Fruit of the Spirit


How are we to find peace in a world ravaged by war? In a world where terrorism is an ever-looming threat? In a world where catastrophes such as the devastating earthquake in Haiti can strike at any moment?

What is this peace that is promised as a fruit of the Spirit? That Christians are promised in this tumultuous world?

God’s own overtures of peace offer the best example, for He entered His created world that had been overrun by the enmity caused by sin and offered His creation reconciliation — a way back to the edenic fellowship between man and God.

Note that He was not the cause of the problem, but He offered the solution. “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) We must be proactive in finding resolution to conflict, regardless of who is in the wrong.

We must also find balance in understanding that any peace on this earth will be imperfect, and must be achieved among turmoil. Right now, people around the world are overwhelmed by the devastation in Haiti, wishing they could do more, but we must not be so overwhelmed that we don’t do what we can, while recognizing that it is not enough and allowing that to motivate us to continue in our efforts long after it has passed from the headlines.

The peace that Christ demonstrated was not easy — it takes a constant connection with God and a commitment to doing His will.

At this time when we honor the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s legacy, his Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech helps us to understand further the struggle and long-term commitment to achieving the peace God has promised:

…I must ask why this prize is awarded to a movement which …has not won the very peace and brotherhood which is the essence of the Nobel Prize.

After contemplation, I conclude that this award which I receive on behalf of that movement is profound recognition that nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral question of our time — the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to violence and oppression.

…nonviolence is not sterile passivity, but a powerful moral force which makes for social transformation. Sooner or later all the people of the world will have to discover a way to live together in peace, and thereby transform this pending cosmic elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood.

If this is to be achieved, man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love. …

…I accept this award today with an abiding faith in America and an audacious faith in the future of mankind. I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history. I refuse to accept the idea that the “isness” of man’s present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal “oughtness” that forever confronts him.

I refuse to accept the idea that man is mere flotsom and jetsom in the river of life unable to influence the unfolding events which surround him. I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality.

I refuse to accept the cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of thermonuclear destruction. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant.

I believe that … there is still hope for a brighter tomorrow. I believe that wounded justice, lying prostrate on the blood-flowing streets of our nations, can be lifted from this dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men.

I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits. I believe that what self-centered men have torn down, men other-centered can build up. …

“And the lion and the lamb shall lie down together and every man shall sit under his own vine and fig tree and none shall be afraid.”

I still believe that we shall overcome.

This faith can give us courage to face the uncertainties of the future. It will give our tired feet new strength as we continue our forward stride toward the city of freedom. …

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I’ve encountered some bad (albeit well-intentioned) teachings in my life about how a Christian should always have a smile on their face. This negates the reality of suffering in a sin-infested world, doesn’t take into account the many ways in which God speaks to us in His Word (including Lamentations), and certainly does not have Gethsemane nor the cross in view. In short, such teaching fails to make the distinction between a superficial happiness and deep inner joy.

As we see, the command to ‘rejoice always’ is conditioned by this rejoicing being “in the Lord.” (Phil 4:4) This is not a superficial smile pasted on to gloss over pain and ease others’ discomfort, but a knowledge that “this too shall pass,” and that we are living in the expectant hope of the ultimate realization of a place with no more tears, nor sorrows, nor pain. That time is not now, but we are encouraged in John to “be of good cheer,” despite tribulations of this world, for Christ has overcome.

And so it is Christ’s example we should follow in seeking to understand this joy, for certainly He fulfilled the prophecy foretelling He would be a “man of sorrows, acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3), but He endured suffering for the “joy set before Him.” (Hebrews 12:2-3) This joy, then, must see things with heaven’s eyes, in light of eternity. We would do well to consider what we are willing to endure for the joy set before us, for Christ has secured that joy for us!

Lest we fall into the other errant teaching that would have us think there is nothing to enjoy in this world, and we should be ever-vigilant that we not be caught having fun, Christ left us plenty of examples to counter that, as well. In When God Whispers Your Name, author Max Lucado points out that Jesus took his followers to a party on His first journey:

His purpose wasn’t to turn the water to wine. That was a favor for his friends.

His purpose wasn’t to show his power. The wedding host didn’t even know what Jesus did.

His purpose wasn’t to preach. There is no record of a sermon.

Really leaves only one reason. Fun. Jesus went to the wedding because he liked the people….

So, while we’re promised tribulation, if we have that love of which we spoke last week and truly like these other people God has created and given us fellowship with, we will surely experience joy on this earth, as well as in the world to come. And if we are true to Christ’s example, our lives here should be lived in such a way that they bring joy to others. After all, Christ enjoyed His short earthly life so much that He was accused of being a glutton and a drunkard, and was counted a friend to sinners and tax collectors (Matthew 11:18-19)…who do you count among your friends?  Perhaps we need to widen our circle!

