Galatians is such a wonderful book, and chapter 5 has always been a particular favorite of mine. The theme is Freedom in Christ and Life in the Spirit - and it is in this chapter that we find the wonderful passage about the Fruit of the Holy Spirit. These are the characteristics of God that will spill out of us when we are full of Him and walking in step with Him. Paul makes the point contrasting the fruit of our selfish, sinful natures and the fruit of God's Spirit...
Galatians 5: 13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.
16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
I think that a lot of commentary could go right here, as we can plainly see the fruit of sinful human nature all over our neighborhoods and nations. But for today let it suffice to say, what a sobering warning this is - people who live selfishly will not inherit the Kingdom of God. We must not forget this truth.
The passage continues, and after a warning comes great encouragement...
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.
Against all of these things, there is no law. In God, we can have as much of His fruit as we want! The point is that the fruit of His life and character only helps and heals other people, while the fruit of a sinful nature does nothing but hurt and tear others down. As Christians, we must be mindful of the picture of God we are painting for others with our lives and actions. Does my life reflect my selfishness? Do my words and actions cause harm? Ideally, we want to be full of God and spilling out His character on those around us.
I have been slowly weaving in a series on the Fruit of the Spirit throughout these blog pages. So far, we have covered love, peace, patience, faithfulness, and kindness - today, let's think about gentleness.
The first image that comes to my mind is that of a mother and child, especially an infant. There is nothing quite as lovely as a newborn baby nestled in his mother's arms as she looks down on him in amazement and wonder. Then I think of my girls when they were very small. I can still remember them with their bouncy blonde curls and big blue eyes, strutting around as toddlers. Once they learn to walk, little ones think they can do anything. But their lack of coordination often wins out over their over-confidence, and they fall down - frequently. I can still see their sweet little faces, crumpling into tears as they scraped a knee or an elbow. Often times they couldn't even come running to Mama or Daddy, they just sat in a sad little pile, weeping. But it wouldn't take much at all - just a few gentle whispers as one of us scooped her up into a tender embrace. Soon the tears would subside and she would be back to happy play.
Many of us have great misconceptions of God. Many have the idea that God is only a God of anger and wrath and punishment; that He delights in us doing wrong because then He gets to punish us. Or we have the idea that God is like a giant, amplified man; so when people make up their own gods, they end up being truly toxic males like Thor or Zeus - very powerful but often selfish and sometimes cruel. Almost worse than either of those misconceptions is the fact that when we look at the mess of the world around us, we are often tempted to yell and shout at people who are lost and broken, thinking that what they need to hear more than anything is all about God's anger and disgust. These ideas are not accurate.
It is also not the case that Jesus is really nice, but God the Father is the mean One. While God is just and almighty, He certainly does not take pleasure in our pathetic choices that result in negative consequences. Jesus, when He was here on earth, revealed to us exactly how God is: He told us, "when you have seen me, you have seen the Father." Yes, Jesus got mad a few times, but if you look closely, it was anger towards the stuffy religious people who pushed others away from God with their false piety and judgmental spirits.
Reading the accounts of Jesus' time on earth recorded in the gospels, you can plainly see that Jesus, the perfect representation of the Father, was gentle and meek. "Come to me all you who are weary and heavy burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." (Matt. 11:28-30)
Jesus is not speaking boastfully or braggingly here. He is saying what the whole world needs to understand: He loves us and wants to help us. God is our heavenly Father who sees our plight and knows how hard it is for us to live in this fallen world. He is approachable and gentle, and He loves us. Just like our children automatically looked to me or my husband for tender care when they fell down, so each of us can look to God.
Isaiah saw Him in this light, and Matthew recognized Jesus in this passage of scripture (Is. 42:1-4) and included it in chapter 12:18-21. "Here is my servant whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations. He will not quarrel or cry out; no one will hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he leads justice to victory. In his name the nations will put their hope."
Jesus, the Hope of the nations, the King of kings and the Lord of lords, is gentle and approachable. He patiently met the needs of the crowds that constantly pushed about him, looking past the throng to see the great need of each one. He healed the sick, spiritually and physically; He brought the dead back to life. He had compassion on people, even to the point of weeping. God is not a far off being who either doesn't know us or who loathes us. He is our Father and He is with us, longing to help us, and wanting to be with us forever.
When I think about God's gentleness I am amazed. To know that the maker of heaven and earth feels the same way about me that I do about my own children is thrilling! My girls were so good and so sweet as little ones, but they occasionally did things that were just plain mean or naughty. Even then, I never did hate or detest them. I continued to love them. If I could help them, I did. I know that I am not a perfect parent, but I usually had the patience and love for my children to deal with them in a gentle manner. I knew that they were young and that they were learning, so I tried to help them think through things as they learned right from wrong.
How much more God does for us, His children! He is a perfect Father, and He gently leads us, drawing us to Himself by the Holy Spirit, revealing His Son to us in His glory. He graciously accepts us and saves us when we repent. He patiently and tenderly walks with us as we first stumble, and then learn to walk into maturity as Christians. He gently lifts us up and sets us aright if we should fall.
