holy Ghost” got short shrift. He was there, sort of, in the background and at the edge of our consciousness. But what He actually did was vague and undefined: He really was “ghostly.” For me, that changed on a beautiful October Sunday in 1971 when I walked into Academy Bible Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado. For the first time in the 15+ years that I’d been a believer, I heard a pastor speak about the Holy Spirit in a way that made His ministry come alive. No, I did not speak in tongues or exhibit any other strange behavior: I simply listened to what the Word says about the Holy Spirit and took it to heart; and that experience changed everything about my walk with the Lord. To understand the transformation which began that day, consider what I learned about the four basic New Testament commands related to the Holy Spirit:
Do not quench the Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:19) Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God (Ephesians 4:30) Walk by the Spirit (Galatians 5:16, 25) Be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18)
What is interesting about these passages is that they are commands, which means we can choose to obey or disobey them—with all the attendant blessings or cursings. While the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is permanent and irrevocable, how
iii much influence and power the Holy Spirit can actually exert in our lives will depend upon how well we follow these commands. So how are we to understand the first two “do not” commands? Bible scholars equate the quenching the Spirit with sins of omission (the things the Spirit prompts us to do, but we ignore Him), while grieving the Spirit involves outright sin or disobedience to God’s commands. Ironically, we obey these two negative commands by avoiding something: by not sinning. However, when we do sin (as we inevitably will), we lose neither our salvation, nor the indwelling of the Spirit. Instead, we cut ourselves off from the power and influence Jesus promised the Spirit would provide His followers (John 14:15-31; 16:5-15). In Paul’s terminology, we become “carnal” Christians (1 Corinthians 3:1, NKJV). On the positive side, walking by the Spirit is a metaphor for the steady, day-by-day experience of living a God-pleasing life—one where we seek to know, understand, and follow God’s will. One where we experience the loving, joyful, and fruitful life that comes from abiding in Christ (John 15:1-17). One where, over time and under the Holy Spirit’s influence, we become more and more Christ-like in our thoughts, words, and actions. As we consistently walk by the Spirit (what Eugene Peterson called “a long obedience in the same direction”), we are transformed from the inside out (Romans 12:1-2). It’s the fourth command, “be filled with the Spirit,” which is the most challenging and the most critical to our spiritual well-being. While the first three commands are in the present tense and active voice (meaning, they are something we must continually choose to do), the last command is in the present tense and passive voice (meaning, it’s something we must continually receive). The Greek word for filling (pleroo) has several meanings which help us understand what the Holy Spirit does when He fills us: “to fill a deficiency, to fill with quality, to fully influence, to fully
iv possess” (Cunningham 148). Therefore, as we actively walk in the Spirit, avoiding both quenching and grieving Him, we receive the filling of the Spirit—who compensates for our weaknesses, leads us into all Truth, and enables us to live in a manner pleasing to Christ. It is the filling of the Holy Spirit which is essential if we are to manifest the fruit of the Spirit in our lives. While sin cuts us off from the filling of the Spirit, the solution is simple: the twin spiritual disciplines of self-examination and confession (Psalm 139:23-24; Psalm 51; 1 John 1:9). Consequently, we must all become adept at practicing these disciplines—not just when we are about to do “something spiritual,” but every day, as needed. Most pastors recommend that, at the very least, we practice self-examination and confession in the morning when we arise, and at night just before bed; but I find that it’s beneficial to conduct quick checks throughout the day. We want to spend a maximum amount of time filled with the Spirit, so keeping short accounts is a wise and fruitful habit to cultivate. A word picture that I have often used for this process involves a path and a detour. The path is the place Christians need to be: it’s the path of an obedient, Christ-exalting life where we are living in a manner worth of our calling (Ephesians 4:1). On the path is where we walk by the Spirit; on the path is where we receive the filling of the Spirit. It’s where our bodies become “instruments of righteous” in God’s kingdom-building work (Romans 6:13). And whatever we are doing while we are on this Spirit-filled and Spiritled path (no matter how seemingly small or insignificant), we honor God, bring glory to Christ, and reap eternal rewards (Colossians 3:17; 1 Corinthians 3:12). Sadly, sin knocks us off the path and puts us onto a toxic and dangerous spiritual detour. Unconfessed sin bears rotten fruit (Galatians 5:19-21), and it’s painful, as David testifies so eloquently in Psalm 32:3-5 (ESV): “For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up
v as by the heat of summer. Selah. I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,’ and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.” It’s foolish to spend any more time than necessary on the detour. Making self-examination and confession a daily habit is not only wise, but critical to our spiritual growth. In terms of our study, the most important truth to remember is this: Without the filling of the Holy Spirit, there will be no fruit of the Spirit in our lives. It’s a work He does in us; and we must be “on the path” for that work to move forward. One more note before we begin: fruit is singular, not plural. The nine qualities Paul lists—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control—reflect the singular character of Christ; and it’s His character which the Spirit desires to re-create in us. These are not qualities we can produce through our intelligence or iron will: the character of Christ is formed in us as we humbly submit ourselves to the Spirit’s filling, and as we take into our hearts and minds God’s alive, sharp, and powerful Word (Hebrews 4:12). In the pages which follow, members of First Baptist have defined these nine attributes As editor, I did not give them a set format— only general guidelines for defining their respective terms as they relate to the character of God, for showing how the trait is evidenced in Scripture, and explaining how that trait might be expressed in our own lives. I think they have done an admirable job. I know that I have been blessed by reading what they have written, and I’m positive our entire church body will be equally edified as we go through this study together. Please note that you need to do more than just read what follows: there are places “For Reflection” scattered throughout so you can stop and interact with the text. Taking time to reflect will not only increase your ability to apply God’s Word to your own life (the
vi biblical skill called â€œwisdomâ€?), but it will deepen your relationship with Christ. After all, the fruit of the Spirit is all about His character! No study of the fruit of the Spirit could ever be complete: there is always more for us to know, understand, and apply. My prayer is that as we explore this topic together, a fresh wind of the Spirit will find its way to 600 Governors Drive. Diane Singer, editor
Love But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23 (ESV) Recently a group of adults interviewed twenty-one kids from the ages of four to eight on what love is. Here are some of their answers:
"When my grandmother got arthritis, she couldn't bend over and paint her toenails anymore. So my grandfather does it for her all the time, even when his hands got arthritis too. That's love." Rebecca - age 8 "During my piano recital, I was on a stage and I was scared. I looked at all the people watching me and saw my daddy waving and smiling. He was the only one doing that. I wasn't scared anymore." Cindy - age 8 "Love is when Mommy sees Daddy smelly and sweaty and still says he is handsomer than Robert Redford." Chris - age 7 "Love is when your puppy licks your face even after you left him alone all day." Mary Ann - age 4 "I know my older sister loves me because she gives me all her old clothes and has to go out and buy new ones." Lauren - age 4 "Love is when Mommy sees Daddy on the toilet and she doesn't think it's gross." Mark - age 6 "You really shouldn't say 'I love you' unless you mean it. But if you mean it, you should say it a lot. People forget." Jessica age 8
I recently went home to Missouri to spend some time with my family. My youngest niece, Penelope, has entered the stage of life where her language skills and vocabulary are limited; but that does not stop her from asking a thousand questions. When I was home,
3 we were coloring with chalk in the driveway, and I asked her if she wanted the blue chalk. Her reply was, “What is blue?” For that split second, I honestly had to ask myself, “How do I describe the blue one, not the red one?” before just picking it up and handing it over. I have not had to describe what blue is before, and even though I am surrounded by the color every day, the notion of having to describe it is difficult nonetheless. Love is a lot like color. It’s this force, idea, action, feeling, that’s hard to pin down and directly define. It’s like the color blue: I may not have a good way of describing what blue is, but I can show you something that is blue. Likewise, with love, I may not have the adequate language to fully tell you what it is, and yet we all know what it means to be loved, or we know when we’ve been brokenhearted. Ask someone what the most formative moments in their life are and it’s where love was most felt—moments of suffering, loss, births, and marriages. Fred Rogers said, “Love is at the root of everything—all learning, all relationships—love, or the lack of it.” Jean Vanier states, “To love someone is to show to them their beauty, their worth, and their importance.” Love may be an abstract concept, but it is not impossible to define. I know what it feels like to feel beautiful, to feel like I have worth and belonging, to know I am loved even though I may not be able to articulate it concisely. That is our goal today, to come to understand love more fully so that we may be able to understand and practice it.
Defining Love 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 (NIV) Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.
I have always loved poetry for its use of language and for how authors can state those things which resonate deeply within you in an elegant way. Pablo Neruda writes this about love: “I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where.” Poets seem to be more attuned to the gift of language than the rest of us. So when I struggle with how to effectively communicate an idea, I often turn to poets to find a starting place. The author of 1 Corinthians has the same ability to write poetry about love that Neruda, Shakespeare, Rumi, and other gifted linguists do. He doesn’t necessarily define love in the Webster’s dictionary sense, but instead speaks to how love is concretely shown through its qualities: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy…” This is not a pinning down of what love is, but rather a poem on the attributes of love: not of the limits of love, but rather of the boundless opportunities of what love may be. I don’t believe the wideness of love is a negative thing, though. Even the rational minded Greeks had to define love through several different terms: eros for intimate love, philia for friendship love, storge for parental love, and agape for brotherly love. Each defines a various aspect of love, and yet we still translate each as love in our English manuscripts. Love is too big a concept to define in one short sentence, let alone in one single word. Our own understanding of love is constantly evolving, growing, expanding. As of this Fall, I have been dating Allie for three years. Recently, we became engaged! In my three years of being with her, my idea of love has transformed. It has been challenged and grown in more ways than I could imagine. I know the farther I go into life—with the addition of age, children, and wisdom—my understanding of love will continue to adapt. Experience, especially shared experience, will always change us. How I define love today will broaden tomorrow. This is not to say that our efforts to understand love are in vain! Rather, we need to be constantly striving toward a foundational and biblical model that is
5 big enough for new understandings throughout our lives. Love is a force moving within us all, unable to be pinned-down, pushing us to encounter the world and God in new, fresh ways. FOR REFLECTION: How do you define love? How has your definition changed throughout your life?
God is Love Before we jump head-first into unpacking the fruit of love, we should first describe the notion of God being love. First John 4:8 tells us that if you do not love, you do not know God because God is love. We can’t go deeper in our knowledge of God if we aren’t growing in our ability to love as well. To know God is to love, and to love is to know God. If God is the source of love, the model of love, then He is shown when we love others. When we are loving, we are spreading God. Since God is love, we must stop living as if God’s love for us is conditional. In our performance-based culture, we often link love to our own personal worthiness or abilities. We think, “If I am just a little better of a person, not as bad as that individual, just a bit more successful, God will love me more.” More, more, more. Our thirst for worthiness becomes insatiable. But if God’s love for us were conditional, we could lose it just as easily as we could gain it. We would mistakenly come to believe that God loves us because of the things we can do, not for who we are. Richard Rohr writes, “Most of us were taught that God would love us if and when we change. In fact, God loves you so that you can change.” God’s love is based simply on the fact that we are His creation. His love for us is not conditional, it does not fluctuate, and it cannot be lost. He has created us and calls us good. The truth is God created us and God sees all of us—the good and the bad—and He still loves us. This love is from a self-giving and self-sacrificing Christ who loves us not because we are striving to be perfect, but who
6 loved us while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8). This is our biblical foundation of love—that we are loved unconditionally. His love for us never fails.
The Greatest Virtue 1 Corinthians 13:13 (NIV) And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. We are constantly reminded throughout scripture of the magnitude of love. First Corinthians tells us that it is the greatest of all attributes. Several verses earlier the author writes, “If I … do not have love, I am nothing” (1 Cor. 13:2). Matthew 22:37-40 reminds us of the two greatest tenets mentioned first in the Old Testament: Love the Lord your God, and love your neighbor. Love is paramount to what it means to be a follower of Jesus. Love, love, love. Even our listing of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5 begins with love. Our need to exercise love is vital to who we are as believers in Christ. We can have patience, goodness, joy … the whole basket of fruit; but if we don’t have love, it isn’t enough. The closer we become to God the more we will exude love. This is a fruit of having the Spirit residing within us. How then can we come to understand, grasp, and define love? I believe the biblical implication of love is (1) to be a reflection of God Himself, and (2) to lead us to service of others.
Love: A Reflection of God John 13:34 (NIV) “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” John 13:34 gives us a fully formed description of love. The passage begins with: “A new command I give you….” However,
7 love itself is not a new concept. To “love the Lord thy God and love thy neighbor as thyself” is at the heart of the Torah, the foundation of Jewish theology and life. It’s been around for a while. So what then is new about this command? First, our love for others is to be a reflection of God’s love: “Love each other because I love you.” It’s a new standard modeled on the love Jesus has for his disciples. First John 4:19 states, “We love because he first loved us.” Our love first and foremost should be an outpouring of the love of God within us. Because we have been gifted this life, and because we are loved unconditionally by God, our love for others should be a reflection of that gift. Christians can and should be the best in our society at loving others as a reflection of God’s love. Those like Augustine, C.S. Lewis, Amy Carmichael, and Dorothy Day cite the foundation of their love for others based on the love they feel from God. I also think of ordinary Christians around me who reflect God’s love well. I think of my grandfather Ed, who opened the upstairs floor of his business to homeless people because he felt that God gave him the gift of a large building and he ought to use it accordingly. I think of my parents, who purchased the only home on our street with a basement. When they meet new families in our neighborhood, they tell them to come over when a storm approaches. God has given them a gift to steward, one that has led to countless nights of safety for their neighbors. When we love, we are passing on the love of God to others. So love begins as a mirroring of the Divine, as a reflection of what we have already been given. FOR REFLECTION: Think of someone who reflects the love of God well. What do they do? How have their actions impacted those around them?
Love: The Call to Love Others John 13:35 (NIV) “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” The second new feature of the command in John 13:34-35 is the extending of the love modeled by Jesus to others. This is the shift from individual reflection to communal action: from love within us, to love through us. Here we begin to discover that the image of God within ourselves also resides within our neighbor. Thomas Merton writes, “Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone—we find it with another.” The command to love one another moves our definition of love from noun to verb. Love becomes something we practice, something we experience, something we embody, something we do. This scripture in John comes a few paragraphs after the story of Jesus washing the disciple’s feet. How do you act like a disciple? By living in service to others. By extending the unconditional love of Jesus onto one another. By sitting with those who are alone, by calling the friend you haven’t talked to in a while, by buying lunch for the couple with the new baby, by donating your time at the local shelter. We often want love to be big, over the top, and grandiose; and yet often the most loving action we can take is the simple one right in front of us. Barbara Brown Taylor writes, "So love God. Love a neighbor. Be a neighbor, and let us not complicate things by arguing about specifics.” And yet, love is not something we schedule in our calendars. I don’t write down “Love Allie today from 4:15-4:30.” Love is a posture we hold, and a way of being in the world. We can do it anytime and anywhere. It is the force ungirding all of my actions. It is the lens through which I view everyone I come into contact with throughout the day. Loving others flows from who we are at our deepest selves.
