But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.
Love is a commitment to the benefit of others no matter the cost. It sacrificially and selflessly serves others for their gain. Love is the definitive trait of the child of God. Love fulfills all the law and motivates all obedience. Love is the first piece of the fruit of the Spirit out of which the rest grow.
Joy is contentment of heart that rejoices in God no matter the circumstances. Happiness is often fleeting because it depends on what is happening. Joy surpasses situation and explanation. “Ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.” (1 Peter 1:8) Joy is not the absence of tears and sorrow. Joy can be found in great grief because it is a deep delight in God. Joy knows His character and promises are unchanged no matter the event. Joy rejoices in God in all of life’s seasons.
Peace is also in the knowledge of God and confidence in Him. Peace is quietness of soul that reigns in the heart and mind no matter what may be approaching. True joy is beyond description and true peace is beyond comprehension. “And the peace of God which passeth all understanding shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7)
Longsuffering is the patient endurance of wrongs done by others. The long-suffering one is far from anger no matter the carelessness or callousness of others. This is a relational fruit that endures the hurts inflicted by people. Longsuffering continues to seek the good of others while bearing injuries and insults from them.
Gentleness is an inward attitude that desires good for others. It is a heart of benevolence, a spirit of kindness, that genuinely seeks others benefit. Kindness is closely related to love in its real desire tod o good for others.
Goodness is the outward expression of kindness of heart. Kindness that remains locked inside the thoughts and feelings of the person is not complete. The Christian’s life and affection is not private. Christianity cannot remain within the walls of the heart, the home or the church. Christianity must be exercised in all places the Christian goes. Though none are saved by good works are who are saved are saved to do good works.
The Holy Spirit also produces faith in the Christian. The fruit of faith is not saving faith but living faith. This is the same faith which the book of Hebrews enjoins when it says, “The just shall live by faith.” (Hebrews 10:38) Faith is the confidence that God exists and rewards those who diligenlty seek Him. (Hebrews 11:6) The fruit of faith is the conviction of the truth of God’s Word that responds in trustful obedience to the commands of God.
Meekness is a gentleness of demeanor rooted in humility. While many unsaved remain unruffled in the face of opposition, meekness exceeds mere stoicism. Meekness is built on a fundamental humility. The unflappable may hold his emotions in check, but the meek is truly unoffended by trouble. Meekness is not rash in troubling situations. The meek recognizes the hand of God at work through all situations and humbly submits to God’s good purposes.
The last piece of the fruit of the Spirit is temperance. This is self-control or, more accurately, Spirit control. Though the Christian still resides with his sin corrupted nature, the Holy Spirit actively works to restrain the Christian. God the Spirit dwells within the believer and holds back the evil passions of the old man.
During lunch last Sunday one of the ladies in church asked me about a point I skipped over during the Sunday morning sermon. (This is great. I love it when congregants are paying enough attention to notice truths that could have been included in a message.) Her question was this, If Christians are to be keeping peace within the church what should be done about false teachers that come into the congregation?
The New Testament makes unity a priority among believers. Peace in the church is paramount. “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory.” (Philippians 2:3) “Endeavoring to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:3) Harmony within the church is imperative.
What are Christians supposed to do with false teachers? Ecumenicism answers this question by emphasizing peace and cooperation over doctrine. “Doctrine divides” is the mantra of many of this persuasion.
Others answer this question by asserting that since Christians love for each other will show the world we are Jesus’ disciples we should set aside squabbles about doctrines and opinions in preference for love.
Do love and peace outweigh doctrine? A full answer to this question requires much more than can be included in this simple article. However, several quick comments can adequately summarize the Biblical principles.
Those fighting for Biblical truth are often portrayed as aggressors and trouble makers. The Bible never presents a different picture of strife. Conflict is never instigated by those obedient to the Word, empowered by the Spirit and committed to sound doctrine. Division is always the result of heretics and false teachers. The troublemakers are the ones bearing false doctrine not the ones defending right doctrine.
Strife comes because of the fleshly minded. “For whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men? For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos, are ye not carnal?” (1 Corinthians 3:3-4) “From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members?” (James 4:1) Fleshly mindedness results in division and discord. Spiritual mindedness fights for peace. The godly saint fighting for righteousness is not the cause of trouble. He is the promoter of peace.
Some things are worth fighting for. “It was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort that ye should earnestly contend for the the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.” (Jude 1:3) Fellowship within the church is fellowship in Jesus. Those who deny the truth about the person and work of Jesus are not in Him. There can be no true fellowship with those outside Christ. Those who deny the truth about the person and work of Jesus are opposed to Him. There can be no peace with the enemies of God. Jesus’ perfection, power and salvation are worth defending no matter the cost.
