1) Love 2) Joy 3) Peace 4) Patience 5) Kindness 6) Goodness 7) Faithfulness 8) Gentleness 9) Self-Control
Fruit of the Spirit: Love
God calls us, commands us to love one another. Not just conjure up feelings, but to act self-sacrificially for the welfare of others. As our supreme example, that is what God did in sending Jesus. “For God so loved the world, he gave his only begotten Son.” He gave selflessly, abandoningly for the welfare of others. That is what love is all about. Selfless abandon for the welfare of others. Putting others’ interests above your own.
Do you have someone in your life that is hard to love? You may not have feelings of love, but you are commanded by God, who knows your heart, to love them. Doing so does not simply benefit the other, but we will see when we get to the end, it is for your benefit, for your blessing, as well. A heart ruled not by love but hatred, envy, bitterness, resentment, and all these type of things are prisons for your own heart. “Well, this person violated my rights and I have a right to hate them.” But hating them locks your heart in a prison of hatred. That is not a place to be. I have been there. I have hated. “I have a right to feel that way. I have a right to have that feeling,” but God says, “Watch it. Throw it in the trash. Let go of it. Surrender all those rights to me that I might flood your life with what I want you to have. I cannot give them to you if you are holding onto hatred, envy or bitterness.”
It is for God’s glory that you bear much fruit. Yes, you will benefit, your wife will benefit, your children will benefit, your neighbor will benefit, your church will benefit, the world in general will benefit, but chiefly it is for God’s glory and reputation. Think how God’s reputation is smirched when Christians hate each other. Think how God’s reputation is smirched when someone looks at you and says, “Yeah, I know he is a Christian but he is a jerk.” Conversely, when they look and say, “How does that person get along so well with everybody? How can they forgive that guy who just did that to him? How can they have such a quiet peacefulness about that situation? That is amazing.” That brings God’s name glory. That builds God’s reputation. But if you stand there and say, “Yeah, I do it because I am just so good and kind and I have it together. I have myself all psychoanalyzed and I know how to let go of those things and pick up other things and I get to my personal space,” how does that glorify God? Instead say, “No, I cannot do it by myself, but God has been with me and God has helped me. I have people praying for me.” That builds God’s reputation and honors Him.
First Corinthians 13 centers on the preeminence of love. It says in verse one of chapter 13, “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels and have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging symbol.” Love is more important than any spiritual gift you might have. It is more important than any natural ability you might have. It is more important than the gift of knowledge, the gift of helps, the gift of mercy, the gift of missionary, the gift of pastor-teacher. If you do not love, whatever gift you have does not matter. As a matter of fact, without love all these gifts will do more harm than good. These gifts will cease to have the value God planned for them.
Verse two: “If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and knowledge... .” Love is more important than education? God says love is more important than knowing all the mysteries, knowing how it all fits together, knowing exactly how the end times are going to come down. God says without love such knowledge means nothing to Him. “And if I have faith so that I can move mountains and have not love, I am nothing.” Do you see that love is more important than your faith or belief in God? As James said (James 2:19), the devils believe but tremble because of the coming judgment on their disobedience. Galatians makes it clear. “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” One of the main themes of James is just that—faith is legitimate only as it expresses itself through love. Remember the story of the good Samaritan? Remember how the Pharisee passed by the injured man? Remember how the rabbi passed by? They said they had faith, that they believed God, but they had no love. Love is more important than faith or head belief. Verse three: “If I give all that I possess to the poor . . . and have not love it profits me nothing” Love is more important than charitable giving. Love is more important than the tithe. “You mean if I gift ten percent, if I give everything, I sell my insurance policies, cash in my retirement account, give it all away so that I have nothing, and am left sitting on the side of the road with nothing and I have not love, it does not matter? Right! God wants love in your heart more than He wants your money.
Continuing verse 3: “And if I surrender my body to the flames and have not love, it profits me nothing.” Suppose I serve Christ, I work so hard that I burn out and die of a heart attack, it means nothing to God without love. Or if I am persecuted for standing up for my faith and I do not love, it is worthless in God’s sight. It does not matter what you accomplish, what you build, what you do, if you do not love, God will not recognize it. Do you get the idea that God is serious about your love life? God is serious about how you feel, how you act toward other people. God cares, with a passion. So when God says, “love one another,” it is not a greeting card sentence. It is a command, a directive. Let us look at what it says in verse four. “Love is patient, love is kind, it does not envy, it does boast. It is not proud, it is not rude, it is not self-seeking and it is not easily angered. It keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, it always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” And then verse 13: “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love.” But faith is going to go away because when we see Jesus we do not need faith anymore. Hope is going to go away because our blessed hope is going to be realized. But love is going to go on forever. “Love never ends.” I am concerned with teaching you how to live biblically, how to live in such a way that the Bible comes out of your life and how it affects and influences the way that you live.