This is what separates the loving of others as a spiritual gift from a material gift. Material gifts decrease when you give them away. Spiritual gifts, on the other hand, increase the more you use them. The more I practice being kind, generous, welcoming, and sacrificial, the more this becomes the norm. What we practice is what we become. What posture are we holding today? FOR REFLECTION: What stops us from loving others as we should? What has love taught you about the necessity of self-sacrifice? Think of a time when you had to deal with a difficult “unlovable” person. What did you do? Were you able to love them with Christ-like love, or did you fail?
Our Need to Love When Jesus was asked to summarize the Mosaic law, He said we need to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22:37-38). So where should we begin? Some of us will want to start through meditation, others through artistic expression, others through study. My personality and my role as a Missions Pastor drives me towards action. So, I ask myself, why not start with my actual neighbors? Pew Research states that only 31% of Americans know all or most of their neighbors. In the apartment complex where I live, my home is in close proximity to seven family units. I can honestly say that I know four of these families by name, but I am only close to one of these couples. I guess I need to do better. What if we took an honest assessment of the houses nearest to our own and asked ourselves whether we know the owner’s name, their occupation, their phone number, and their kid’s favorite toy. The simple reality of life is that we need one another. We were
10 designed to be in community. Starting to love others requires us to become a community of good neighbors. Take a walk down your street and ask yourself which houses you are not familiar with. Invite those who live across from you over from dinner. Rake the leaves for the house behind you. Do something that doesn’t upgrade your status, but costs you something for the benefit of someone else. Leaving the comfort of our neat and tidy lives is not easy, but love was never intended to be safe. Love requires risk. Let’s step out into the unknown and begin to plant churches all across this city—little First Baptists’ on every block of good neighbors who love God and love others. FOR REFLECTION: In Galatians 5:14 Paul writes, “The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” What is an action you will take today to show love to your neighbor and to yourself?
Conclusion In our ever-divided, polarized, and hostile world we need love more than ever. The U.S. continues to become more highly individualized and busy as a society, with problems like loneliness growing at epidemic rates. Doesn’t it feel like there needs to be a bass note amidst all the noise? A simple pulse at the heart of all things? The world feels like it’s speeding up. We are bombarded with more images, fragments, and news at a faster pace than ever before. But what doesn’t seem to be increasing in intensity is meaning, depth, or significance. What is going force us to slow us down? What is going to root us into a life-giving force? How will we find meaning, depth, and significance in this world? I believe love is that bass note we need to ground and center us so we can handle all of the white noise that comes at us all day long.
11 Love is the root all of things. It is the essence of what it means to be alive, the core of what it means to be human. Love, community, and hospitality are more vital than ever before. The practice of hospitality is the stretching of space to create room for others. In our culture where loneliness is abounding, love will look like the making of space for others, especially those we don’t want to love. Thomas Merton writes, “Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy.” Only when we drop our label of who is deserving of our love will we begin to allow it to flow through us without hesitation. Søren Kierkegaard states, “The highest and most beautiful things in life are not to be heard about nor read about nor seen, but, if one will, to be lived.” How are you living this most beautiful thing in life? If we are waiting for one more discussion, one more book, one more podcast on what love is, we will miss the point entirely. In the end, it will not be about what we think about love, but instead it will come down to what we do about love that will bring us life. Luke 10:28 states, “Do this and you will live.” My hope is that by studying love today, we may start to notice the places in our lives where we can more fully practice the love of God. May we begin the move from an individual reflection of God’s love, to a communal action of loving our neighbors. The missional life is one of love. To transform others into the way of Jesus is only possible when are in the process of being transformed ourselves. May we be a church not only at the heart of the city, but with a heart for this city. Author: Scott Day Scott Day is the Missions Resident at First Baptist Huntsville, where he works to develop FBC’s missional strategy through equipping and motivating others to participate in spiritual witness and transformation. Born and raised in Springfield, Missouri, Scott is a proud Baylor Bear and Truett Seminary graduate. He loves spending his time running in the woods, reading, and eating
12 chocolate. In August, Scott became engaged to the lovely Allie Noyd.
JOY But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23 (ESV) Maybe it's because I'm a vocalist, but when I think of “joy” I first think of song lyrics. There are quite a few popular songs with the word “joy” in them. If you grew up in church singing children's songs (or perhaps taught them!), you might think of several right away: “J-O-Y down in my heart...” or “I've got the joy, joy, joy, joy...” If you prefer hymns, you can find joy in many old favorites. For example: “Floods of joy o'er my soul like the sea billows roll...” and “Come, we that love the Lord, and let our joys be known...” and “shadows dispelling, with joy I am telling, He made all the darkness depart!” and (of course) “Joyful, joyful we adore thee!” Maybe you're not as familiar with church music, and instead your brain calls to mind songs by Stevie Ray Vaughn or Three Dog Night (“Joy to the world, all you boys and girls…”). Perhaps because joy demands to be expressed, there are songs for every style that attempt to capture or convey it. There is one musical realm in which every church-goer can find common ground and numerous mentions of joy: Christmas music! Certainly, this is in part because of the general merriness of the season; but don't forget that JOY was the message of the angels when Jesus was born! Luke 2:10-11 (NIV) But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the
14 people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.” As Christians, we know that joy begins with Jesus. Just like the other characteristics listed as the fruit of the Spirit, joy is a result of life with Him. But what exactly is joy? And how do we make sure we're growing this fruit in our daily lives?
How does the Bible Define Joy? The dictionary defines joy as an emotion, a feeling of pleasure or of triumph. Many people think of joy as another way to describe happiness. But happiness depends on our circumstances, while joy does not. FOR REFLECTION: How do you define joy? Read the following scripture passages. What does the Bible say about joy or rejoicing in these different references? What does joy look like? When is it appropriate? What is cause for Christian rejoicing? Psalm 16:11 (NIV) You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand. James 1:2-3 (NIV) Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NIV) Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Psalm 33:20-22 (NIV) We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield.
15 In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. May your unfailing love be with us, Lord, even as we put our hope in you. 1 Peter 1:3-9 (NIV) Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater wroth than god, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls. Philippians 4:4-7 (NIV) Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. According to these passages, joy is something that Christians are called and equipped to possess and display all the time. Our joy as believers is not like the passing feelings of happiness that life in this world can bring. It is more than a feeling: it is a mindset of delight. Happiness is a response, a result of circumstances. By contrast, joy is a resource that does not ebb and flow or wax and
16 wane. It can be present in the life of a Christian even in the most trying of circumstances. In fact, that is when the Bible seems to mention joy the most. Why? FOR REFLECTION: Reread those passages above and circle in what (or in WHOM) we find the source of our joy. Then read Hebrews 13:8 and James 1:7. Hebrews 13:8 (NIV) Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever James 1:17 (NIV) Every good and perfect gift from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. Joy is a result of salvation and life with Jesus. The true, steady, unwavering source of delight is God alone. Our God is always good, always powerful, always loving, always GOD. Our circumstances may change, but He does notâ€”and that is why we can experience His joy. The people in the town of Feldkirch, Austria tell about a time when all hope seemed lost. Napoleon's forces, led by General Andre Massena, were closing in and the people in the town faced certain disaster. According to some sources, the townspeople gathered for Easter service in spite of (or perhaps because) of their dire circumstances, choosing worship over worry. When the church bells rang loud and joyfully, they echoed through the mountains. To the French troops, the ringing bells sounded like a rallying call for additional forces; fearing defeat, they quickly fled, leaving the town safe. It's hard to confirm this story, although one can see why it would be passed along in devotions and sermons as an encouragement to hold on to hope and joy. We like stories where our faith or hope are rewarded with things getting better. And sometimes they do;
17 though sometimes, they don't. Joy isn't dependent on things getting better in this world. It is rooted in the presence of God and the promise of life with Him forever. When things are hard, when threatening forces are pressing in, joy can ring bells—not to scare away the enemy, but to drown him out. When we are in desperate times, it helps us fix our eyes and cast our cares on Jesus (1 Peter 5:7). Joy rarely changes circumstances, but it does change our hearts. You may be thinking, “That's great, but what if I don't feel joy? I don't know how to experience that contentment and delight in God. What do I do to grow in joy?”
How Can We Cultivate Joy? Since joy doesn't decrease because of our circumstances, is it nevertheless possible to increase our joy? Let's read what Jesus says about it: John 15:7-11 (NIV) “7If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. 9 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” FOR REFLECTION: What is Jesus telling His followers to do in this passage? Circle the commands you find. What do you think it means to “remain” in His love? How do we do that? What is the connection between obedience and remaining in His love? Is there an area of disobedience in your life that is preventing your joy from being “complete?”
Like joy, the grace of God that forgives us when we sin is limitless, and it is wholly available to us when we give our lives to Him. But if we live in a way that disregards His best intentions for our lives and dishonors His costly grace given to us so freely, we will not be able to embrace the joy of life in Christ. Perhaps we need to pray like David: Psalm 51:10-12 (NIV): Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. FOR REFLECTION: Are you spending time talking (and listening) to God? Are you bringing your heart and your desires before Him? Are you coming into His presence in worship? Remember what we read earlier in Psalm 16: “you will fill me with joy in your presence.” God's presence IS our source of joy. It is our hope, our prize, our gift through salvation. So what does it mean to remain, to abide, in His love? It’s to make a home with Jesus, and to walk with Him in the big and small things of life. Abiding isn't checking things off of a list so we can move on to the next task or goal. It doesn't rush or oversimplify or forget. It doesn't abandon when things get tough or stick only when the sailing is smooth. We choose to remain faithful in our relationship with Jesus, confident in Him and His love regardless of our circumstances. Joy is found in our connection to Christ; and it grows and spreads in our connections with others. Joy is contagious, and contagious joy does kingdom work! CS Lewis said, “Joy is the serious business of heaven.” Much of John 15 is about bearing fruit and
19 bringing glory to the Father. When we remain in Him, and in community with others, our joy multiplies and His kingdom expands. Joy is not optional, but we do have to “opt in.” Just like Jesus calls us to take up our crosses daily, we must choose joy over and over again. What does that look like? As Kelly Minter says, it is “noticing, fully embracing, and falling back on the gifts, the goodness, the presence of God.” There will be moments in our lives when it is hard to feel or see joy. But in those moments, we choose to remain. We hold tight and choose to see God through the hardships. We look forward to the hope of heaven. We seek joy in the lessons—the wisdom and character and trust—as we lean in to the present moment while we fall back on the goodness of God we've seen in the past, the evidence of His faithfulness to us. One important way to choose joy is to practice gratitude. Gratitude helps us tune our eyes and hearts to see the gifts of God all around us. It marks the evidence for us to review when we need it. As Annie F. Downs puts it, moments of beauty and God's presence are “knots on the rope you are climbing.” Those knots can stop us from sliding down too far, remind us where we've been, and motivate us to keep on. FOR REFLECTION: Take a few minutes and write down some things, big or small, that you're grateful for. Thank God for making Himself known to you in these ways. Dr. Ken Boa advises Christians to thank God for ten things each morning before they get out of bed! Is there a time you can stop each day to practice gratitude and the presence of God? How can you carve out time to cultivate joy in your daily schedule? Brene Brown is famous for her research on shame and vulnerability, but she also writes about how to live a “wholehearted life.” She suggests that the opposite of joy is fear, or uncertainty. People today, according to Brown, are starving for
20 joy because we're afraid and uncertain; and at the root of this is a lack of gratitude. People are afraid the good things won't last, that there isn't enough—enough time, money, adventure, success, even good deeds—or that they're missing out on something. She calls this an attitude of “insufficiency” that steals our joy. What we need, she writes, is to believe we have “enough.” Thankfully, as Christians, we have a Savior who IS enough. His grace is sufficient; He came to fulfill the law and declare, “It is finished.” He offers abundant life, and complete, contagious joy. We simply need to accept it, abide in it, and pay attention to His goodness all around us. Charles Spurgeon once wrote, “The grace of joy is contagious. Holy joy will oil the wheels of your life’s machinery. Holy joy will strengthen you for your daily labor. Holy joy will beautify you and give you an influence over the lives of others.” Since joy is contagious, let’s be intentional and start an epidemic of joy! FOR REFLECTION: Would you characterize your life as one filled with joy? Why or why not? If not, what is hindering your joy? What do you need to do to increase your joy and, therefore, your impact on others? Author: Emily Lemons Emily Lemons came to First Baptist when her husband John was called to serve as Minister to Young Adults in 2016. She sings in First Fellowship, leads the three-year-old choir, helps with music camp and VBS worship assemblies, and teaches kindergarten at WEE. She also enjoys teaching “grown-ups” and subbing in a few young adult Sunday school classes when the opportunity arises. When not at 600 Governors Drive, Emily may be found spending time outside or on stage with her two daughters, Hannah and Lydia, writing for Sweetwater marketing, or working at a PTA function. She loves donuts and getting her hands dirty in the garden, and she still wants to be Mr. Rogers when she grows up.
PEACE But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23 (ESV) Sometimes it’s my sunglasses. Sometimes it’s my phone. At other times it’s my keys. Dare I admit that sometimes it’s my entire purse I’m searching for. Almost always though, with time and effort, I find the thing I am looking for. Such is not the case for many people who are searching for peace. Some people look in self-help books, or in bottles or drugs; others look on mountaintops or on sandy beaches. We may look for it in other people or in our work or in our hobbies; but until we look to God, we will continue the agonizing, never-satisfying search for it. Peace is one of God’s greatest gifts to all who have professed faith in his Son, and it’s a gift we can enjoy every day of our lives. It is priceless, and yet it is free.
Peace with God There are many verses in the Bible that refer to peace, but not all of them refer to the same kind of peace. Peace with God is not the peace Paul is referring to in the fruit of the Spirit, yet it is the foundation for all peace, and so must be included in our discussion. Paul explains peace with God in Romans 5:1-2: “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through Him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” This peace with God is once-for-all, made available to us the moment we put our faith in Jesus Christ. God has redeemed us through the shed blood of His Son. The chasm that once separated us from God has been bridged. When we begin a personal relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ, we no longer need to fear the day we stand before Him. Instead, we can live with assurance, knowing that when we die we will enter His presence as forgiven, beloved children, clothed in the righteousness of Jesus. We who believe call this having peace with God; and once we have peace with God, our life in the Holy Spirit begins.
22 Ephesians 2:8-9 (NIV) For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. Romans 8:1-4 (NIV) Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin the flesh in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. FOR REFLECTION: Have you made the all-important decision to place your trust in Christ and be saved? If not, take time now to speak with the Lord. Express your desire to be forgiven for your sins, to have His peace, and to become part of His forever family. Tell Him that you accept Jesus’ offer of forgiveness and eternal life, and thank Him for His so-great salvation.