Imagine what our homes, schools, workplaces, churches, communities would look like if those of us who call ourselves followers of Christ truly exemplified the “noblest and highest form of self-sacrificing love” described in this lesson! What if we each had this love that included every facet of our being and let if flow out to those with whom we come into contact, acting intentionally for the good of other? Indeed, reflecting the way God Himself would act toward His beloved creation… 

While we know we cannot create a heaven here on earth, we are to called to be Christ’s ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20), which indicates that we are to live as citizens and representatives of heaven within this sinful world. When we pray, “Thy kingdom come,” it is at once both a present and future reality. Indeed, as Walter Rauschenbusch notes in Christianity and the Social Crisis: 

The kingdom of God [in Hebrew tradition] was a social and collective hope and it was for this earth. The eternal life [of the Greco-Roman world], was an individualistic hope, and it was not for this earth. The kingdom of God involved the social transformation of humanity. The hope of eternal life, as it was then held, was the desire to escape from this world and be done with it. 

How, then, can we properly balance the future hope with the kingdom of God on this present earth? 

By demonstrating His love to self. While I’d steer clear of the kind of self-esteem taught within today’s secular society, Christians should not swing so far to the other extreme that they neglect the part of the command to love our neighbor that indicates how, namely “as yourself.” If seen in its proper perspective, this is actually incredibly helpful in our understanding how to love others. As C.S. Lewis describes in his classic Mere Christianity: 

Now that I come to think of it, I have not exactly got a feeling of fondness or affection for myself, and I do not even always enjoy my own society. So apparently ‘Love your neighbour’ does not mean ‘feel fond of him’ or ‘find him attractive.’… Do I think well of myself, think myself a nice chap? Well, I am afraid I sometimes do (and those are, no doubt, my worst moments) but that is not why I love myself. In fact it is the other way round: my self-love makes me think myself nice, but thinking myself nice is not why I love myself. So loving my enemies does not apparently mean thinking them nice either…. In my most clear-sighted moments not only do I not think myself a nice man, but I know that I am a very nasty one. I can look at some of the things I have done with horror and loathing. So apparently I am allowed to loathe and hate some of the things my enemies do. Now that I come to think of it, I remember Christian teachers telling me long ago that I must hate a bad man’s actions, but not to hate the bad man: or, as they would say, hate the sin but not the sinner. 

For a long time I used to think this a silly, straw-splitting distinction…. But years later it occurred to me that there was one man to whom I had been doing this all my life — namely myself. However much I might dislike my own cowardice or conceit or greed, I went on loving myself. There had never been the slightest difficulty about it. In fact the very reason why I hated the things was that I loved the man. Just because I loved myself, I was sorry to find that I was the sort of man who did those things. 

By demonstrating His love to our neighbor. [Luke 10] When questioned about what must be done to inherit eternal life, Jesus first turned the question back around to the inquirer, who rightly answered about loving one’s neighbor, but then asked, “Who is my neighbor?” It should be noted in Jesus’ response through the parable of the good Samaritan that He did not actually answer who “my neighbor” is, but “reframed the…question…to ‘To whom will I be a neighbor?'” (Frank Tupper, A Scandalous Providence: The Jesus Story of the Compassion of God

By demonstrating His love to our enemies. There is no more limitation on this command than there is on “loving one’s neighbor” or being one’s “brother’s keeper.” The objection to this often comes from what seems unrealistic in this world — turning the other cheek and appearing “weak.” What must always be remembered, however, is that it’s about the kingdom of God, not the kingdom of this world, or the tyranny of the here and now. 

Too often, we fall into the same pattern as the one who questioned Jesus — we ask questions we already know the answer to; questions God has clearly answered. So what does this love we’re called to look like? Look no further than 1 Corinthians 13. Is it easy? No. Can it change the world? Absolutely! Is it worth it? Jesus certainly thought so when He came while we were yet sinners that we might be saved.


[RELATED: “Faith, Hope, Love – the “Trinity” of the Christian Life?Why do ‘these three remain’? Why is the ‘greatest of these’ love?]

As we enter into this quarter’s lesson, there’s a danger or becoming overly introspective and individualistic, so before we get to looking at ourselves in relation to the fruit of the Spirit, let’s first make sure we understand God’s role. In the Teacher’s Guide for this lesson, the following “key concept for spiritual growth” is presented:

The fruit of the Spirit in a Christian’s life is a result of God’s direct action and the Christian’s surrender to His will.

As always, God works in unity of purpose through His trinitarian being. Within the analogy of the vine, we understand that God the Son is the vine into which we are grafted, through the cultivation of God the Father, as evidenced by the fruit of God the Spirit.

It is into this amazing relationship that we are invited, and through which the Trinitarian relationship gives glory back to God the Father, for Jesus tells us in John 15 that this is His “Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”  But this is only possible, we are told, by abiding in Christ Jesus, so what does it mean to “abide”? The following are the primary dictionary definitions:

  1. to remain; continue; stay.
  2. to have one’s abode; dwell; reside.
  3. to continue in a particular condition, attitude, relationship, etc.; last.

Notice that this is an action word. While we may think of “remaining” or “staying” as passive, the last definition helps us to understand the active nature of “continuing,” particularly when we think that this is in a dynamic relationship with Christ. If I do not continue to grow and be pruned by God, I am liable to fall away, rot, or wither away. Note that live plants continually have new growth — they do not simply remain as they are. To this end, we should also revisit Sunday’s lesson, in which 2 Corinthians 5:17 reminded us that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” Too often, we use the excuse that we are born and “shapen in iniquity” (Psalm 51:5), ignoring the fact that if we are born again, we are new creations, and the former sinful nature no longer reigns.

