character versus giftedness

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 13:1-3

The fruit of the Spirit (“love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control”) are not in competition against the gifts of the Spirit. But this passage from Paul makes it clear that without love, the operation of the gifts means nothing, at least not in God’s estimation of the person who practices them.

What I would like to tell any young, budding preacher would be something like what Paul is saying here. I would say, the gift part will come. That is important. But major on character. Make sure your life is in line with God’s call to love which includes living in and according to the truth.

Give me any day and every day someone who is faithfully plodding along with what might be considered a nothing out of the ordinary gift, but consistently and faithfully loves others, and loves God, their lives marked by obedience to God’s will. I’ll take that any day over a person who has an amazing gift, but is a bit fast and loose when it comes to character. The fruit of the Spirit is the goal in our lives toward Christ-likeness. The gifts of the Spirit are meant to help us move that direction. In and through Jesus.

how Jesus began the Sermon on the Mount

[Jesus] said:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:2b-3

If I would choose one passage to summarize my life, it might be this, and with a hope so. Jesus begins here, and this is where we need to begin and keep beginning. This is not like a one time thing, and then we move on. It’s something that should always characterize our thought and attitude about ourselves.

We’re ever in need of God’s grace and if we look at our lives honestly, we’ll know that we don’t measure up both in terms of sins of commission as well as omission. That doesn’t mean we excuse ourselves or our sin. But it does mean that we acknowledge our need for ongoing forgiveness of sin through confession, and acknowledge too our utter need of God’s grace to grow spiritually. We should never dismiss or minimize God’s promise to not only forgive our sins, but cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).

I have often seen Christians who looked down on other Christians or churches as not being “Spirit-filled.” But it has seemed to me over and over again that too often what is exhibited in such attitudes is a demonstration of leaving this saying of Jesus behind. They somehow are beyond that, or maybe to them that only applies to people before they come to Jesus for conversion. Utterly false. I would rather be with the humble, poor in spirit any day, than with the Spirit-filled who have to look down on others. I’m at home with the “poor in spirit,” since I’m most certainly one of them.

At the same time it is the poor in spirit who will actually know more of the work of God’s Spirit in their lives. Especially in terms of “the fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22-26) as we note that no matter what spiritual gift we might exercise, if it is not exercised with love, it amounts to nothing (1 Corinthians 13). That doesn’t mean we leave the Spirit-given gifts behind, but only that we put first things first.

If we fail to accept the reality that we’re poor in spirit, then we’ll inevitably be proud and compare ourselves with others, favorably for us, of course. Instead we’re to take the way of Jesus who made himself nothing (Philippians 2:7), who was humble in heart (Matthew 11:29). In and through Jesus.

God’s law set in our hearts

ש Sin and Shin

Rulers persecute me without cause,
but my heart trembles at your word.
I rejoice in your promise
like one who finds great spoil.
I hate and detest falsehood
but I love your law.
Seven times a day I praise you
for your righteous laws.
Great peace have those who love your law,
and nothing can make them stumble.
I wait for your salvation, Lord,
and I follow your commands.
I obey your statutes,
for I love them greatly.
I obey your precepts and your statutes,
for all my ways are known to you.

Psalm 119:161-168

There may be a secondary and maybe even basic way in which God’s law is set in the human heart by creation, with the sense of right and wrong that comes with that. But since humans are so flawed in their sin, the primary way is surely in the promise in Jesus of a new covenant in which God will write God’s law on the human heart. God’s people in the first covenant experienced a good measure of that as is evidenced here in the psalmist’s words.

I say that to say this: God’s love as evident in “the fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5) sets the agenda for this law, with specifics spelled out along the way in God’s written word: Scripture. We can be sure by God’s Spirit that has God not only written his law on our hearts, but that God confirms it day after day. It’s always in the way of love, bringing righteousness, peace and joy. And when we experience it, we long for it all the more in our hearts and lives. In and through Jesus.

 

 

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.

 

the underrated virtue of gentleness

But the fruit of the Spirit is…gentleness…

Galatians 5

In these rough and tumble days, to be a man, to be strong, seems to more and more mean being crass and downright nasty. But nothing could be farther from the truth. True strength is able to absorb pain, and rather than inflicting it back, seek to help the one who is troubled.

There is nothing more important for Christians than to be gentle. The fruit of the Spirit as quoted above begins with “love” which might be the fountain of all the virtues listed with it, of course the love of the Spirit of God. And to love means among everything else listed (“love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control”), to be gentle. This is a character trait which defines our Lord:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11

The Greek New Testament scholar Bill Mounce on πραΰς, translated “gentle”:

Gloss:
gentle, meek, the positive moral quality of dealing with people in a kind manner, with humility and consideration
Definition:
also spelled πρᾶος, meek, gentle, kind, forgiving, Mt. 5:5; mild, benevolent, humane, Mt. 11:29; 21:5; 1 Pet. 3:4
πραΰτης in the Galatians 5 passage, seems to mean basically the same thing.
When it comes right down to it, God himself is gentle with people. God lets people have their own way with consequences following, and God will step in at a certain time to level judgment on evildoers. But God is normally what one could well describe as gentle toward all.

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

2 Peter 3

…do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?

Romans 2

Reflecting God as we become more and more like Christ by the Spirit, means to be more and more gentle. That can mean firm, and not letting people walk over us. But in everything, gentle just the same.

A part of God’s good work to be completed in us (Philippians 1:6) in and through Jesus.

 

gentleness

But the fruit of the Spirit is…gentleness…

Galatians 5:22-23

What is meant by gentleness is probably obvious to most, but I’ll try to define or describe it. It’s a disposition that is soft yet firm, not weak at all, but neither is it the kind of strength commonplace in the world. It’s force is not physical, but moral and spiritual. At its core for the Christian is Christ-likeness. In love, it is persuasive at least in the sense of being admirable, and eventually emulated, at least influential to others.

I’m looking forward to reading Dallas Willard’s book on gentleness. If there’s one characteristic that should mark our professed love as Christians in this day and time, I think it’s gentleness. But such a disposition would do us a world of good as well. And I don’t mean simply the act of being gentle, which is good in itself, but gentleness in our hearts working into our bones out into our lives, so that we’re simply people who are becoming gentle.

This is called a fruit of the Holy Spirit, in other words something the Spirit produces in our lives. The book of Galatians says that we either walk, that is live according to the flesh or according to the Spirit, one of the two. There might be somehow a gray in between in our experience as we endeavor to move toward what we don’t have. I tend to think Scripture is saying it’s either/or. So we are dependent on the Spirit to be working in our hearts and lives, which means we must yield to the Spirit. Again, the book of Galatians is a great (and not long) book to prayerfully read and study with that thought in mind.

At any rate, that’s my goal. I am tempted to abandon gentleness, especially with the pressures I face at work and elsewhere. But such a place is good training ground to  discipline myself to hold on to what the Spirit would bring forward and through my life, instead of giving in and living in the flesh, as I’m all too accustomed to do at least in certain habits, like keeping my thoughts to myself, but the attitude unchanged. Though, as you might imagine, a wordy person like me can all too easily speak up. To become disposed to something else as a new habit of life is surely vitally important for those of us who wish to follow Christ.

And I think it’s good to take the quote in its entire context, considering other traits that the Spirit would be working into our lives, the fount of it arguably being love, in and through Jesus.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Galatians 5:22-23