Oct 312014

Fruit of the spirit gentlenessWe have said all along that these fruit of the spirit are pretty impossible to achieve in our own strength and without the Holy Spirit’s help, but we could be forgiven for thinking that “gentleness” is an exception. Aren’t most nursing mothers “gentle” with their babies? This sort of tenderness would seem to come naturally. But as with all the fruit, we need to look closely at what the word actually means.

“Gentleness” is translated from the Greek word ‘prautes’ which is actually a very difficult word to translate. It has two close meanings: gentleness, which refers mostly to actions and meekness,which refers more to attitudes. When we describe our relationship with God we use words such as yielded, teachable and responsive. When we describe our relationships with people we use words like humble, gentle and respectful.

It is such a shame that “meek” rhymes with “weak” because we can often muddle the two up. Modern online dictionaries do this and have synonyms for the word “meek”, such as tame, timid, mild, bland, unambitious, retiring, weak, spiritless, broken, and wimpish. This is not the bible definition of meek. Jesus spoke of Himself as meek but we could never use these words to describe Him. He said: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls”. (Matthew 11:29)

Biblical gentleness doesn’t mean simply acting in a tender and soft way, but rather controlling physical strength for the benefit of another. To be gentle is to have a humble heart and peaceful mind and to submit wholly to God’s plan. The idea is ‘strength under control’. Imagine a wild stallion who has been broken in and is now submitted to its riders will, or a work elephant moving massive logs with its trunk under the supervision of its master. Think too of water that’s under control such as water rushing through a dam turning turbines, generating electricity to light a city. Water out of control would be a flood destroying everything in its path. Or the example of a disease out of control which can devastate the body & kill its victim. But a disease under control can be used to produce vaccines & save thousands of lives. That’s the sort of idea.

The bible places great value in meekness. Jesus said: “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth”. (Matthew 5:5)

The world will try to tell you that gentleness is not a good quality. They say that a strong person is a ‘go getter’, someone who casts all others aside. They speak of a ‘show of strength’, the ‘survival of the fittest’, all that kind of thing. But Jesus demonstrated that true strength is being in control, staying cool, thinking first and then acting appropriately – strength under control.

God of course demonstrates this attitude perfectly. After all, He’s the creator of all things, nothing and no-one is more powerful than Him, yet He controls His anger and never misuses His power. This attitude was demonstrated in Jesus who was perfectly meek. During His trial and crucifixion He could have called a halt to the proceedings at any time, He had the power to do so. But His meekness stopped Him as He knew had a higher purpose than just to show off His strength and control.

Jesus submitted His plans to the father; this is what being meek and gentle means. In 1 Peter 2 it gives various examples of those we should be submitting to and demonstrating meekness towards: governments (v13), servants towards masters (v18) and wives towards their husbands (3v1). Chapter 3 then talks about how we should speak to outsiders: “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentlenessand respect…”. (1 Peter 3:15)

As in the verse above it is clear that “gentleness” in the New Testament is closely related to wisdom, spiritual growth and how we are to correct and teach each other. Two examples of this are: “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness…” (Galatians 6:1); “Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth.” (2 Timothy 2:25 NIV)

We are to submit our strength, including the strength of our convictions, to God’s wisdom. We are to teach only God’s point of view, not our own. And we are to accept that God’s actions towards us and others are the right actions, even when human wisdom thinks otherwise.

Gentleness is the spirit and attitude behind repentance. To “repent” in a biblical sense is to change one’s mind and believe that God is right. Repentance is necessary for salvation, and we need to carry an attitude of repentance in a gentle spirit our entire lives. So often our point of view can be limited, misguided, and self-seeking, but God is always right. A gentle heart will accept God’s wisdom and yield to His discernment. We can only be gentle as the Holy Spirit develops spiritual fruit in our lives. But He requires our cooperation for it to be developed fully and so we are exhorted in Colossians 3:12 to “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience..”

So how do we demonstrate more gentleness? We must keep being filled with the Holy Spirit. We must be quick to apologise and quick to make peace. We can see how all these other gifts come into play at the same time, fruit such as love, peace and patience.

I was always told, when I was angry, to count to 10. This is such a wise thing to do. It is so easy to fly off the handle and be nasty or rude and forget that gentleness is strength under control. Being gentle doesn’t mean that we should not be strong in our beliefs, but it does imply that we should be wise and loving in expressing those beliefs to others. God shows tough love and often teaches us hard lessons, but all the while being the very definition of gentleness.