Some things are worth excommunicating members over. “A man that is an heretick after the first and second admonition reject.” (Titus 3:10) “If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.” (Galatians 1:9) False teachers and troublemakers in the New Testament were turned over to Satan so they would not trouble the church and so would might learn to forsake their sin. Allowing error to continue corrupts the church and comforts the wicked in their iniquity.
Christians should not be looking for a fight, but sometimes the fight is necessary. Though necessary the fight must never be fought by fleshly means. God’s Word tells Christians to oppose apostates, heretics, false teachers and erring brothers. The way to engage each is different. Discernment is always necessary. Great care must be exercised but the battle must be fought. The good of the church and the soul of the erring demand it.
Electioneering, brawling, argumentativeness, anger, unkind words and self-seeking have no place in the church. All must be done in kindness without compromise. Speak always with grace without cowardice. The church must benevolently defend the truth against all error.
“But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another.”
In 1962 the Defense Secretary Robert McNamara outlined a plan for American’s response to nuclear war. The plan was simple. America would build up a large enough arsenal of nuclear weapons that if Russia, or any other enemy, dared launch a nuclear atomic America would retaliate with such force that the attacker’s destruction would assured. This became the military doctrine of mutually assured destruction. The increase of the American and Russian nuclear arsenals meant America and Russia could not attack each other without risking total destruction. Any nuclear attack would assure the destruction of America and Russia.
Infighting within a church is always destructive to the entire church. Far too many churches have toxic cultures. These churches drive out pastors, drive off members, destroy their reputation and the few surviving members are left standing victorious in the ruins. A church culture characterized by strife is fatal to the church.
If you have differences with one another respond to them with grace and compassion. Go to each other and seek to resolve those differences. If someone has sinned against you and you cannot overlook the sin, go to them and tell them their fault. If you have sinned against another, go to that person and confess your fault to him.
If there is something the church should be doing, some ministry that should be taken on or some decision that should be made remember the words of Philippians 2, “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory.”
The recent contentious election and campaign serves as a powerful illustration of what Paul is warning against. In the American system of politics different political parties compete against one another for votes. They do this by attempting to convince voters of the superiority of one candidate over another. This is definitely better than each candidate forming an army and sending the soldiers into battle to determine the next leader. Far better the conflict be waged in the poll booth than the battlefield. This may work for America but it does not work in the church. While it may be good policy for a nation, it is dangerous for a church.
The church must have nothing to do with strife or vainglory. Political party-mongering to gain a position or achieve a goal should be no part the Christian’s life. Do nothing by trying to gather a group who will be on your side. What this does is divides the church. Instead of doing things through strife and vainglory do all things “in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.” Let love and selfless service for the good of others characterize the church.
Be warned, strife in the church may result in you getting your way, but it will also result in destruction to the entire church.
Heaven and earth are both beautiful when God gives a shining light, and man possesses a seeing eye. Faith and obedience run sweetly into one.
Near the base of a mountain range, early in the morning of the day and the spring of the year, you may have seen, in your solitary walk, a pillar of cloud, pure and white, rising from the earth to heaven. In the calm air its slender stem rises straight like a tree, and like a tree spreads out its lofty summit like an angel tree in white, and not like an earthly thing, it stands before you. You approach the spot and discover the cause of the vision. A well of water from warm depths bursts through the surface there, and this is the morning incense which it sends right upward to the throne. But the water is not all thus exhaled; a pure stream flows over the well’s rocky edge, and trickles along the surface, a liver in miniature, marked on both sides by verdure, while the barrenness of winter lies yet on the other portions of the field.
Such are the two outgoings of a believer life. Upward rises the soul to God in direct devotion ; but not the less on that account does the life flow out along the surface of the world leaving its mark in blessings behind it wherever it goes. You caught the spring by surprise at the dawn, and saw its incense ascending; at mid-day, when the sun was up, and the people passing, that incense was still rising, but then it rose unseen. It is thus in the experience of living Christians in the world. At certain times, when they think that none are near, their intercourse with heaven may be noticed ; but for the most part it is carried on unseen. The upright pillar is seldom visible ; but the horizontal stream is seen and felt, a refreshment to all within its reach. True devotion is chiefly in secret; but the bulk of a believer’s life is laid out in common duties, and cannot be hid.
