The Fruits of the Spirit – Temperance

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate.
– William Shakespeare

fruitNearly seven years ago we began a quest to examine, assess, and learn about the nine Fruits of the Spirit mentioned in Galatians 5:22-23. Today we finish that journey. I don’t know why it has taken seven years to complete a project that could have easily been wrapped up in a few months, but hey…I just go with the flow folks.

 

If you’d like a refresher on what we’ve talked about previously just follow the links to see my thoughts on love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness/gentleness/goodness/meekness, and faithfulness.

 

tempWe are crossing the finish line by taking a closer look at temperance. The first thing that probably comes to mind is The Temperance Movement, which dealt with promoting moderate consumption or even outright banning of alcoholic beverages, especially in early 20th century America. However, the Biblical definition of temperance is a little more comprehensive.

 

There are two words in the Bible that correlate with temperance. The first is enkrateia, which means “strong in a thing; strength; power; dominion; having power over; being master of.” The second word is nephalios, which has the same general meaning but more specifically refers to self-control as it relates to drunkenness.

 

Obviously we know that temperance is, in part, about avoiding intoxication. The Bible cautions against drunkenness on multiple drunkoccasions. Isaiah 5:11 warns “woe to those who rise early in the morning that they may follow intoxicating drink; who continue until night, till wine inflames them.” Proverbs 20:1 says that “wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is intoxicated by it is not wise.” Ephesians 5:18 instructs us “do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit”, with dissipation being a synonym for debauchery. Proverbs 23:29-33 asks “Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has contentions? Who has complaints? Who has wounds without cause? Who has redness of eyes?” and answers “Those who linger long at the wine and go in search of mixed wine. Do not look on the wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it swirls around smoothly. At the last it bites like a serpent and stings like a viper. Your eyes will see strange things.” Isaiah 28:7 says that ”The priest and the prophet have erred through intoxicating drink. They are swallowed up by wine. They are out of the way through intoxicating drink. They err in vision and stumble in judgment.” Though drinking wine seems to have been a part of normal, everyday life in Biblical times, God’s Word strongly advises against imbibing to the point of intoxication. There are two reasons for this.

 

First of all, when referring to drunkenness the Bible often uses the Greek word methuo, which means “to be filled”. Look at Ephesians 5:18 again. It says not to be drunk with wine but to be filled with the Spirit. If we’re going to fill anything…our body, our mind, our time…it should be with the Holy Spirit or corresponding things that are edifying to and glorify God. Romans 8:5-8 says that “Those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”

 

drunk3Secondly, Mark 7:15-20 says that “There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him. Whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled. What comes out of a person is what defiles him.” Think about that in terms of intoxication. It’s not the wine, beer, or liquor that is the issue. They are merely things that we are putting into our bodies. But what often happens when we overindulge and get drunk?? We make bad decisions, say & do wrong things, and generally act immoral & ungodly. So the actions that come out of us as a result of that intoxication are what defile us in the eyes of God, not to mention tarnishing our relationships and our reputation.

 

This thought process can be expanded to so much more than just our use of alcoholic beverages. Temperance requires moderation in everything. It is the ability to master our desires. It is a sense of duty with regard to conduct. It is the practice of always controlling actions, thoughts, or feelings. The influence of the Holy Spirit on the heart should make a person moderate in all indulgences, teaching them to restrain passions and control evil propensities.

 

Glutton ElfThe opposite of the Fruits of the Spirit are the works of the flesh spoken about in Galatians anger5:19-21. “The works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, 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.” All of these things are the opposite of temperance. They indicate gluttony, wrath, & being out of control. Proverbs 16:32 teaches that “he who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city..” Self-control is mastery over passions, thoughts, emotions, & words. It is the virtue that holds our appetites in check, controlling our rational will and regulating our conduct without being duly swayed by sensuous desires.