Life in the Spirit Years ago, I believed that the trees in our yard had stopped growing. I complained about the seemingly stunted trees to my landscape architect friend Julie Stephens. Without missing a beat, she told me, “Cathy, if they aren’t dead, they’re growing!” Julie was right, of course. The trees were growing; and now, years later, I can see their growth quite clearly. But is the same true for my own life? Do I grow in Christlikeness simply by being alive? The answer is a resounding no. The moment we say yes to Jesus is the moment the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in our hearts (See Ephesians 1:13, Corinthians 12:13, Romans 8:9, John 3:3-8). We are reborn in the Spirit, but we do not automatically begin seeing evidence of that rebirth, or fruit, in our lives. While the presence of God’s Spirit within us now makes love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control possible, we have a role to play in cultivating those qualities in our character. Stuart Briscoe explains it this way: “The spirit life is a product of both Spirit activity and human
23 response. It comes from obedience to God’s commands to love, be patient, kind, and self-controlled, but it also requires dependence on God’s power, through the Spirit, to make it possible.” Obedience and dependence are required. We are called to obedience and promised that God is at work within us to strengthen and sustain us to make that obedience possible. When we obey, our lives begin to bear spiritual fruit. FOR REFLECTION: Galatians 5:16a, 25 (NIV) says “So I say, walk by the Spirit…. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” What does the metaphor of walking say about our engagement with the Spirit? Is it a once-in-a-while experience, or does it need to be moment-by-moment 24/7? On a scale of 1-10, how consistently are you walking with the Spirit and, therefore, experiencing His peace? What can you do to improve your score?
Peace of God For many Christians, and I am one of them, it is tempting to pick and choose from the nine traits listed among the fruit of the Spirit. We are tempted to cultivate those that come most naturally to us, and to ignore those that do not. But that’s not an option for the mature believer. We are prone to say, “I’m just a worrier,” or “This is just the way I am.” While those statements may be true, we are called to cultivate and exhibit all of the character traits of Christ, not just the ones that come most easily to us. Beth Moore calls life in the Spirit, “living beyond yourself,” and this should be the goal of everyone who bears the name Christian. Paul is the supreme example of a Christian who lived beyond himself. He was able to experience peace in the midst of trials of incomparable difficulty. The apostle describes being flogged, beaten, stoned, and shipwrecked. He experienced hunger, thirst, and sleeplessness. And yet, he experienced the peace of God in the midst of his suffering. Paul writes about peace in his letter to the Philippians: Philippians 4:4-12 (NIV) 4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is
24 near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.10 I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. Paul experienced the peace of God, an inner calm regardless of his circumstances. Tim Keller compares him to a boulder visible from the ocean’s shore that stands fast and firm against the pounding waves of the ocean. Was Paul born this way? No. Verse 12 indicates that he had to learn to be content. This passage details how Paul learned to experience the peace of God that guarded his heart and mind. First, Paul tells us that the best antidote for anxiety is prayer, specifically, thankful prayer. We are to take all that burdens our hearts straight to God. So often we refuse to do this. Such refusals grieve the Spirit who longs to grant us peace. We often allow our anxieties to take full possession of our minds. We churn and churn. We may call a friend. We may lose sleep. We may talk endlessly about our worries. All the while, God is longing to hear our prayers and to calm our hearts. Philippians 4:6 directs us to pray about every situation. Nothing that concerns us or threatens to rob our peace is off limits for our Heavenly Father. Paul exhorts us to pray with thanksgiving. We are to thank Him for his faithfulness to us in the past. Second, Paul instructs us to think about whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, or praiseworthy. This instruction stands in sharp contrast to the solutions for anxiety found in self-help books. Such books advise us to stop thinking about what is causing our stress or to find some way to remove the cause of our anxiety. Well-meaning friends may tell us,
25 “Don’t think about it.” But Paul knew that to stop thinking about something that is deeply concerning or painful is virtually impossible. He tells us to think instead about what every believer knows to be true. We are to think about our Heavenly Father who loves us so much that He sent His Son to die for us. We can think about the beauty of heaven and the joy awaiting us there. We can meditate on all the promises of Scripture. When we think about the concern that is disrupting our peace through the lens of God’s promises, we reach the end of that thought process and conclude that, “Even if…, then God.” Even if I lose my job, God will make a way for me and for my family. Even if my husband leaves me, God will not leave me. Even if I die, God has prepared a place for me to live eternally. Fill in the ellipsis with whatever is robbing you of your peace, and the answer will always be, “then God.” That’s thinking about what is true, noble, and right. There is nothing, absolutely nothing that can separate us from His love (Romans 8:38). Deliberate choices must be made if we are to receive the peace of God. Scripture emphasizes our role in choosing peace. Jesus said, “Let not your hearts be troubled…” (John 14:1), and Paul describes our role in taking off the old and putting on the new in Ephesians 4:22-24. We serve a God who longs to renew our minds, and we have within us the Spirit’s power to make that renewal possible. But will we discipline our minds so that He can fill them with the peace we long for? I have noticed that it is possible to experience God’s peace during times of great sadness and inexplicable tragedy, and yet to be undone with the less-serious, more commonplace stressors of life. Perhaps the enormous events in our lives force us to fall on our knees and cry out to God. The Spirit is then able to fill us with the merciful peace we so need. But when it’s not a huge event, such is often not the case. Lost luggage, traffic, whining children, stacks of bills … the list goes on and on of things that often threaten our peace. Why is that? Don’t we want the Holy Spirit to bear fruit in our lives in the midst of the ordinary times? Don’t we need peace in the big things and the little things of life? I know that I do. The daily stressors often keep us on our feet and out of our time in prayer and Bible study. We are, as the lyrics of Come Thou Fount proclaim, prone to wander.
26 However, when we possess the peace of God, our lives draw others to Jesus. There is such beauty in Christians who are allowing God’s Spirit to give them peace. They are the most attractive people I know. I have a vivid memory of being in a crowded craft store several days before Christmas. The store had offered complimentary bow-making for everyone who bought ribbon that day. Since I am miserably challenged in that field, I found my place at the end of a very long line. As time passed, people in front of me and behind me grew increasingly vocal about the long wait and the lists of errands they still needed to complete. The complaints were fast and furious. I was able to watch the lone young woman whose task it was to tie all the beautiful Christmas bows. I watched while customer after customer complained to her that she was taking too long and that the store should have hired more people. I watched as her fingers moved and she nodded and smiled. I even heard her wish the most agitated, unreasonable shopper a Merry Christmas. When it was my turn, I mustered the courage to say, “You’re a Christian, aren’t you?” She replied, “Yes I am, and thank you for asking.” “I can tell,” was all I managed to say. It was so obvious that her peace was not coming from her own willpower or self-restraint. I knew her peace was from God. The Holy Spirit had not just changed her life, He had changed her day, and He had changed mine as well. That happened 30 years ago, and I still remember the power of her witness that day. Every stressful situation in which we find ourselves comes with the opportunity to reflect Christ to those who are watching. By contrast, Christians who are constantly fretting and hand-wringing do not draw non-believers into relationship with Jesus. People won’t see anything different about us if we profess to believe that God is in control of our lives—that we are forgiven and free, and that we will someday inherit eternal life—yet we spend our days coming unglued at every turn. When we do not allow what we believe to affect how we behave, our witness before non-believers is damaged. FOR RELFECTION: What, if anything, is disturbing your peace today? Are there promises in the Word of God you need to claim in order to restore your peace? Take time to pray about the situation and ask God to give you His peace and wisdom to handle the situation in a manner which glorifies Him.
Peace with Others There is a third type of peace, peace with others. This is most likely what Paul was thinking about as he wrote the list in Galatians 5:22-23. Just a few verses earlier, he had warned the Galatians against “biting and devouring each other” (Galatians 5:15). He included many actions of the sinful nature that are in direct opposition to peace just prior to his list of the fruit of the Spirit. He included hatred, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambitions, dissensions, factions, and envy in that list in verses 19-21. Paul writes more about peace with others in Romans 14:19 (NIV): “Make every effort to do what leads to peace.” This verse tells us that we must take the initiative to restore peace, and we must take responsibility for anything we may have said or done that contributed to the conflict. Taking that first step is impossible if we are allowing our sinful natures to be in control. My flesh tells me that I am not the one at fault, that I have a right to be angry, or that I didn’t deserve the thing that was said or done. It tells me to withdraw, to gossip, or to inflict pain on the one who has caused my own. Paul writes about this battle between the flesh and the Spirit in Romans 7:19-20 (NIV): “For I do not do the good that I want to do, but I practice the evil that I do not want to do. Now if I do what I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but it is the sin that lives in me.” My sin nature will never tell me to take the first step; only the Spirit will tell me to step out in peace. I remember well a specific instance when my own outburst of anger disrupted a relationship. A pair of pants that I considered an important part of my wardrobe, and that I needed to take with me on a trip, had been lost by the drycleaners that I frequent. In her effort to help me, Maria assured me the pants were at a different branch of the cleaners. I traveled there and was confidently told that the pants would in fact be waiting for me back at the store I had left thirty minutes earlier. I returned to a confused Maria who repeated the same futile search she had done an hour before. Several days later, I received a phone call explaining that I needed to return to the other side of town to claim the pants that had been found. I did so, and they were not there. The confused man told me that, contrary to what the caller had told me, the
28 pants were back where they belonged at the branch where sweet Maria worked. I traveled there, and yet again, the pants were not there. At that point, I had a choice to make: Who would control my emotions? Who would control my tongue? I would—but I didn’t. Without hesitating, I began to unload my frustration. I told her exactly how much time and effort I had wasted, and how incompetent this business was, and how I would never bring our clothes there again. I got in my car and left sweet Maria bruised from the words of someone she thought understood how hard she was working. I then heard the quiet voice of the Spirit telling me that I had just treated a child of God exactly the same way that any non-Christian would have treated her. Hadn’t I learned by now that people are more important than things? How could I ever invite her to church or share Christ with her after behaving so badly? Was He really asking me to go back to that store and apologize and thank her for all the years that every item I dropped off had been well-cared-for and safely returned? Was He really leading me to apologize even though the pants were missing, and I had been inconvenienced by so many futile trips over the mountain and across town? I believe that He was. I prayed, and I asked for forgiveness and for humility. I went back to the cleaners. A stunned Maria listened to my apology. I told her that I am a Christian, but I had not behaved as a Christian. I thanked her for how hard she was working, and I told her that I would love to continue doing business there if she would welcome it. That time, the Spirit was talking instead of Cathy. That situation ultimately ended well. I eventually obeyed the Spirit’s leading, and peace was restored. Such is not always the case, is it? There are countless instances when the efforts of Christians to initiate or restore peace are flatly refused. Those are the instances when we must remember that we are not responsible for the response of the other person. Jesus spoke the truth of how to inherit eternal life to a man that He loved, and the man refused to receive it. Jesus allowed him to walk away (Mark 10:17-27). We may not consider the conversation between Jesus and the man to be a conflict, but it is an example provided by Christ that can be applied to situations in our own lives. There will be times when we speak what we believe to be the truth as we interpret Scripture and the hearer will disagree. We must remember Christ’s example. He loved the young man. He spoke gently and respectfully to
29 the young man. The young man never, as far as Scripture reveals, came into agreement with Jesus. Jesus did His part, but He did not do the young man’s part. Romans 12:18 says, “As far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” We can only be responsible for our role in making peace. We must leave the outcome to God. When we have done our part by yielding to the Holy Spirit, we can rest in knowing that we have been obedient to God’s commands. FOR REFLECTION: Can you think of a time when you failed to exhibit God’s peace and harmed your Christian witness? What did you do? Did you attempt to rectify the situation with the person you harmed? What was the outcome? Conversely, can you think of a time when the peace of God shone through you, and someone noticed? How did you explain to them why you had such peace?
Growing in Peace I have often wished for instant spiritual maturity. How wonderful it would be if I could be made like Jesus in an instant. I would never again grieve the Spirit, and the battle with my flesh would be over. But God in His perfect plan ordained that I would not know perfection this side of heaven. None of us will. The great apostle said it so beautifully: “Not that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me” (Philippians 3:12, NIV). We will never outgrow our need for forgiveness and grace. Yet, we press on, growing in our relationship with Christ, allowing the Spirit to ripen his fruit within us “...confident of this, that he who began a good work in [us] will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6, NIV). Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:4-5, NIV). Jesus said it, I believe it; there’s peace in that. FOR REFLECTION: Read the following passages from the Psalms. Consider how you might apply them in your life today and so experience God’s peace more fully.
30 Psalm 4:8 In peace I will lie down and sleep; for you alone, LORD, make me dwell in safety. Psalm 34:14 Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it. Psalm 37:10-11 A little while, and the wicked will be no more; though you look for them, they will not be found. But the meek will inherit the land and enjoy peace and prosperity. Psalm 85:9-10 Surely his salvation is near those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land. Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other. Psalm 119:165 Great peace have those who love your law, and nothing can make them stumble.
Author: Cathy Hicks
Cathy Hicks is the blessed wife of Joseph; mother of Jean, Meg, Joseph, and Abby; and mother-in-law of Rob and David. She is the daughter of Bill and Jean Hinson. Her father was a Methodist minister, and her mother an elementary school teacher. Her earliest memories include the joy of eagerly collecting communion cups in hopes of a grape juice reward, dinner on the grounds, and Bible baseball. For Cathy, church has always been a place of open doors and open arms. First Baptist has been that place for the Hicks family for two decades. Here, they have found a place to worship, serve, study, and grow. Here, they have found friends to share the joys and sorrows of life. They thank God for bringing them to this place.
PATIENCE But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23 (ESV) The fourth fruit of the Spirit is patience, and the Greek term used here is makrothumia, which means to be long suffering. The Oxford English Dictionary defines patience as “the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, problems, or suffering without becoming annoyed or anxious.” In other words, it is an absence of whining or complaining. Biblical patience, according to the King James Version Dictionary, is “The suffering of afflictions, pain, toil, calamity, provocation or other evil, with a calm, unruffled temper; endurance without murmuring or fretfulness. Patience may spring from constitutional fortitude, from a kind of heroic pride, or from Christian submission to the divine will.” Both definitions indicate that we will encounter difficulties and problems, but our response to those difficulties is what sets Christians apart from others who do not know or follow Jesus. I must confess that patience is a virtue I have struggled with my entire life. In fact, this was the very reason why I asked to explore this attribute when I was asked to write about the Fruit of the Spirit. Since patience is a characteristic of God, we will first look at examples of God’s patience with us; then, we will look at how patience expresses itself in our everyday lives.
