Today will be the last week we are looking more in-depth at the fruit of the Spirit, those graces that God seeks to develop in our lives in order to conform us to the very image of Christ. Faithfulness, gentleness and self-control are our topics today. Does the world need these Christ-like qualities? Do Christians need them? Do we want them? Do we desire to be people who love faithfully, gently and controlled?
To answer these questions, we need to understand the world we live in. We live in a world that is always on the go and where people are busier than ever, running from appointment to exercise class, from class to a quick meal out, only to have to run home and drop someone off or pick someone up. The “bizzies” have gotten us. We work longer hours in the office than ever before, but our productivity isn’t increasing. Our children are involved in more things than ever before but are less able to stick with their commitments. People can’t plan for the weekend because something ‘important’ might come up and so they don’t want to be saddled down with commitments. Marriages are falling apart at alarming rates, our young people are opting out of marriage for fear of the ‘commitment and responsibility’ that go with it. Today’s top movie will not be tomorrows; stars come and go; bands don’t seem to have the staying power of the classics from the 70’s and 80’s. Fashions come and go as quick as the wind changes direction. Just take footwear for instance. In the past few years we have seen Crocs, Teva’s, and Keen’s all take their place at the helm, only to be ousted after a year for the next fashion trend to take its place.
Employment isn’t much better, whether it is the employee job shopping and skipping around or the employer unable to commit to long-term work, we live in a world of impermanence desperately in need of a lesson in loving Faithfulness.
Then there is the way we live in our personal lives, always talking up our abilities, quick to loose our tempers, road rage on the rise, school and workplace shootings becoming common place. We are quick to speak about our rights, but not so quick to defer our rights in order that another might have their’s. We live in a world that looks at Paul’s statement, “Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated?”(1Cor 6:7) and says, “That is ludicrous. I will never allow myself to be wronged or cheated. I will never allow myself to be taken advantage of. I will always get my rights.” Our world views the humble person as week, and the gentle person as spineless, at least when it comes to our ideas of masculinity. We need a biblical view of gentleness and humility.
And finally, we are a society addicted to things. Most of us think about addictions and assume we are speaking of Alcohol, sex and drugs, but what about those addictions more commonplace like shopping, self-indulgence, Starbucks, the need to be in fashion, the need to be busy, the addiction of talking, or the addiction to self-sufficiency – the I can do it on my own attitude. What about the addictions to TV, reality shows, email and the effusion of Blackberrys’, iPhones and other portable electronic devices so that we can access anything, anywhere, anytime? Is this not the sign of a culture addicted? Did you know that Doctors are currently debating including Internet Addiction Disorder in the DSM, the manual of mental disorders. We live in a world of addictions. We are surrounded by people unable to control themselves and willing to live only if they can gratify every impulse they have. The truth be told, we are those people. We struggle with all those issues and countless others.
Granted this is a fairly negative view of the world. There are plenty of things out there working against these trends. There are countless people who consider themselves atypical, or who don’t jive with the contemporary characterizations of which I have spoken and for that I thank God, but there are many of us who fall right into these so called “normal” ways of living. So what is the Scripture calling us to become, if it is not temporary, prideful, aggressive, selfish and addicted?
We are being called to Christ-likeness. We are being called to be counter-cultural, to exhibit the characteristics of the Kingdom. We are being called to be those blessed people of the beatitudes. We are to be people full of the fruit of the Spirit, full of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. We are called to be people blessed for our meekness, blessed for our hunger and thirst of righteousness, blest for our mercy and purity, blest for our peacemaking (Matt 5:3-11).
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.” (Matthew 5:3–11 NIV)
This is the kind of person Christ is shaping each and every one of us to be.
But we can only become this kind of person because Jesus is the epitome of all these character qualities; just as he has been the climax of every quality we have examined the past few weeks. Jesus wasn’t temporary or transient; he was in it for the long haul. He came to the earth in order to show us what true faithfulness is. Listening to the Father and doing his will. Faithfulness can be summed up in this one sentence of Jesus’ “By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me” (John 5:30 NIV).