 

Jesus2Self-denial, self-sacrifice, & self-control are inextricably linked in Christian life, but notice the troublesome use of the word “self”. It is indicative of the stubborn human notion of trying to achieve this massive goal on our own, which is demonstrably impossible. This is another reason why temperance is a key fruit that we must exhibit. Temperance is vital to demonstrate to God that He is in control…not one’s flesh. It is the proof that Jesus is the Lord of one’s life. Controlling ourselves, denying human nature its impulse to satisfy its desire, and even sacrificing ourselves are necessary if we are to stop sinning as a way of life. With God’s Holy Spirit help we can practice temperance. Titus 2:11-14 says “The grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.” Temperance is a necessary building block in our relationship with Jesus Christ. 2 Peter 1:5-9 instructs us to “Add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. If these things are yours and abound you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Jesus3Lord Jesus Christ, for he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins.” Romans 13:12-14 says that we must “cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.” Galatians 5:16-17 says to “Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another.”

 

And what is the ultimate goal of this temperance (as with all the Fruits of the Spirit)?? 1 Corinthians 9:24-25 says “Do you not heavenknow that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown.” I’m not very athletic and don’t know much about running races, but I am knowledgeable enough to know that one must have the proper tools & training to compete. 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 lays the cards right out on the table, cautioning “Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.” 1 Timothy 3:8 says that “God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life.”

The Fruits of the Spirit – Longsuffering

Patience-Roger-Smith-CEO-American-Income-LifeI was once given the advice “Don’t pray to God for patience because He will give you plenty of opportunities to practice”. Notwithstanding one’s opinion of that particular directive, I have decided for now to write about it rather than pray for it.  As you may have guessed, I am not examining The Fruits of the Spirit in any particular order or with any sort of overriding structural theme. I think they each tell their own individual stories that guide us down the correct path when viewed collectively.

 

Longsuffering is an interesting word. It certainly isn’t common terminology we utilize in everyday conversation. It comes from the Greek word makrothumia, meaning long-tempered…the opposite of short-tempered. Longsuffering can be defined as forbearance, patience, steadfastness, self-restraint in avenging wrongs, and the ability to endure adversity, persecution, provocation, suffering, & ill will with no thought of retaliation or punishment. Longsuffering is the antithesis of anger and is associated with mercy. It is being mild, gentle, and constant in all circumstances.

 

There are many shades of anger. I do not consider myself to be violent. I have never beaten anyone up or made any type of legitimate threats. I don’t brandish weapons, and I don’t generally go around causing mayhem or destruction. But…..I am easily annoyed, tend to hold grudges, and have an overall sense of resentment against people, situations, and entities that I perceive to have caused me harm or even mere inconvenience. This acrimony, more often than not, fruitdoes not manifest itself in any tangible way. Most who interact with me personally and professionally would consider me to be kind, polite, and even-tempered. Only those few with whom I am most comfortable ever get a glimpse of the animosity simmering just beneath the surface. And even then I have the ability to spin things with wit and a modicum of charm. But does the fact that my frustration with those things that fall short of my standards and expectations doesn’t lead to any corporeal damage make it okay?? Jesus tells the Pharisees in the 16th chapter of Luke that ““You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God.”  In other words, I have some work to do.

 

However, I suspect that I am not alone. Our society can be rather aggravating. Between job related stress, the pressures inherent with raising a family, economic woes, inescapable socio-political divides, technology that is both awesomely wonderful yet sadly fragile, and a dog-eat-dog fast paced world where we all want to keep up with the Joneses to the point that even a vacation can cause strife…well, as Kevin Costner says in Bull Durham, “We’re dealing with a lot of stuff”. It isn’t uncommon to hear people wistfully hearken back to a simpler time, where they perceive life was better. But that is a mirage. Life may not have been as fast paced a hundred years ago…no automobiles or super highways, no televisions, no Internet, no video games, not as many “everyone else is going there” tourist traps…but economic conditions were even tougher, people had to work much harder for much less, living conditions and illness meant shorter lives, and the world was far smaller and less accessible. In other words, throughout the ages humanity has had issues to face and burdens to endure. There has only been one constant over all the years, and with all due respect to James Earl Jones, it isn’t baseball. The 13th chapter of Hebrews tells us that God will never leave or forsake us and that Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today, and forever.

 

faithWhich leads me to the first key point we need to ponder in relation to longsuffering. One does not have to look any further than the example of Christ to understand the essence of the fruit we are to bear. No greater demonstration of longsuffering can be found than that shown by God toward man. Everyone knows John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” We know it so well and it is a verse that is so often quoted that I sometimes fear its meaning has been watered down or atleast taken for granted. Do you know anyone who would literally die for you, or anyone who you would die for?? We all have close family and maybe a few good friends. It is likely that most parents would answer yes to the question in regard to their children. But honestly…and I am truly trying to put aside my cynical tendencies here…how many people would REALLY die for another human being?? I suspect the honest answer is “not many”.