The Patience of God In the Old Testament, we see the patience of God in how He restrained His wrath against sinful mankind in the days of Noah; in the forty years of wilderness wanderings by the Exodus generation; and during the many periods of Israel’s disobedience (see passages below). Throughout the Old Testament, we also find examples of
32 the people of God not-so-patiently waiting for the promised Messiah. But God’s long delay reminds us that His plan for sending His Son operated on His timetable, not on ours. 1 Peter 3:18-20 (NIV) For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits—to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water. Acts 13:17-18 (NIV) The God of the people of Israel chose our ancestors; he made the people prosper during their stay in Egypt; with mighty power he led them out of that country; for about forty years he endured their conduct in the wilderness. Nehemiah 9:30-31 (NIV) For many years you were patient with them. By your Spirit you warned them through your prophets. Yet they paid no attention, so you gave them into the hands of the neighboring people. But in your great mercy you did not put an end to the or abandon them, for you are a gracious and merciful God. FOR REFLECTION: Specifically, how did God “wait patiently” in the days of Noah? How did He exhibit His patience to the Exodus generation? To the nation of Israel? We see God’s patience most clearly in His patience toward those who have yet to place their trust in Christ as their savior: 2 Peter 3:9 (NIV) The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. Romans 9:22-24 (NIV) We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.
33 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hoe that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. FOR REFLECTION: In what other Old Testaments or New Testament stories can you see the patience of God at work? How often is His love given as the reason for His patience? What are you patiently waiting on the Lord to do? What promise is given to those who wait patiently upon the Lord in Isaiah 40:31?
Patience in Action God calls us to be patient because He is patient. Four things have struck me as the outgrowth of patience—self-control, forgiveness, trust, and hope.
Patience and Self-Control Are you known for being a hot-head? Are you the one who is ready and willing to throw the first punch or hurl an insult? If that sounds like a familiar problem, then you know that self-control is an essential element in our ability to be patient with other people— and one that is necessary to prevent damaging our relationships and our witness. The impatient, sharp retort can become a weapon of destruction to a family member’s self-esteem, or the death-knell of a friendship with a co-worker, who repeatedly ask you how to complete a task you have already explained three times. When we are impatient with people, we leave the impression that we do not love or care for them. I have reflected on some of the times I have been the beneficiary of someone else’s patience because they had the required self-control.
34 I think of my longsuffering piano teacher who allowed me to stumble through piece after piece until I finally mastered a level; or my college chemistry professor whose patience allowed me to see that God was perhaps calling me to another field of study rather than continuing to struggle by taking organic chemistry. Sometimes, it’s my family’s patient self-control with me when I try yet another new recipe (My son told me recently, “Mom, sometimes a recipe just doesn’t work.”). Or the time a former coworker repeatedly explained to me how to maneuver my way through a new grading technology program. There are many other examples of how God used other people in my life to make an impact because they had the self-control to put aside their irritation and be patient with me. FOR REFLECTION: Reflect on the people in your life who have demonstrated patience with you—whether in your family, friends, workplace, or community. How have you benefitted from their patience? God commands us to have patience with others, a command we cannot keep if we do not exercise self-control. Ephesians 4:1-2 (NIV) As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 1Thessolonians 5:14-15 (NIV) And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else. FOR REFLECTION: Consider these versus and think about times when you failed to be patient with other people. What did that do to your relationship with them? In your current relationships, where do you need to exercise
35 more self-control in order to be patient? How can you use patience to restore trust in your relationships at home, work, or school? Confess the sin of impatience, ask forgiveness of those you have harmed, and ask the Holy Spirit to help you become more patient with others.
Patience and Forgiveness Patience often demands the difficult action of forgiveness when other people hurt us. How many times do we have to forgive someone? The Bible tells us seventy times seven (Matthew 18:2223); in other words, we don’t keep an account ledger. We must patiently choose to forgive one another again and again, even in the most painful of situations. Read the following parable of the Kingdom, which illustrates the link between patience and forgiveness. Matthew 18:23-35 (NIV) 23 “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold [talents] was brought to him. 25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. 26 “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. 28 “But
when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins [denarius]. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded. 29 “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’ 30 “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31 When the other servants
36 saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened. 32 “Then
the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. 35 “This
is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” In this parable, Jesus recounts a story of a king who forgives a man who owed him a vast fortune, and of that man’s unforgiving actions toward another. Just how big a debt was Jesus referring to? Investigating a bit, I found that the 10,000 talents owed by the first man would be equivalent to around $7 billion dollars today! He had no hope of ever repaying this enormous debt; yet his debt was forgiven. The second servant, however, owed only 100 denarius, equivalent to approximately four months at minimum wage or $11,000 (a difficult, but not impossible debt to repay). While the king was touched by the plea of the first servant “for patience” (or time to repay his debt and so save his wife, children, and all his possessions), the forgiven servant was not similarly moved by the second man’s plea. Because other servants witnessed both events (the king’s forgiveness and the servant’s lack of forgiveness), they informed the king who, in his anger, sent the first unforgiving servant to prison until his debt could be paid (never!). Paul states the principle of reciprocal forgiveness in Colossians 3:13 (NIV): “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” Think about the many opportunities we have each day to show both patience and forgiveness. For instance, I have opportunities to exhibit patience and forgiveness when my children do not meet my
37 expectations or to curtail my impatience with a store clerk for being too slow or talking too long with the customers in front of me. I can forgive the nearby driver who forgot to use his turn signal or be patient when I am following a too-slow driver. I can be patient and forgiving when my restaurant order misses the special items I requested and has to be sent back. I can be patient with an annoying co-worker who always stops by to talk when I am in the middle of an important task, and I can forgive him or her for taking up my time. I could go on, but I think we can all stop and reflect on the opportunities we have each day to develop patience. Sometimes, I believe I am given an incredible number of opportunities to exhibit patience because I haven’t yet made patience a healthy habit! Ephesians 4:32 (NIV) Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. FOR REFLECTION: Do you have someone you need to forgive? Have you lost patience with someone and need to repair your relationship? Ask God to give you the words and actions to clear the air and restore your relationship.
Patience and Trust Jesus’ death on the cross is the supreme example of patience and trust. 1 Peter 2:23-25 (NIV) Jesus patiently endured the Cross while trusting that God the Father would find His sacrifice acceptable and would forgive our sins. As He was bearing the burden of our sins, He did not retaliate for the cruelty; He did not grow impatient when they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” For “you were like sheep
38 going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. FOR REFLECTION: What is the relationship between trusting God and waiting patiently for Him to act? What promises encourage you to trust Him and wait? Patience and trust are most evident when we are suffering or in difficult circumstances that are not likely to pass in the near future, if ever. In those times, patience becomes endurance. I have often prayed that my desires would be evident immediately or very soon. However, it is often through the pain of disappointment that I realize it is only by trusting God’s perfect plan that I am able to endure, especially when the answer to my prayer is “no.” Many other situations test our patience, such as persistent physical pain or separations caused by the loss of loved ones. The daily news relates too many situations involving domestic violence, child abuse, and racial unrest—which may also cause us to question God’s wisdom and doubt His goodness. However, in such instances, we must trust that He is in control even when we do not see it. FOR REFLECTION: What current situations in your own life are challenging you to be patient and trust in the Lord? The greatest example of where patience and trust are required involves Christians who are being persecuted for their faith. I personally have never experienced persecution, but there are millions of Christians around the globe who do not enjoy the same freedom of religion we experience in the United States. Here, for the most part, we are free to worship openly without fear of torture or loss of life. Yet we almost daily read of those persecuted for their faith in places like Syria, North Korea, and Nigeria. We learn about Christians who refuse to abandon their religious beliefs despite being imprisoned or martyred. How can Christians stand firm under persecution? By patiently trusting in God who assures
39 us that though the physical body may be tormented, He will not forget our faithfulness to Him. FOR REFLECTION: What do the following verses teach us about being patient and trusting God when we are under pressure or persecution? Why is it important to keep an eternal perspective on what we experience in this life? Hebrews 6:10-12 (NIV) God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, so that what you hope for may be fully realized. We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised. 2 Thessalonians 1:6-7 (NIV) God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels.
Patience and Hope I am sure that most of us have encountered a situation where we were deeply hurt, disappointed, or disillusioned, and felt there was no hope of our situation changing for the better. This is when patience must be linked to hope, absolute confidence in a loving, heavenly Father who knows our needs and has promised to meet them. I am reminded how patience and hope have worked together in my own family. God planted a desire for a certain career path, and we felt everything was working out perfectly. However, there was an unexpected delay in fulfilling the goal. God did not take away the desire, but we had to wait for its fulfillment. The timing was in
40 God’s hands. While we waited, we shed tears of sorrow and disappointment; and, at times, it seemed hopeless. But, ultimately, according to His plan for us, we reached the goal He had planted in our hearts. Hope in the Bible is not an “I wish it were true” emotion; it is absolute confidence that God will do exactly as He has promised. But how do we insure that we can have the strength to walk through disappointment and never give up? We pray. Prayer is the gift of God which calms our wounded spirits and enables us to be patient and hope. For even in the most difficult situations, we are not alone; God promises us to give us the grace and strength we need. Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV) “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Romans 8:28-29 (NIV) And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Isaiah 40:31 (NIV) [But] those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. FOR REFLECTION: Can you recall a time when, in the midst of sorrow and pain, you felt the hope that comes from the Holy Spirit working in your life? How did this help you have patience and wait of the Lord to act? What current circumstance are requiring you to be patient and have hope (confidence in God)?
Conclusion I was struck in my preparation of this lesson to consider farmers as they patiently wait for their vineyards to produce fruit. The fruit does not appear on the vine fully grown. The vines must be tended by pruning and fertilizing, and be coupled with weather conducive for growth. Likewise, we do not begin the Christian life with fully developed “fruits” of the Spirit. We grow and develop as the Holy Spirit works in our lives to enhance the fruit we produce. Throughout our journey of faith, we are provided opportunities to produce healthy “fruits” of the Spirit. I noted with interest this is not a personality test to decide which fruit we would like to develop: we are to produce the “fruit” (singular) of the Spirit, which encompasses all nine attributes listed in Galatians 5:22-23. In our journey of faith, we should be growing in all these character traits through the divine empowerment of the Spirit. Patience requires us to exercise self-control, to forgive, to trust, and to hope. In so doing, our relationship with God grows deeper and sweeter. Our demonstration of patience gives us hope for the future, provides a safe place of trust for our family and friends; and assures the steadying presence of the Holy Spirit to give us strength to wait on the Lord for the blessings that will come in the future. Patience does not come naturally to most of us. It is a fruit of the Spirit that demands intentional focus and consistent practice. My prayer for each of us is that we can demonstrate the patience of a Christ-filled life with those with whom we associate. May we seize the opportunity to extend patience, forgiveness, trust, and hope within our homes and community so that Christ may be glorified. Author: MaryAnn B. Moon MaryAnn Moon has been a member of First Baptist Church for the last 30 years since moving here in the summer of 1988. She and
42 her husband, Rick, have been active in the music ministry and they teach preschool Sunday school. After retiring from teaching high school social studies for 25 years, MaryAnn is currently tutoring middle school students in reading at Morris School. She and Rick have a son, Russ, and daughter, Laura, who is married to Patrick Foshee and who lives in Birmingham. The Moons are graduates and avid supporters of Samford University.
KINDNESS But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23 News media love “feel good” stories about someone performing an act of kindness. One such story that originated in Huntsville has garnered global attention. Rodney Smith, Jr. was on his way home from class at Alabama A&M University on a hot afternoon in September 2015. He saw an elderly man struggling to mow his lawn and stopped to ask if he needed some help. Rodney finished mowing the man’s lawn and didn’t charge the man a dime. Later that night Rodney decided that other people – elderly, disabled, single mothers, and veterans – also might not be able to mow their lawns themselves or afford hiring someone to do the work. He did not own a lawn mower, but found one advertised on Craig’s List. When Rodney explained what he had in mind, the owner donated the mower to him. He set and reached a personal goal of mowing 40 more yards for free that season. He actually cut more than 100. In 2016, along with his friend, Terrence Stroy, Rodney founded “Raising Men Lawn Care Service.” Since then he has personally mowed lawns for free in all 50 states. He has enlisted more than 255 youth aged 7-17 in five countries to take a “50-Yard Challenge.” Each participant agrees to mow at least 50 yards for free. He sends each boy or girl a white T-shirt with the organization’s logo printed on it: “Raising Men …” for the boys, and “Raising Women …” for the girls. Participants get different color shirts as they progress toward the 50-lawn goal: orange for 10, green for 20, blue for 30, red for 40, and black for 50 (like becoming a black-belt in free lawn care). Rodney travels to mow with each participant, and he presents them with a new lawn
44 mower, weed eater, and leaf blower provided by corporate sponsors. Rodney, now 28 with a computer science degree and a master’s degree in social work from A&M, is from Bermuda, where his father is a home builder. He says that his father’s love of helping others rubbed off on him. He admits that he was not a fan of mowing lawns as he was growing up, but that he has come to love it and the ability to help others it offers. That love for doing kindness for others is what he hopes to cultivate among the youth in his program. Most of them appear to catch on. Somewhere around the fifth lawn the kids begin to recognize the good they are doing. Often, they begin asking when they will get to go back out to mow more lawns. Smith and Stroy work with the kids to develop their self-esteem, a strong work ethic, high moral standards, and skills for helping and listening to others. In addition to doing yard work, the kids in the program visit with their clients at least every two weeks to make sure that they are OK. Many of the young mowers pose for photos with the grateful people whose yards they have cleaned up, posting the pictures on social media. Many posts are liked by well over a million people and shared hundreds of thousands of times. Their acts of kindness are captivating. Acts of kindness like Rodney’s are self-evident when you see them. Such stories of kindness are heart-warming and inspirational. Often acts of kindness stimulate other people to join in or to demonstrate kindness in their own ways. A young girl set up a lemonade stand in order to buy Christmas presents for foster children with the profits. People who saw a video of her kindness donated tens of thousands of dollars to buy gifts. A man in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, said to people whose houses were flooded by hurricane Florence, “Come stay at my house.” His “house” is Midtown Inn and Cottages, an independent motel with about 80 units. The owner has given away over 1,000 free nights of lodging to some of the area’s poorest and most vulnerable evacuees. When
45 word spread about his kindness, others rushed to ask how they could help. Some brought diapers for families with babies. Many brought food. Many people staying at the inn helped others with housecleaning or cooking or childcare. From opening and holding a door for a person walking with limited mobility, to paying a restaurant tab for a veteran’s family, to learning and greeting by name a service worker you pass by routinely, we recognize kindness when we see it – or practice it.
