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...
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!)