 

Have you ever done a favor for another person?? I am sure most everyone has at some point in their life. How did the person react?? They probably said thank you, or maybe they went so far as to buy you a nice gift or treat you to dinner. However, have you ever experienced a person for whom you have done a favor say to you “I owe you one”. I have…many times. And let me tell you what usually happens…they never get around to actually doing anything about it. I think that is how we treat The Lord. He made the ultimate sacrifice for all of humanity, and how do we repay Him?? By not being even one thousandth of one percent as patient and understanding with our fellow man as He is with us. Our life is 100% in His hands. Every breath we take is a gift from Him. All that is asked of us is to be a mirror image of Christ, to bear the fruits that we are discussing in this series. Yet every single day…multiple times during the day…we carelessly ignore our responsibility and casually disregard the favor that was done for us…that is done for us every moment. If The Lord was an impatient with us as we are with everything and everyone none of us would last 5 minutes. But 2 Peter tells us that “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” If we make an honest effort to live life in a Christ-like fashion one of the first things we need to do…that I know I need to do for sure…is to shed much of the frustration and resentment that we allow into our daily lives. 1 Timothy says that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting”. If we want the gift of eternal life we need to use Jesus as the pattern and show others the mercy that He shows us daily. Another verse that we tend to use as a cliché without actually giving it the consideration it deserves is found in Matthew 7:12, which says “whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them”. Of course we refer to this as The Golden Rule…but do we follow it?? More often than not we tend to bend it into “do unto others as they have done unto you” or even “do unto others before they do unto you”. But those twists are the result of Man’s brokenness and the damage that sin has wrought on the world, and following those rules will get us nowhere except our very own extremely warm corner of Hell.

 

The second point that needs to be touched on is the question of how to bear the fruit of longsuffering. It is not a skill that one can learn in a six week correspondence course or that will magically develop overnight. It takes effort. It might seem rather obvious, but the only way to become more Christ-like is to develop a relationship with Christ and study His holy teachings. In one of my previous places of employment when a new supervisor was hired one of the first things they did was “shadow” an experienced supervisor for a number of weeks. We need to “shadow” Christ not just for a few weeks or months, but every day for the rest of our lives. Spend time with Him in prayer, study your Bible, and surround yourself with fellow Christians who you can learn from and emulate. This last part is admittedly a delicate balancing act because we are not to shut ourselves up in church and only associate with fellow believers. We are to be “fishers of men”. Jesus said “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners”. On the other hand, we need the support and relationship of other believers in Christ. A relationship with Christ is pretty much the whole ball of wax…it is what everything boils down to. And I think as we grow in that relationship we can’t help but become more and more the person that we are meant to be, which in part means bearing fruit. This holds true for all the Fruits of the Spirit, but I believe it is especially important in regard to longsuffering, as it may be the one we struggle with the most yet is most easily put into practice if only we make the effort.

 

When we accept the free gift of salvation we are to be “born again”. Galatians 2:20 says “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.” Once saved we are a new person. Ephesians instructs to “no longer walk as the rest, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart. If indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus, that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness”. Furthermore, according to 2 Timothy we are to “flee also youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife. And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will”. It is important that we bear fruit not only as proof of our maturing relationship with the Lord, but so that we may also be a guiding light for others.  The same chapters tells us that we are to “Preach the word. Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching”. Anyone who has ever tried to teach anyone anything, whether it was one on one or in a group setting, will understand the need for patience in such a setting.