 October 31, 2014  Posted by at 12:00 pm Fruit of the spirit, gentleness 1 Response »
Oct 242014

Fruit of the spirit faithfulness As I was considering this subject and thinking about what “faithfulness” looks like and the qualities required, dogs immediately came to my mind. Most people who know me, know that I don’t particularly like dogs. I’m not keen on the barking, the jumping up, the licking and the general smell of them. But the one thing I do admire about them is their unswerving faithfulness. Maybe it was the Lassie films I used to watch as a child (for those of you too young to remember, Lassie was a Collie dog who got into all sorts of adventures, for example rescuing children or finding his way back home after a long journey). That dog was faithful and I have read of many more (another that comes to mind is a dog in Argentina, who after his owner died sat by the graveside for 6 years!). http://www.dogheirs.com/larne/posts/1880-faithful-dog-refuses-to-leave-his-owner-s-graveside-for-six-years

In humans, “faithfulness” has always been a rare quality. In Psalm 12:1 David exclaims in exasperation:

Help, LORD, for no one is faithful anymore; those who are loyal have vanished from the human race.”

And again from his son, Solomon:

Many a man proclaims his own steadfast love, but a faithful man who can find?” (Proverbs 20:6)

And the apostle Paul voiced his frustrations to the church in Philippi in Philippians 2:19-22.

I am sure that even in your church there have been people who have let you down. Nowadays it would seem that most people have forgotten the meaning of the word “commitment”. It’s a quality that nearly everybody likes and admires in others, but when it comes to working to produce this fruit in ourselves, well, that’s another matter.

Something that happens to me regularly is a lack of response (one way or another) to emails I send containing specific requests (despite receiving “read receipts). Another one Liz and I have found frustrating is a lack of response to party invitations we have sent out for our children’s birthdays over the years. I notice more and more that it’s a quality which is becoming increasingly rare in our society.

Faithfulness goes against the very essence of the ‘me’ culture. It seems that the overriding attitude in people’s minds is to consider themselves first over and above considering others, or even not considering others at all. This lack of faithfulness is probably most clearly seen in marriages where couples bail out as soon as the relationship doesn’t suit them anymore. Sadly, dogs have put us to shame.

It will not surprise you to hear that, as with all the fruit of the Spirit, faithfulness comes from the very character of God Himself. As you can imagine, there are dozens of verses in the bible which speak of God’s faithfulness. Here are just a few:

Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations”. (Deuteronomy 7:9)

But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness”. (Psalm 86:15)

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful”. (Hebrews 10:23)

God proves His faithfulness over and over again throughout every page of the bible and also in our lives. By His Spirit He is now making us faithful and the more time we spend with Him, the more we will be like Him. Jesus embodied this faithfulness by coming to earth, living as a man and going all the way to the cross. Now that is faithfulness!

In the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30 we see the kind of faithfulness that God is looking for. One of the key verses in this passage is verse 23 where the master commends one of the faithful servants. He says “‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’” Notice that the master was not looking for success, just faithfulness. This is the same as God; He wants you to be faithful with what you have, no matter how small. Remember how Jesus commended the woman who put two small coins into the offering? That was all she had! It wasn’t about the money; it never is. God doesn’t need our money, He is constantly looking for faithfulness. That dear old lady in Calcutta, Mother Teresa, said simply “God does not require that we be successful, only that we be faithful”.

There is so much to say on this subject but I will just touch on a few thoughts that have occurred to me:

It is actually quite useful to search for words that are similar in meaning to faithfulness, in order to give us a broader idea about this fruit. Think about words such as; fidelity, loyalty, constancy, devotion, reliable, dedication, commitment, allegiance, dependability, trustworthiness. Sounds great doesn’t it? But as I said before, the Godly way to think about faithfulness is not to look for it in other people, but to be faithful ourselves first. Our faithfulness should never depend on anybody else. God is faithful unconditionally: “If we are faithless, he remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself.” (2 Timothy 2:13)

The sermon on the mount shows us that faithfulness is more than just outward appearance and nodding agreement; it is a heart attitude. For instance, the bible says not to commit adultery, but Jesus defines that as not even looking at a woman lustfully. Faithfulness in marriage is far far more than just not sleeping with other people; it’s about serving and preferring your spouse, no matter how they respond. Faithfulness is a quality that keeps going no matter how it is treated. Our marriage partner should be the person we treat best out of everyone. (I have witnessed some people treat strangers much better than they treat their partner. Treat strangers well, but treat your partner better!)

Here are just a few suggestions to help us seek God in order to increase this fruit in our lives. (We must not forget that it’s not through our own efforts or willpower; these things come by The Holy Spirit as we spend time with Him. However, we still have to play our part). So, how faithful are we being in the following:

  • Obedience
  • Studying God’s word
  • Prayer
  • Giving
  • Using your talents
  • Serving others
  • Dealing with sin

Let me finish with a sobering question for you to ponder this week: if everyone in your church was as faithful as you, what would your church look like?

 October 24, 2014  Posted by at 12:00 pm faithfulness, Fruit of the spirit No Responses »
Oct 172014

Fruit of the spirit goodness“Good” is a bit of a weak word in the English language isn’t it? It is a mundane word like “nice”. “Did you have a good day today darling?” “Yes it was good”. What does that mean? It sounds sort of average; not a “wonderful” day, just good.