Forms of Kindness Kindness takes many forms. It stems from an awareness of the needs of others, or what can benefit them or make their lives more pleasant. The disposition to be kind typically precedes the inclination to do a good deed. Although – as advocates of “random acts of kindness” insist – consciously developing the habit of doing specific kind acts can help to implant the impulse into our hearts so that we are more likely to be kind spontaneously on our own. Kindness is the Golden Rule in action, and we would all do well to train ourselves to live by that rule. The qualities we would want others to show to us – being considerate, generous, forgiving, sympathetic, humane, benevolent, and thoughtful – we should readily demonstrate regularly toward others. These noble qualities synonymous with kindness can be promoted by any given civic club, community development group, or child and youth development organization. All of us certainly can do a better job of it: we know what kindness is and have ample opportunity to practice it. Kindness in this sense is a foundation of polite, neighborly, stable society. FOR REFLECTION: “Feel good” stories about people being kind abound on social media. Can you think of a recent story that touched your heart? What was it? Why did you find it meaningful? Did it encourage you to be kind to someone in a similar manner?
Biblical Kindness The kindness found in the Bible is all of this and far more. As a component of the fruit of the Spirit, kindness is much more than a single random act or even a habit of doing good deeds. Remember that the nine attributes of the fruit of the Spirit are not separate varieties of fruit as you would find in a grocery store produce section. Kindness is not to be selected apart from the other qualities of the Holy Spirit as we might choose a banana but not an apple or mango for our shopping cart. We cannot pluck a single grape from a cluster to sample and thereby claim to have done the “fruit thing.” The presence of the Holy Spirit in a believer’s life should be evident consistently in all the qualities cataloged in Galatians 5. Kindness as the Bible uses the term helps us to understand the essential character of God. Our best expressions of kindness can demonstrate how well we are reflecting the image of God as we are created to do, and as we are recreated to do through faith in Christ. We can explore this depth of kindness by considering three ideas derived from Scripture: 1. Kindness is an essential attribute of God’s character. 2. God’s kindness is demonstrated supremely in Jesus’ death and resurrection to save us from our sin. 3. Followers of Jesus, in imitation of Christ, are to practice kindness in our daily lives.
Kindness is an essential attribute of God’s character Jeremiah 9:24 (NIV) “Let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the Lord.
The word translated as kindness in the Old Testament Hebrew text is hesed. The word is also rendered as mercy, love, steadfast love, and loving-kindness. Hesed is one of the two most often used Hebrew words for describing God’s most essential character. It denotes God’s self-giving love, care, and faithfulness toward all creation and particularly toward people in covenant relationship with himself. Jeremiah delivered God’s prophecy of judgement upon people who broke their covenant to be faithful to him alone as their God. Like all prophets, Jeremiah also spoke God’s promise of gracious love and restoration for those who repent and turn back to faithful living. In this context Jeremiah quotes God’s self-identification rooted in hesed, or kindness. God cautions against any who boast in their own strength or goodness to save them from destruction because of their sin. Rather, God declares that salvation is the essence of his kindness toward all who repent and believe. Kindness (hesed) is the abiding nature of God praised in Psalm 136. The psalm recalls the wonder of God creating the universe and God’s saving grace in saving the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt, leading them to the Promised Land, and providing for all their needs. Interwoven with the telling of God’s story, each verse of the psalm ends with the same phrase centered upon God’s hesed. As the Amplified Bible renders the faithful affirmation, “His lovingkindness [graciousness, mercy, compassion] endures forever” (Psalm 136:1-25). God’s kindness—and the wealth of God’s loving, gracious character encompassed in that word—is at the heart of God’s creation and redemption. Good deeds and kind words help to make the world around us a better place to live. But they pale in comparison with the profound kindness we experience from God. The self-giving care God has for all he has created, all who live in it, and all who are sustained by his grace reveals to us the depth of kindness taught in the Bible.
48 FOR REFLECTION: How are grace and kindness related? How has God shown His kindness to you?
God’s kindness is demonstrated supremely in Jesus’ death and resurrection to save us from our sin Titus 3:4-6 (NIV) When the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior. God’s ultimate act of kindness is stated succinctly in the short New Testament book of Titus. Here the word kindness harkens back to God’s essential nature summed up in Hebrew scripture in the word hesed, as we have seen previously. The term encompasses the gracious nature of God and the complete expression of his desire to provide us a way for salvation through faith in Jesus. God’s kindness is not merely a sappy urge to do some isolated act to help another. It involves every aspect of God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The full meaning of kindness is seen in the most familiar verse in the Bible, John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (NRSV). The word kindness does not appear in the text, but the full significance of the concept is there. This is what Paul had in mind when he wrote to Titus about “when the kindness and love of God appeared….” The cost of God’s kindness is epitomized in Jesus’ offering himself for our salvation. Paul quotes a hymn sung by the first generation of Christians: “Christ Jesus,… though he was in the form of God, emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:5-8, NRSV).
49 Demonstrating God’s brand of kindness is infinitely costly. And Paul recalled the hymn in the middle of telling followers of Jesus to cultivate their mindset to be like Christ’s. We therefore should not turn away from showing kindness if it seems like we will incur some inconvenience or personal or financial cost. God’s kindness that saves us came at the price of Jesus becoming a man and suffering death for our sin. The purpose of God’s costly kindness is to offer us true life through faith in Jesus. Paul insisted to some of the first people who heard the gospel of God’s grace through Christ that their adherence to rules and good conduct were insufficient to earn salvation for themselves. He explained that Jesus is the ultimate revelation of God’s love and grace. Jesus’ life and teaching, his death and resurrection, are God’s way to call anyone who will believe and follow Jesus away from their own self-centeredness to life as God intends it. Kindness sums up all of God’s love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness. It is seen most clearly in the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus. And Paul says that the purpose of it is clear as well: “God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance” (Romans 2:4, NIV). FOR REFLECTION: Biblical kindness is “costly.” How has this proven true in your own life? What acts of kindness have you done which “cost” you? In what way were they costly?
Followers of Jesus, in imitation of Christ, are to practice kindness in our daily lives Ephesians 4:32 (NRSV) Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. While God’s grace is infinite, and his acts of kindness never end, we who profess faith in Jesus are called in our finite lives to resemble more closely the image of God we were created to reflect. Because God has demonstrated kindness by sending Jesus to save us, we are to practice kindness in his name in order to draw
50 people into fresh experiences of his grace. The principle for us to live by—and the compelling reason to do it—can be stated quite simply: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32, NRSV). The presence of the Holy Spirit within us is the only sufficient source of such Christ-like kindness. Numerous times in the New Testament similar lists of attitudes and actions that keep us from showing kindness are cataloged. Jesus cites a list of behaviors that are anything but kind: greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly (Mark 7:22). Paul and Peter follow Jesus’ teaching example with a checklist of unkind acts to avoid. In Romans, Ephesians, Colossians, and 1 Peter they consistently cite envy, deceit, malice, gossip, slander, disobedience to parents, bitterness, rage, unwholesome talk, lying, hypocrisy, et al. (See Romans 1:29-30; Ephesians 4:31; Colossians 3:8; 1 Peter 2:1). All such behavior is contrary to a life being transformed by the Holy Spirit through faith in Christ, they say. Instead they counsel to be kind, compassionate, patient, generous, and peaceable. A Christian’s daily life should mirror the full spectrum of kindness associated with God in the Hebrew word hesed and in the gracious, saving kindness Jesus showed to all people. We are to “be kind one to another.” FOR REFLECTION: Do you struggle with being compassionate in situations which call for you to be kind? If so, why? What do you do when you find it difficult to be kind to someone? What specific actions can you take to demonstrate God’s kindness to someone? The pattern of reflecting God’s kindness is well established by characters in the Old Testament:
Ruth’s mother-in-law prays that God will show kindness (hesed) to her. In return Ruth practices kindness to Naomi by remaining with her to care for her. Boaz shows kindness to Ruth first by leaving grain for her, then by marrying her.
51 Their union produces a son, the ancestor of David—and Jesus. (See Ruth 1:8; 2:13; 3:10-11.)
David shows kindness to Jonathan’s disabled son, Mephibosheth. Jonathan had asked David to show God’s kind of kindness to his family if anything happened to him. When Jonathan was killed, David took Mephibosheth into his own household and treated him like a son. (See 2 Samuel 9:1-13.)
An unnamed widow from Zarephath takes in the prophet Elijah during a severe famine. From just enough flour and oil to make bread for herself and her son she feeds them all. In return for her kindness Elijah restores her son to life after he suddenly dies. (See 1 Kings 17:8-24.)
In each of these instances, and in many more stories in Hebrew scripture, faithful people of God reflect God’s kindness to themselves by extending kindness to others. In addition, we find people in the pages of the New Testament who show this Christ-like kindness:
Women from Galilee accompanied Jesus and the Twelve as they ministered, providing financial support from their own resources. (See Matthew 27:55-56; Mark 15:40-41; Luke 8:1-3.)
Barnabas’ given name was Joseph. He lived such a life of kindness and helpfulness that he was called “Son of Encouragement,” the translation of his nickname, Barnabas. He was among the first to sell his property and generously donate the proceeds to support the earliest needs of the church after Pentecost. He sponsored Saul—whom the followers of Jesus feared because he had persecuted them and had consented to Stephen’s execution—and
52 introduced Saul to people in the church. Saul/Paul went on to preach the gospel mightily. When some opposed Gentiles becoming Christians, Barnabas pled their case for inclusion to the church leaders in Jerusalem. He accompanied Paul on the first recorded missionary outreach for Christ. When the Jerusalem church was in financial strain and its members impoverished, Barnabas promoted relief offerings from believers in Asia and personally delivered the gifts to Jerusalem. He also gave a second chance to John Mark, who had left Paul and Barnabas on their first journey. John Mark was later commended by Paul as a special help to him and an effective minister in his own right. Everyone knew Joseph for his lifestyle of kindness and that became how people referred to him, Barnabas. (See Acts 4:36-37; 9:26-28; 11:19-30; 12:2513:7, 42-43; 15:36-39.) FOR REFLECTION: Based upon the examples of Bible characters who demonstrated kindness, consider the following: 1. What resources did each character have for showing kindness? 2. What are some possible outcomes if the character had not shown kindness? 3. What was the cost to the characters for showing kindness? 4. Name some rewards—if any—the characters received for showing kindness. 5. How should the cost/benefit analysis figure into whether or not to show kindness? Kindness practiced by these and others helped to proclaim the riches of God’s grace. They habitually exemplified in ordinary, day-to-day terms the life-affirming, redemptive, sustaining power of God’s kindness.
53 We have similar opportunities to spread the gospel of Christ as we show kindness to others. When we consciously emulate God’s kindness and we openly proclaim our Christ-centered motivation for being kind, we help God’s kindness touch lives. We are not just do-gooders, but participants with God, empowered by the Holy Spirit within us, and pointing people to Jesus’ saving kindness that can transform their lives.
More than Random Kindness You may be most familiar with calls to demonstrate kindness from the “practice random acts of kindness” movement. The popular media sensation stems from the motto, “Practice random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty,” originally penned by marketer Anne Herbert in 1982 to be printed on inspirational restaurant placemats. She derived it from the writings of Stewart Brand, who founded Whole Earth Catalog in 1968. The somewhat off-beat, counter-culture notion was the subject of a book published in February 1983 that was covered by nearly every print and broadcast outlet in the U.S. It has garnered its own holiday (February 17) as National Random Acts of Kindness Day. But the movement has also spawned a backlash. A University of Virginia psychologist, Jonathan Haidt, has studied the effects of random acts of kindness. He concludes that “If you do a random act of kindness for a stranger and it’s a one-shot deal, there’s much less likelihood that you’re going to see any benefit.” He and others suggest continuing to be kind, but to join with others in concerted efforts to eradicate social and economic systemic ills. The church has been gathering people to practice God’s sort of kindness for centuries. We should take care not to trivialize kindness by settling for random, isolated good deeds. By all means, do all you can to follow the positive dictum of growing up Southern: “Be kind.” But don’t short-change kindness. It is an essential part of God’s character. Random acts of kindness may be like sparks emitting flashes of light that are briefly fascinating,
54 then quickly fade. Kindness that is empowered by the Holy Spirit, transforming both the practitioner and the recipient, is like an eternal flame offering light and life. Think of the unlimited cost of God’s demonstration of kindness in Jesus Christ. What might our acts of kindness cost us? How can we give affirmations of life and value to people in Jesus’ name to draw them to new life through faith in Christ as God’s kindness is meant to do? Author: Ed Culpepper Ed Culpepper and his wife, Sherron, have two adult sons and three grandchildren. Ed served FBC as Administrative Pastor from 1996-2005. In retirement, he has served FBC as a deacon, Sunday School teacher, LTC singer, and member of several committees. He holds M.Div., Th.M., and Ph.D. degrees from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has served churches in Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky, and Alabama as pastor and in other ministerial roles.
GOODNESS But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23 (ESV) We hear about “goodness”—the sixth fruit of the Spirit—all the time in church. But have you ever stopped to really think about what it means? Today, the word “goodness” is most often used as an exclamation, as in “O my goodness!” or “Goodness gracious!” Because of this, I believe we have stripped the word of its meaning in our own language, and we are pretty far removed from what Paul could have meant in his language. FOR REFLECTION: How would you define “goodness”? When was the last time you heard someone talk about “goodness”? Do you think you have displayed the fruit of goodness in the past couple of weeks? Why or why not?
A Story about Goodness Nicole Thompson was working an extra shift in the summer of 2016 at Nick’s Pizza and Pub outside of Chicago when something extraordinary happened to her. The full-time teacher was working this second job to help pay the bills, and she agreed to work on Father’s Day in order to help the restaurant through what was sure to be a busy day. While working her shift, a friend came in along with his boss. After a while, they asked to pay the tab of another patron—and when they did, they left Nicole a $500 tip! But it didn’t stop there. A short time later, Nicole’s father came in, and after chatting with the same friend and boss who had left the generous tip, he sat down in a nearby booth. Sure enough, the friend and boss asked to
56 pay his bill as well; this time they left Nicole an additional $1,000 tip. Nicole was overwhelmed; and at first, she insisted that she couldn’t take the tips. But the generous donor told her that yes, she could, and that he wanted to give her the money because he’d heard she had been working two jobs; he wanted to reward her for working so hard. The owner of the restaurant wrote about the occasion on Facebook and said that it was nice to know that there were “still good people in the world.” When reflecting back on the life-changing day, Nicole said, “The rest of the day I felt like different, like, what just happened here? I never anticipated that.” FOR REFLECTION: What are some things that you think mark the goodness of a Christian versus the goodness of the average non-believing person? When you meet a person who is kind, compassionate, and full of character and integrity, but who is not a follower of Jesus, how does that make you feel? What are your standards of measurement for whether something or someone is “good” or not?
Biblical Goodness The Greek word that is translated “goodness” is a tricky one. One of the reasons why it is tricky is because the word that comes right before it in the fruit of the Spirit list— chrestotes, usually translated as “kindness”—is sometimes translated as “goodness” too (so, the “fruit of the Spirit is … goodness, goodness”?) Our word for goodness in Galatians 5:22 is the Greek word agathosune, and it is used four times in the New Testament, all by Paul. Its root word, however, is used over 100 times; and from that usage we can begin to conceptualize what Paul might mean when he says, “the fruit of the Spirit is … goodness.”