 

The final point I want to emphasize about longsuffering is…well…suffering. Afterall, it is part of the word, right?? Many new Christians come to the Lord through a “mountaintop experience”. They hear an especially powerful sermon, attend a large gathering like Promise Keepers, or go to an old fashioned fire & brimstone revival. In situations like that it becomes easy to run to an altar and “make the decision” for Christ. Please don’t misunderstand…I am not questioning the authenticity of salvation received in these settings. I myself gave my heart to The Lord following a performance of the drama Heavens Gates and Hell’s Flames. But my concern is what comes afterward. The next day one must go back out into the world…work, school, friends, family, and dealing with the general public in everyday situations. This is the true test. Contrary to popular belief life does not suddenly become sunshine and roses just because one said a prayer and asked Jesus to forgive their sins. Salvation is not the end, it is the beginning. Relationship and growth must follow, and it is my sincere belief that it is during this lifelong process that Satan will come after a person with a full court press. The question is how will you react to these tests of your faith?? Make no mistake…they are not graded on a curve and a C is not acceptable. Life is pass/fail. Our response to the difficulties we face is an excellent barometer of where we stand in our relationship with Christ. And I am not talking about the big stuff. I think most people have a tendency to call on the Lord in times of real trouble…severe illness, death, and other significant calamities. But how do you react to the “ankle biters”…the little aggravations and roadblocks we encounter every day?? James 1:2-4 counsels us to “Count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” It may seem a bit odd that we should rejoice when we’re in trouble, but that is exactly what we are supposed to do. Remember, Christ DIED for our sins…so is it really too much to ask that we endure annoying co-workers, bad drivers, slow checkout lines, thoughtless friends, overbearing in-laws, rambunctious children, and all the other obstacles life throws in our path??

 

The 103rd Psalm says “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in mercy. He will not always strive with us, nor will He keep His anger forever”. God is complex. He is love, and He shows us infinite mercy and patience on a daily basis, yet one day we will all face judgment. How can we hope for a free pass that we do not deserve if we do not bear fruit?? Why do we assume and expect God’s continuous patience with us in light of our sins but not show the same understanding toward others ourselves?? I cannot sum up the expectation God has of us any better that Colossians 3:1-5 – “If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience, in which you yourselves once walked when you lived in them. But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him. Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful”.

 

 

 

 

The Fruits of the Spirit – Joy

joyLast summer I began a series on the Fruits of the Spirit, but did not get very far before getting distracted with other things. The truth is that those other things are usually either easier or more fun to write, or spur of the moment musings brought on by something that has inspired me in my daily life. Something like a close examination of a lengthy and important Biblical passage takes a bit more research and prayerful consideration and therefore becomes a bit more of a task. However, circumstances have converged in a way that has aroused my desire to pick up the mantle. A general malaise and feeling of dissatisfaction with my life has somehow coincided with the writer’s block that hits me on occasion lifting. So rather than write a bunch of stuff that would only be of interest to disciples of Sylvia Plath, Ernest Hemingway, and Kurt Cobain, I have decided to write about joy. Oh how I dig irony.

 

Most may assume that we have a firm grasp on what joy is, but do we really?? Joy is defined as great delight, gladness of heart, keen pleasure, elation, glad feeling, and festive gaiety. Oftentimes the terms joy and happiness are used interchangeably, but is that accurate?? I think not. The author CS Lewis pondered the question thusly: “I sometimes wonder whether all pleasures are not substitutes for joy. Joy is never in our power and pleasure often is”. We can follow that up with this musing from another author, Ralph Waldo Emerson: “You shall have joy, or you shall have power, said God; you shall not have both”. I think one would be correct in stating that happiness is much more akin to pleasure, and therefore happiness and joy are not the same. Lewis is right…happiness is usually within our power. It doesn’t take all that much to make the average person happy. The possibilities are endless and depend on one’s own individual preferences. Personally I am happy reading a good book, when my favorite sports teams win, playing with my puppy, eating good food, and whenever I catch a favorite old movie on television…just to name a few. Others have spouses and children that make them happy. Some folks travel. Others play music. The problem, however, is this…as easily as we can be happy we can also quickly become unhappy. Anger, bitterness, and frustration are byproducts of being fallible human beings and dealing with others just like us. Happiness is all too temporary. Those things that make us happy may only last mere minutes or hours, and then it is right back to the inherent unhappiness in a world fraught with sin.

