There’s a great bacronym of BIBLE…..Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth. It fits.
Now I’m a guy, which means that I typically disdain reading the directions…..but for The Word of God I make an exception. The Bible really is God’s instruction manual and we’d all be better off if we would follow it as closely as possible. I know that is easier said than done, but that does not mean it isn’t the truth. As The Doorknob says in Alice In Wonderland, “read the directions and directly you will be directed in the right direction.”
My minister is fond of saying that The Bible is an all-or-nothing proposition…..you either believe all of it or none of it, you cannot just cherry pick the elements that you like and ignore the parts that are a rather inconvenient hindrance to self-indulgence and an “if it feels good do it” lifestyle. The entire volume is essential…..every verse, chapter, and book. However, I do believe that there are highlights within The Bible, certain stories and passages that stand out, and not by accident. One of those snippets of scripture is Galatians 5:22-23, which says (taking into consideration small variations in translation) “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness (or gentleness), goodness, faithfulness, gentleness (or meekness), self-control (or temperance)”.
I’m not intimidated by studying symbolism, analyzing allegory, translating parable, or interpreting prophecy. The Bible isn’t meant to be an easy read. A breathing organism that is intended for us to incorporate into our daily lives, it needs to be actively studied. But occasionally it’s nice to cut to the chase, to have information imparted in as direct a fashion as possible, for the meaning to be easy and straightforward. Galatians 5:22-23 is about as clear as clear can be.
What we have in this scripture is a simple laundry list of attributes we as Christians should emulate if we are to, as Romans 8:29 suggests, “be conformed to the image of His Son”. They are qualities that should become part of our character if we take Galatians 2:20 to heart: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” We tend to overanalyze what it means to be “crucified in Christ”, to “be conformed” into a reflection of Jesus. The ideals of Christian faith are so beautiful in their simplicity that we find them difficult to embrace. It seems like the rules should be more burdensome and complex. But what has dawned on me with the wisdom and experience of the years is the fact that the ideas, the foundation, the demands themselves are uncomplicated because the execution of them is so very very tough to successfully pull off. Of course that’s where grace enters the picture.
But I digress. I want to focus on the subject at hand, which is the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness/gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness/meekness, and self-control/temperance. My intention is to look at each one of these individually over the course of time, so stay tuned. The current discussion is designed as an introduction to the larger task.
The first thing that must be said is fairly obvious, but well worth pointing out. These are the fruits of the Spirit…..more specifically The Holy Spirit. In John 14:15-17 Jesus tells the disciples “If you love Me, keep My commandments. And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever. The Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.” The Holy Spirit is an often overlooked part of the Trinity, but it shouldn’t be. It’s the part that dwells within us, the part that God left behind to guide us after Jesus ascended into Heaven. These 9 fruits are, or should be, the result of that guidance if we make the choice to pay attention.
So why are these characteristics called fruits?? Think about when you see an apple tree. How do you know it’s an apple tree?? There is evidence there…..the fruit. Without the fruit it’d just be another tree. We have a choice…..do we want to stand out, make it obvious who we are and what we stand for…..or do we just want to blend in with all the other trees in the forest?? And if we make the choice that we want to stand out, how do we want to do that?? In modern society people do all kinds of bizarre things and come up with increasingly obnoxious ways to celebrate their individuality. But the Word of God has handed to us on a silver platter a set of directions on how to set ourselves apart from the crowd. Why go to all the trouble of piercing and tattooing, listening to loud and unbearably vulgar noise (or what the kids refer to as “music”), poisoning the body with booze and drugs, stepping over anyone and everyone to climb the corporate ladder, or any of the other myriad ways folks draw attention to themselves when what God really wants us to do is be loving, joyful, peaceful, good, kind, gentle, faithful, moderate, and patient?? One other thing to consider about fruit…..it is generally sweet. Sweetness has been maligned in 21st century America as an undesirable and weak quality. But God doesn’t see it that way. These fruits are the essence of God, and He is allowing us to share in a part of His divine nature by allowing His Holy Spirit to convey these nine divine qualities directly into our soul and personality.
Also to be found in Galatians chapter 5, just before The Fruits of the Spirit are conveyed, there is another laundry list, the antithesis of The Fruits. They are behaviors that God is repulsed by and will cause one to lose that vital relationship. Galatians 5:19-21 says “the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness (or lasciviousness), idolatry, sorcery (or witchcraft), hatred, contentions (or variance), jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions (or emulations), dissensions (or seditions), heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” I may or may not cover each of these individually in the future. However, I believe it is important to mention this passage here. It’s another clear indication of what is expected of us, only it’s saying what we are expected not to do. I don’t like to make assumptions or sweeping generalizations, but I suspect that the average person (like me for example) has engaged in nearly every one of these “works of the flesh”, many on a nearly daily basis. The world we live in, a fallen world where Satan reigns until Christ decides He’s had enough and makes His return, fosters and even encourages these behaviors. In contrast to the difficulty of exhibiting and living according to The Fruits, exhibiting the works of the flesh is easily done. It’s so easy that we engage in these activities without a second thought. Little effort is required to wallow in sin. But again, this is where the pure genius of God, who offers us the free gift of grace through the cleansing power of the blood of His Son Jesus Christ, comes in mighty handy.
I look forward to examining each Fruit of the Spirit individually. It will be an insightful journey, hopefully for both writer and reader.