57 Whatever we mean when we say something is “good” or contains “goodness,” a cursory glance at the New Testament would show us that, Biblically speaking, anything “good” is intended to mean “of God.” For example,
Only God is good (Matthew 19:17) God gives good gifts (Matthew 7:11) He works things together for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28) His will is good (Romans 12:2) Every good thing comes from God (James 1:17) Wisdom from God bears good fruit (James 3:17) Those who inherit eternal life will have done good things as evidence of their salvation (John 5:29; Romans 2:7,10; Ephesians 2:10)
And so on, and so on. Now, read that list again, and replace every occurrence of the word “good” with “godly,” “godliness,” or “of God.” You can turn throughout the New Testament and find “goodness” and things that are “good” associated with God. Even the Old Testament indicates this, starting on page one – “God saw that it was good.” For our purposes of understanding what this word means and the way Paul is intending for it to be used, we would do well to think of it as meaning “godliness” or “God-likeness.” A person who has the fruit of goodness is a person who has begun displaying the attributes we associate with God Himself, or who could be reasonably described as displaying that they are “of God.”
The Goodness of God So, if one of the “fruits” of the Spirit is goodness, and goodness in its essential meaning is something that is “of God” or “from God,” then we must ask, “What is God like?” Thankfully, Jesus answers that for us several times, and it is one of those times—told in parable form—to which we will now turn. Matthew 20:1-16 (NIV) “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. 2 He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard. “About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. 4 He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ 5 So they went. 3
“He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. 6 About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’ “‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered. “He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’ 7
“When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’ 8
“The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. 10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12 ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal 9
59 to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’ “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ 13
“So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” FOR REFLECTION: What do you think this passage conveys about the character of God, Jesus, and people? And what change do you think it compels within us?
Let’s go back to our story that we told earlier about Nicole Thompson, the server that was tipped $1500 for working so hard at a Pizza joint in Chicago and holding down two jobs. There’s a part of this story that resonates with something deep inside of us: we believe that people who work hard should be rewarded for it. We believe that if we have much to share, we should be generous. We believe that the world should be more “fair” in this way. But let’s also imagine that same man who tipped Nicole $1500 for working so hard also stepped outside of the restaurant and began giving $1500 to everyone that he crossed paths with. Some would be working hard themselves, hustling to a meeting or appointment. Others would be those who weren’t working at all: beggars or addicts or people just down on their luck. A casual observer might see this unfold and think “What a good guy!” However, if we were Nicole, we might think the situation was unfair: she had to work hard for her $1500, not sit around and do nothing! Jesus’ point in this story is exactly this: that the goodness of God goes beyond our comprehension! Deep inside of us, we see
60 someone who works hard and we think they should be rewarded for their efforts, that reward should be merit-based. But it is the story of the workers in the vineyard that Jesus begins to set his listeners up for the concept of God’s benevolence and grace—the unmerited favor of God upon the people of God. So let’s recap what we’ve learned so far: 1. A person who has the fruit of goodness is a person who displays the attributes we associate with God Himself, or who could be reasonably described as displaying that they are “of God.” 2. A goodness that is of God is marked by the characteristic of grace and benevolence. Is there a Bible story that helps to illustrate this “fruit” in the life of a new believer in Jesus? As a matter of fact, there is. Luke 19:1-10 (NIV) 1 Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy.3 He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way. 5 When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.7 All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.” 8 But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
61 FOR REFLECTION: What do you think this passage conveys about the character of God, Jesus, and/or people? And what change do you think it compels within us? Zacchaeus had a dramatic life change when he came to faith in Jesus: he pledged to both undo the wrong that he had done, but also to make those indebted to him better off than they were before. He benevolently helped those less fortunate than himself. In this, Zacchaeus displayed the fruit of “goodness”—the fruit “of God,” who has generously, benevolently, and graciously shared His love and richness with us. This reflects the blessing that the people of God are about to receive through Jesus the Son, but with a few key differences. In the overarching Gospel-story, Jesus has some of the major characteristics of Zacchaeus. Jesus is the one with the riches (as a matter of fact, He is the riches), and He is willing to share His riches with us to make up for wrongdoing. However, the critical difference is that we, not Jesus, are the ones that have done wrong and that Jesus is the One paying “four times” over. In essence, Jesus saying, “I will share all of my possessions with the poor (that would be us!); and if you have cheated anyone out of anything I will pay back four times the amount.” Zacchaeus recognizes this benevolent, graceful characteristic of Jesus; and it immediately changes his life. That life change produces a “fruit” in him that wants to mimic the grace, benevolence, and “goodness” that he has been shown. Zacchaeus recognizes the goodness of God and wants to be “good,” or “of God,” in response. He is manifesting the fruit of the Spirit. FOR REFLECTION: Can you think of another parable or teaching in the Bible that illustrates someone displaying the “goodness” of God through their actions?
62 On the other hand, Matthew recounts a story Jesus told which shows us someone coming face-to-face with the goodness of God and failing to display the fruit of the Spirit in their lives. Matthew 18:23-35 (NIV) 23 “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. 25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. 26 “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. 28 “But
when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded. 29 “His
fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’ 30 “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened. 32 “Then
the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. 35 “This
is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
63 Jesus is warning us that it is not enough to simply believe. Someone who understands, grasps, and accepts the grace and benevolence of God will demonstrate that understanding and acceptance in tangible ways to others. The Christian who understands the magnitude of their canceled debt, and the tremendous riches that have been given to them, will want to bless others in the same way God has blessed them. And then there are those who, as in this story, will hear about the grace and benevolence of God and yet will not reflect that understanding in their day-to-day lives. They will display no … fruit … that demonstrates their gratefulness for the benevolence and grace of God. FOR REFLECTION: Can you think of another parable or teaching in the Bible that illustrates someone hearing and understanding about the goodness of God but not displaying that goodness in response? Again, let’s recap what we’ve learned so far: 1. A person who has the fruit of goodness is a person who displays the attributes we associate with God Himself, or who could be reasonably described as displaying that they are “of God.” 2. A goodness that is of God is marked by the characteristics of grace and benevolence. 3. Christians are to demonstrate their understanding and acceptance of the goodness of God by being benevolent, graceful, and “good” (or “of God”) in their day-to-day actions. A person who does not demonstrate this has not truly accepted the grace of God.
Conclusion Why is goodness a fruit of the Spirit? Because it demonstrates an understanding of the goodness that God has given to you. So by exploring what the goodness of God means and what it means for God to be good, what would it look like if that really changed the way that we lived? How would the world be different? And how would the opinion of Christians be different among non-believers? Ponder these questions, and whether your own life displays the fruit of “of-God-ness” that Paul and Jesus talked about in our passages today. If it doesn’t, pray for a change in your heart like that of Zacchaeus, and start living now with the fruit of goodness on display in your life! Author: John Lemons John moved to Huntsville in 2016 to begin serving on the ministerial staff at First Baptist Church as the Minister to Young Adults, where he loves being a part of such a historic church at the heart of a fantastic city. During this time, he has also managed to serve on the Board of Directors of the VINE Pastoral Counseling Center and plug in as a volunteer at Whitesburg P-8 school, where his children attend. John is also currently participating in Leadership Huntsville/Madison County's "Connect" program, which connects emerging leaders throughout the community with each other and with important organizations throughout the area. In addition, John is married to his wife of 16 years, Emily, and together they have two amazing daughters along with a troublemaking dog and a just okay cat.
FAITHFULNESS But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23 (ESV) Wayne and I were young, 25 and 23, when we moved to Hickman, Kentucky, his first fulltime pastorate after Wayne graduated from seminary. Yet 47 years later, I still often think of Emma Ellison. She was homebound, elderly, a widow with very little. She lived over a downtown storefront and had meager material possessions, but what joy she had. She was unable to leave her simple apartment, but still found meaningful purpose in teaching the Sunday School lesson over the telephone each week to a friend who was blind. As we study faithfulness, the seventh of the nine aspects of the Spirit, we would do well to think about those like Mrs. Ellison as we journey through our own growth in this Christlike trait.
God’s Faithfulness When we speak of faithfulness, we usually think of God’s faithfulness to us, not our faithfulness to Him. As a church musician, I find it quite natural to think of specific hymns as I read the Bible. Finding hymns and scriptures about God’s faithfulness to us is easy (“Great is Thy Faithfulness”), but for this lesson I want to focus on scriptures and hymns that speak of our faithfulness to God. One of the first that came to my mind is “I’ll Live for Him”: (1) My life, my love I give to Thee, Thou Lamb of God who died for me; O may I ever faithful be, My Savior and my God!
66 (Refrain) I’ll live for Him who died for me, How happy then my life shall be! I’ll live for Him who died for me, My Savior and my God! We sing with devotion the more well-known hymn “He Leadeth Me” … “his faithful follower I would be for by his hand he leadeth me.” The author, Ralph E. Hudson wrote this at age 39, not at the end of his life (1843-1901). In this study, we will examine what faithfulness is, the depth of our own faithfulness, how we can grow in faithfulness, the purpose of faithfulness, and what our response should be, whether we are 18 or 100.
Faithfulness Defined The Greek word pistis is ordinarily translated “faith” in reference to Christ or God. But in Galatians 5, it is used alone—not in reference to Christ, God, or the Holy Spirit. Here, it is simply one characteristic of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the Christian. In his book The Harvest of the Holy Spirit, author Landrum P. Leavell explains the word’s usage (65-66): Thayer, who has written the standard Greek-English lexicon used by Greek scholars around the world, suggests that in this particular usage the word refers to “the character of one who can be relied upon.” That’s far more closely associated with our word fidelity than faith…. Some commentators suggest that we ought to translate pistis [as] trustworthiness…. It describes the “virtue which insures obedience to God and loyalty to other people… to be true to his promise and faithful to his task.”
67 FOR REFLECTION: How would you explain “faithfulness” to another person? What examples would you use?
The Depth of Our Faithfulness So often at a celebration of life service when a saint has passed on, we hear said, “she/he was a faithful member of this church.” While we may be thinking mainly of faithfulness in attendance, which is of course important, of even greater importance is God’s call to obedience in serving: “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much” (Luke 16:10, NRSV). Whether God has given you a few or many skills to serve, your faithfulness is what is rewarded. To the servants given respectively five and two talents, the Master replied: “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things” (Matthew 25:21, 23, NIV.) As we are obedient to the tasks to which God calls us, His kingdom is built. While we must not mistake busyness in the church and feeling obligated to do everything, following Christ will result in serving. FOR REFLECTION: When you think of a “faithful Christian,” who comes to mind? How many are famous (known throughout the nation, if not the world)? How many are people you know personally? In what way do their lives demonstrate faithfulness? When I think about faithful First Baptist members, several people come to my mind, although I will not mention names. One elderly saint served in numerous highly responsible positions in the church for many decades while at the same time working in top positions at the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center. Another is a friend, a quiet woman not seen in the forefront, who works steadily in ministries such as tutoring at Lakeside Elementary since the program began, preparing meals and freezing them to take to those who are sick, serving on important church committees, working
68 weekly at the Huntsville Assistance Program (HAP), and delivering Meals on Wheels. One of our dear homebound members is 102. Last year, she mailed Wayne and me a poem she wrote for our 50th anniversary. Though we have members who visit her, she is the one who blesses us with her love. God rewards our faithfulness in using the gifts given to us, whether we have one or five. Year after year, these members have been consistently faithful to the tasks they were called to do, using the gifts given to each, in the work of building God’s kingdom. I will never forget an early test of my faithfulness. When I was entering the 10th grade, my family moved to Birmingham. In other churches, I had accompanied youth and adult choirs in worship services. But at my new church, the minister of music asked me to accompany the preschool choir. I was accustomed to playing complex choral anthems; the preschoolers sang easy children’s songs. I made the decision to accept the responsibility, and I was faithful to attend each Wednesday. Patsy Westerhouse (mother of our own FBC member Wayne Westerhouse) was the director of that preschool choir. I realized the importance of faithfulness to the task, even though it seemed small. I have often thought God was testing my faithfulness in the small assignment, before giving me a larger assignment. Sometimes our desire to serve is a desire for recognition for ourselves, but God tests our willingness to be faithful in the small things. Now at age 71, I look back at the opportunities in music God has given me; and I am thankful that among the most rewarding was as organist here at FBC. What if I had said “no” to playing for preschool choir? Would God have continued to give me more responsible tasks? FOR REFLECTION: Have you had a similar experience, a time when you were asked to do something “simple” but outside the way you normally used your gifts and talents? Did you say “yes”? If so, why? If not, why not?
Growing in Faithfulness In The Holy Spirit, Billy Graham offers some clear words which might convict us that we are not maturing in faithfulness as we should (203-204): A familiar expression in industry is “turn around time,” the time that elapses between the receipt of an order and the day it is delivered. Many Christians will someday regret the self-imposed time lag that came between the point when God first showed them His plan for them, and the point when they took action. The ancient Israelites could have completed their journey from Egypt to Canaan in a few months. Instead, the journey took forty years and a whole generation died because of their unfaithfulness. Lack of faithfulness is actually a sign of spiritual immaturity…. God has given us certain responsibilities as mature Christians. When we are disobedient and refuse to accept these responsibilities, we are unfaithful. On the other hand, when we are faithful, it means we have accepted the responsibilities God has given us. This is a sign of spiritual maturity, and it is one of the important fruits the Spirit brings to our lives. Surely most of us grow at a slower rate than we should because we refuse to allow the Holy Spirit to control all areas of our lives. Rather, our faithful obedience to allow God the Holy Spirit to remove any vile habit or developing infection should be immediate. We can become impatient when we discover it takes so long to become like Him, but we should be patient and faithful, for becoming like Him is worth waiting for. Sometimes the greatest test of our faithfulness is how much time we spend reading the Scriptures, praying, and
70 living in accord with the principles of righteousness when we have been blessed with prosperity. A devout Christian surprised me recently by saying, “It’s hard to be a faithful Christian in modern-day America.” It is so easy to forget and to forsake our God in the midst of prosperity and especially when materialism is rampant. Faithfulness to Christ will result in faithfulness in all areas of our lives: in family relationships (faithful to our spouse, children, parents, grandparents, siblings, extended family); at work and in all relationships (profession, neighbors, friends, clubs); in the church (faithful in giving, praying, serving, studying God’s Word, witnessing); thus, faithful in everything. We too often make the mistake of separating our church/spiritual lives from our secular lives, but this is incorrect thinking. Who we are as faithful Christians carries over to every aspect of our living. Whatever we do is part of God’s calling on our lives and is for His glory: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31 NRSV). FOR REFLECTION: Do you agree with Dr. Graham that it is hard to be faithful in the midst of prosperity and materialism? If so, why do you think this is true? How can you determine if you are growing in faithfulness? On the other hand, we must be careful not to justify unfaithfulness to the church by saying our faithfulness is in all areas of our lives. As an example, church leaders and pastors, as well as research studies, report that in most all churches, members are not attending as regularly. Members who once attended 90% of the time now still believe they are regular attenders at 50%. It is often hard for nominating committees to get workers who will commit to the work of the church. We allow our lives to get too busy with activities and pursuits of pleasure that can get in the way of our service. A faithful Christian will be sensitive to the leading of God. Because our lives are for His glory, we will also be faithful to the church and its mission.