 

We spend our entire lives in the constant pursuit of happiness and pleasure. “The pursuit of happiness” is even written into the United States Declaration of j2Independence as an unalienable right endowed to men by God. The Founding Fathers almost had it right…but not quite. What we tend to find is that this pursuit of happiness is exhausting and ultimately empty. At the very least we are limited by time, money, and other responsibilities. In extreme cases we see people who tried to find happiness via alcohol, drugs, illicit sex, and other assorted illegal or unhealthy activities have their lives destroyed or even ended prematurely. St. Thomas Aquinas once stated “man cannot live without joy; therefore when he is deprived of true spiritual joy it is necessary that he become addicted to carnal pleasures”. Now I am not saying that we should stop having good clean fun. To be honest I get aggravated with Christians who unwittingly put a bad spin on the faith because they are uptight wet blankets that will not allow themselves to loosen up. However, what I am suggesting is that we put fun/happiness/pleasure into its proper perspective and understand its fickle nature. What we truly need to pursue is joy, and that cannot be found in a bar, as an ingredient in any drug, on television, at the mall, in any food we eat, or in the seemingly intimate embrace of another human being.

 

Romans 14:17 tells us that “the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit”. At the end of the day the pursuit of happiness will always leave a void remaining within us, but true joy in The Lord is eternal. That joy will enhance the highs of life, but it also assists in riding out the low points…and there WILL be low points. One of the problems we run into is that we don’t like feeling sad, lonely, angry, disappointed, etc. In order to avoid those bad feelings we pursue more happiness, which in turn eventually lets us down again. We are like a cat chasing its tail, and it’s a game we cannot win, a most vicious cycle. What we need to do is change the game. Life does not have to be like golf or tennis…us against the world. Life is a team effort, but we not only have to accept the help of our teammate, but we have to make Him the captain of the team. Psalm 16:11 says “You will show me the path of life. In Your presence is fullness of joy. At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore”. The only way we can grow from the meaningless, vacant pursuit of happiness into having joy is to put our ego aside and let Him lead.

 

Now one thing we do have to understand is what I mentioned about those low points. I truly believe that the closer we draw to God the more it ticks off Satan and the more he tempts us in an effort to force us into sin. And while it is a certainty that we will still sin on occasion, we can lessen the impact if God is our team captain. I don’t want to plunge too deeply into the topics of salvation and grace, not only because it is straying from the purpose at hand but also because those subjects deserve their own focus. Suffice to say that if we are covered in the blood of Christ our sin is washed away and we are assured eternal life. But more germane to the present issue, if we have full joy in God then we can better weather the storms of life that are sure to come along. Habakkuk 3:17-18 says “Though the fig tree may not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines; Though the labor of the olive may fail, and the fields yield no food; Though the flock may be cut off from the fold, and there be no herd in the stalls— Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation”.

 

Also, if we are experiencing true joy in our life then we are better equipped to witness to others. Mother Teresa once said ““joy is a net of love by which you can catch souls.” And isn’t that part of our mission?? We are to be “fishers of men”. I am certainly not an expert fisherman, but I know enough to understand that it is a lot easier and one will catch more fish with a net.

 

for_joySo how do we find joy?? I am not sure I am qualified to answer that question, as I am still figuring it out myself (and, to be quite honest, not doing such a great job lately), but I know a few things. I know that we are to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling”. One needs a personal relationship with Jesus Christ…that is the foundation for everything. I know the basic rules, i.e. The Ten Commandments, and other teachings of Jesus and that we are to strive to be Christ-like. I know that I am “in the world but not of the world” and that we (Christians) are to be “peculiar people”.  And I know that, as Ecclesiastes tells us, everything else is vanity. But there is a difference between knowing and doing. Famed 19th century minister and author Henry Ward Beecher said that “There are joys which long to be ours. God sends ten thousands truths, which come about us like birds seeking inlet; but we are shut up to them, and so they bring us nothing, but sit and sing awhile upon the roof, and then fly away.” We are so busy pursuing temporary, meaningless, and sometimes carnal and sinful pleasures that we overlook the eternal joy within our grasp. Stopping the cycle of futility is an ongoing battle. Much like an alcoholic is never truly “cured”, we need to fight for our joy every day, resisting empty temptations and turning instead to our Father in heaven. “Rejoice in the Lord always. Let your gentleness be known to all men. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God;  and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” – Phillipians 4:4-7.

