the work of the Spirit: forbearance

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance…

Galatians 5:22

In seeking to be led by the Spirit, rather than fall into the default of the flesh, Paul’s words are set in the context of Christian community. The words certainly apply beyond that, even how we seek to engage our enemies. But are directly applicable in relation to each other in Christ, responding to what’s difficult for us by the Spirit rather than the flesh.

Traditionally the word in the NIV translated “forbearance” has been and continues to be translated “patience,” “longsuffering” in the KJV. One of my professors said it’s basically the idea of putting up with each other. Bill Mounce in his “gloss” of this word tells us:

patience, forbearance, internal and external control in a difficult circumstance, which control could exhibit itself by delaying an action

Collins Dictionary describes how we use this word:

If you say that someone has shown forbearance, you admire them for behaving in a calm and sensible way about something that they have a right to be very upset or angry about.

We don’t want to be thinking negatively about others, finding fault and picking at it. We have our own faults and weaknesses for sure. But we often do rub each other the wrong way; it works both ways for sure. Sometimes through misunderstanding, but other times whether or not we should be, we’re frankly annoyed.

When we find ourselves there, we need to determine that we want to be led by the Spirit so that we can walk by the Spirit, rather than act or react in the flesh. That should be our goal. God will honor that commitment of faith by helping us. But there may be a point where other feelings and thoughts submerge us. We then need to prayerfully seek the Spirit’s leading and help, not responding by the flesh. Part of that is moving in directions we know are good and avoiding what we know is not.

When we do stumble along the way, we can confess the sin to God, and if need be to someone we might have offended, and go on. We also have to be careful not to consider something thought, said or done as necessarily sinful. God knows, and is conforming us to the image of Christ. Satan is always present to condemn us. It’s these low points that can strengthen us in our commitment to walk by the Spirit, rather than give in to the flesh.

This leads to the important point that we just can’t go on our feelings or give in to disparaging thoughts. We certainly can’t control our feelings, but we can choose to seek in all things to be led by the Spirit, to walk in the Spirit, to keep in step with the Spirit.

So back to our main point: The fruit of the Spirit is forebearance. The Holy Spirit of God will help us in our thoughts toward people and things that we find disagreeable or even offensive. God understands our struggle with it; Jesus himself experienced that. The Spirit will help us in love to put up with each other well, as we receive their forebearing love in return. In and through Jesus.

the works of the flesh, or the fruit of the Spirit

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit,you are not under the law.

The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

Galatians 5:13-26

The “works of the flesh” as pictured above (and this is a sample list) are evident to us everywhere nowadays, especially when we consider the national (US) political stage. This has always been true to some extent, but it’s especially the case now. And unfortunately it can spill over into the lives of followers of Jesus who act and react accordingly, sometimes even against each other.

Paul was facing a religious controversy, so to speak. It seems true that there’s no two issues on which people can get more hot over than religion and politics. And when you study history, go to war over as well.

The kingdom of God come in Jesus calls for its followers to be completely different, to live in another way entirely: the way of the Spirit as opposed to the way of the flesh. I think the NIV footnote here is correct concerning the Greek word σάρξ, translated “flesh”:

  1. Galatians 5:13 In contexts like this, the Greek word for flesh (sarx) refers to the sinful state of human beings, often presented as a power in opposition to the Spirit; also in verses 16, 17, 19 and 24; and in 6:8.

Unfortunately we in Jesus who have the Spirit can fall back into those old patterns and way of life. If we who live by the Spirit fail to keep in step with the Spirit, then we fall back into the ways of the flesh, and can become conceited and hateful toward each other.

Living by the Spirit is not simply shrinking back and becoming passive, even hiding. It’s our answer in Christ to what is all too common fare in the world. We in Christ must refuse to respond in kind, and that especially concerns our disagreements with each other. But even toward our enemies, our lives in our actions and words should be marked by “the fruit of the Spirit.”

This is not something we can produce on our own, but we’re responsible to yield control of our life to the Spirit so that the Spirit can bear this fruit in us. It’s up to us. Will we give in to the flesh and its demands? Or will we yield to the Spirit and endeavor to keep in step with the Spirit? There’s no middle ground, it’s either one or the other.

