Fruit of the Spirit
In a society where friendships can easily drift and begin to crumble under the burden of a twenty-first century world that is often individualistic and increasingly ignores or denigrates God, we need to recognise that we are in a spiritual battle.
Friendships that are based on what we have in common by way of background or personal likes or dislikes are no match for a sophisticated enemy and therefore the challenge to all believers is to keep in step with the Holy Spirit. This ‘keeping in step’ is clearly evidenced, in part, in the way we reach out to others with a love and power that is far beyond our natural abilities. In doing so we reveal what it is to know God and share our lives with others in a clear demonstration of what it means to be and to live out the fruit of the Spirit’s work in our lives.
The Galatian Church.
When we find ourselves under pressure it is easy to return to old ways of thinking, especially if they appear to have some degree of success in making us feel safe and comfortable in the past. Many of the believers in Galatia were from a Jewish background and, due to the influence of certain teaching and the pressures of life, they were in danger of slipping back into old thought patterns and use God’s written word as a list of do’s and don’ts in seeking to maintain their own brand of salvation. Yet all this really does is separate believers from one another and quench the work of the Holy Spirit. In light of this Paul asks the Galatian believers a couple of questions, they being: “Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law or by believing what you heard?” and, “After beginning with the Spirit are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?” (Gal 3:2-3).
All local churches reflect the incredible grace of God in the amazing diversity of people that have come to Christ from a multitude of different backgrounds – and therein can lie a problem for some believers.
We live in a society where we people tend to gravitate towards those who are like them, yet in the church there are many who are definitely not like us. We also live in a society where it is easier to try and fix a person from a distance than get alongside them and give our time and energy as a friend and with no thought of reward.
We live in a world where adverts continually tell us what we need with the underlying message that we are not good enough and need to find a fix that the advertiser can then offer. Yet we are not people to be fixed; we are those who have been created to be loved and in this love we find our healing and well-being. Neither are we called to define those around us by their failings or because they are different from us. We are called to see people as those who are made in the image of God and we are called to serve one another as an act of unconditional love towards God and our fellow man. In doing so we then reveal, in His power, what it is live in the anointing and power of the kingdom of God.
The heart of God’s kingdom is clearly seen in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ who, whilst in many respects is nothing like us, still came alongside all people regardless of their ethnicity, background, ability or value to society.
We are called to live the same way as Jesus and thankfully we are not called to do this alone. Yet unfortunately many walk still walk in a way that is devoid of the Spirit because they mix with those who are like them and disregarding others because they are different or because they continue to judge them for some of the things that person may have said or done.
Paul reminds both us and the Galatian Christians that it is only as we allow the Holy Spirit to challenge and transform our lives that we can genuinely demonstrate( in word and deed) the fruit of the Spirit in ways that are far beyond our normal abilities. With this in mind we now turn to look at the fruit of the Spirit.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”
Many years ago I read an article by a newspaper columnist who wrote down his thoughts one sunny day as he watched his five-year-Downs Syndrome son playing in the garden. As he looked at his son he wondered what possible reason there could be for his son being alive. What difference could his small boy make in a world where he would always need to be looked after; why was he here? A few minutes later he came up with an answer: perhaps his son Charlie was here just to be loved.
The simple, deep and profound truth is that you and I have been placed here in order to be loved. Life is not about achievements, recognition, money or worldly success. Life is about being loved and we are loved and called to love others. You and I have the opportunity to be great in life and being great is about loving others for they, like us, were created to know God’s love.
Our ideas of love are often formed from the relationships around us, and our ability to love is often dependent on others returning love, yet this is not the case with God. He is an infinitely perfect person who is love by nature – love is the very essence of His being. If concepts of love began with our own definition of love then our view of God’s love is going to be flawed because love in this world has often let us down. This is why scripture does not say, ‘Love is God,’ as if His love could be defined by worldly experiences of love. Instead scripture states that that ‘God is love’ (1 John 4:8). Therefore to explore the true meaning of love we need to know God.
In the twenty-first century love is often portrayed as little more than an emotional feeling leading many Christians to become confused or worried that they may not really love God because they don’t always feel very loving. Yet love is not an emotion first and foremost; it is a decision, an act of the will to give the very best of oneself to another. This love is clearly seen in the way Jesus spoke to those around Him and constantly gave out of Himself no matter the situation or circumstances He faced. Jesus then showed us the extent of His love by dying in our place so that we could find forgiveness and reconciliation with our heavenly Father - so that we could come home. In incredible grace and mercy God actively pursues us with a love that is not quenched by our failure.
As we learn about God and grow in His grace, our awareness of who God is and how much we are loved helps us reach out to others. Yet this love does not, as already mentioned, simply come about through waiting for a feeling. Love speaks of a developing give-and-take relationship, a thinking active love, as we put God first in our lives recognising that we are His sons or daughters, loved and cherished by Him. From this we see how it is that God can command us to love Him. We are not being told to switch on an emotion, but to actively seek Him as the source of all goodness and to put Him first. If we love someone we listen to them which is why God said, “Hear O Israel” (Deut 6:4) and calls us to be still and know that He is God (Psalm 46:10). Therefore, as we have already noted, love involves a decision to make time for God and to listen to God through His written word.
Love is the decision to put God first in all things, not for some sort of reward or personal gain but because He is the one we have been created to know and receive love from. God always wants the very best for us and has given His very best so that we can know Him.
“Love is a fruit in season at all times, and within the reach of every hand.”
Ian McCormack was stung by five poisonous box-jellyfish while diving off the coast of Mauritius. As he was rushed off to hospital at the point of death, he had a clear vision of his mother. Looking back at that time Ian writes, “It was as though she was speaking out those words she had spoken so long ago; “Ian, no matter how far from God you are, no matter what you’ve done wrong, if you cry out to God from your heart, he will hear you and he will forgive you.””