If we look outside of the bible, the word “good” is a very relative term. Most people would think they were good. The ISIS terrorists in Iraq think they are doing good by wiping out infidels in the name of Allah!

As it is such a subjective term we need to find a constant, never- changing definition of what “good” is and what it looks like.

“Good” is the essence of God’s nature. Absolutely everything He does is “good”. The bible makes it clear that in our natural state before trusting in Him, we were far from good. Absolutely no-one is good apart from Him. Jesus confirmed this when the rich young ruler addressed Him as “good teacher”, replying: “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone”. (Luke 18:19). The bible confirms this in a number of other places such as Romans 3:23: “….for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

The temptation is to compare ourselves with others who are not as “good” as we are, but the comparison is with God and not with others. There is a tiny crack between us and others and a huge chasm between us and God.

Therefore when the bible talks about goodness, it must be referring to perfection, or the absence of sin. So being good is far from being simply “nice”. Goodness is only achievable as we put our trust and faith in Jesus. When we do this, the wonderful fruit of goodness, God’s goodness, is added to our nature as part of God’s wonderful salvation package. Our goodness comes from our identity; we are ‘in Christ’. It’s not what we do that determines who we are (doing good deeds). Who we are determines what we do.

It is almost impossible to think of goodness in the abstract. In scripture goodness always refers to particular ways of behaving. You can’t really be good by just thinking good thoughts; it involves action. God’s plan for us involves action and that is why He has pre-ordained ‘good works’ for us to do: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10)

There are various aspects to these ‘good works’, such as doing good to everyone, even those who persecute us: “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” (Luke 6:27-28)

This is why it is impossible to be good if we are not children of God and filled with His Spirit. This kind of goodness, humanly speaking, is impossible. Outside of God’s economy, why on earth would we want to do good to our enemies? But it is this very action which demonstrates how we take after our father who showed His goodness to us while we were His enemies. Doing good to someone who simply returns the favour is not pure goodness; it is little more than two people exchanging favours (which can even be quite selfish).

Goodness involves not only right behaviour, but also the avoidance of its opposite: evil. The choice between good and evil has been before humankind since the garden of Eden, the moment when Adam and Eve ate fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:9). Since then God’s curse has fallen on “those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter“. (Isaiah 5:20)

God knows though that the true goodness He requires takes real effort in a sin-sick world; it’s far from easy. The apostle Paul said things like: “… And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. 10 So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” (Galatians 6:9-10)

We can be so busy trying to be good to others that we forget about our brothers and sisters in Christ. I am reminded of that old song which says that “they will know we are Christians by our love.” There is something very compelling about a community who are good to one another and together take that goodness and love to a hurting world. This is why the Psalmist said: “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” (Psalm 133:1). He then goes on to say: “…For there the Lord has commanded the blessing, life for evermore.” What a wonderful promise from a very good God.

 October 17, 2014  Posted by at 12:00 pm Fruit of the spirit, Goodness No Responses »
Oct 102014

kindnessAs with all the fruit of the Spirit, kindness is another aspect of God’s own nature. A wonderful expression of God’s character is in the Hebrew word “hesed”. This is a really rich word in the Old Testament and has a variety of nuances to its meaning. It is most often translated as “loving-kindness” and carries the idea of faithful love in action. In the Old Testament it was expressed in God’s covenant relationship with His people. His “hesed” denotes persistent and unconditional tenderness and kindness, a relationship in which He seeks after man with love and mercy.

Kindness is a treasured gift. In a 2003 study of 16,000 people (including 37 cultures around the world), when asked about their top priority character trait in a marriage partner, kindness came top. People love to be treated kindly, but find it a lot more challenging to be kind in return.

You may not agree with me but I believe that true kindness can only occur with God’s help. Human beings are not naturally kind; we are generally selfish. Even when we do see acts of kindness in society, they are often masked by selfishness. For instance, some people are kind because they want to be admired by others. Some are kind because they want to return a favour, some are kind because they are masking some deficiency in themselves and still others just because they want to feel good about themselves. God’s type of kindness wants nothing for itself. It is a giving of oneself, not wanting anything in return.

Kindness starts with caring, being tender-hearted and compassionate towards others. We must make it our goal and habit to be actively looking for opportunities to show kindness. The Greek word for being kind is ‘chrestos’. Part of its meaning is “useful”, which suggests that biblical kindness involves action:

Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” (1 John 3:18)

The absolutely amazing thing about God’s kindness is that it is directed to His enemies. It is relatively easy to be kind to family and friends but to be kind to your enemy is a supernatural trait which we cannot achieve unless we are filled with His Spirit. When we are kind to our enemies we are showing that we are truly His children. We do what we see God do:

But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.” (Luke 6:35)

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8)

This last phrase is so key. We see on many occasions in the scriptures that true kindness goes hand in hand with humility. If you are proud in your kindness you are doing it out of a wrong motivation.