These two, alternate and yet simultaneous, separate and yet combined — these two fill up a Christian’s life. Lift up your heart to God, and lay out your talents for the world; lay out your talents for the world, and lift up your heart to God.
Laws from Heaven for Life on Earth
All of a Christian’s responsibility to others can be summed up in a single statement. A Christian selflessly loves others by the power of the God the Spirit in him. A lot of room remains for many specific applications but all Christian relationships should be compromised of Holy Spirit empowered, selfless love for others.
“Love your neighbor as yourself” is the second of the chief commandments. The book of James calls it the “royal law”. Romans 13 and Galatians 5 declare that selfless love fulfills all the law of God.
The command “Love thy neighbor as thyself” is first found in Leviticus 19:18. AFter giving a list of speciifc instructions about how to treat others, God concludes and summarizes with the prince of commandments.
A genuine love for others will result in doing the things contained in the law. You will not covet your neighbors goods because you love him and desire his good. You will not lie about another because you love him and will only speak that which is good for him. All the principles contained in the law will be obeyed. Not because you have memorized the law but because you are operating from the great principle from which all the rest are derived. If you love others like you love yourself you will do to them as you would like done unto you.
This love is not mere emotion and sentiment. The Biblical command is not an instruction to have good feelings about someone from a distance. Love does not pray for the person while ignoring them and their needs. Love is not just glad the person attends church. Love involves itself personally with others. Love serves.
The Christian has been given liberty in Christ that sets him free from the bondage of sin, idolatry and self-righteousness. The Christian is freed by Jesus to go out and serve others.
Most of humanity measures greatness based upon how many underlings a person has. A great man is surrounded by an army of lackeys who do all the trivial little things for him. The greatest people in the world’s eyes are those who are served the most. Not so with those who are Christ’s. Jesus says those who will be greatest in His kingdom are those who serve the most.
The command is, “By love serve one another.” Seek to do good for each other. Seek to minister truth to one another. Minister encouragement, grace, time, comfort, help, hospitality, goods and prayer to one another. Give freely of yourself so that others may receive genuine good from you.
The power to love this way is not natural to any person. This kind of love is impossible. Those in Christ have all ability to love others as God has commanded. Such ability is only the result of the supernatural working of God. The Christian can love sacrificially because God has given His Holy Spirit.
In the book “Frankenstein”, Dr. Frankenstein seeks to use science to produce life. He collects pieces from many different dead bodies, patches them together and then brings them to life. Dr. Frankenstein’s intention was to create something marvelous and wonderful. What actually happened was the creation of a monster.
No man can create physical life and no man can create spiritual life.Religions of self righteousness try to piece together dead works and dead people in the attempt to produce life that is wonderful. Using ritual, ceremony and tradition a spark of life is introduced, but without Christ to give real life, the result is a monstrosity.
In Colossians 2 Paul describes the beautiful work completed by Christ. In Christ the Christian is complete. The parts that were lacking are filled up, the pieces that were missing are replaced, the broken was repaired, the dead given life and now in Christ the believer is made complete. Paul does not say through Christ the believer can be complete, or will be complete, or hopes to be complete. He states the simple, present fact, that the Christian is complete in Christ. Nothing else is needed. Christ is all.
Christ is enough. No amount of effort, resolution, resolve or discipline will add one iota to the believers salvation. No amount of self-help, pop psychology, support groups or personal faith will add the least bit to what Jesus has accomplished. This truth cannot be emphasized enough. The battle in Christianity today is one being fought in the realm of sufficiency. Christ is all the believer needs. Those who are not convinced of this will be open to the legion of devilish doctrines possessing American religiousness. Truth will be found from Oprah, Dr. Phil, Dr. Laura, Rob Bell, the Huffington Post or Joel Osteen rather than from the Bible. In Christ, and only in Christ, is the believer complete.
Christ is in control. As the many philosophies of men oppose and scorn the truths of God, Christ is still in control. As the plethora of experts declare their latest truth is truth beyond question, Jesus is still in control. No matter what degrees, awards, books or other plaudits they posses. No matter what credentials declare the expert to have power and authority in an area, all their power is still subject to the power of Christ. The vast influence such experts hold can be intimidating, but we must not forget that all men are under the authority of Christ. One day even the most atheistic expert will bow down and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. You need nothing else but Christ, He is totally sufficient for all things at all times.