Up until this point Ian had regarded himself as ‘almost a devout atheist’, yet was now dying. At the same time he had the vision God spoke to his mother and told her to pray for her son; God involves us in His plans. The rest of Ian’s story can be found in ‘A Glimpse of Eternity’, where he speaks about being clinically dead in hospital for 15-20 minutes and experiencing what hell would feel like as well as heaven. There may be those who may find Ian’s testimony hard to believe, yet how else would they explain how and why a hardened atheist is now born-again and serving the Lord in ministry?
As we have already said, God is love (1 John 4:8) and reaches out to people in all manner of ways. Some of these ways may appear very ordinary whilst others seem more extraordinary to us. Yet in reality all ways are amazing because they involve God, speaking of the One who seeks to provide for us and protect us, having already given His very best for us.
“As a verb, the Hebrew word ‘ahav’ (love) means, “to provide and protect what is given as a privileged gift.” We are to love God, neighbours, and family, not in an emotional sense, but in the sense of our actions.”
Jeff Benner in, Living Words, page 108.
In Romans 8:1 we read that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus with the word ‘condemnation’ being a legal term borrowed from a court of law. Because of Christ we are forgiven – there is no final penalty falling on us because it fell on Jesus. As John writes in his gospel, “He who believes in Jesus is not condemned”(John 3:18) whilst in John 5:24-25 we read, “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.” As those who have been forgiven and are loved with an everlasting love we are now able to learn and grow in the teaching of the One who loves us most. This growth does not happen all at once yet the potential for growth is present in each and every situation we go through. God never leaves us alone and, as a loving Father, calls us to follow Him.
When I was a young boy I started piano lessons with most of the initial lessons centring on playing scales or simple tunes with one hand. In listening to the instructions given by my teacher and applying what I learnt - no matter how frustrated I felt at not playing ‘real’ music at first - I was able to grow into the freedom and pleasure I now have in playing music. My obedience did not earn me anything from my piano teacher but enabled me to benefit from all the very best that he wanted for me.
God does not need our obedience as if there is something lacking within Him. Neither does our obedience make God any bigger. Through obedience we find strength and stability as we learn and grow in a love that has been freely given and reach out to others in the love we have received. God commands us to obey Him (John 14:15) – it’s not optional - and in our obedience we are able to partake in and benefit from all that God has provided for us in Christ.
As we have already mentioned, our obedience does not make God any bigger and He does not need our obedience as if there were something lacking within Himself. Our obedience is for our benefit and also for those around us and will enable us to receive more of what is already present through Christ. In Christ we have received love and are able to continue to receive love, for as Paul states in Ephesians 3:16-18, he is praying that, out of God’s riches, believers will be strengthened with power through the Holy Spirit in their inner being so that they will have power to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ and to know this love which surpasses knowledge.
If we genuinely desire to experience the love of God in increasing measure we need to accept that love must be central to our walk with the Lord – a love that is in and by the power of the Holy Spirit and willingly reaches out to others. God has planted us in the soil of all His promises (Psalm 1:3) which are all “yes” in Christ (2 Cor 1:20) and we are called to share this love with others. In doing so we are keeping in step with the Spirit, by the power and presence of the Spirit, and being drawn more deeply into the ways of love instead of becoming frustrated through trying to get God into our version of life!
“The heart that loves is not a weakened heart – weakened by the giving; it is strengthened – strengthened by the very giving. The giver and the receiver are both strengthened, for love itself is strength, the only strength.”
Dr S. Jones in, ‘Growing Spiritually’, page 128.
We can gain enjoyment from many things in life such as the smile on a child’s face, spending time with friends and laughing together or just walking with a loved one and so on. However the joy that Paul speaks of does not centre on human happiness in this way because the situations and circumstances around us can often change. What Paul writes about is the joy we can have from knowing we are loved and cared for by another and the uplifting of burdens that comes through trusting in Him (Rom 15:13).
The fruit of the Spirit is joy precisely because it is God’s work both within us and through us with joy speaking of an inner attitude of mind that springs from the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives (1 Cor 3:16). Because of God’s intervention in our lives we now know that we are not simply a number or part of someone else’s agenda. We are known and accepted. We are understood and loved and we have a future – His future for us. In knowing the One who provides all this for us we find encouragement and an uplifting of the heart that is not dependent on circumstances. In a sense, dare we say it; we have ‘spiritual adrenalin’ running through our heart and soul.
Something of the uplifting power and presence of God in our lives is captured in words by Allen Boesak, a theologian who lived through the time of apartheid (separation) in South Africa. In speaking of the violence and imprisonment of so many black students he once writes of how perplexed the ruling authorities were at Christians who continually sang praises to God no matter the hardship and says….
“…..Prison wardens, policemen, and heavily armed soldiers cannot understand how people can sing under such circumstances. The more joyful the singing the more aggressive they become. And so over the last few years we have learned another valuable lesson: The joy of the oppressed is a source of fear for the oppressor. But we sing because we believe, we sing because we hope we sing because we know that it is only a little while, and the tyrant shall cease to exist…. The song of the twenty-four elders is the same age-old song of Israel and it vibrates with the same power and certainty ( 1 Chron 29:11)…”
Allan Boesak in ‘Comfort and Protest’ pages 61-62
The Hebrew word for joy (chedwat) is a word that is full of movement and which speaks of rejoicing from the heart and as if one were dancing round in a circle because of the amazing freedom found in our relationship with God. Perhaps this is what David experienced when he danced before God with all His might as the Ark of the Covenant was brought back into Jerusalem (2 Sam 6:14). Elsewhere in scripture we read that the dwelling place of the Lord is a place of joy and gladness (1 Sam 16:27) with the Psalmist writing on one occasion, “Whoever feels at home in the presence of the Most Glorious God shall be able to pass the night in the shadow of the Almighty One. For that person can say to the LORD God, “My sanctuary! My place-to-stand! My God in whom I am trusting!” (Psalm 91:1-2, Seerveld translation). God wants to be with us.