Our first quality today is faithfulness. Faithfulness centers on God and seeking to please him in our entire life, even if that requires us to die. That was Christ’s work – to please God by becoming a sacrifice for our sin, dying on a cross, and being resurrected to life. In fact Revelation 1:5 “and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness (martyr), the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth,” Hebrews 2:17 says he “became a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.” Even Revelation 19:11 tells us that Jesus is faithful and true. That is his name because that is who he is: “I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war.”
Jesus is Faithfulness in a world that is temporary and passing away, a world of whims and fancies. In that kind of world God is out to make people who last, he is in the durable goods business not in the disposable goods business. He is interested in a people who will forever be dedicated to his mission, his passion, his world – a world of justice, mercy and love, a world of faith and hope and trust, a world of worship directed to the only true God. Jesus is interested in creating you and me into a people who are faithful for the long haul.
Do you remember the scene from Lord of the Rings where Frodo gets into the boat by himself and starts to row across the lake away from the battle? Samwise Gamgee comes running to the edge of the water and wades in after him, faithfully carrying out his word to stick by Frodo’s side. He can’t swim; he even begins drowning, because his conviction to carryout his commitment is so strong that even death will not stop him. This is one of the great pictures of faithfulness that the motion picture industry has created in the past decade.
God wants to make you into Samwise Gamgees for him. He wants to make you into a people faithful to the call of God on your life and that means it will affect not only your relationship with Jesus, but also with others. Faithfulness in the faith means fidelity and longevity in your marriage; faithfulness to Christ means doing what you say you will do, “Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one” (Matthew 5:37 NIV). Faithfulness to God means he desires your work to be an expression of your service to him. There is no sacred/secular distinction; there is not a time to be “Christian” and a time to “be one of the guys/gals.” Faithfulness means “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men,”(Colossians 3:23 NIV). Faithfulness means, “Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body” (1Cor. 6:19b-20).
Faithfulness is using your money for God’s glory and not wasting it on temporary things destined to be burned up. Paul gives this instruction, “On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made.”(1 Corinthians 16:2) Faithfulness means the church should never have to ask for funds to care for its internal and external projects, for the people of God have already dedicated their entire life, checkbook included to God and his glory.
Faithfulness is something God must develop in us. Sure we must work towards it, exercising our life in places where we know that faithfulness is lacking but we can only do that when we stay focused on God, for he is faithful and true, he is the source and spring from which all faith ushers forth, for “What if some did not have faith? Will their lack of faith nullify God’s faithfulness? [Absolutely not, because] if we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself. [So] Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful” (Romans 3:3; 2 Timothy 2:13; Hebrews 10:23 NIV) Faithfulness comes seeking God in all areas of life.
But Jesus is also the author of gentleness. From him springs forth true gentleness, not the kind of gentleness we picture when we see a little old lady, but the kind of gentleness that is strong and powerful. Jesus is the kind of Gentleness that is true strength under control. Who has ever seen a wild horse, an unbroken stallion? They are powerful, but once they come under the control of the bridle, they are still just as powerful, yet they are also gentle. I love draft horses, they are commonly called “Gentle Giants” by those who work with them, but anyone who has ever been in a stall with a horse that is 20 hands knows that the Gentle Giant is capable of serious damage. Yet, they are able to control their power and channel it properly.
So it is with the Christian, we are called not to be domesticated and without power in a world of aggression and hostility, rather we are called to be powerful but to have the power and force controlled by the yoke of our master. Jesus calls us to take his yoke, and to be led by him. The one who is simultaneously worshipped in heaven as the Lion of Judah and the Lamb of God is our example of gentleness. If that isn’t a picture of gentleness, humility I am not sure what is: a Lion, the king of beasts, powerful and aggressive, but also the lamb of God, a sacrifice laying down his life for others, divesting himself of control in order to be under the control of others.