 

 

 

 

The Fruits of The Spirit – Love

An old Saturday Night Live sketch (the one with the annoying head bobbing guys in rayon suits) used the (equally annoying) song “What is Love?” as its theme. The answer to that question must be answered if we are to understand the importance of love within the framework of The Word of God and why it is a Fruit of the Spirit, and the answer is complex. I cannot possibly say everything that should be said on the subject here, but I will say what I feel is important and hope that it is sufficiently fascinating to spur independent study.


For guidance we will use the Greeks as a jumping off point, one that seems valid since the Greek language was one of the three languages used to write the earliest translations of The Bible. The Old Testament had first been written in Hebrew and Aramic, while The New Testament was done in Greek.


Greek distinguishes several different senses in which the word love is used:

Agape is the verb “I love” and generally refers to a pure, ideal type of love, the love of the soul, of intelligence, of reason and comprehension coupled with corresponding purpose. It represents the divine love of God toward His Son, believers, and human beings in general and is vastly superior to any other form of love. It is used to depict the outwardly focused love God expects believers to have for one another. Agape is charitable, selfless, altruistic, and unconditional. We can agape others only if God has first filled us with His agape. All the other forms of love need a reaction, something in return, but agape comes from God and those that are full of it do not need a confirmation from others, being fully satisfied in the agape of the Lord.

Eros refers to sexual, erotic love or desire.

Philia means “to have ardent affection and feeling” and includes loyalty to friends, family, and community. Philia is a human response to something that is found to be delightful. It is the root of philadelphos, meaning brotherly love…..hence the nickname “City of Brotherly Love” for Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It is a feeling that finds attraction in another person and expects a return.

Storge is the natural affection felt by parents for offspring, which is why babies are said to be delivered by the stork.

Xenia means hospitality and was an extremely important practice in Ancient Greece. It was an almost ritualized friendship formed between a host and his guest, who could previously have been strangers. The host fed and provided quarters for the guest, who was expected to repay only with gratitude. The importance of this can be seen throughout Greek mythology, the best examples being Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey.


Eros, xenia, and storge aren’t really utilized in The Bible, so we can put them on the shelf and concentrate on the other two: agape and philia. That simplifies things to the point that when we study The Word of God we just have to ask ourselves which one is being referred to in a particular passage. This is made even easier when we realize that agape is used 90% of the time and philia is used the remaining 10%. Logic would then dictate that agape is the type of love that we need to truly have a firm grasp on, although it can’t hurt to have an understanding of philia as well.


The word “God” appears in The Bible over 4000 times, the word “man” over 3000, and the word “sin” over 1000. By comparison, love or some form of the word is mentioned just over 600 times. But I don’t think the numbers paint an accurate picture. For one thing, the perfect example of God’s love is His Son Jesus Christ, who didn’t come along until the New Testament. Secondly, without explicitly saying so, many of the other expectations God has of His creation (such as the other Fruits of The Spirit that we will eventually discuss) have love as a foundation. It is difficult to forgive or honor, have faith, and be good, kind, patient, and gentle without love. Without the love of God there is no true peace and joy. So if one looks at all the other verses in The Bible in which various virtues are talked about, it should be inherently understood that love is being discussed as well.


Christ put such an emphasis on love that he told His apostles this: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you lovealso love one another.  By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” Two things must be highlighted from this verse. First, “to love one another” as Jesus loved us is a commandment, meaning it is on par with The Ten Commandments. In other words, as obvious as it is that we should not kill, steal, or commit adultery, it should be just as clear that we need to love. Most average folks in their right mind don’t go around shooting people or pilfering others’ stuff, and if one does do those things there is a legal and societal consequence. Why then is it so easy for us to feel malice in our hearts toward so many of our fellow human beings, to act on a daily basis with such selfishness, malevolence, and general disregard?? Secondly, Christians need to show our love because it is how we are recognized as believers, how we are set apart from “the world”, how we glorify God, how we “prove our metal”. Anyone can call themselves anything, but the proof is in the pudding. As I mentioned in the introduction to this series, one thing about fruit is that it is tangible evidence that differentiates one type of tree from another. If we don’t bear fruit…..in this case, if we don’t shine the light of God’s love…..then we’re just another tree that will eventually be chopped down and burned up.