A well-known Professor of Psychology wrote about bumping into a man he’d helped a few years previously during a series of counselling session. The ex-patient thanked the professor for the help he’d received and remarked that there had been one particular meeting which had impacted him most and changed his thinking. The professor was inquisitive as to which session this was and was surprised to find out that it was not any of them. Instead it had been the time when the professor had come across his patient sitting outside with friends and sat down and talked and laughed with them for a while. It was this that had impacted the young man more than any of the sessions he had been through and helped him on the road to recovery. Sometimes just sitting down quietly and meditating on the fact that we are in God’s world and are noticed and loved is all that it takes to begin to experience what Nehemiah 8:10 says where we read, “The joy of the Lord is your strength.”
In knowing we are known and loved by God there is a lifting of the burden of life that the world often places on our shoulders. There is abandonment to another in engagement with our heavenly Father. In Him we find freedom and security and gain wisdom, knowledge, understanding and discernment instead of being burdened by error, distortion and blurred vision, which causes us to be emotionally drained.
The fruit of the Spirit is joy – His work in our lives and we can dance round in a circle in our heart and mind so to speak as one who is dearly loved. We are in circle of life whereby we receive great blessing from God and return that blessing in how we reach out to those around us. We are, as Peter writes, a people belonging to God (1 Peter 2:9), those who are noticed and surrounded by His protective hands so to speak and no matter what we go through we can still know His presence. As Jesus clearly said, everything is in His hands (John 3:35) and no one can snatch us from the hands of God (John 10:28-9).
Jesus is the Shepherd King who, for the joy set before Him went about His father’s work of love and reconciliation (Heb 12:2). All true hope, freedom and security is found In Him as the one who lifts our burdens and sets us free. He is the One who can fill us with joy and peace, as we learn to trust him and reach out to others. We may feel alone at times but there is no reason to be alone because the power and presence of the Holy Spirit is with all believers.
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
Many years ago when my wife and I were students we bought a Tiffany print, a picture full of the vibrant colours in a landscape viewed through a medieval window. A few years later we started searching for a similar print and in doing so came across a copy of the one we already owned. It was then that we realised how faded our own print had become without our realising it. Knowing that there was no way of restoring the print we eventually took it off the wall – it just did not look the same to us anymore. Thankfully God does give up on that which has become faded, tarnished and lost.
Peace is about the restoration of harmony in God’s world – about bringing things back to how they should always have been and this includes you and me. We are faded glory as we live in a world which, in many respects has lost so much of its vibrancy and colour. We are paupers and rebels through being separated from God in our dysfunctional existence and sin, yet God has not given up on us.
Unlike my inability to restore a picture to its former glory, we have a heavenly Father who is willing to help restore man’s broken relationship with God, self and with those around us. Due to our often- distorted vision and pressures of the world upon us, we often fail to see what has happened and is happening to our lives. Yet there is hope because God has come after the rebel and places the pauper back into His family as those who are loved and clothed in the work of another. He is the only One who can offer peace and reconciliation and in looking through scripture we see that He has been in the business of restoring broken relationships (Gen 3:15; Isaiah 11:7-9) right from the very beginning.
God’s peace (shalom) speaks of a positive state of wholeness, soundness and mental and spiritual prosperity being brought to bear on our lives through being joined to Him in the work of Christ. We are the fruit – His fruit - of the gospel of peace (Eph 6:15) with a peace that is based upon Christ’s finished work. For us this peace means being at home with God in heart and mind; it is not the absence of trouble but the presence of a person: our friend and saviour Jesus Christ (Eph 2:14-18). The Greek word for peace is ‘eirene’ and means ‘to join,’ that which was separated; through Jesus the chasm of separation is removed. Through the work of Jesus we can approach God at all times (Heb 4:16) and His Spirit lives in us (1 Cor 6:19-20). So let’s slow down and let Him engage our mind and heart.
“In the night hours of wakefulness, instead of worrying about not sleeping, if we turn the whole episode into a Listening Post where we listen to God instead of to our fears, He will probably show us plans where we can change things that rob us of our peace.”
Dr S. Jones, Spiritual Growth, page 153
As already noted, a key ingredient in the word ‘peace’ is restoration and in God’s initial walk into the Garden of Eden we find how this occurs as the injured party, so to speak, initiates a process of reconciliation in reaching out to Adam and Eve. God knew that this ‘walk towards restoration’ would involve His Son being ridiculed, deserted, and smashed to a cross and judged - yet His Son willingly came so that we could be reconciled and receive great blessing and peace. God loves you.
In John 3:16 we see that God’s love (1 John 4:8) is an intense love that has always been present because the word ‘loved’ is in the past tense and points us back to “In the beginning” (John 1:1, Rev 13:8). We can also go back further than this because eternal life was promised before time began (Titus 1:2) in a Trinitarian decision between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God has always been the One who was willing to make restitution for our sin which then brings about peace and this idea of restitution can be found in many places throughout scripture, including the following, where we read…
“If a man's bull injures the bull of another and it dies, they are to sell the live one and divide both the money and the dead animal equally. However, if it was known that the bull had the habit of goring, yet the owner did not keep it penned up, the owner must pay, animal for animal and the dead animal will be his." Ex 21:35-6.
In these verses we see a clear picture concerning restitution. God states that if an ox that was known to be dangerous gored and killed an ox belonging to another man, the owner should pay ox for ox. The word ‘pay’ used in this verse is shalem (to be safe) and literally means, ‘to make whole; to restore, to bring to a place of peace.’
Peace speaks of being made whole and being brought to a safe place through the work of Jesus Christ therefore peace is the reality and effect of reconciliation with God. God is the One who brings us home through the sacrificial death of His Son, the prophesied Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6) who defeated all the powers of darkness.