What kills love in our lives? In Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan portrayed Pilgrim carrying a backpack filled with stuff. It is his bad stuff, the stuff that is holding him back from following Christ and burdening his life. It is the things that kill and hold his life back, that restrain him from traveling the road that God has for him. What kind of things do we need to let go of in our lives so that we can bear spiritual fruit?
Love is patient. This has probably been one of my biggest hurdles. I have so many things going I feel like I never have time. Not enough time to sit and listen to someone. Not enough time to talk. Not enough time to visit. Love is patient. Love takes time for other people. Love is an investment of time in the other. There are things in our lives that we need to throw away. Throw away your lack of time. Simplify your life. Leave room for the things that are most important. You have heard the verse, you have heard the song--“There is a time for every season under heaven.” There is enough time to do everything that God wants you to do. There is time for everything that God wants you to accomplish.
Love is kind. This word “kind” is the word “prestos” which is translated elsewhere as “gracious.” God says love is kind, even to the ungrateful and the wicked. To be gracious means giving them more than they deserve. You may say, “They do not measure up to my standards for love. I can love some of these people but this man, no! He is on the negative scale.” And God says, “Be gracious, giving. Love them when they do not deserve it.” People respond to the gospel because they have been ‘graced’ into it, not forced into it!
Think how many times you have taken advantage of the grace of God, of the love of God. When someone takes advantage of you, takes a yard when you gave them an inch, extend grace to them as God has extended grace to you. You can crush them with your words but that will kill the love right out of them. God says, “Let it go. You owe me more than they owe you.” God says in Isaiah, “I will measure into their laps full pain.” And elsewhere, “vengeance is mine says the Lord.” Let God take care of it. They may have taken advantage of you, but do not let that destroy your heart and your life. They may have taken some of your money and backed into your car, but do not let them run over your heart as well.
Love does not envy. We see people around us that have nice clothes or have more than we have, wardrobes with fancy names and there is something in us that says, “You know, they have more than I do. And so they really do not need my love. They do not need to be cared for.” And so we hold love back. It is easy to love the beggars because we think they need it. It is easy to love the homeless person on the street because we can reach to them. But someone that has more stuff than we do, how do you love them? How do you love someone that has everything? They have stuff, but they do not have love. The need is just as great or greater because the stuff does not satisfy.
Scripture tells us in Proverbs, “Envy rots the bones.” An attitude of “I wish I had that” rots your bones. Pray for the person in that big house, in that big old box with the perfect lawn that is so uptight about everything that they are struggling with in life. Envy rots your bones. Envy is bad for your health—physical and spiritual. Let it go and let love be your guide. Love does not boast. I have a heart here with a hole in it. We try to put all kinds of things into there to build ourselves up in order to feel valued and worthwhile. And when people say things like, “You will never amount to anything. Why can’t you do anything right?” “Why can’t you be like your sister?” “Why can’t you be as good as your brother?” The wounds are so deep that the hole is more strongly felt. Some turn to alcohol and drugs to lessen the feeling. Others turn to all sorts of other pleasures and pursue them beyond their rightful bounds. The more responsible reject these ways of solving the problems but in their efforts they say, “Look what I have done. I can do this and I can do that. I am good.” Love says, “I am going to let God fill this hole in my heart. If I will boast in anything, I will boast in the Lord. I will be filled by Him and rather than me focusing on how good I am, I am going to turn it around the other way and build others up.” Rather than proclaiming what I can do, love says, “I am going to lift up, encourage, proclaim the goodness and the strengths of others.” Love is not boastful. Love is not proud; it does not puff itself up. We all-to-often try to make ourselves something special, above others. But God says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” And elsewhere, “the arrogant shall not stand in the presence of God.” Remember where your spiritual strength comes from. Remember who gave you life—physical and spiritual. Love is not proud.