 

a truly Christ-centered life is for others

…in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

Philippians 2:3b-4

We’re naturally centered in ourselves. That’s understandable. From birth, while babies hopefully bond with their mothers and fathers, they understandably live an existence within themselves, completely dependent on others to take care of their needs, and it’s a need centered existence. Hopefully with healthy bonding, growth beyond “just me” begins.

But too often in our sin and brokenness our existence is all about us, and our world revolves around what we want, and anything other than that we simply put up with, or try to make it somehow satisfy us.

Christ exemplified something completely different. In becoming one of us, even made, so partaking of our lowly humanity, Christ chose to live not only where we live, but completely in our existence. Becoming human was the way for God to reveal himself in the most personal, intimate way, again both right where we live and in our very experience.

Christ took on himself the nature of a servant being made human. He willingly out of love for us and the Father took the lowest place of slave. And then stooped to the lowest depths in the death of the cross. Our attitude toward each other is to be the same.

So often when we’re engaged in life it’s really centered on us. We make it about us. To Christ it was about others. In a conversation we enter in with our corroborating experience, or maybe so we think. But it then becomes about us. And often people trade off back and forth that way. That actually can be okay if at the same time we’re fully engaged in what the other is saying about themselves. And it’s good if we can just listen and let them talk on, and then maybe offer something from our own experience which might help them in some way.

But the point of this great passage and Christ hymn is that we’re to live with each other in the same way Christ lived with us.

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

 

God wants to be known

This is what the Lord says:

“Let not the wise boast of their wisdom
or the strong boast of their strength
or the rich boast of their riches,
but let the one who boasts boast about this:
that they have the understanding to know me,
that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness,
justice and righteousness on earth,
for in these I delight,”
declares the Lord.

Jeremiah 9:23-24

God. Yes, outrageous isn’t it? God, no less. And of all things, God wants to be known. Hard to understand, much less try to explain any of it.

People are meant to be in relationship with each other, but also with God. To really get to know each other. Yes, even to get to know God. Astounding for sure.

This hasn’t been a forte in my life. I can’t say I’ve excelled in really knowing people, and being known. You would like to think that’s so with immediate family, with loved ones. But even there I haven’t done as well as I would have liked, looking back on it. But that’s a big part of life, what life is all about.

I’m beginning to understand this much better toward the end of my life. And this all actually begins with God, in whose image we humans are made, and who started all of this in the first place.

But in the midst of all the maelstrom of life, with the questions and perplexities it brings, not to mention the trauma and tragedy, all of that can get lost. Lost even in the easy shuffle of what we humans have made life to be.

But God wants to be known. Yet God won’t push himself on us. By what God has made, God’s divine nature and power are clearly on display. But God wants it to be personal with each and every human. God made it personal, certainly doing so when God sent his Son to become one of us, God no less becoming flesh in Jesus. Then dying on the cross for our sins to reconcile us to himself. Do we dare doubt that God loves us, and wants to know us?

But given our struggle and weakness as humans, we will doubt. Nevertheless, it’s true. Truth doesn’t change. God wants to be known through all the experience of life, in spite of much of it. Are we open to that? All of this available as a gift in and through Jesus.

what gives meaning to it all: Love

Now eagerly desire the greater gifts.

And yet I will show you the most excellent way.

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have 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 do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

1 Corinthians 12:31-13:3

A couple years ago, I made a decision which in retrospect ended up being like a born again experience. At work I used to sit by myself during lunch at a little table and read the psalms. I did that month after month, maybe piling into a couple years or more. Time flies. But I decided to call that quits, and instead, sit at a break table with a group of people I struggled to understand and relate to. A couple of guys were getting close to retirement, so I was with them the last year or more before that, at the table.

God met me there in a way that wasn’t better than in reading in word, but in a sense it was, only because I was in a place where I could start putting the word into practice. Just by being present, and learning to meld into the fellowship, or communion, as a friend. Although I work at a Christian ministry, this would make sense anywhere. After all, Jesus ate and drank with tax collectors and sinners.