Jesus is spoken of as Prince of Peace because in Isaiah’s day the king’s son would be the one who went out to deal with trouble in the kingdom. This is how the term ‘prince’ came to speak of the one who destroys evil as power is brought to bear on all that would disrupt harmony in the kingdom. In light of this we see why Isaiah speaks of the coming Messiah – Jesus – as the Prince of Peace. Jesus came to destroy the work of the devil as He preached good news to the poor, proclaiming freedom for prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind and the release of the oppressed (Luke 4:18). Through His work and sacrificial death and resurrection Satan is a defeated enemy.
As well as being the Prince of Peace, Jesus is also the king of kings and the true Judge of all.
In our present day society most of us would associate judgement with being sentenced or acquitted in a court of law. Yet the biblical words for judging and judgement convey a much more powerful picture and are linked with peace. This is because the biblical words concerning judgement have the connotation of “to arrange,” or “to put in order again” like putting a faded and distorted jigsaw puzzle back together again, so to speak.
God knows all about our lives, even the bits that are faded, distorted or missing and He is the One who can put things back as they should be. In understanding this we see why an important ingredient of the word ‘judgement’ is that of arranging and putting in order again as peace is restored.
Throughout Jesus’ three year ministry we find Jesus speaking into broken lives and bringing healing and wholeness as He fellowshipped with social and religious outcasts (Mt 11:19; Luke 17:11-16). In His ministry we see Jesus loving the unlovely and not writing off those who had fallen by the wayside. He spent time in the home of Zacchaeus (Luke 19:5f), healed the centurion’s servant (Matt 8:8f), and gave life back to the daughter of a synagogue ruler (Luke 8:49f). Jesus is also the One who dealt with an adulteress (John 8:3ff) in a way that revealed compassion and love; yet did not overlook her sin. He truly is the One who restores harmony to God’s world.
Jesus knows exactly how all things should be and therefore knows how to restore all life. He is the way to perpetual life which is why we find Him saying, “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture” (John 10:9-10). If we remain open to Him then there is nothing that need separate us from His love (Rom 8:37-9; Heb 13:5).
In Jesus’ teaching, His actions and the sacrificial giving of His own life we see God’s desire to free us from the destructive thought patterns and unbalanced emotions that so often stain our thinking. His peace is a gift to us and is the presence of the All-Powerful One who seeks to bring about the re-establishment of right relationships with God, self and others. In light of this shalom peace is all about what normal life should be like with our heavenly father in all areas of our thinking and living. For example, it is not normal to think of yourself as a failure just because you have not succeeded in the way the world would expect. Don’t write yourself off – God has never seen you as worthless but sees you as His son or daughter; be at peace (Matt 13:45; Eph 2:8). Always remember that peace is the reality and effect of restoration with God – the reestablishment of right relationships with God, self and others and shalom peace is what normal life should be like with your heavenly father.
God loves you and is a God of order and not disorder (1 Cor 14:33). He will keep in perfect peace the one whose mind is steadfast because he trusts in the Lord (Isaiah 26:3). So be encouraged - you are part of His story and life is not just about who you are (His son or daughter) but about whose you are (you belong to Him). You do not belong to the world and the world has no genuine claim to your life.
“You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you. Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD, the LORD, is the Rock eternal."
In scripture patience speaks of lengthening the time; a giving of what we have no right to by way of extending time, so to speak. God has the right to exercise full judgement on this world at any moment yet with great patience allows it to continue at present so that there is every opportunity for people to be saved. Many things in the world are getting worse; however God has not abandoned the world. Whilst the media continually churns out negative stories there remain amazing stories of God’s grace and mercy as people turn to Him in repentance and faith.
The idea of a lengthening of days that is found in the word ‘patience’ can be found in 1 Peter 3:20 where we read that God waited patiently in the days of Noah. God could have instantly produced an ark for Noah and brought judgement on the world within minutes yet instead had Noah build an ark which prophetically spoke of forthcoming judgement yet also, in the case of Noah a covering in grace and mercy. The Greek word for ‘patient’ is ‘makrothumia’ and speaks of longsuffering and the quality within a person who is fully capable of expressing his anger and avenging himself, yet refrains from doing so. God is completely against sin wherever it is found, yet is gracious, desiring all people to be saved (1 Tim 2:4) and grieves over those who do not turn to Him as is seen when Jesus is weeping over Jerusalem (Luke 19:41). God is incredibly patient.
In Genesis 15:16-17 we see the patience and longsuffering of God as He communicated with Abraham and spoke of how He was going to wait for the sin of the Amorites to reach its full measure before exercising judgment. God gave the Amorites every opportunity to turn to Him, and would later send His fear before Him (speaking of a clear demonstration of who He is) to warn people of impending judgement. Rahab the prostitute who lived in the military outpost of Jericho would heed this warning and her name would later be found in the genealogy of Christ (Mat 1:5; Heb 11:31). As Isaiah wrote on one occasion, “…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!” Isaiah 30:18.
The patience of God is also seen with people who should have known better yet walked down a wrong path as God calls a meeting at Carmel. At this time Israel was struggling through wrong decisions and taking God for granted and so through Elijah, God called His people to Carmel along with the prophets of Baal and Asherah (1 Kings 18:15ff). Elijah then demonstrates that the Lord God of Israel is the One who is creator over all, and in this encounter instigated by God we see how the double-mindedness of God’s people was overcome. It was overcome through the intervention of grace, mercy and power in a clear demonstration of covenant- love for lost sheep that had wandered from their history, identity, and the God who saves. The enemy is defeated and the poison is removed, lost sheep are brought back into the fold and blessing starts to pour out on the land again. But then it all went wrong for Elijah. All too often, at the time of victory we take our eyes off the one who gives victory and freedom.