Love is not rude. What does that mean? That is something that really should not be shown in church. That is something that is just indecent. I do not like how unattractive rudeness is. When things come your way, when words come your way, when you hear, your ears itch about somebody else’s dirty laundry, what do you do? Even by listening, you are taking it to heart. It kills love. Love is not unseemly. Our prayer should be, “Lord, set a guard over my mouth that I will never repeat unseemly things about somebody, something that demeans their character, that hurts who they are, saying things that are inflammatory.”
Love is not self-seeking. Love does not seek its own glory. Think about it. If you are not seeking God’s glory, whose glory are you seeking? If you are not trying to build up God’s reputation, whose reputation are you trying to build? If you are not trying to help other people understand and respect God and know that He is wonderful, kind, good, whose reputation are you building? Love is not self-seeking. It says in Amos, “Seek the Lord and live.” We seek ourselves and say, “If I can achieve this and can win these trophies, then I will feel alive. I will have something. I will have accomplished something. I will be somebody.” But Amos says, “Seek the Lord and live.” Because what did Jesus say? “I have come that you might have life and have life in abundance.” Seek after God. Seek after God’s own heart. Seek after His ways and all the things you need will be taken care of. Love is not self-seeking. It does not focus on how much you can do, but on how much God can do. A heart after God casts crowns and rewards at the Savior’s feet.
Love is not easily angered. Did you ever say something and then get one of those feelings in your throat or the pit of your stomach? Have you ever talked to someone and all of a sudden, “Yuck!, why did he say that?” It is sharp, it hurts, it penetrates to the very soul. It crushes your spirit and you just want to throw it back at them. What is God’s design? God knows you are going to get pierced to the heart at times. God may say, “Give it to me and let me heal it. I know you are brokenhearted. I know what they said was wrong. It is hurtful and they meant it. But I know you and do not let it get you down.” Do not be easily angered. Scripture says, “the anger of a man does not achieve the righteousness of God.” Do you want to walk with God in your life? Do you want to see God bless your life? Do you want to see your life characterized by God’s presence? Then you are going to have to let go of the anger. You are going to have to leave justice to God. You are going to have to not fight back, not be contentious, but let God take care of it. Love keeps no record of wrongs. “Sacrifice it to me. You bear my name. You have given up your rights. Walk with me and let me take care of those things.” Keeping records of wrongs implies revenge. We might get them publicly or in secret; they won’t even know we did it. Revenge seeking causes us to travel in the opposite direction of love. It says, “Bear with each other. Forgive whatever grievance you may have against each other. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” And we all too often forget that. Remember the Lord’s prayer? The part we do not understand, the part we do not like, “Lord, forgive us our trespasses as we forgive others.” “Lord, I want your forgiveness to be complete and unconditional.” But Jesus said, “Forgive others as I have forgiven you. And if you do not forgive your brother, I do not forgive you.” What does that mean? It means you are carrying that burden of that unforgiveness in your own heart. God says, “Let it go.” Revengeful anger, resentment, and bitterness against someone else is a sin. If you continue to carry that sin with you, how can God forgive it? How can He cleanse you from it? You have to take your hands off it, first. You have to say, “Lord, it is all yours. I leave it to you. I leave justice and retribution with you. I leave it, Lord, all to you. I will trust your work in that person’s life.”
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth. Delight in evil? What does that mean? Do you like looking for the dirt in other people’s lives? It says, “rejoices in the truth.” In the truth! What is the truth? Well, is that not the truth if I shine the light on this person’s life and if I find out there is sin and there is bad stuff in their life, is that not truth--real? That is not what it is saying. It says, “rejoices in the truth.” They are a sinner saved by grace and it is not your job to be their judge. It is your job to love them and lift them up and save a brother from sin--to heal, to help, not to knock down, but to love.
We are called to love our enemies and those who persecute us. When John the apostle was on his deathbed, when he had not enough strength even to walk to church, Jerome, one of the early church fathers tells us that John would be carried into church and all he had strength to say was, “Love one another.” And he would cry that out with his crackling voice. “Love one another,” was all he could get out and every week, week after week it was the same. And some got tired of it and said, “John, why do you not say anything else?” And John said, “Because that is what the Lord commanded and that is enough.” Love one another. That is our call, our commission.
Ecclesiastes 3:1 “There is a time for everything”
Isaiah 65:7 “I will measure into their laps full payment”
Proverbs14:30 “Envy rots the bones.”
1Thessalonians 5:11 “Encourage one another and build each other up”
1Peter 5:5 "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble."