Studies have proven that pets (who provide unconditional love and companionship) can help lower blood pressure, ease loneliness, and help children overcome allergies. Heart attack patients with dogs are eight times more likely to be alive a year later than people without dogs. So if a dog or cat or bird can have such a positive effect on people, how much greater does a mutually loving relationship with God affect a person?? That’s not to say that Christians have it made in the shade, not by a long stretch. But “with God all things are possible”. I’ve never heard as good a review about what’s possible without God.


Two aspects of love that most of us really struggle with (I know I do), are the directives to “love thy enemies” and “love your neighbor as yourself”. Let’s face it…..we tend not to love anyone quite as much as we love ourselves, no matter how noble we seem. And we really resist the whole enemy thing…..the concept of forgiveness may be one of the most difficult to master. Ghandi once said that “it is easy enough to be friendly to one’s friends, but to befriend the one who regards himself as your enemy is the quintessence of true religion. The other is mere business.” I couldn’t possibly state it any better. The question becomes “how do we truly forgive and love others as much as we love ourselves?”. I won’t lie…I’m still figuring that out myself on a daily basis and cannot honestly say that I am anywhere close to where I need to be. But I know a few things. I know that the aforementioned relationship with God is a necessary starting point. One doesn’t just get a PhD right out of the gate…..grade school, high school, a bachelor’s degree, and then a master’s are building blocks. We live in a drive thru society that desires an instant fix, but the truth is there are steps. We must develop a relationship with God, understand on some basic level His love for us, and show our love for Him before we can begin to love our enemies and “forgive those who trespass against us”. These are essential steps. The book of Matthew plainly states that “If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.”


God speaks to us through parables and miracles and various other means, but sometimes He just lays it on the line. One such case is the well known 13th chapter of Corinthians, commonly referred to as The Love Chapter. In that chapter Paul clearly articulates an easily understood definition of love:

Love is patient

Love is kind

Love does not envy

Love does not boast

Love is not proud

Love is not rude

Love is not self-seeking

Love is not easily angered

Love keeps no record of wrongs

Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth

Love always protects

Love always trusts

Love always hopes

Love always perseveres

Love never fails

Just reading that list pierces my heart. I know I am not always kind and patient. I can be too prideful. As polite and mannered as I was raised to be I can still be rude. I am most certainly easily angered. I too often keep a record of wrongs. In other words, I’ve got some work to do…..how about you??


Paul prefaces that list by saying this: “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.” That is a very powerful statement. “Love” may not be mentioned as often as some other terms, but the passages in which it is mentioned pack a powerful punch.


Which brings me to my concluding point (and the crowd goes wild!!). Of all the verses and chapters and books in The Bible, there is one that packs such a punch that it is well known by people far and wide, whether they are Christians or not. John 3:16 says “for God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life”. That is the essence of love ladies and gentlemen. We were made by God, in God’s likeness, for the express purpose of glorifying God and having relationship with Him. Adam and Eve messed up in The Garden as bad as anyone has ever messed up. Did God hold a grudge?? Did God give us the cold shoulder?? Did God seek revenge?? Did God destroy us forever?? No. God did what only someone who truly loves can do…he forgave us and gave us a second chance. And not only that, but he sacrificed His Son in offering us that reprieve. If you are reading this and have children, look at them right now. If you don’t have children think of your most prized possession. If someone asked you to throw that child…or car, house, heirloom, or whatever else you may value most in your life…into a fiery pit in order to save the lives of not only loved ones, but strangers, and even those who have hurt you deeply, would you do it??


I’m a Trekkie, and Spock always espoused the maxim “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one”. But that’s a television show, pure fiction. Enjoyable and interesting, but fictional nonetheless. We humans tend to invert Spock’s maxim, focusing on the needs of the one fruit-aisle~s600x600(ourselves), then the few (close family and possibly a few friends), and maybe, on the rare occasion when we are feeling magnanimous and the sacrifice isn’t too harsh, there’s a chance we may care about the many. However, God’s word tells us that we shouldn’t differentiate, that we should love freely and without expectation. God’s instructions about love illustrate that Spock’s words of wisdom aren’t fiction at all.


We began with a song so we will end with one. The 80’s band The Cars had a song that said “I wanna know what love is…I want you to show me”. God has told us and shown us exactly what love is…..all we have to do is pay attention and follow his example.


An Introduction to the Fruits of the Spirit

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 OldWornBible_200x250we’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 200908-omag-supermarket-220x312another 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.