As you enter into a new year, resolve to be more obedient to the commands of God. Purpose to be more faithful in your walk with Him. Determine to know Him better and more fully. Commit to greater love for God and for others. Labor to do all God has commanded you to do. Never imagine that any of your obedience adds anything to the work that Jesus has done. Never imagine that any of your obedience comes from your own personal store of goodness. You are complete in Him and all your obedience and piety is but an expression of the work He has done. Be resolved with rejoicing and confidence because your eternal standing with God has nothing to do with your ability to keep a resolution.
“O amazing condescension of the Lord Jesus Christ, to stoop to such low and poor things for our sake. What love is this, what great and wonderful love was here, that the Son of God should come into our world in so mean a condition, to deliver us from the sin and misery in which we were involved by our fall in our first parents! And as all that proceeded from the springs must be muddy, because the fountain was so, the Lord Jesus Christ came to take our natures upon him, to die a shameful, a painful, and an accursed death for our sakes.”
The wise men are a Biblical mystery. They came from the east. Where exactly? They saw a star that told of the birth of the King of the Jews. How did that happen? Was the star pulling a banner behind it like a biplane with an aerial advertisement? What was this star? How many wise men was there? How did they know this baby was God to be worshiped?
The wise men made the logical deduction that the newborn king of the Jews would be born in the ancient capital. In Jerusalem they asked around for the newborn king. When the Roman appointed king of the Jews heard the news he called in the experts. The scribes were the Old Testament scholars who should have been looking for the birth of the Messiah. They knew the Old Testament well enough to identify where He would be born, they should have known from Daniel when He would be born. Visitors from a pagan land had to tell the teachers of God’s Word that His promised Messiah was born. The wise men followed the instructions of the Scribes and followed the star to the house where Jesus, Mary and Joseph were living. They found the King of the Jews they had traveled sought after for so long.
God is infinitely gracious. He will be found of those who seek after Him. He does not hide Himself. Remember Cornelius? Cornelius was seeking to know the truth of Jesus. God sent an angel to instruct him and then an apostle to preach the gospel to him. God made Himself known to the one who who sought Him.
God does not use always use the expected means to make Himself known. Sometimes it’s a hypocritical scribe. Sometimes it’s an angel and a prejudiced disciple. Sometimes it’s an unpleasant circumstance. Sometime it’s the words of a child. Sometime it’s the misappropriated celebration of a confused nation.
Most of the year America stays too busy for God, despises His Word, rejects His Son and scorns His Word. Yet every year the country goes nuts over the celebration of the incarnation of God the Son. It seems that everyone knows Christmas Day is the remembrance of Jesus’ birth. Whatever they think about Jesus they know the baby born in the manger was named Jesus. Most know this baby grew to be a man who did something special. Many know this baby claimed to be the Son of God. God is not without a witness in this land.
At Christmas time the gospel is broadcast for all to hear. Christmas carols like “O Holy Night”, “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”, “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and “We Three Kings” proclaim the gospel message in places where it is otherwise unheard.
We who know the One born of the virgin know the real value of Christmas. Let us be wise this Christmas. Long for Him, hunger and thirst for Him and draw near to Him. Make Him that which you desire most this Christmas.
“And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart. And I will be found of you, saith the LORD:” (Jeremiah 29:13-14)
“Draw nigh to God and He will draw nigh to you.” (James 4:8)
Christmas is the most wonderful time of year. At least that is what the carols tell us. Christmas is filled with gift giving, family gathering, fond remembering, tradition keeping and even much mistletoeing, whatever that is. We sing of Good King Wenceslas, Santa Claus spying on you while you are sleeping and jingle bells rocking around the Christmas tree. We spend many hours watching Christmas movies new and old.
Two of the most popular Christmas movies are A Christmas Carol and It’s a Wonderful Life. A Christmas Carol is the story of Ebeneezer Scrooge who one Christmas Eve was visited by four ghosts. Scrooge was a stingy, miser who loved money and hated mankind. Scrooge’s spectral visitors showed him the error of his ways. He woke up Christmas morning with a newfound joy and a hunger to bring good to all mankind. The surly, lonely old man who stalked up the dark stairs the night before leapt and laughed as he danced down them in the morning light.
It’s a Wonderful Life is the story of George Bailey, a man with big dreams and an even bigger heart. He never saw the world, built tall buildings or became famous. He was left behind in his small town, running a small Building and Loan while watching the world pass him by. One Christmas Eve every thing came crashing down around him. The weight of another’s mistake fell on George’s shoulders. He was on the verge of suicide when an angel with the most unangelic name of Clarence intervened. Clarence showed George just how much impact he had on others. Without George Bailey the entire town would have turned into a jaded, wicked dive. George came to his senses and discovered “no man is a failure who has friends.”
