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 »
Sep 262014

Fruit of spirit peacePeace can be a difficult word to define, especially the peace that the bible refers to. Just as we saw last week that ‘joy’ is so much more than just happiness, peace also goes so much deeper than simply an “absence of conflict”. I don’t know what comes to your mind when you think about peaceful people: I find my mind thinking about starry-eyed, drug- fuelled hippies out of the 70’s with flowers in their hair, floating through life: Or Tibetan monks sitting cross-legged meditating on top of a mountain. But do we really need to “escape” in order to obtain peace? If this is what is required, then for most of us it is unachievable. We have responsibilities, we live in the real world; running away to pursue a life of peace and tranquillity is not an option. True peace does not appear when we run away from all distractions. On the contrary-it comes from within, in the midst of turmoil.

Anxiety is the opposite of peace but it can easily be our default emotion. Anxiety, worry and debilitating fear are part of our old life before we were saved, but the attitudes of our old life can easily take over if we let them. Jesus knows full well that we will have troubles; He made us and He knows our struggles and He knows how much the world wants to cause us trouble, especially if we are devoted to and following Him:

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:27)

There are many references to peace in the bible. It is understandable why peace is one of the fruit of the Holy Spirit given that the bible calls God ‘the God of peace’ in 1 Thessalonians 5:23, and Jesus the ‘Prince of peace’ in Isaiah 9:6.

Let’s be practical now and look at the three areas we need to be peaceful in. These lists are liberally sprinkled with bible verses and they are in priority order of importance:

(1) Peace with God

The peace that Jesus gives brings us peace with God:

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ”. (Romans 5:1)

How do we keep this peace and let the fruit flourish in our lives?

  • Keeping our minds set on God:

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you”. (Isaiah 26:3)

  • Loving God’s word, and keeping His commandments:

Great peace have those who love your law; nothing can make them stumble”. (Psalm 119:165)

Oh that you had paid attention to my commandments! Then your peace would have been like a river, and your righteousness like the waves of the sea”. (Isaiah 48:18)

  • Being diligent in prayer:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)

  • Filling our minds with spiritual thoughts:

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practise these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:8-9)

For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” (Romans 8:5-6)

(2) Peace with Others

Peace with God automatically leads to pursuing peace with others. God loves people and it follows that if we are to follow Him we will want to pursue a peaceful existence with His children. Making peace with God gives us the peace within which helps us to be in a better position to make peace with others!

For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility”. (Ephesians 2:14)

Where there once was division and strife with others, God has now brought harmony and peace.

  • A concentrated effort to “pursue” peace.

Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. 9 Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. 10 For “Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; 11 let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. 12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer.” (1 Peter 3:8-12)

(3) Peace within ourselves

When Jesus brings us peace with God and man, peace within naturally follows!

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7)

We must get the order right because we will never experience true peace until we have peace with God. The world starts on the inside and works itself out but that never provides peace. If we do that, the only peace we get will depend on our circumstances and that peace is only temporary.

As Christians we can glorify God by resting in Him and showing the world that even through the most trying circumstances, true and lasting peace only comes from God.

God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.” (CS Lewis)

 September 26, 2014  Posted by at 12:00 pm Fruit of the spirit, Peace No Responses »
Sep 192014

Fruit of the spirit joyGod wants us to be joyful. It reflects His own character and it reflects well on Him when His people are full of joy. In John 15:11 Jesus said, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full”. He is not talking here about happiness, which is more of an emotion dependant upon how you are feeling. Jesus is talking about true joy, which is deep and found only in God: “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures for evermore”. (Psalm 16:11).

Some Christians often appear so miserable and yet try to convince us that they are full of joy. I’m sorry but I for one am not convinced. I know that joy is a deep feeling but it is also a feeling that is hard to suppress. When you really know joy you can’t help but have a smile on your face. Jesus would have been a joyful person. I know He was called a ‘man of sorrows’ which is true, but this title mainly refers to His last traumatic week on earth. If Jesus had been sorrowful all the time, nobody would have wanted to spend any time with Him. This was clearly not the case as even the miserable Pharisees invited Him to dinner many times. Jesus was full of the joy of the Holy Spirit and it was infectious.