Psalms 141:3 “O Lord, Set a guard over my mouth”
Amos 5:6 “Seek the LORD and live!”
James 1: 20 “The anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God”
Colossians 3:13 “Forgive as the Lord forgave you”
Matthew7:3 “Why do you notice the speck of dust in your friend's eye?”
When things do not go our way, what are we to do? When things arise in your life and someone does something that you cannot stand, what are you called to do? When you come across another Christian who speaks in tongues and you do not think that is right and you are not sure about all that, what are you called to do? When you meet another Christian and they drink wine and you do not, what are you called to do? When you meet another Christian and they have a King James Bible and you have the Living Bible, what are you called to do? When you meet another Christian and they just got out of prison, what are you called to do? What will make the difference in any church? What will make the difference in your life? Do it for the glory of God because we are called to be conformed to His image. And as we love one another we express the heart and soul and spirit of Jesus Christ.
Fruit of the Spirit: Joy
“Sorrow may last for a night,” these were the words of King David in one of his darkest days. Because of his sin, death was ravaging the nation and he cried out to God. He cried out to the God he knew as sovereign, merciful, and gracious. And he finished the above sentence, “Sorrow may last for a night, but joy comes in the morning.” God is not one who abandons His people. Amid the darkest days of life, we see over and over again that God steps in to bring help and hope to His children who call on Him. The God of hope stands ready to lift the hearts of the afflicted, to strengthen the spirits of the failing, to clear the minds of the confused, and replace despair, discouragement, and depression with joy.
Look at Nehemiah chapter 8. Nehemiah was instrumental in getting the walls of Jerusalem rebuilt after the Babylonian exile. He left his job as cupbearer to the king to help his people rebuild their city. He called upon Ezra the priest to read the Scriptures to the people. Nehemiah chapter 8, beginning in verse 1. “All the people assembled as one man in the square before the water gate.” And then going down to verse four, “And Ezra the scribe stood on a high wooden platform built for the occasion.” And down to verse 8, “And they read from the book of the law of God.” And then it says, “Making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people could understand what was being read.” And in verse 10, “Do not grieve (or do not sorrow) for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
When Ezra read the word of God, their hearts were quickened by its truth and by its condemnation. They needed to recognize that they did not measure up to what God wanted, to what God demanded so that they could change and learn to cling to Him. They were not to endlessly grieve but in their repentance they were to find joy. “Do not grieve for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Joy is an inner sense of hope and optimism springing from a conscious choice to rely upon God’s sovereignty and plan. Did you catch that? Joy is not only a feeling. Joy is not only exaltation. Joy is not only an attitude. These are byproducts of joy. But joy is an inner sense of hope and optimism springing out of a conscious choice that you make to rely upon Him, to rely upon His sovereignty and plan.
Notice I’m not asking, Are you happy? Joy and happiness are not the same thing. Happiness is a reaction to your circumstances. When things are good, you feel good. When things are bad, you feel bad. But God wants ‘to grow in you’ something that does not rely on your circumstances. He wants to give you something deeper, something more solid to base your heart and life on than the situations you experience. Someone might say, “I am happy when my cars are clean and run well, my family is healthy, my job is going well, and I have friends and hobbies I like.” Our lives are to be based on something more solid and more important than those kinds of things. There is nothing wrong with these things but they are not to be the foundation of your spiritual and emotional well-being. And what happens when things are not going well? What happens when friends and relatives are dying and your financial life is crumbling before your eyes?
Joy elevates your attitude above the circumstances. When things are going well you feel happy. But how deep does this sense of well-being go? Are you rejoicing in what God has done for you? Are you truly thankful? Or while things are going well, do you feel like you do not need God—you are happy just the way you are? It is sometimes hard to recognize joy in good circumstances. Where does happiness end and joy begin? Is joy there at all? If you are financially well off, that is a question you need to ask yourself. It is amid the darkness, when things are bad, that joy stands out, most. It is when you do not have your circumstances to give you pleasure, that joy becomes most clearly seen. When you are unhappy in your circumstances, joy can shine like the dawn and sustain you. When the storm clouds come in and all looks bleak, joy is there to radiate courage, wisdom, patience, and perseverance in your life. In chapter 4 of Galatians, Paul asked the Galatians a pointed question, “Who stole your joy? Joy is something that must be maintained. It is not a once for all addition to your life.