Shortly after the defeat of false prophets at Carmel, Elijah is challenged by Jezebel and ends up running for his life before sitting down and praying that he would die (1 King 19:3f). Elijah’s view of events began to change as he took his eyes off God and he started complaining about the people God had sent him to help and spoke of being the only prophet left (which he knew was not true). Elijah falls asleep only to be woken by an angel who feeds him, lets him rest and then feeds him again before sending Elijah to Horeb where God speaks to him and sets Elijah on the right path again.
In God’s dealings with both Israel and Elijah we see His patience and longsuffering. At Carmel God had every right to destroy His people, yet instead extends their time, so to speak and restores them to blessing. We also see that Elijah is not so different from Israel, or any of us, in some ways. He struggles and wants to give up yet is graciously restored as God exercised great patience towards the ‘I’m giving up’ servant.
In the gospels Jesus tells the parable of the loving father and two sons where we find the father seeing one of his sons at a distance and running out to greet him. The father must have been watching out for him each day, despite being seen as irrelevant and unnecessary in the eyes of the wayward son when he left. Yet here the father is, looking out for his lost son. Does not God have His eye on all of us and is He not the One who extends time for us, so to speak, as He intertwines His ways with us and allows us to stand in freedom, through the work of Christ and the presence and power of the Holy Spirit?
For Christians being patient is not about gritting our teeth and enduring whatever comes our way. Instead it is a patience that grows in a heart and mind that is rooted and established in the work of Christ. In a day and age when some Christians can so easily be written off by others because they don’t seem to be growing fast enough, or still seem to have too many of their old problems, we must remember that God is the One who does not walk away from us. He is the All-powerful One who continues to exercise great patience towards all He has made.
As brothers and sisters in Christ we are called to ‘bear with each other’ (Col 3:12-14; 1 Thess 5:14) and how patient we are towards others and all that goes on around us is usually a good indicator of whether or not we are rooted in the work of Jesus. As Jesus says it is “by standing firm that we gain life” even amidst the difficulties of the world (Luke 21:19).
Tolstoy, the famous Russian writer, was walking along a street one day when a beggar stopped him and asked for some money. Tolstoy searched through his pockets for a coin yet could not find one and regretfully said to the man, “Please don’t be angry with me my brother, but I have nothing with me. If I did I would gladly give it to you.” The beggar looked at him and said: “You have given me more than I asked for. You have called me brother.”
Some people find it relatively easy to show kindness to those who are like them, yet not so easy to show kindness to those who can do little more than take up some of their time. In Tolstoy’s concern for the beggar we catch a glimpse of how we should be showing kindness to all people.
God’s kindness is clearly seen in the giving of His one and only son (John 3:16) who was birthed into humanity and spent His first few days as a baby in a borrowed manger. In this incredible story of grace and mercy we see how kindness stoops low to help others and yet God did not stop there. In a life that clearly revealed what a relationship between man and God could be like, Jesus healed the sick, raised the dead and told stories of love, grace and mercy to all who would listen. He did not do this as a soldier on a mission but as a loved son who shared God’s love in incredible acts of kindness.
Jesse Jackson the American civil rights activist who worked with Martin Luther King said on one occasion, “Never look down on anybody unless you’re helping him up” and in these words we capture one of the biblical pictures behind the word kindness. Kindness is a bending of the neck, a looking and a reaching down to help up those who are struggling and in difficulty. In Jesus we see the One who ‘bends the neck’ and takes a genuine interest in those around them, reaching into their lives in kindness and love and in Hosea we capture a picture of God’s great kindness to others in His words to a wayward people…
“I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love; I lifted the yoke from their neck and bent down to feed them.”
These words in Hosea reveal Gods willingness to restore those who have strayed or deliberately walked away. The writer, Hosea, had a troubled life and married a woman he had brought out of prostitution. They had two sons but she finally leaves Hosea undoubtedly causing him great heartache and pain. It is then that God tells Hosea to go and purchase back his adulterous wife, despite being the wronged party. In Hosea’s actions we capture a picture of the amazing kindness and love that God has for wayward Israel and see His willingness to reach out to those who should have known better. Like most of us, Israel often trusted in her own ability and strength yet as Jeremiah writes…
"This is what the Lord says: "Let not the wie man boast declares the Lord."
“This is what the Lord says: "Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight," declares the Lord." Jeremiah 9:23-24.
God’s concern and willingness to reach out to others in kindness and love (ultimately seen in Jesus) is also captured in the words of Isaiah where we read…
“I looked, but there was no-one to help, I was appalled that no-one gave support; so my own arm worked salvation for me, and my own wrath sustained me. I trampled the nations in my anger; in my wrath I made them drunk and poured their blood on the ground." I will tell of the kindnesses of the Lord, the deeds for which he is to be praised, according to all the Lord has done for us — yes, the many good things he has done for the house of Israel, according to his compassion and many kindnesses.”
Through the kindness and love of God our sins are wiped out (Acts 3:19); and the record of our wrong-doing is removed because the debt has been completely paid by Jesus Christ. Despite God having done so much and despite our many failures, God still calls out to us in incredible grace and loving-kindness.
“God’s sorrow lies in our refusal to approach him when we have sinned or failed. A ‘slip’ for an alcoholic is a terrifying experience. The obsession of the mind and body with booze returns with the wild fury of a sudden storm in springtime. When a person sobers up he or she is devastated. When I relapsed I had two options: yield once again to guilt, fear or depression, or rush into the arms of my heavenly Father – choose to live as a victim of my disease; or choose to trust in God’s immutable love.”
B. Manning in, ‘Abba’s Child’ p 20.
Jesus: the expression of the Aaronic blessing.
"The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face towards you and give you peace."