As I was preparing to write about this subject I listened to a really good sermon from one of my favourite preachers, Andrew Wilson, entitled ‘fight for joy’. Andrew makes a number of really helpful suggestions on how we can increase our joy:

(1) Make joy in God your first priority

The evangelist and preacher George Muller said “My first duty every morning is to get happy in God because until I am, I am no use to anybody”. Great advice indeed!

(2) Know yourself and make the joy of God a discipline

Find out what helps you connect with God and make a discipline of it. You may find it easier to read and pray at certain times of the day, by going for a walk and looking at creation or anything else that helps you personally connect with Him.

(3) Put Jesus before all other things in your life

(4) Give yourself to others

If you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday.” (Isaiah 58:10). It’s amazing what a mutually beneficial discipline encouragement and service for others is. It’s one of God’s mysterious laws that as you give yourself to others, you receive so much more in return.

(5) Use electronic media wisely

On the internet nowadays you can pick up some amazing worship music and listen to great sermons that feed your soul, but on the flip side there are many unhelpful sites that will quickly rob you of joy. Wisdom is the key.

(6) Choose to spend time with people who increase your joy in God

There are some people who you can spend time with and then come away feeling encouraged, built up and strengthened. Make sure you spend enough time with them; there are others that can suck the joy right out of you!

(7) Get the relationship of body and soul the right way round

This is particularly true of British Christians. What I mean by this is: don’t just wait until you feel great to praise Him. Sometimes you need to say “bless the Lord O my soul”. It comes down to a decision of the will. The feelings will come later but we are not to rely on them.

(8) Read, meditate on and memorise scripture

(9) Fast occasionally

Jesus assumes we will fast (Matthew 6:17), but not at all out of a sense of duty as this would have the opposite effect, stealing our joy rather than increasing it.

(10) Speak positively

What we say has enormous power. Many of our problems in life are caused by listening to ourselves rather than talking to ourselves.

(11) Get baptised in the Holy Spirit again and again.

Being filled with the Holy Spirit is not a ‘one off’ event to help you when you start out your Christian life. We need the Holy Spirit’s power and anointing every day!

(12) Remind yourself of the weight of glory

For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18). Keep your eye on the prize! When we look to Jesus and trust Him our troubles never seem so bad. When we fix our eyes on what is to come, the things we struggle with now will be seen in a right perspective.

I hope you have found these points useful. If you have anything else to add, please feel free to make a comment in the box below. Let us be those who glorify God by being joyful and showing our complete devotion to Him. Share the joy!

 September 19, 2014  Posted by at 12:00 pm Fruit of the spirit, joy 1 Response »
Sep 122014

FruitoftheSpirit01LoveTitleIt is generally accepted that the English language contains more words and is richer than almost any other language. It is believed that Shakespeare alone invented (or used for the first time in print) more than 1700 words. It is a shame then that we only have one word for “love”. Love can mean a multitude of things. It is sad that we find ourselves saying “I love you” in an amazing moment of intimacy with the person we have committed our whole life to, yet in the same breath saying “I love pizza”. The meanings are worlds apart.

Thankfully (in this instance) the New Testament was written in Greek rather than English. There are at least 4 different definitions for the word “love” in Greek. The passage we are concentrating on for the fruit of the spirit is Galatians 5:22-23. Here the Greek word for love is ‘agápē’. This type of love is not based on feelings but on a choice to love, not expecting anything in return. It is commitment and it is sacrificial. Our society focuses on the other kind of love, the love translated as ‘érōs’. This is the passionate physical attraction, the romantic love full of desire and longing. This is the sort of love referred to when we say ‘love at first sight’, which by definition cannot be agápē love. For this reason we can get very confused. Sadly we often hear married couples talk of ‘falling out of love’. This cannot be agápē love either. If love is a commitment and self-sacrificial you cannot carelessly ‘fall out of it’.