What characterizes your life? What does your life look like? Does your life radiate an inner sense of hope and optimism? Would someone describe you as joyful? Maybe they would not use that word. They might say upbeat, optimistic, or resilient. Is there something about you that people recognize that lifts you above the circumstances when things are hard and difficult?
Let us take a closer look at how God intends for you to gain and develop joy. Turn over to Philippians chapter four. Philippians is called the epistle of joy. Joy is mentioned 19 times in this epistle. Philippians 4:4 gives a simple command. “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!” This almost sounds like Paul is encouraging the Philippians, but he is actually giving a command. You are commanded to rejoice. You are commanded to have joy in your life. It is not simply an invitation--“Oh, come on, everybody. Let us stand up and cheer. Don’t worry; be happy. Come on, you can do it!” It is a command to rejoice. We think rejoicing should be a reaction, a result of something going on. But Scripture tells us that we are to rejoice, we are to reach out and grab a hold of God and His truth and rely upon that. Joy is not a reaction to life. Joy is a choice to look up to God. It is a conscious decision you make to say, “I am determined that my well-being is going to be determined by who God is, not by the circumstances around me.” Joy is a choice to look up in good times and bad times!
Jesus knew what the disciples were going to be feeling at his crucifixion. And so He tells them, “I will never leave you. I am with you always even until the end of the earth.” Joy enables you to endure in the face of adversity. That is why all the apostles stressed it. What does James say at the very start of his epistle? “My brethren, count it all joy whenever you endure various trials.” Peter says the same thing in 1 Peter 4:12-13. “Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy.” Some people will quip that this idea of Christian joy is just a psychological ploy that denies the problem. “Well, just do not think about it and it will be ok. Turn it over to God. Let it go and let God.” A sort of pollyanna attitude that refuses to deal with the realities of life. But it is far more than that because it is not based on just the natural. It is based on having an honest, genuine faith in God and trust in His plan and presence in your life. It is the result of knowing there is a God and that you are not alone in your circumstances. It is the epitome of faith. I do not want a God who is just ‘out there’, but one who is here, in my heart and life. You need a God who is with you not just one who has wound the world up and let it go. That is why Paul writes in Romans, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him so that you may overflow with hope by the power of his Holy Spirit.” That verse describes a God who wants to be with us in a personal way.
David found out the only way you can look when your life is broken is up. He said in the Psalms, “I look unto the hills, but where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord.” There is debate about what David meant. Is he looking at the hills for an army to come from Egypt to help him in this battle? It is unclear, but we know that David is not ultimately relying upon an army to come and save him. He is relying upon God to step in. The same God that stepped in when Gideon faced the Middianites and told him, “Go fight this army with a pitcher, a torch, and a trumpet. Take 300 men that are on the hillside and let me show you what I can do.” The same way He stood before Joshua and said, “Take this city by marching around it seven times for seven days. Let me fight your battle. Trust in me. Look up.” When you do not like your days, when life is in despair, look up. You have something to cheer up about. You have a God who is real and alive and stands ready to make something new and fresh that will bring true joy to your life.
Joy is a choice—to look up. Joy is rooted in God. Are you not glad it is not rooted in how strong you believe or how much you know or how good you are? It is rooted in the sovereignty and the character of God. The joy of the Lord, not God’s joy, but the joy that comes from God will be your strength. There is no way we can manufacture that kind of fruit on our own. In the Old and New Testament, God Himself is the ground and object of the believer’s joy. In Isaiah He writes, “My soul rejoices in my God, for he has clothed me with garments of salvation.” I know my God and He has dressed me and rescued me. In Psalm 43 it says, “Send forth your light, God, your truth and let those things guide me. God, my joy and my delight.” And then he looks inside at what he is feeling and says, “Why, why are you downcast? O my soul. Why are you so disturbed within me?” He sees the power and understands that God is with him, but then He looks inside and sees that it is still not right in there. What he knows intellectually has not yet reached down into his heart.
Again, we tend to equate happiness with joy but we need to realize that they originate from different sources. One comes from the world around me, my circumstances, and the other originates directly from the spirit of the living God. Chuck Swindoll writes: “Joy is a positive attitude that stems from your confidence in God, the belief that He is at work and He is in full control and that He is in the midst of whatever has happened, is happening or will happen in your life.” God is the source of our joy, it is rooted in Him, and then it ripens as you abide in and as you walk with Him. Turn over to John 15. How do you grow joy in your life? “Pastor, what do I have to do to have more joy, what are you talking about?” Jesus gives a simple description of it. You can trust His words. John 15, starting in verse 10 says, “If you obey my commandments, you will remain in my love just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in His love. I have told you this that my joy might be in you and that your joy might be complete.” What does He mean by “complete?” He means “lacking nothing, giving you everything you need to see you through every day.” And then just in case the disciples have forgotten His commands, He reminds them again in verse 12, “My command is this, to love each other as I have loved you.”