In the Aaronic blessing of Numbers 6:24-5 we read of God’s willingness to stoop low and lift us out of the mud and mire of this life into a place of beauty and safety where love and fellowship intermingle; through Christ God gives us life, setting us down in a safe place – a place of security and growth. God is also the One who comforts us, not through making us comfortable in a worldly way, but through the security of knowing that God expresses kindness towards us and that in whatever we go through we are no longer on our own. He is the ‘always giving One’ and we are the ‘those who receive’ ones. He has turned His face towards us (Numbers 6:26) in that He willingly reveals His nature and character to those who seek Him. In loving-kindness God has ‘bowed the neck’ towards us, making a way (in Jesus) for us to receive forgiveness, blessing and the power to live a renewed life.
In loving kindness Jesus reached out and healed blind Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46) who’d been rebuked by a crowd for making too much noise, elsewhere we read that Jesus touched a leper as He pronounced healing over his life (Matthew 8:2). In loving-kindness Jesus led a deaf man away from the hubbub of the crowd and looked up to heaven saying ‘Ephphatha’ (be opened), using a word that it would be easy for the deaf man to lip-read as healing was then birthed into his life (Mark 7:34). And it was in a great act of loving-kindness that Jesus went out of His way to engage with a Samaritan woman during the hottest part of the day (John 4:6-9).
God does not leave us on our own (John 14), and His Spirit is willing to help us with whatever we go through – not to build our own lives but to embrace the new life He has drawn us into. The Holy Spirit is the One who leads us into all truth (John 16:13) and is the Spirit of life and holiness (Rom 8:2; 1:4), who helps us in our weakness (Rom 8:26). In Him we find righteousness, peace and joy (Rom 14:17) and in His grace and loving-kindness we can display His fruit (Gal 5:22f) and operate in His gifting (1 Cor12-14). The Holy Spirit (literally the special breath of God) is the Spirit of freedom (2 Cor 3:17), purity, understanding and kindness (2 Cor 6:6). He is the Spirit of wisdom (Eph 1:17), and He is here with us right now.
“The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made.”
Francisek Gajowniczek died in 1995 at the age of 95, yet should have died in Auschwitz in the summer of 1941 at the age of 41. At that time he had just been sentenced to death along with nine others and was about to be placed in a starvation bunker to die a slow and painful death. Instead he found his life being given back to him through the generosity and goodness of a total stranger called Maximilian Kolbe, a 47-year-old priest who stepped forward and volunteered to die in Francisek’s place. As the days went by in the starvation bunker, Kolbe led the condemned men in prayer and singing each day until he was the only one left alive. He was then given a lethal injection; Kolbe died, yet he still lives.
Years after Kolbe’s death, Gajawniczek wrote, “I could only thank him with my eyes. I was stunned and could hardly grasp what was going on. The immensity of it: I the condemned am to live and someone else willingly and voluntarily offers his life for me – a stranger. Gajawniczek lived because of the goodness and generosity of Kolbe’s incredible gift of his own life.
The gospel is good news because it reveals a person who desires nothing but good things for us. The gospel is good news because it clearly shows us that our lives are dependent on another and not our own abilities or ways in which we seek to prop ourselves up by whatever means we can lay my hands on. Someone has taken hold of our lives, and that someone desires nothing but good for us.
Goodness is an attitude of being generous towards others and speaks of a person who is happy to do more than is legally required, and therefore speaks of practical generosity. It is not so much the “I have to do this for someone,” but more the, “I want to do this for someone.” God is good, and desires to share His goodness with us and help us share our lives with others and one of my favourite group of verses that speak of His goodness is as follows…
“As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire, and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”
In my first pastorate I remember a fellow pastor coming to me one day saying that he had been given £15,000 and was using the money to buy a new mini-bus for his church. He then went on to say that he wanted to give our church the old bus. I’ve never forgotten that: a man who’d already given so much still wanting to give more. As Phillip Brooks a church minister in the 1860’s once said, “No man or woman can be strong, gentle, pure, and good, without the world being better for it and without someone being helped and comforted by the very existence of that goodness.”
Goodness is about covenant living, about living the right way and firing on all cylinders, so to speak, as those who have been made to know God. Due to sin man is a flawed and often a rebellious being, yet still retains something of what it means to be made in the image of God. This is why we can do good things such as building hospitals, providing for those in difficulty and reaching out to others although we remain flawed in our thinking.
On our own man is independent from God and therefore unable to fully benefit from the goodness of covenantal living. Yet the One who created a world and placed man in a garden called Eden (meaning, ‘delight’) has not given up on us. The parent, who created and decorated the room for the child’s arrival, has not turned His back on His creation.
God seeks to help us turn from evil and enter His goodness and goodness speaks about functioning the right way in covenant blessing with a loving Father. Evil, on the other hand, speaks of being dysfunctional and outside of covenant-blessing.
“For the Lord is good and his love endures for ever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.”
As the One who wants the very best for us, Jesus stands as our representative and is the One who keeps the covenant between man and God. Therefore in light of all that God has done ‘goodness’ is all about empowered covenant living in and by the work of another. All good things come about through being with our heavenly Father and in Him we not only see how life should be lived, but are able to live that life as we reach to others. Jesus never said that this will always be easy – but life, in all that it is meant to be, is possible because of His covenant-goodness.
“Jesus – He made no promise that those who followed Him in His plan of re-establishing life on its proper basic principles would enjoy special immunity from pain and sorrow – nor did He Himself experience such immunity. He did, however, promise enough joy and courage, enough love and confidence in God to enable those who went His way to do far more than survive. Because they would be in harmony with the very Life and Spirit of God they would be able to defeat evil. They would be able to take the initiative and destroy evil with good.”
J.B. Phillips in ‘Your God is too Small’, p 95
“Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever”
God wants to be known and encourages us to place our trust in Him; therefore it is because of His revelation of Himself that we can have faith in God. God’s presence is a faith-enabling presence and this can be seen, for example, in Jesus’ response to a man who had a demon-possessed son. Jesus had told this unnamed father that everything is possible for those who believe. The father then replied, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!!” (Mk 9:23-25) and Jesus then sets his son free.