The love we are talking about in this passage is God’s love. It is not just a description of God; it is the very core of His character. Of course you can describe Him in a myriad of ways, but His essence is love.

Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love”. (1 John 4:8)

The very description of this kind of love is beautifully summed up by the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 13, one of the most famous passages of love:

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

This passage is very popular at weddings because it sounds so wonderful, but of course this sort of love is very difficult to attain. It requires dedication and commitment and a constant preferring of the other person.

As I said last week (and will probably repeat right throughout this series), we cannot make fruit grow. We cannot, by will power or effort, produce the fruit of love in our lives. It is a fruit of God the Holy Spirit, a supernatural fruit that can only ripen when we are fully submitted to His will and are ‘abiding’ in Him. God’s kind of love is very difficult to achieve without Him. We do sometimes see people who don’t believe in God give this kind of sacrificial love in society and I believe this is because we are all made in His image. There is something inside of us that recognises that this kind of love is a beautiful thing and therefore people will try to replicate it.

This self-giving love is clearly God’s love, as we read through the pages of the bible it is in evidence again and again. But the clearest indication of God’s love is plainly seen at the cross. God’s ultimate act of self-giving was made when He Himself came to earth in the person of Jesus Christ, lived a humble sacrificial life and died a hideous death. He did this when it was impossible for us to save ourselves, He did it even when we were His enemies and didn’t want to know Him:

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6-8 NIV)

And this most famous passage of all:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life”. (John 3:16)

Because we are now children of God and have been given a new nature, we can now demonstrate a degree of our Father’s love, again not from our own efforts but because He has changed our hearts. Consider the following passages and whether you would ever be able to live up to these standards in your own strength:

Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
Love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back” (Luke 6:35).
For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3).

It is very apt that we start this series with love, not simply because it is the first one listed but because it is really necessary to be in evidence for the rest of the fruit to function and grow. I can’t imagine any of the other fruit working without love being apparent. Let’s this week spend lots of time in God’s presence so that His love and desires rub off on us. In the same way as plants spend time in the sun-they are fed and cannot help but grow, so as we spend time in the Son we too shall be fed and growth will naturally occur.

 September 12, 2014  Posted by at 12:00 pm Fruit of the spirit, Love No Responses »
Sep 052014

fruit of the spiritI hope you enjoyed my series on the names and titles of Jesus. I had no idea how long it was going to last and in the end it was 36 blogs, a full 8 months. I’m thinking of adapting them into a kindle book but that’s for another time. I quite like doing series on a specific topic and so whilst I was chatting with my wife Liz about what I should do next, she suggested “why not do the fruit of the Holy Spirit?”. I thought that would be a great idea. So for the next 10 weeks we will look at each of the 9 fruit in turn and hopefully our socks will be blessed right off! (Incidentally, if you have an idea about anything you would like me to cover, why not contact me by clicking on the ‘contact me’ button at the top? It would be great to hear from you).

The fruit of the Spirit are listed in Galatians 5:22-23:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control…”

I hope you’ll agree that this is a good list to spend some time on. It’s important to understand where this list comes in context with the rest of the chapter (and the book). The apostle Paul is writing and at the very start of this chapter he sums up the essence of what he is about to talk about:

“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1)

This chapter is all about choices. We can either try to do everything in our own strength, relying on ourselves (referred to here as ‘the flesh’) or we can walk by the Spirit-fully relying on God’s strength. If you’ve been a Christian for any length of time you will know that these two desires are constantly at war within us. Before Paul gets onto the fruit of the Spirit though, he contrasts them with the works of the flesh:

“Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.” (Galatians 5:19-21)

Not a very wholesome list as I am sure you will agree. But we are warned that if we don’t walk by the Spirit, some of these unsavoury characteristics will become evident in our own lives. If we are closely walking by the Spirit it is therefore much more likely that the good fruit will start to develop within us. As is so often the case, what is true in the natural is often mirrored in the spiritual. So just as a plant develops lovely fruit when there is good soil and water and is tended correctly, so these 9 spiritual fruit will grow and develop as we are richly nourished and watered by God’s Holy Spirit. (Have a read of John 15:1-11 to see Jesus explain this concept.)