Being faithful, having faithfulness is a work of the Spirit in us, not a self-improvement program accomplished in our own strength. We choose whether to be guided by the Spirit each day. Paul’s command in Ephesians 5:18 could more accurately be translated, “Be continually filled with the Spirit.” J.B. Lawrence, in his book The Holy Spirit in Missions, writes There is to be a continued replenishment. Paul prayed that believers might be filled with all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:19), and bid them grow to the stature of the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4:13). So the filling must be constant and continual…. We receive the Spirit in order that we might better represent Christ in labor and service. We are not reservoirs, but channels; not receptacles, but conductors…. He will come into your life when you make room for him, and when he comes he gives both light and power: the light to see what God would have you do, the power to enable you to do it. If you walk in the light you have, very soon you will find yourself listening to the “well done” of your Lord, and will experience the joy and comfort which do not always come by seeking them, but which he never fails to give as the reward of faithful obedience. (72-73, 79) Growing in faithfulness should be simply a result of obedience. As we hunger to know more of God and what He wants for our lives, we find the time to discipline ourselves in those ways that cause us to be transformed, to be like Him, to be faithful. We want to read the Bible, we want to pray, we want to still ourselves before God in meditation and listening, we want to serve, we want to obey. Our faithfulness comes from love and gratitude to God rather than duty.
72 Many of us recall theologian/teacher/writer Calvin Miller who was the featured artist at a recent season of the Living Christmas Tree. We were sad to learn of his death in 2012 because we were deprived of more of his brilliant writing. In 2008, he published an eight-book series on Galatians 5:22-23, each fruit (with the exception of generosity) a six-weeks study. In Faithfulness: Cultivating Spirit-given Character, he wrote, This isn’t about learning to be faithful; it’s about letting God’s faithfulness become the essence of who you are. It’s not about getting something; it’s about becoming something…. This… will move you toward a relationship with God that invites his faithfulness to become yours…. Faithfulness instructs us how to live with purpose, but even better, we can pass it to our children until… the world is blessed because of that simple discipline called obedience. Faithfulness is a gift anyone can give God, and he responds with a purpose for every morning’s sunrise. Then at last we are free. We live and have great reasons to live.
The Purpose of Faithfulness Why should we be faithful? Growth in the virtues of the Spirit are not for self-glorification. Being filled with the Spirit “means to have the Holy Spirit pervading every part of the being with his glorious presence; controlling every purpose, affection, thought, fancy, action, utterance” (Lawrence 71). The fruit of the Spirit is not “simply to make us happy. It will bring into our lives a joy we never had before, but that is not its main purpose. This infilling is intended to make us effective” (86). The level of faithfulness in our individual lives comes together corporately in our local churches as they seek to be faithful to the primary mission of the Church universal—being witnesses to the world of why Christ came. Quite possibly the area of service of
73 greatest need and opportunity in our churches today is in the area of sharing our faith (86-88): “And ye shall be witnesses unto me” (Acts 1:8). Examine every passage in which the infilling of the Spirit is mentioned and you will find that this infilling is always connected with testimony and service…. If we are in him and he is in us, then we will have keen ears, as one who has been instructed. We will know what the Spirit wants and will be able to speak a word in season. He will give us the opportunities for witnessing; and, as we meet them, he will give us the message and clothe that message with power. We will then go into all the world with the good news of the kingdom. The Holy Spirit will illuminate our minds, quicken our intelligence, increase our capacity, and make us efficient in all the business of Christian service. He… can and will increase and multiply the natural gifts of our minds and the skill of our hands. But we will never come into an experience like this until we linger in prayer, wait upon the Lord, and humble ourselves before God. If we would hear the voice of God, we must turn away from all the voices that distract…. Spirituality is not sentiment. Fundamentally, spirituality is obedience to Christ, sanctified by devotion and worship…. Spirituality is the fruit of obedience to Christ. Serving God by being faithful as good stewards of the gifts and treasure He has given each of us is for one purpose: that Jesus Christ is glorified: “As each has received a gift, employ it for one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who utters oracles of God; whoever renders service, as one who renders it by the strength which God supplies; in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 4:10-11 RSV).
The Bible abounds in references to those who were faithful. Paul, in particular, knew he had been faithful once his life changed. Right before his death, he wrote,“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day- and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7-8, NIV). John wrote to the persecuted church in Smyrna, “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10, NRSV).
Our Response Although faithfulness is a result of God’s working through us, practically speaking, it is a choice to grow in faithfulness, both as individuals and as a church. Are we willing to have the discipline to daily be filled with the Spirit and grow in our faithfulness to God’s kingdom? Whatever our age, we can continue to grow in faithfulness. I am 71, and I continue to trust God to lead me each day to serve Him with the opportunities He gives. Every stage of life offers us opportunities to be useful. God opens doors. It may be a one-time act: writing a card to someone who needs a word of encouragement, taking a meal to a sick person, or visiting someone who is lonely. Or, it may be a longer-term commitment, such as accepting a leadership/teaching/serving responsibility in the church. Perhaps God may surprise us even in our “old age,” like he did Abraham, and call us to a totally new field that requires us to once again step out on faith as we follow His leading. A widowed friend in North Carolina will soon retire from teaching. She has been on mission trips her entire life and now approaches retirement with
75 excitement looking at the possibility that God may be calling her to China long-term as an ESL teacher. Bill Gaither said it so well in his gospel song, “The longer I serve Him the sweeter He grows; The more that I love Him more love He bestows. Each day is like Heaven, my heart overflows. The longer I serve Him the sweeter He grows.” FOR REFLECTION: On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate your faithfulness? In what area(s) is God calling you to be more faithful? What preparations do you need to embrace that call, if any? What is hindering you? A contemporary Christian song written by Jon Mohr expresses well our part in being faithful to God’s call:
Find Us Faithful Chorus Oh may all who come behind us Find us faithful. May the fire of our devotion Light their way. May the footprints that we leave Lead them to believe And the lives we live Inspire them to obey. Oh, may all who come behind us Find us faithful. Verse 1 We’re pilgrims on the journey Of the narrow road. And those who’ve gone before us Line the way. Cheering on the faithful, Encouraging the weary.
76 Their lives a stirring testament To God’s sustaining grace. Verse 2 Surrounded by so great A cloud of witnesses, Let us run the race Not only for the prize But as those who’ve gone before us Let us leave to those behind us The heritage of faithfulness Passed on through godly lives. Verse 3 After all our hopes and dreams Have come and gone And our children sift thru all We’ve left behind May the clues that they discover And the mem’ries they uncover Become the light that leads them To the road we each must find. Author: Elizabeth Hostetter Elizabeth Hostetter was Associate Minister of Music/Organist at First Baptist Church from 2008-2012. She and Wayne are retired and live in Guntersville; while they enjoy traveling, they remain active members at FBC. She is an active deacon and enjoys the Journey Class, where Wayne is co-teacher. Married for 51 years, she was a pastor/minister’s wife from age twenty until Wayne retired in 2009. In addition to being church pianist/organist from an early age, she also taught at several colleges including Judson College prior to coming on staff here. She earned the Doctor of Musical Arts degree from AZ State University.
GENTLENESS But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23 The eighth character trait the Holy Spirit wants to create in us is gentleness. The dictionary defines it as “the quality of being kind, tender, or mild-mannered.” Other terms include docility, meekness and tameness. Billy Graham defines gentleness as “mildness in dealing with others…. It displays a sensitive regard for others and is careful never to be unfeeling for the rights of others.” Gentleness is a display of tenderness and kindness that brings about a sense of peace. It’s also a rare trait that, when exercised, gives people a breath of fresh air and makes them feel valued. Today, we are going to explore how gentleness is displayed throughout scripture. Each item listed as a fruit of the Spirit is a characteristic of God Himself. Therefore, we will first consider the gentleness of God; then, we will consider why it’s important for Christians to manifest this quality. FOR REFLECTION: When you hear the word “gentleness,” what comes to mind? Do you think gentleness is valued in our society? Why or why not?
The Gentleness of the Father and Son We serve an almighty, powerful God. Creator of the universe. A God who led his people to victory in war after war in the Old Testament. A God whose anger and wrath burn against his enemies. And yet, this same God is an incredibly gentle, patient,
78 loving, slow-to-anger God who loves His people and woos us back from our waywardness. When we take a walk back through scripture, we see that God is indeed gentle and loving to His people. Hosea 2:14 (NIV) “Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her.” Hosea 2:14 (MSG) “And now here’s what I’m going to do: I’m going to start all over again. I’m taking her back out into the wilderness where we had our first date and I’ll court her. I’ll give her bouquets of roses. I’ll turn Heartbreak Valley in to Acres of Hope. She’ll respond like she did as a young girl, those days when she was fresh out of Egypt.” FOR REFLECTION: How does this passage reveal God’s gentleness, or His intentional mildness, kindness, tenderness, docility, meekness and tameness? Does one version of Hosea 2:14 resonate with you more than the other? Why? God’s desire for us to be in communion with Him is so strong that He will stop at nothing to return us to Himself (After all, He sent us His only Son!). But He does so in an incredibly tender and loving way. God wants us to want Him in our lives. He created us in His image. He breathed into us the breath of life. He knit us together in our mother’s womb. He knows the number of hairs on our head. He believes we are more valuable than many sparrows. God loves us so deeply and intimately that His very first response to us is gentleness. Shouldn’t this be our first response to Him, too? FOR REFLECTION: How can God be both all-powerful and gentle? Consider how one definition of gentleness
79 includes “power under control.” Where in Scripture do you see God controlling His power and being gentle? Isaiah 30:18-19 (NIV) Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion. For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him! O people of Zion.… How gracious he will be when you cry for help! As soon as he hears, he will answer you. This passage shows that God’s heart is longing to be gracious to us. Even when we mess up, He blesses us with opportunity after opportunity to turn to Him. When we have sinned and fallen short, He wants us to repent and ask forgiveness, and to follow Him. God doesn’t turn us away when we come to Him in true repentance. God bends down to listen to us (Psalm 116:2). He doesn’t stay up high on His heavenly throne when His children come to Him. He comes down to us, bending low like a father to his child, listening and offering an ear, a gentle touch on the shoulder, and a forgiving heart. Isaiah 49:15-16 (NIV) “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you. See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands…” FOR REFLECTION: How does this scripture show God’s gentleness? How have you seen God act gently in your own life? This scripture paints a beautiful image of His heart for us. We have been engraved on the palms of His hands. Engraved on the nailscarred hands of Jesus, His Son. And just as God the Father showed gentleness in the Old Testament, God the Son also displays gentleness. When Jesus began His ministry, He defied the cultural norm. His ministry was unlike anything the Jews had ever seen before in their
80 own leaders. Jesus shared with His followers that He is the Savior, the King who will redeem and restore Israel. And yet this same Jesus also told them that He is gentle and humble in heart. It seems a little contradictory at first glance, but gentleness will be the very thing that would set Christ—and, eventually, Christians—apart. However, gentleness wasn’t exactly what the Jews had been hoping for with the coming of their Messiah. They were waiting for a mighty, powerful leader of the people to take down the governing bodies and restore Israel. Real men were strong, dominant. Real men were winners. In Christ’s day, gentleness was seen as a vice, as weakness, as effeminate. But let’s take a look at several passages where Jesus spoke with His disciples and the people He came save. Matthew 11:28-30 (NIV) “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (emphasis added) In his book The Fruitful Life, Jerry Bridges offers this observation on the word gentle: William Hendricksen says that the Syriac New Testament translates the word gentle as “restful”; accordingly, Jesus’ expression is “Come to me…and I will rest you…for I am restful…and you shall find rest for yourselves.” Christ’s whole demeanor was such that people were often restful in His presence. This effect is another outworking of the grace of gentleness. People are at rest, or at ease, around the Christian who is truly gentle.” FOR REFLECTION: How do you feel about this translation of the word “gentle”? Do you think the word “restful” is an accurate description of Jesus? Why or why not?
81 John 8:3-11 (NIV) 3The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4 and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5 In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6 They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. 7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. 9 At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” 10
This story could have ended very differently had it not been for the gentleness of Christ. The Jewish leaders brought a woman to Jesus who had been caught in an affair. When anyone was caught in adultery, they were, under Jewish law, to be put to death. And while these teachers were attempting to begin a fight with Christ, He quietly waited, writing in the dirt. As they pressed on, He stood up and said to them (He didn’t yell, scream, curse, spit at them…He merely said) that if anyone was without sin they should cast the first stone. The men left, one by one. And after the last man had walked away, Jesus spoke with the woman. Did He condemn her? Did He fuss at her? Did He give her a passiveaggressive discourse on how she should have done things? No. Jesus looked at her and probably spoke the kindest words that woman had ever heard. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
82 Also, in Mark 5:21-34, Jesus was heading to the home of Jairus to heal his sick daughter when He felt power leave him. Turning around, He looked to see who had touched His clothes. When a woman fell at His feet, teary-eyed and trembling with fear, confessed to having touched His cloak, He looked down on her with compassion and spoke with such tenderness, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering” (vs 34, NIV). FOR REFLECTION: How was gentleness perceived in biblical times? How do you think the gentleness Jesus displayed affected the Jewish leaders? How did it affect the people He helped, like the women He forgave and healed? Even though God holds all the power in the universe, He still loves us and cares for us enough to bend down to our level, speak softly to us, and deal gently with us when we mess up.