Before I finish, I just want to mention two wonderful examples of kindness in the bible, the first in the Old Testament and the second in the New Testament.

King David had been appallingly treated by Saul for much of his life but once Saul had died, instead of seeking vengeance on the family (as was often the case), David looked to show kindness instead:

And David said, “Is there still anyone left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness (hesed) for Jonathan’s sake?” (2 Samuel 9:1)

David found a descendent of Saul called Mephibosheth, who was actually crippled and so could not help himself. This poor soul became a constant companion of David and ate his meals from then on with the king. “So Mephibosheth ate at David’s table, like one of the king’s sons.” (2 Samuel 9:11). This is a beautiful picture of the kindness God has shown to us.

The second example is a parable that Jesus told: “the good Samaritan”. This wasn’t a true story but an example Jesus gave to explain what true kindness looks like. I’m sure you all know the story, it’s in Luke 10:25-37 and it explains how a Samaritan (who the Jews hated and despised) rescued a wounded man by the roadside, while all the religious people walked passed and ignored him. This Samaritan went over and above what was called for; this again demonstrates God’s lavish mercy, grace and kindness towards those who despise Him.

Finally, kindness is one of the key ways we can reach people with the gospel. Being kind to people demonstrates in practical ways our gratitude to God for all He has done for us and gives us opportunities to speak of the God who was first kind to us.

 October 10, 2014  Posted by at 12:00 pm Fruit of the spirit, kindness No Responses »
Oct 032014

Patience“Patience” or “longsuffering” (as it was referred to in days past) is a very rare quality in today’s society. Everything has to be instant. Have you ever caught yourself saying “come on-hurry up” to a microwave because it’s not cooking your dinner quickly enough?

I work in IT and people complain that the system is going slow if the screen takes 10 seconds to refresh. Don’t even get me started on ‘road rage’ which seems to be a thoroughly modern disease; people striving to get from A to B in the shortest possible time and having zero patience as they do so! We live in a society that is increasingly rushed and living in a state of permanent impatience.

There are two Greek words in the New Testament which mean patience, as well as longsuffering, endurance or perseverance. These words are ‘hupomone’ and ‘makrothumia’. However, even though they mean much the same thing, the word ‘makrothumia’ implies patience towards persons, while ‘hupomone’ implies endurance in putting up with things or circumstances. In the list of fruit in Galatians 5 it refers to ‘makrothumia’.

All the fruit of the spirit often combine together with each other, and patience in particular combines with the fruit of love. In Paul’s famous discourse in 1 Corinthians 13 the very first thing that love is described as is ‘patient’. Patience is a key to love and ‘longsuffering’ is a good definition for couples who put up with a lot from each other but still keep going. My wife is amazingly patient with me; she suffers interminably!

As in all of these fruit, Jesus perfectly exhibits each one perfectly. He was patient in all sorts of ways:

· Patient with people. They came to Him all the time and He never turned them away.

· Patient with His disciples. He taught them constantly for three years and they were still slow to understand.

· Patient with God’s timing of events. He was only interested in following God the father’s will and never sought to rush ahead.

· Patient in suffering. See Matthew 26:39-42, then all the trials of the last week of His life, particularly in front of Pontius Pilate and Herod. He was mostly silent.

· Patient with sinners.But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience”. (1 Timothy 1:16)

The Lord is not slow to fulfil his promise as some count slowness, but is patient towards you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance”. (2 Peter 3:9)

If you lack patience may I suggest you study Jesus’ life and attitudes in the bible and equally spend time in His presence daily. The more you spend time with Him the more you will become like Him.

We saw last week that peace is not achieved through escapism or will-power; this is true too with patience. True patience can really only come from God. We don’t achieve real patience until we face trials which strengthen this God given-fruit within us.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing”. (James 1:2-4)

Patience is not merely a dogged determination to stand firm in a howling gale, but rather to actually make progress in spite of it. We see Jesus in Luke 9:51, setting His face to go to Jerusalem. His resolve never broke; he patiently pursued His goal.

Our lives are much the same as a sculptor crafting a masterpiece. The artist (God) chips away for a long time at the sculpture (us) until something of beauty is revealed.

I’ve heard it said that asking God for patience is a most dangerous prayer, but simply seeking His will constantly will have the same effect as it chips away at our self sufficiency and pride. This can be very painful, but those surrendered to His will are some of the most patient people in the world, knowing that God’s timing is perfect. So don’t worry if you are going through trials, they are God’s loving hands looking to produce this wonderful fruit within you.

 October 3, 2014  Posted by at 12:00 pm Fruit of the spirit, patience 1 Response »