And so we come to the part of a tree being known by its fruit…to the distinction the lesson makes between personal growth and discipleship. Personal growth seems to me the individualistic danger warned of at the outset of this post, whereas discipleship is in relationship to the One the disciple follows. Think about what it means to call oneself a Christian. This is particularly clear in American Sign Language, where the sign is the composite of signs for “Christ” and the “person” ending, literally translated “Christ-person.” Looking at your fruit, do people see a follower of Christ? A “Christ-one”?

Finally, the question remains, “have you received the Holy Spirit?” We tend to shy away from such questions and come up with all sorts of qualifying answers, but you either have or you have not. You are either a fruit-bearing branch to be pruned, or a barren branch to be cut off and consumed in the fire. As in all things, Christ’s example is instructive, in that He received the Holy Spirit at baptism, empowering Him for His public ministry. Did you receive the Spirit at baptism? Does your ministry show it? As the lesson brings out, the outgrowth is natural from the “being good” that is only possible by abiding in Christ, and not to be confused with a works salvation of “doing good.”

The Fruit of the Spirit Adult Bible Study Guide cover image first quarter 2010Never skip the introduction in Sabbath School! Especially if you teach, take time to read the introduction and get a sense of the quarter’s lesson in its entirety so you can best map out when to share particular gems you may come across in your preparation. Having said that, a brief look at this quarter’s introduction to the topic of the fruit of the Spirit poses the following questions:

How, then, should Christians live? How should we act in public and at home?

The introduction further asserts that “the fruit of the Spirit is a change of being.” These points and questions are essential to remember throughout this quarter, and indeed throughout one’s spiritual journey, for God does not simply ask for us to be “better” than we are, but demands a complete transformation! [For more on this, I highly recommend C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity.] In our studies, we’re too often tempted to argue the finer points and miss the bigger picture.

I believe we don’t see more of the Holy Spirit’s power in our lives not simply because we neglect to ask, but because we are scared of what might happen if we did. We know what the Holy Spirit can do, and more often than not, we’re not willing to surrender control of ourselves so completely as the Spirit demands. God does not ask for parts of us, but for our whole selves, as Paul writes in Romans 12:1-2:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

And just as God demands our totality, so He does not give in part, but fully. The fruit of the Spirit are distinct from spiritual gifts, which differ from one believer to another in type and quantity. By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is (note use of SINGULAR…this is a package deal) promised to every believer.

Finally, I leave you with one of my favorite daily applications of the fruit of the Spirit, from Max Lucado’s When God Whispers Your Name:

THE CHOICE

It’s quiet. It’s early….The sky is still black. The world is still asleep. The day is coming.

In a few moments the day will arrive. It will roar down the track with the rising of the sun. the stillness of the dawn will be exchanged for the noise of the day. The calm of solitude will be replaced by the pounding pace of the human race. The refuge of the early morning will be invaded by decisions to be made and deadlines to be met.

For the next twelve hours I will be exposed to the day’s demands. It is now that I must make a choice. Because of Calvary, I’m free to choose. And so I choose.

I choose LOVE…

No occasion justifies hatred; no injustice warrants bitterness. I choose love. Today I will love God and what God loves.

I choose JOY…

I will invite my God to be the God of circumstance. I will refuse the temptation to be cynical…the tool of the lazy thinker. I will refuse to see people as anything less than human beings, created by God. I will refuse to see any problem as anything less than an opportunity to see God.

I choose PEACE…

I will live forgiven. I will forgive so that I may live.

I choose PATIENCE…

I will overlook the inconveniences of the world. Instead of cursing the one who takes my place, I’ll invite him to do so. Rather than complain that the wait is too long, I will thank God for a moment to pray. Instead of clenching my fist at new assignments, I will face them with joy and courage.

I choose KINDNESS…

I will l be kind to the poor, for they are alone. Kind to the rich, for they are afraid. And kind to the unkind, for such is how God has treated me.

I choose GOODNESS…

I will go without a dollar before I take a dishonest one. I will be overlooked before I will boast. I will confess before I will accuse. I choose goodness.

I choose FAITHFULNESS…

Today I will keep my promises. My debtors will not regret their trust. My associates will not question my word. My wife will not question my love. And my children will never fear that their father will not come home.

I choose GENTLENESS…

Nothing is won by force. I choose to be gentle. If I raise my voice may it be only in praise. If I clench my fist, may it be only in prayer. If I make a demand, may it be only of myself.

I choose SELF-CONTROL…

I am a spiritual being. After this body is dead, my spirit will soar. I refuse to let what will rot, rule the eternal. I choose self-control. I will be drunk only by joy. I will be impassioned only by my faith. I will be influenced only by God. I will be taught only by Christ. I choose self-control.

Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. To these I commit my day. If I succeed, I will give thanks. If I fail, I will seek His grace. And then, when this day is done, I will place my head on my pillow and rest.

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