Interestingly the Greek word for ‘fruit’ here is ‘karpos’ which is singular; it is “fruit” not “fruits”. There is unity connected to this fruit, it doesn’t grow in isolation-one fruit big and juicy and another next to it, withering. No, walking with the Spirit makes them all grow, you can’t pick and choose (if you’ll pardon the fruit picking pun!).

Another thing to consider is that we in ourselves cannot make fruit grow. There is an element where we get all the conditions right but we can’t ‘make’ it grow. It is God the Holy Spirit who does all the work. Compare this with the ‘works’ of the flesh, whereby we walk in the flesh and by doing so, ‘weeds’ grow through our sinful actions.

As we look at each fruit in turn and discover what each one means and looks like, consider this: when we became Christians each of these fruits were placed like seeds within us. When we were placed within Christ our whole nature was changed. The seeds are all there within us; it’s now time to walk by the Spirit and see them develop and grow. Are you ready?

 September 5, 2014  Posted by at 12:00 pm Fruit of the spirit, Holy Spirit No Responses »
Aug 292014

SaviourThe concept that Jesus is a saviour is one of the most fundamental ideas in the whole of the bible. Becoming a Christian means you have acknowledged your need of a saviour in the first place and recognised that Jesus is the only one who can save you.

I would imagine that most people who read this blog are already Christians, but if you are not and are interested in discovering more, then this blog should explain some of the basics of the Christian faith. If you are a Christian, then it’s never a bad idea to go back to the reasons why you followed Jesus in the first place.

A saviour is somebody who rescues a person who is in big trouble and is unable to save themselves.

Every one of us needs a saviour because we are all in big trouble. We have placed ourselves in the wrath of God because of our sin, which means we basically go our own way with no regard to God. We haven’t just ignored God; we have been wilfully disobedient. The bible says that because of this sin each one of us deserves death: “For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Death is the payment for our disobedience. Earlier on in Romans it also makes clear that we are all in the same boat: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). There are no exceptions, we are sinners in our very nature, our whole bias is towards disobedience and the choices we make on a daily basis prove that bias within us.

We would never be able to save ourselves even if we wanted to. We would need to lead a perfect life from the start to stand any chance of achieving our salvation. As the old saying goes ‘nobody is perfect’- and here lies the problem. And here is precisely where Jesus comes in. Jesus is God and is therefore perfect. As God, He stepped into history and became a man. God put flesh on. In the most supreme sacrificial and loving act of kindness in the whole of history, God ‘picked up the tab’ for our sin. He went all the way and died a brutal death on a cross for us. He was dead and buried until the third day when He rose again, proving His victory over death and sealing our salvation.

However, this salvation only becomes a reality when we believe what God has done for us and repent of our sins. This great news is called the ‘gospel’ and in Romans 1:16 it says that this gospel is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” This great news is something far too great to keep to ourselves and so our saviour commanded us in Mark 16:15-16 “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”

There are 3 main points I want to make about Jesus as our saviour:

· For everyone – His offer of salvation is for everyone: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoeverbelieves in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16)

· Only through Jesus – There is no-one else who can save us: “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

· Safe and secure – He is not going to let you go: “He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” (Hebrews 7:25). “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:27-28)

If you have read through this and wondered whether to accept Jesus as your saviour I urge you to follow Him now:

For he says, “In a favourable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you.” Behold, now is the favourable time; behold, now is the day of salvation. (2 Corinthians 6:2)

If you have made a commitment through this blog, I would love to hear from you and help you follow Jesus more closely, so please contact me.