The heart of this is learning to get at the heart of all that is: the God who is love. God is Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and as such, God is essentially a relational being. And to be relational and in relationships is part of what it means to be human. And in Jesus, the brokenness of our existence in not doing well in this, indeed relationships themselves can be redeemed and reconciled.

So it matters not at all what I might think I know, or even what I do, if love isn’t at the heart of it all. And for that to be so, I need to be open to being vulnerable, and I need to learn to love and receive love from others. People have to be together, and as Christians, Jesus is then with us. He promises to be present wherever two or more are gathered in his name. Then we can find and begin to experience and understand the real, unadulterated, pure love. And hopefully begin to live and grow in that. By God’s grace. In and through Jesus.

why we do what we do

I find it not encouraging (rather than discouraging, which I try to avoid) when people who don’t know you judge you. In my case the idea that I’m promoting myself and giving my thoughts which I’m not authorized (like by any church, religious or educational institution) nor asked to do. This makes it difficult for me to take them seriously since they don’t know me at all and what I’m about.

There are too many places to go on this one, and not enough time for anyone. We could cite the priesthood of believers for one thing. That the Spirit is on us all in Jesus, and gives each one of us something special from God to do, as simple as that might be. I’m not sure why it is, but I’ve rarely felt any encouragement to carry on and keep doing what I’m doing, but at some key junctures of doubt I asked people I respect and they encouraged me to continue on.

Sometimes I feel like God has let me down, that God never believed in me. Of course I don’t actually believe in myself at all, except for the grace God puts in me in that original creation of his through the new creation in Christ. I know better, but just the same I can ask that hard question when I see the life of loved ones falling apart, or precariously on a precipice. Not to mention my own struggles, and simply survival mode I often seem to find myself in.

Of course we do what we do because of the grace of God in Jesus, and therefore in response to that great never ending, always present love of God in Jesus. And hopefully by the Spirit, we do it out of love. Even if much of what we do in the course of a day is done to simply fulfill the immediate task in front of us, while we do try to maintain some kind of interactivity with God and others.

My plea is for people to not judge others, and not think this or that about them, but instead get to know them. And think the best of others, not the worst, not because people are so great, because we’re all flawed for sure, and broken. None of us have it all together. But God is faithful. And God is actually exalted in his servants through Jesus, something God chooses to do. Which is why I can celebrate others (Psalm 16:3) even while knowing that none of us are any better than the other, that we’re all completely dependent on God’s grace and gift to us in Jesus.

So why do I do what I do, like write this blog, etc.? I don’t completely know. There’s plenty I suppose to say on that. But hopefully in the end it’s all for Christ and the gospel to the glory and praise of God. That is what I aspire to, and by God’s grace want to be passionate about. As together with others I want to carry on in the race marked out for us in and through Jesus.

wisdom from the Lord

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom,
    and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
For through wisdom your days will be many,
    and years will be added to your life.
If you are wise, your wisdom will reward you;
    if you are a mocker, you alone will suffer.

Proverbs 9:10-12

Wisdom in scripture is all about life. It is taking scripture as God’s written word, and particularly our relationship with God, and through that, our relationship with others quite seriously. Proverbs may be the marquee wisdom book of scripture to read, but we need all of scripture. And particularly we need to begin to understand the fulfillment of wisdom, Jesus, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2:3). Jesus and him crucified is called the power and wisdom of God, and Jesus is said to be wisdom from God for us, that is our righteousness, holiness and redemption, so that our boasting can be only in him (1 Corinthians 1:30-31).

So wisdom is really all about life. It is where the rubber meets the road, right where we live, no less. It is not theoretical, but practical, down to earth.

We need to take it particularly serious as it’s given to us in all of scripture, and particularly as it’s fulfilled in Jesus himself. That means we have to walk lightly with consideration and thought over our ways. Taking care that we give wisdom in our lives not just lip service, but the place it deserves. Remembering that wisdom itself is fulfilled in a person: Jesus. And that we are in him. So that it is both given to us in scripture, and as close as the breath that we breathe, by the Spirit. In and through Jesus.