As with all of the fruit of the Spirit, the Holy Spirit imparts to believers the characteristics of God. Just as God deals with each one of us tenderly and gently, He will give us the ability to deal with others in the same gentle manner. He is altogether different than what the world thinks or expects, and He will help us be different, too. The world does need anymore angry, yelling, complaining commentators - the world needs men and women, full of the grace of Jesus, to gently show people how much better life can be now and forever with Him.
Gentleness is not just for the parent-child relationship. I have seen grown men and women suffer terrible betrayal and, rather than lashing out, gently forgive the perpetrator. I have seen people turn the room around by responding to anger with gentleness. Through the Spirit, we can react as God would - real gentleness is powerful to make a path for healing and forgiveness. This is what Jesus meant when He said turn the other cheek and love your enemies. It is truly revolutionary, and can change a broken situation into something healthy and whole.
God will help us - male and female - to be gentle in our interactions with our spouse. When we walk in step with the Spirit, He will remove our "rough" edges. Rather than nicely decorated battlegrounds, our homes can truly be havens of peace. In Christ, we will have the gentleness our children need us to have so that they will know they can always come to us no matter what they have done. We will be gentle with our friends and neighbors, and able to lovingly lead them into a closer walk with the Lord. When a person is gentle in manner and in spirit, others are automatically attracted to that. With the help of the Holy Spirit, Christians can be real help and healing for hurting people all around us.
I love reading and thinking about the fruit of the Holy Spirit - God is so good to help us and to make us more like Jesus all the time. It has always been fascinating to me that among the fruit like love, joy, and peace is also self-control. If you are interested, there is a whole chapter about it in Kingdom Minded. Please follow the link below to preorder your copy today...
One of the saddest things about life is to realize how many people have had a very sorry father. In ministering to college students over the years, we have have pretty much heard and seen it all when it comes to what kids have been through with their dads. Outright abandonment, horrific abuse of every kind, betrayal, deception, manipulation, even fathers who take out lines of credit in their child’s name and rack up many thousands in debt - all of this and so much more. Really, it is worse than you might believe, unless you had a father like that also.
This is truly heart-breaking, and so many people start off their own walk into adulthood with a terribly skewed idea of what a father is supposed to do and be. It is hard for so many to understand the truth that God Himself is a generous, loving Father when their own earthly representation was so horribly selfish. It is always an honor and a joy to help someone know God and find forgiveness and healing towards their physical father. It is a beautiful thing to watch a person come to know that they are truly wanted and loved and cherished by their Heavenly Father. And there is so much hope to realize that, with the strong foundation of Jesus in their lives, the children of such rotten fathers can actually be incredible parents themselves - we have seen it happen many hundreds of times now.
In celebrating our fathers yesterday, I was struck by what wonderful men I have in my life. Every man at our family gathering is an excellent father; my awesome husband, my son-in-law, my brothers-in-law - all are steady, faithful, strong and lovingly devoted fathers to their children. Please allow me to take a moment to share with you the beautiful gift of God I have in my own father and father-in-law.
My father is a rare breed. As a child, he had a real encounter with God, realizing that it was vital to surrender his heart and life to the Lordship of God. He had full understanding at a young age that his best life would come, not in living for himself and his own whims, but in trusting God, loving and serving his family and community, and being a man of his word. Even without an example like that in his own life, my father decided to live a godly life and he has done just that.
I only have wonderful memories of my parents in my childhood. My father has always been so loving and encouraging to my sister and myself - he read to us, cheered for us at all of our sports and school events, and has been so generous in every way with his time and earthly goods. He has encouraged us in every one of our dreams and endeavors. And has told us we were beautiful all of our lives, even when we were awkward pre-teenagers or when we were 9 months pregnant and bloated, and he means it every time.
I have never heard my father say anything remotely negative to or about my mother - to this day he treats her as the sweetheart she has been to him for over 60 years. I am certain that there has never been a meal I have eaten in his presence where he did not wait for all of us ladies to be seated before he took his own seat. He has been a loving and devoted grandfather to our kids, showering them with love and encouragement - and math tutoring!
All of that has been inside our family, but his reach into the community has also been tremendous. He is a faithful and reliable churchman, and a key part of the volunteer base in every community he has ever lived in. He constantly gives his time and expertise to help others. All of us have a high standard of love, service and fidelity because of his life. It is not at all hard for me to understand how good and loving God the Father is because I have seen a beautiful, godly example in my dad.
I know that I am so blessed to be able to say that my father-in-law is wonderful, as well. As a very young man, he accepted the responsibility for a wife and her two young boys, loving and treating them as his own. More than that, he proved his committment to them by giving the boys his name. I have known him since I was 17 years old, and he has always treated me with kindness and encouragement. I have never once felt like an outsider in their home - they have welcomed me and treated me as a daughter. Watching him love and cherish his granddaughters has always been a delight - he really thinks they each hung the moon and they all know that they are treasured.
I take the time to sing the praises of these two men because they have been such excellent fathers - I am so grateful for the gift their influence and steady example is to our family. How different the world would be if there were more men like them! All of us can benefit from following such examples of selfless and encouraging love. Today, let’s touch our own families, communities and the world with the great love of the Father.