This seems to be a really good place to finish on this ‘names of Jesus’ series. We have been looking at this topic for about 9 months now and there are still many more aspects of His character to discover, but I hope, like me, you have learned a whole lot more and have come to appreciate this wonderful Jesus, the God/man, in a whole new light.

 August 29, 2014  Posted by at 12:21 pm Names of Jesus, Salvation No Responses »
Aug 222014

Lamb of God John the Baptist came to prepare the way for Jesus. He appears in the New Testament but he was the last great prophet of the Old Testament, in the mould of Elijah, Jeremiah and Isaiah. The first we see of him is in John’s gospel, where he makes an amazing statement which later on it appears he has not fully understood himself. But in a moment of divine inspiration he calls out: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). He uses this same statement again the next day in John 1:36. These are the only two times in the whole bible where Jesus is addressed directly as ‘The lamb of God’ but that being so doesn’t take away from the fact that this title, in relation to Jesus, is absolutely packed with meaning and significance.

The system of sacrificing animals is a constant theme throughout the bible. The concept of an animal being killed instead of a human stretches right back to ‘the fall’ where Adam and Eve first sin and then are thrown out of the garden. If you remember, to cover their nakedness, God makes garments of animal skins (Genesis 3:21). These were probably the first animals killed in sacrifice and many many more were to follow. It’s horrible to think of all these animals being killed, but it is a violent image that serves to show graphically how seriously God views sin and how tragic the consequences are.

There were all sorts of sacrifices in the Old Testament; burnt offerings, sin offerings, peace offerings and guilt offerings. But they were all necessary to make atonement for (pay for) people’s sins.

These sacrifices all pointed ultimately to Jesus, who would be the sacrifice to end them all. In a poignant picture of that final sacrifice, Abraham was called by God to sacrifice his own son on mount Moriah. Speaking prophetically about Jesus, Abraham declares, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” (Genesis 22:8). Isaac is spared as God provides a ram stuck in a thicket to be used as a sacrifice instead, but the one to end all sacrifices was still to be provided.

Another event in the Old Testament which pointed towards Jesus in a significant way was the first Passover in Exodus 12. A lamb was to be taken for each family and killed. The blood was to be spread on the doorposts and above the door and the lamb was to be roasted and eaten. The angel of death would then “pass over” each house “covered” by the lamb’s blood. This event and the ritual that surrounded it was packed full of meaning as a picture of Christ ‘the lamb of God’ and also as a picture of the event that superseded it in the New Testament, ‘the last supper’.

The picture of the coming ultimate sacrificial lamb continues in the Old Testament in the prophetic writings, particularly in Isaiah and Jeremiah:

“He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.” (Isaiah 53:7).

“But I was like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter. I did not know it was against me they devised schemes, saying, “Let us destroy the tree with its fruit, let us cut him off from the land of the living, that his name be remembered no more.” (Jeremiah 11:19).

Finally, at the end of the bible in the book of Revelation, Jesus is revealed as a slain lamb:

And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain”. (Revelation 5:6).

This image is there because of the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross. Every single lamb that was killed before that event was killed in anticipation of that final momentous occasion. Jesus’ death was enough to pay for the sins of every person who has ever lived because He is God. He is the only one worthy to pay the price. He is the greatest, the ultimate, the one crowned with all glory and honour. This is why the whole of creation bows down to Him:

And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honour and glory and might for ever and ever!” (Revelation 5:13).

He is the lamb that we now gladly worship for all that He’s done.

There are lots of great songs about Jesus being the lamb of God, but here is one I am particularly enjoying at the moment

 August 22, 2014  Posted by at 12:00 pm Names of Jesus No Responses »