On another occasion, a leper came to Jesus saying “Lord if you are willing, you can make me clean.” (Matthew 8:2). Perhaps this leper was a little unsure of whether or not Jesus would want to heal him because the leper lived in a society that often thought illness was the result of sin in the life of the sick person or his or her parents. Over a period of years all manner of thinking can affect a person’s life and this struggling and burdened leper was not sure whether Jesus would want to heal him. In response to his cry for help Jesus met this marginalised man at his point of confessed need by saying, “I am willing” and healing him.
Another person whose situation and circumstances caused him to struggle is John the Baptist. When he was thrown into prison he sends his disciples to ask Jesus if he is the Messiah. Prior to this, John had proclaimed the coming Messiah, yet may have had ideas tainted with the view of a leader who would restore Israel to a position of power. Apart from this John was in prison! Perhaps John’s trust in God was wavering a little at this time, yet even if this were so, John did not let it eat away at his heart. Instead he sent his disciples to ask Jesus if Jesus was the Messiah. In His reply, Jesus did not berate John but sent John a picture that would encourage him and also speak of the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy concerning the Messiah saying, “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me” (Luke 7:22-23).
“The early Christians believed in the possibility of healing and restoration that would truly benefit the needy. Underlying this belief was faith in a God who had created and could restore, a Messiah who had initiated God’s final rule over both the forces of nature and the structures of society, and a Spirit who had been poured out on the believers enabling them to carry on the work of Jesus and to extend it to all nations.”
Christopher Kaiser in Creation and the History of Science. P 37.
In the Hebraic mindset, the word faithful speaks of ‘firmness’ through placing our trust in God’s nature and character as did David on one occasion when he wrote…
“I will sing of the Lord's great love forever; with my mouth I will make your faithfulness (firmness) known through all generations. I will declare that your love stands firm forever, that you established your faithfulness (firmness) in heaven itself.”
Faith needs to be firmly anchored in God’s nature and character first and foremost and not what we think should or should not happen because we so often get it wrong. Seeing the need to be rooted in God explains why some of the Hebraic pictures concerning faithfulness are those of a tent peg in solid ground, or a tree rooted and established by streams of water (Psalm 1:1-3). As already stated, God’s words, actions and promises clearly reveal His nature and character as the One who can be trusted (Ps 3:5-6,37:3).
In Hebrews 11 we read of ordinary men and women who were able to do things for God which went way beyond their natural resources because they knew God, rather than simply trying to predict what God was going to do. God tells us about these men and women of faith to uplift and encourage us to place our trust in His nature and character before all else because we are not always going to know what is going on in or around our lives. Out of this we then find faith to move forward in whatever He shows us, whether this involves giving a glass of water in His name, praying for someone or simply knowing He is with us despite the mess we are going through.
Many people often mistake gentleness for weakness when, in reality, it speaks of a person in whom strength and genuine care and concern for others goes hand in hand.
Christian author Brennan Manning speaks of a time when he turned a corner only to be approached by a girl with a radiant smile and who was giving out flowers and asking for a donation to her mission. He found out that she was a Moonie, (a cult started by Dr Sun Myung Moon), and therefore, in all probability, brainwashed by the cult teaching and heavy-shepherding. Brennan Manning did not castigate the girl for being in the cult, but said, “I deeply admire your integrity and your fidelity to your conscience. You’re out here tramping the streets doing what you really believe in”, and in this way, she was a challenge to those who claim the name ‘Christian’. The girl asked if they were Christians and, on finding they were she broke down in tears and said, “I’ve been on my mission here in the Quarter for eight days now. You’re the first Christian who has ever been nice to me.”
We are called to humble ourselves before God (Eph 4:2), constantly recognising all that God has done for us and reach out to others as Christ reaches out to us in incredible power and gentleness. We are called to love our enemies (Matt 5:44) and look past that which upsets or annoys us, whilst recognising they are not really so different from us. The real difference is that we have received grace and mercy and they are in need of grace and mercy. In thinking this way we no longer see those around us as a Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist or atheist, for example, but as those made in the image of God – made to know God and benefit from His love, grace and mercy.
In humbling ourselves before God and recognising how gentle He is with us, we can reach out to those around us as we remain open to the leading of the Holy Spirit. This reaching out to others does not mean we have to agree with them and neither does it mean they should not be, if necessary, called to account. However what it does mean is that we look beyond what they have become by way of the world and recognise that, like us, they are made in the image of God and are someone that God wants to receive forgiveness through Christ.
In Jesus we see the most powerful person who has ever walked these earthly realms, yet we also see, in the very same person, the most gentle person. Gentleness speaks of being considerate towards others and as the great Shepherd, Jesus is always considerate and caring towards His people…
“He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.”
In the parable of the Tax Collector (Luke 18:10) we see a man who was acutely aware of his failure (seen in the beating of his chest) standing at a distance from where the afternoon sacrifice was being made. If this man had seen God as a harsh tyrant he would never have found his way to the temple; but here he is, in the temple, calling out to God for mercy. Surely this must be because He could see something of the goodness and gentleness of God and therefore have hope?
The gentleness of God is seen again and again in His dealings with rebellious people. For example, look at how He was willing to reason with Cain (Gen 4:6-7) and Israel (Isaiah 1:18) and also note how God tells His people not to ill-treat the alien the poor and the oppressed (Ex 22:22). He is the One who lifts up those who are bowed down, sustains the fatherless and the widow, and sets prisoners free (Psalm 146:7-9)
Gentleness speaks of a disposition of heart and mind; of the type of character that we should naturally have through the amazing work of the Holy Spirit within us. Let us remember that when Jesus spoke with people He was not out to destroy them, nor leave them in the mess they were in. Instead, in great compassion and gentleness, He sought to bring healing and wholeness to broken lives. We are called to do likewise in His power and gentleness.