CS Lewis captures that wonderfully in the Final scenes of the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe where Aslan is led toward the great flat stone slab and slain, he looks gentle and peaceful, but in an instant he is alive and in the final scene his gentleness and humility play out as he jumps upon the witch and devours her. His strength is directed for God.
Gentleness isn’t always deference, but it is always being led of God to fulfill God’s purpose, that is why Gentleness requires faithfulness. I said it once before, but I will say it again. The fruit of the Spirit isn’t a smorgasbord that we get to pick and choose from. All of the aspects of Love described in this list, each and every one of them is constantly being developed in us and in need of growth and perfection. To be a Gentle Christian without faithfulness is an oxymoron, it can’t be, just like be a loving Christian without kindness is non sequitur.
Jesus came “Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9 NIV). He described himself as “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” (Matthew 11:29 NIV), but he was certainly not weak. This is the man who drove the temple moneychangers out with a corded whip (John 2:15); this is the man who called the religious leaders “white-washed tombs” (Mt 23:27) and hypocrites (various). But this is also the man who gently restored an adulteress by pointing out her accusers sin (John 8:1-11), or who welcomed the Children to his inner circle (Matt 19:14). This is the one who “every knee will bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue will confess” (Rom 14:11, Phil 2:10); this is the one who will rule the universe with an Iron scepter (Psalm 2) and who will meet out punishment upon the evildoer, and yet he is called Gentle and humble.
This is the kind of gentleness and humbleness God is developing in us. He wants us to be strong in the Lord but deferring in our rights as long as it brings God glory. He wants us to be strong in stature and able to exercise authority when it is required but also to be able to defer in order to draw sinners unto the Lord.
Finally, we come to the last quality that God is seeking to develop in us: self-control. In a world of addictions, we need people who are self-controlled, who put their body to the fire and hold it accountable. We have all heard the story of Achilles’ heal, how his mother dipped him in a river and he became invincible, that is all of him except the place where she held his heal. It is the heal, that weakest part of him that needed shoring up and it is that heal, the weakest part of us that we need to extend our self-control and restraint to as well.
The old saying, “you are only as strong as your weakest link,” is true. I remember standing on a jobsite watching a crane lift a log and looking expectantly as the old chain groaned under the weight of a Larch log. After that lift, we retired the chain, it was stressed beyond what was safe, so too, self-control is being able to say, “This isn’t safe any more.” It is time to shore up the person.
Now contrary to what many of us think, self-control isn’t about looking at our lives and grunting and bearing it. It is not about the superhuman effort some people expend in order to train their bodies to loose weight or train for the marathon, or other things like that. For if self-control is limited down so sharply to a narrow focus upon myself, my issues and my needs, then it is has become an exercise in self-sufficiency and pride, but the fruit of the spirit starts off telling us that love is central.
Really and truly, self-control is other focused. It is about controlling my wants and desires in order that another person may take priority over me. Self-control is about not giving into all of my appetites – for new clothes, sexual gratification, latest gadget, or to speak my mind, or anything else; instead self-control says I wont give in so that you may benefit. Sometimes the benefit is vicarious – by not sinning, another person doesn’t have to live with the consequences of my sin. But other times the benefit is very tangible – by not buying another latte, I am then able to give what would have been spent to someone who has lost a job, or is sick with crippling medical bills, or who is going as a missionary and needs our support in order to fulfill their calling by God.
Self-control allows us, as believers, to focus on God and to serve others by denying our wants and desires. That is why if you look at the list of bad behaviors in v. 19 you will see that self-control would have benefited others countless times. Self-control would have been an exercise in love.
And that is why Paul closes his list of the Fruit of the Spirit with this statement, “Against such things there is no law” (Gal 5:24b) for Love is the fulfillment of the law (Romans 13:10). People of God, Go and bear much fruit – Fruit that loves God and loves others – there is no greater commandment.
Be full of Love, full of joy, full of peace, patience kindness, goodness, faithfullnes, gentleness and self control. (Gal 5:22-23)