Gentleness as a Christian Virtue Titus 3:1-2 (AMP) Remind people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready and willing to do good, to slander or abuse no one, to be kind and conciliatory and gentle, showing unqualified consideration and courtesy toward everyone. FOR REFLECTION: Now that we have talked through several examples of God’s gentleness, what do you think gentleness should look like in everyday life? What does gentleness (or intentional mildness, kindness, tenderness, docility, meekness and tameness) look like when shown on a daily basis? Gentleness was not only the way Jesus treated His friends and the people He spoke to and performed miracles for, but it was carried out by Paul and the other disciples as a testimony of God’s grace to us. The Bible has a lot to say on the topic of gentleness and how
83 followers of Christ should behave not only towards each other, but to the nonbelievers around them. As we read these verses, we can see that God expects Christians to gentle. But what does He really expect from us within those terms? Let’s take a look at some examples. In today’s culture this seems like a far stretch, doesn’t it? Be subject to authorities, be obedient, and be ready, willing to do good. And not only that, but be gentle, considerate and courteous to everyone. For example, let’s take a look at social media. The internet has been and will continue to be a place where great good is done, however it does seem that this is the place where NONE of the examples Paul gives Titus in the previous verse. We slam and slander any government official we don’t agree with and so disobey God’s commands. Not to mention we speak unkindly about anything that opposes our beliefs and are so rude and inconsiderate about our own personal convictions that it completely turns people off from Christianity. These verses on gentleness not only apply to our personal, face-to-face interactions, but also to online interactions as well. Truly there is a kind way to speak the truth to others, and Christ was the ultimate example of that. Philippians 4:5 (NIV) Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. FOR REFLECTION: What do you think it means to let your gentleness be evident to all? Do you think this means to let your weakness be evident to all? Why or why not? When we, as Christians, show gentleness to others (especially when we don’t feel they deserve it), it can be a testimony of God’s grace and goodness in our own lives. But this does not mean that we show weakness. Just because we are gentle does not mean we can’t be strong and convicted, or stand up for what we believe in. Gentleness was the way Christ chose to communicate with people. But did he apologize for standing up for what He was teaching?
84 No. Did He back down when the Pharisees and the Sadducees came to argue? No. He stood firm, gently explaining and instructing the people on God’s grace and truth. Also, Jesus and His disciples did not reserve gentleness only for themselves and their fellow believers, but they showed gentleness to ALL. That includes their unbelieving neighbors, foreigners, and even enemies of the truth. That’s no small feat, but it can be accomplished by the Holy Spirit acting through us. Let’s read two different versions of the same scripture showing why it’s so important that we speak to and instruct others gently. Each one has a different feel and one may hit home with you more than the other. 2 Timothy 2:24-25 (NIV) And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth… 2 Timothy 2:24-25 (MSG)“God’s servant must not be argumentative, but a gentle listener and a teacher who keeps cool, working firmly but patiently with those who refuse to obey. You never know how or when God might sober them up with a change of heart and a turning to the truth… FOR REFLECTION: What do you think it means to “gently instruct” someone in the truth? Can you be both gentle and firm in what you believe? How so? You never know, do you? You never know how your words will impact people. You never know how God will use the things you say and the way you speak to impact those around you. However, we DO know that God has instructed us to speak and teach gently, listening to others and inviting them to rest in our presence because Jesus has given us rest.
85 Here are other scriptures to look up for further examples on how to be gentle with others: Hebrews 5:2 (NIV) He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness. Colossians 3:12 (NIV) Therefore, as Godâ€™s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Proverbs 15:1 (NIV) A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. Proverbs 16:24 (NIV) Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones. Ephesians 4:1-2 (NIV) As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. FOR REFLECTION: Remember, we started off today talking about things that remind us of gentleness. Do you see these characteristics in yourself or more so in others? If you donâ€™t see them in yourself, what things can you do to work to get there?
The Call to be Gentle We know that gentleness is a fruit of the Holy Spirit actively moving in our lives. But it is not enough to simply hope to be gentle. Here are some points to remember as we seek to become more like Him:
86 1. Know that God loves you. He calls you to Himself with His still, small voice. He leads you and deals with you gently. 2. We have to actively ask God to renew us by the transforming of our minds, allowing the Holy Spirit to lead us (Romans 12:1-2). 3. We have to seek a spirit of gentleness, praying for God to bring about this fruit in our lives, which would allow others to feel at rest in our presence. 4. We should be gentle with other believers, nonbelievers, and ourselves. We should listen with intention, respond kindly, and gently explain. Author: Jana Conover Jana Conover is wife to Matt, mom to John and Sam, and best friends with her Keurig. She has a BS in Biology and knows many bird calls, and she works from home sharing her favorite skincare and copywriting for SweetWater Marketing. Jana serves in Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS) and also on the Young Adults Committee. She is an avid baker of sweets, runner (because of the sweets), and reader of books and blogs.
SELF-CONTROL But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23 (ESV) Today, we will look at the last fruit of the Spirit: self-control. Many biblical scholars suggest that it is last in Paul’s list because of its importance, and its relationship to and summation of the other eight fruits. Let’s review our text in The Message: But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard -- things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely. The dictionary defines self-control “as control or restraint of oneself or one’s actions or feelings.” The Message translation defines self-control as the ability “to marshal and direct our energies wisely.” Remember those two definitions as we dive deeper into self-control. When we think about the word control, we may think of authority, discipline, supervision, and oversight. We think about …
the ways we have control/authority/discipline/supervision/oversight over things and others. the way things and others have control/authority/discipline/supervision/oversight over us.
Depending on where we are in life, it may have been easier to identify with one of the areas versus the other. However, do we ever think about the way we have control/authority/discipline/supervision/oversight over ourselves? FOR REFLECTION: What do you have control over on this particular day in your life? What do you not have control over on this particular day? How does the lack of control make you feel? In this lesson, we will examine two biblical metaphors related to self-control, consider why self-control is necessary for Christians at all times, and look at three areas where self-control is needed. Finally, weâ€™ll consider how Christâ€™s life epitomizes self-control.
Two Metaphors 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 (NIV) Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. In this passage, Paul (the same writer of Galatians where the fruit of the Spirit is listed) compares a follower of Christ to two different types of athletes: a runner and a boxer. Regardless of the sport, athletes must undergo strict training in order to compete and ultimately win at their competition. FOR REFLECTION: In what ways do athletes train to compete? How must they have self-control in areas like
89 diet, sleep habits, and training habits? If you are an athlete, list some of the ways your daily life differs from the life of someone who is not an athlete. Athlete #1 is a runner whose goal is to compete and ultimately win a marathon. FOR REFLECTION: Have you run a marathon or some other type race in which you had to train? If yes, what did you do to compete and (possibly) win? People who train for the marathon do not run aimlessly through the streets of their neighborhood; they have a training schedule aimed at increasing the distance and decreasing the time. They do not eat a dozen Krispy Kreme donuts the morning of the marathon, nor do they wear flip-flops to run. They must exhibit a high degree of self-control in all things in order to run the most effective, and (hopefully) winning, race. FOR REFLECTION: A race is commonly used as a metaphor for life. In this sense, what must a Christian do each day to effectively “train” for his or her spiritual race? What activities do you engage in daily which a nonChristian would shun or avoid? Athlete #2 is a boxer, whose goal is to compete and ultimately win a competitive fight. However, Paul speaks about a boxer whose fighting technique is ineffectual. The day of the fight arrives and the boxer enters the ring ready to fight. However, when the whistle blows, the boxer only pummels the air and never lands a blow against his opponent. Paul claims that he does not want to be that kind of boxer: he wants to land all the blows he can against the enemy. Consequently, he “strike[s] a blow to [his] body and make it [his] slave.” FOR REFLECTION: In what way must Christians make their bodies “a slave”? A slave to what? How do we do
90 this? What physical and spiritual disciplines do you practice on a daily basis which enable you to do this? Both runners and boxers must exhibit self-control if they want to win their competition. When we think back on our discussion, we might have thought it was silly or even ridiculous to eat a dozen Krispy Kreme donuts the morning of the race, or wear flip-flops to run in, or pummel the air and never the opponent in the ring. However, we as Christians must train and compete just like these two athletes, being mindful of how we train and not losing sight of our prize and our end goal.
Self-control is Necessary Galatians 5 lists nine characteristics of the fruit of the Holy Spirit. As followers of Jesus, we may find that we better exhibit certain ones at certain times in our lives than at other times. However, each is necessary; and as we further examine self-control, we discover that it is necessary for the Christian at all times in order to avoid sin. James 1:14-15 (NIV) [But] but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is fullgrown, gives birth to death. 1 Peter 2:11(NIV) Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Ephesians 4:22-24 (NIV) You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
91 FOR REFLECTION: What are we overcoming as we practice self-control? In James, the phrase evil desire is used. In 1 Peter, the phrase sinful desires is used. In Ephesians, the phrase deceitful desires is used. What do you think these phrases refer to? How do they relate to your own life? Regardless of which phrase resonates with you, we know that external temptations are all around us. FOR REFLECTION: Do you struggle with self-control in any of the following areas? Gluttony, sexual immorality, impure thoughts, envy, greed, selfish ambition, resentment, jealousy, anger, self-pity? Confess any sins and ask the Lord to strengthen your self-control so you can say “no” to these temptation. When we do not exhibit self-control, those external temptations take root in our hearts and lives and, as we read in James, they give birth to sin. For example, when we do not exhibit self-control, our gluttony turns into overindulgence, our resentment turns to bitterness and hatred, and our bad temper leads to outbursts of profanity and hot-headedness. So what then should we focus on? Colossians 3:1-2 (NIV) Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. Colossians 3:1-2 (MSG) So if you’re serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don’t shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ - that’s where the action is. See things from his perspective.
As Colossians tells us, we focus on the things above or the things which Christ presides over. These are not the things right in front of us; the things right in front of us are the ones to which we are most vulnerable. Our focus should be on Christ, on heavenly things, or—in other words—looking at the world through His eternal perspective. All of this is only accomplished by our exhibiting self-control at all times. Remember that many biblical scholars suggest that self-control is listed last in Paul’s list because of its relationship to and summation of the other eight fruits. Therefore, as believers, we must exert self-control in order to focus our minds on love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and gentleness.
Areas of Self-Control At the very beginning of the lesson, we examined the definition of self-control. As a reminder, the dictionary defined self-control “as control or restraint of oneself or one’s actions or feelings.” The Message translation defined it as the ability “to marshal and direct our energies wisely.” The question is how we will control ourselves. The Bible covers three areas where Christians must practice self-control: physical, mental, and emotional.
Self-control over the body Self-control of our physical bodies can be broken down into three areas: gluttony, laziness, and sexual immorality or impurity. How can we practice self-control over these sins?
To avoid gluttony, we need to remember that even our eating and drinking is to be done to the glory of God. 1 Corinthians 10:31 (ESV) So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
To avoid laziness, we can follow Jesus’ example recorded by Mark. Mark 1:35 (ESV) And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he (Jesus) departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.
If we were able to explore this passage in more depth, we would see that Jesus had had a long night previous to this morning. The sick and demon-possessed people had been brought to Jesus for healing, and crowds of people had gathered (versus 32-34). Despite what had happened the day before and despite His need to sleep, Jesus rose early to spend time with his Heavenly Father. He understood that rising early to pray would start His day off right, and would affect every other thing He did that day. In other words, he refused to be lazy.
To avoid sexual immorality or impurity, we honor marriage—both the marriage we are in (if married) or the marriage we may one day have (if single), and we honor others who are married. Hebrews 13:4 (NIV) Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.
Eugene Peterson makes this very clear in The Message translation: “Honor marriage, and guard the sacredness of sexual intimacy between wife and husband. God draws a firm line against casual and illicit sex.”
Self-control over the mind Secondly, we must also display mental self-control. As already discussed in the Colossians 3 passage, we must set our mind on
94 things above, on godly things. A similar passage is found in Philippians 4:8. Philippians 4:8 (NIV) Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things. Doesn’t that command sound simple? Just think about true things, noble things, right things, pure things, lovely things, admirable things. Who wouldn’t want to think about these things? However, does your mind every wander away from such edifying thoughts? Do we listen to gossip? Do we watch movies or read books filled with ideas and images that have no redeeming value because they are impure, ugly, and ignoble? We demonstrate mental self-control when we redirect such thoughts to follow Paul’s instructions in Philippians 4:8. Consider, too, these words by Paul: 1 Corinthians 6:12 (ESV) “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything. When it comes to practicing self-control, not all the things which “tempt” our minds to wander are sinful; however, some are best avoided so we have time to focus on what is noble and honorable. FOR REFLECTION: Think about what you have spent time thinking about over the past 24 hours. Do your thoughts reflect Paul’s admonition in Phil 4:8 or are there areas which are decidedly not true, noble, right, pure, etc.? Why is it important that you learn to train your mind to think of what is edifying versus what is just a waste of time (even if not sinful)?
Self-control over our emotions The third and final way we can exhibit self-control is demonstrating emotional self-control. Displaying emotional selfcontrol does not mean that we never cry, that we always have a smile on our face, or that we never become mad. Rather, displaying emotional self-control means we keep a wrap on those emotions that can be explosiveâ€”such as anger, rage, resentment, self-pity, and bitterness. These five emotions are typically never shown in small amounts, but rather spiral out of control. In addition, these emotions are self-destructive to ourselves and to our relationship with God. When we demonstrate emotional selfcontrol, we may be tempted to express these sinful emotions, but they are quickly tamed. We all desire self-control. We do not want to be known as the person who lacks control. We want to be like a city which has strong walls and can defend itself against harm, as in Proverbs 25:28. Proverbs 25:28 (NIV) Like a city whose walls are broken through is a person who lacks self-control. Proverbs 25:28 (MSG) A person without self-control is like a house with its doors and windows knocked out. FOR REFLECTION: Can you always trust your emotions to guide you? Why or why not? What emotions do you most need to exercise self-control over?
The Self-Control of Jesus As with all the attributes listed in Galatians 5:22-23, Jesus perfectly expressed self-control during His incarnation. We know that He was tempted in all respects as we are, but was without sin
96 (Hebrews 4:15). Therefore, we can only imagine how much selfcontrol it took for Jesus not to give into temptation when He was dealing with His spiritually clueless (and personally ambitious) disciples; with a family who thought He was crazy; with religious leaders who wanted to murder Him; with fickle crowds who praised Him on Palm Sunday and called for His crucifixion a few days later; and with the Roman guards who nearly beat Him to death before nailing Him to a cross. Jesus had the power to wipe them out—the power to stop the flogging … indeed, the power to come down from the cross and save Himself, as the crowd taunted Him (Matthew 27:42). But, thank God, Jesus had the self-control—motivated by His great love for us sinners—to endure to the end, and to reap the reward: His resurrection and ascension, and the promise of a glorious return to reign over the earth. And because of His self-control, eternal life can be ours through simple faith in Him. As we wrap up our study of the fruit of the Spirit, let’s remember to ask God to give us situations and circumstances where we can display the fruit of the Spirit—the very character of Christ—in ever increasing measure. Pray these nine attributes over your children, pray them over your spouse, and pray them over your friendships. Pray that they would not become a mere laundry list of words, but rather a resume of sorts: the Christ-like character that we long to emulate because it brings our Lord honor and glory as it enables us to fully enter into the abundant life He promised (John 10:10). Author: Kristin Wilkerson Kristin Wilkerson is wife to Jeremy and mom to Molly Kate and Libby Mae. She holds a Master of Divinity degree from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, and she serves in multiple ministries throughout First Baptist Huntsville. She also ministers throughout Northeast Alabama at her job with Fellowship of Christian Athletes. She loves Diet Coke, the Texas Rangers and her Camry that’s about to roll over 200,000 miles.
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