In his book, ‘Free of Charge’, Miroslav Volf writes of a Franciscan monk from Bosnia and a Muslim woman who were both swept up in the whirlwind of war in the mid- 1990’s and points out that Muslim Bosnians massacred twenty-one men from Susanj, the village in which the monk Markovic was born with nine of those massacred being members of his family. He then goes on to write…
“Three years after the massacre, in the fall of 1996, Markovic visited Susanj. Occupying the house in which his brother used to live was a fierce Muslim woman. He was warned not to go there because she brandished a rifle to protect her new home. He went anyway. As he approached the house she was waiting for him, cigarette in her mouth and rifle cocked. She barked: “Go away, or I’ll shoot you.” “No, you won’t shoot me”, said Markovic in a gentle but firm voice, “You’ll make a cup of coffee for me.” She stared at him for a while, then slowly put the rifle down and went to the kitchen. Taking the last bit of coffee she had, she mixed in some already used grounds she make enough coffee for two cups. And then deadly enemies began to talk as they partook in the ancient ritual of hospitality drinking coffee together. She told him of her loneliness; of the home she had lost, of the son who never returned from the battlefield. When Markovic returned a month later she said to him, “I rejoice at seeing you as much as if my son had returned home.”
Miroslav Volf, in ‘Free of Charge’, p 190
We all live in a society where it is so easy to be swept along by the current trends of thinking and whether we like it or not we are all affected by it. We may not live in Bosnia, Iran, Afghanistan or Rwanda, but the truth is that we can all find ourselves buckling under pressure and doing things we just didn’t think it possible to do. As scripture clearly reveals, nobody is immune from this. Whether you are a king renowned for your wisdom, or a man who has walked with Jesus for three years, no one is immune (1 Kings 11:3-6, Luke 22:61) and all of us can find ourselves swept along wrong paths through ignoring the bigger picture that God reveals. Yet in grace and mercy God calls us to trust in Him and helps us exercise control over life in the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.
Throughout Jesus’ life on earth we see a man who always exercised incredible self-control and was not swayed by the crowds. For example, Jesus did not go with the crowd and stand against Zaccheus, nor did He write off a centurion as an enemy. Jesus did not rise up against those who sought to trap Him with their thinking and instead painted pictures through parables and stories about such things as a widow’s lost coin, lost sheep and a loving father and his two sons. This way of living and speaking was in complete contrast to that of many around Him.
Some people seek to exercise self-control over their lives by adhering to a list of do’s and don’ts; yet this rarely works and speaks more of a system than of a relationship with God. Remember that the winners in the self-control stakes of the first century were the Pharisees and Sadducees who were later going to call for the death of Jesus.
When our relationship with God is weak we begin to depend on our own resources to make our life work as we begin to build from our own plans and agendas concerning how we think everything should work out. A lot of what we then do is about feeling safe and secure and one of the ways we do this is through distancing ourselves from those who may rock our emotions and disturb the fine balance in our lives that we call ‘peace.’ In reality this sort of thinking and living does not show self-control in a biblical way because it is no more than being controlled by and protecting self.
“How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word. I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. Praise be to you, O LORD; teach me your decrees.” Psalm 119:9-11.
We may have our own form of self-control but true self-control is being Spirit-empowered and looking to God. Self-control is about handing ourselves over to God and asking for the wisdom and strength to deal with things the right way. Therefore self-control is a decision to look to God first and not be controlled by thoughts and emotions; it is a decision to seek the empowering support of the Holy Spirit so that we can act in a godly way no matter what we go through.
I remember reading about a Daily Telegraph reporter who recently died of cancer. On finding he had cancer he had started to think about the bigger questions of life, and through God’s gracious intervention eventually came to put his trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. A few weeks later, as he felt death approaching, he wrote a very moving article saying that as he felt life ebbing out of his body, he began to realize that the rich and wonderful things in life were not his money, his position or the advances he had made in the work place. Instead the really rich and wonderful things in his life were his wife and family. He went on to say that he now realized that blessing and peace came from giving out and not trying to claw away at his own brand of existence.
Whilst self-control is necessary we cannot control our own lives if something else controls its centre – whether that be an inferiority complex, or a lack of forgiveness towards others; whatever we are rooted in will produce its own harvest. If we are rooted in the Lord then, as scripture says, the harvest will be an amazing and miraculous harvest (Matthew 13:23) far beyond our natural capabilities because it is rooted and established in His work.
Love is not first and foremost a feeling but an act of the will to give oneself for the benefit of others as seen in the giving of God’s one and only Son (John 3:16) for us. In loving God we listen to what He says and understanding that we are in His world and have been adopted into His family as a son or daughter. No matter what goes on we can have joy, a dancing in the heart, because we know that we are known and noticed by a loving heavenly Father. In seeking Him we find peace which speaks of the restoration of harmony in God’s world – including our hearts and minds and recognise that peace is not the absence of trouble but the presence of a person who binds His life to ours. We look at our many failings and yet marvel at the fact that over and above them is His incredible patience as He stretches out time, so to speak, and draws us deeper into the quality of eternal life. We become more and more aware that we live and breathe and have our being because of His sheer generosity and goodness towards us. He is the One who goes far beyond what is ever legally required. We are constantly encouraged to look to the One who has stooped low in order to show kindness to us, the One whose faith enabling presence means we can do far more than we ever thought possible. We are then able to live out these new ways in the power and gentleness of the Holy Spirit. In seeing and trusting in Him we also allow Him to remove whatever seeks to get into the centre of our lives and strive to come to Him at the first hint of anything going wrong in or around our lives.
Don’t try to bring about the fruit of the Spirit in your own strength, because it is His fruit and not yours. Instead just tell God that you want help in cultivating the attitude of heart that the helps you to receive and pass on what we know to be true.
Written and produced by Pastor Jem. Every blessing.