See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! 1 John 3:1
This concept has been stirring so deeply in my heart lately. We have spent a lot of time on the road this past year, and have seen a much wider cross-section of society than ever. People are so tired and weary, so anxious and worried - our society needs the hope, peace and rest of Jesus like never before. Rather than just thinking about it for a moment and then rushing on to something else, let's continue to look at what God says about rest...
“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”
Exodus 20: 8-11
Last time, I mentioned how interesting it is that we, as Christian people in a society intentionally and experimentally founded totally upon Judeo-Christian principles, have come to a point that we actually ignore this particular commandment - one of only 10 commandments that God has given us. Thankfully, we still observe most of the other commandments as Christians in our society, for now. But we must admit that we have let this one go. (It really makes me wonder…if we let one commandment slide so easily, how are we going to fiercely protect the others?)
My introduction to the concept of an observed Sabbath came as a child, reading the Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. In the book Farmer Boy, which was about her husband Almanzo’s childhood on a farm in upstate New York in the 1860’s, the Wilder family is depicted as strictly observing the Sabbath all year long. The food they would eat on Sunday was carefully prepared and set aside on Saturday so that no work would be done in the kitchen on the Sabbath. All of the work on their large property was done on the six days, then only care of the animals happened on Sunday. The entire family would rest quietly inside all day after attending worship services at church, doing nothing but reading. As a child, I felt Almanzo’s frustration at wanting to play outside, yet having to be quiet and inside for an entire day each week. Nontheless, a strict observation of the Sabbath was an integral part of their life just 150 years ago.
How society has changed! Admittedly, it all too easy for us to become very legalistic in our Christianity, and to become almost obsessed with the letter of the law, forgetting the beautiful spirit behind it. Many of us have seen some pretty ridiculous rules made in the name of religion. And then our rugged American individualism kicks in, fueling the drive against constraint even further. This is why so many movies and television shows often depict Christians as creepy, irrational weirdos. They often characterize us as people who feel strongly against enjoying life at all, and who are determined that no one else should have any fun, either.
Sadly, this Hollywood sterotype is there for a reason. We really do have a terrible propensity to think that the law is the Thing. This is nothing new - some of the things the religious rulers in Jesus’ day got so angry at Jesus for seem kind of ridiculous to us. How could they possibly get mad at Jesus for healing someone on the Sabbath, or for His disciples eating a few kernels of grain they picked on the Sabbath? But they were mad at Him - mad enough to kill HIm for messing with their carefully cultivated religious system. They were so in love with the law that they entirely missed the Person behind it.
The law is not the thing - Jesus is the Thing! He said it so beautifully in response to the religious people and their irrational anger, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2: 27-28) We must be careful not to elevate the practice of what we believe above the Person in whom we believe.
However, we can take living in freedom too far - we can become so “free” that we remove the barriers and structures that keep us safe and healthy. Jesus said that He did not come to do away with the law, but to fulfill it. In fact, look at the whole passage here in Matthew 7: 18-20 , “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”
I point this out to come back around to the thought for today - isn’t it interesting that we, as a whole, have just decided to stop counting one of God’s ten commandments as important? We are ignoring a truth that is foundational to life.
Our friend Winkie Pratney explains this so well. The law is not a random set of rules imposed by a cruel taskmaster, just to make sure no one ever has any fun; rather, the law of God is simply a description of reality from His infinite perspective. The law is real and true, and tells the truth about consequences attached to actions. You shall not murder, because taking a life comes with crushing implications for you and for everyone involved, not just for a moment, but for eternity. You shall not commit adultery because it is devastating to your own soul and to your family and community for generations to come. The law is a description of the right and healthy way to live in community and relationship, with God and with each other.
All of this to say, perhaps we should revisit the law of the Sabbath. I am not a lettered theologian - my degree is in Elementary Education with an English specialization, after all. But I have been a practicing minister for almost thirty years, and have seen enough to really make me wonder. Is it just a coincidence that in the time since 24/7 work, shopping, television, internet, gyms, and so forth have made a society that never rests, the rates of depression, anxiety, self-loathing, auto-immune diseases and so many other maladies have skyrocketed? Look up the statistics - it is alarming.
We spend millions every year trying to eat the right foods, read the right books and take the right medicines to help us and fix what is wrong with us, but what if the answer is as simple as just observing this fundamental law of planned and purposeful rest?
The Creator of the Universe worked six days and then rested. Jesus, the very Lord of the Sabbath, observed this law. It might be time for His people not to treat this truth so flippantly. Next time, we will look at some practical thoughts for incorporating Sabbath rest into our lives and communities.
Coming This Summer!
I have always loved to write, and I want to thank my greatest cheerleader - my beautiful mother! She has been encouraging me in this passion of mine for many years. This summer, my first book will be published, and I would love for you to preorder your copy today...
Hi! I'm Mary - mother to two wonderful grown daughters, wife to an incredible husband, and loving our life in the piney woods of Texas... (read more!)