These movies capture the general feelings of many at Christmas time. Much of Christmas sentiment revolves around a desire to be kind and do good for others. Many think if we could just be better people the world would be a better place. Carolers sing about peace on earth and goodwill towards men while we long for these things to be genuinely present in our communities and in our world.
Christmas highlights goodness and goodwill but in doing so it reminds us these things are not really present most of the time. We parade them around for a few weeks at the end of the year, but we know in our hearts they are lacking the rest of the year. Christmas highlights the need of humanity. Christmas rightly understood shows that mankind’s need can never be solved by being better, more generous people.
Though Galatians was not written specifically to address the phenomenon of an American Christmas does provide a powerful antidote to the sort of sentimentality that passes itself off as joy and satisfaction. Man does not need a resolve to be a better person. Man does not need to know life has meaning.
When the Grinch stood on the tip-top of Mt. Crumpit he heard the celebration of the Whos down in Whoville. Something miraculous happened in his heart. “In Whoville they say that the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day.” Like the Grinch man needs a changed heart. The need of humanity is greater still. Man needs new heart. The need of mankind can only be satisfied by the grace of God.
Christmas is all about grace, not good works. The message of grace is found in the earliest Christmas declarations. “You shall call his name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins.” “For unto you is born this day a Savior which is Christ the Lord.” The Savior man needs was born in Bethlehem. The baby born of Mary is the Deliverer God promised His people. The Savior is God Himself.
The story of Christmas is the story of man’s need for a Savior. The story of Christmas is man has a Savior. Jesus is that Savior who came, not to show men how to live better lives, but to take on His back the entire punishment of all our sin.
Prayer is God’s idea.
God created humanity in perfect fellowship with Himself. Man was created perfect and placed by God in a perfect garden. God blessed humanity, entrusted mankind with responsibilities and instructed man in obedience. The rest of the story is the infamous tragedy of the human race.
Man did not obey God’s one command. Through the manipulations of a Satanically controlled serpent Adam rebelled against the rule of his creator. Adam was not deceived by Satan. He was not enamored by the appeal of the apple or besotted by the promise of near Divine status. Adam’s motivation is unknown but his actions are well known. Adam ate of the forbidden fruit. Adam disobeyed his God.
The consequences were immediate. Adam and Eve recognized their nakedness and they were ashamed. Guilt poured over them. They stitched covering together out of fig leaves. When God came to the garden they hid from Him. They knew within themselves all was not right.
God knew man had broken His one commandment. God sought out sinning man. He walked through the garden in the cool of the day. God did not come down in wrath. He did not storm through the earth fuming out vengeance. God came in gentleness and compassion. His wrath was robed in mercy. God came to the garden seeking mankind to draw men to repentance and reconciliation.
God confronted man with his sin and meted out punishment. Yet God at that time did not pour out the full measure of justice. God would have been just and righteous to slay mankind on the spot and cast them both into hell. He did not do so. He laid on them punishment which would allow them to feel the weight of their crime but He did not crush them in despair. Even in the middle of handing down sentence God promised a Deliverer who would conquer sin. God saw their guilt and provided proper coverings for them. He came to them to initiate reconciliation and the means of pardon.
Man can now pray to the God of Heaven because God provided a way by which sinners can approach Him. Christians can pray because God sought man. Men can pray because God made prayer possible. Prayer is a priceless privilege inititiated, purchased, empowered, sustained and loved by God. Though full reconciliation, like full justice, has been delayed we can still commune with our Creator.
The story of sin’s origin contains a great warning. The least of sins is a big deal. Sin always hinders fellowship with God and can never be hid from God. When feeling the weight of shame the guilty one should not flee from the presence of God. The great folly of Adam and Eve after their sin was their attempt to hide. Their best course of action was the one which most terrified them. See how broken man is because of sin? That which is best seems most horrible to the sin befuddled mind. The remedy of guilt is never to flee from God. Flee to the feet of the loving Father and there plead for forgiveness. Make full confession of the fault. Trust your well being to the One who has reconciled you to Himself. Confess your sin to the Father for forgiveness.
God delights in relationship with mankind. He is ever ready to receive back those who will forsake their folly and ask pardon from Him. God’s wrath is still robed in mercy. He still stands at the door waiting for the prodigal to come home. He still delights in intimacy with His creation. Prayer is still God’s idea.
“Thus saith the LORD, the Holy One of Israel, and his Maker, Ask me of things to come concerning my sons, and concerning the work of my hands command ye me.”