Catch what He says in John 15:11. “I have told you this so that my joy might be in you and your joy might be complete.” He has told them what? What did He tell them that relates to joy? Two things—abiding and obeying. Joy ripens as you abide in Him, as you stay connected with Him, as you build that relationship with Him in your life and walk in the ways He has outlined for you. “If you obey my commands.” What commands? Does Jesus tell them to walk on their knees over tacks to prove their loyalty? To follow a rigorous diet and exercise program? To live in rags and poverty? What? He tells them to love God and each other! John 15:10-12: “If you keep my commands, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” Joy is the natural by-product of a life that is rooted in and reflects God’s love.
What do you need in your life? What is the next step for you? And it may be different for you than the person sitting next to you. What do you personally need to do to have more joy in your life? The general command is “love” so that you can abide. But what you do and to whom you do it may vary from person to person. But before anything that has been said in this paper can apply to you, you first need to settle the most important issue. Do you know Jesus as your Lord and Savior? Have you connected your life with His? Are you born again? Do you know Him? Have you established a relationship with God through Jesus Christ? Have you invited Him personally into your life? It is not just, “I believe there is a God. I believe God is out there. I believe there is a God of creation.”
Intelligent design is obvious to anyone who is willing to see and who does not have another agenda to protect. It is not a modern concept. A well-respected Roman doctor, Galen, in A. D. 200, wrote: “How can a man of any intelligence refer all this to chance, as its cause; or if he denies this to be the effect of foresight and skill, I would ask what is there that foresight and skill do effect? For surely where chance and accident act, we do not see this correspondence and regularity of parts. Was it chance that made the skin give way so as to produce a mouth? Or if this happened by chance, did chance also place teeth and a tongue within that mouth? For if so, why should there not be teeth and a tongue in the nostrils or the ear?” Becoming a Christian involves more than recognizing what Galen recognized. It involves repentance from sin and receiving the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus Christ on your behalf. It is not a matter of simply believing God is there. It is saying, “I want God here, in my heart.” And that comes by saying, “Lord Jesus, forgive me and come into my life.”
Do you catch the difference? The invitation! God has invited you to go to Him for reconciliation. The reconciliation is completed when you accept and invite Him into your life. Saying, “God of creation, I want you in here. I invite you to mess with me, to stir up my head, to fix my heart, to slap my hands. God, come into my life and make me whole. Make me like Jesus Christ.” If you have not done that, then the rest of this makes no sense because you are looking for a God ‘out there’ that is going to fix situations for you. But above all, that does not answer the hole that is in your heart.
If you already know Him, I ask you, “Is your life saturated with Him? Is your life connected in a vibrant way to Him?” Do you see your life in connection with Him? That is what Jesus meant when He said, “Abide in me.” Connection! On a recent Monday night, five high school kids recommitted their lives to God. What does that mean? It means they have again confessed, “I need more of God in my life. I want to put my life under His authority. I want more of Him and less of me. I want to follow Him and His ways despite what the world around me is doing and saying. And I need His strength and grace to do that.” When is the last time you said that? “Lord, I want to be back with you. I want to be closer with you. There are some things in my life that need to be straightened out that are stopping me from living the kind of life I should, from doing the kind of things You want me to do.” Salvation and sanctification! Both are necessary! Salvation involves coming to God through Christ. Sanctification involves clinging to Him on a daily basis. Jesus speaking to those who were already believers said, “Abide in Me.” And we abide as we love as He loved!
Do you remember the story of David and Bathsheba? How adulterous lust led him on a downward spiral that included scheming and the killing of an innocent man. David thought his evil deeds were covered and that he could continue his life as before, but Nathan the prophet told him that God was not pleased with what he did and was not going to just ‘forget about it’. David needed to root this sin out of his life before he could continue on with his walk with God. History records that David paid a severe price for what he did. What he did that day with Bathsheba and how he arranged for her husband to be killed in battle, came back to haunt his kingship years later as those close to him revolted and attempted to overthrow him. Although David himself had repented and got his heart right with God, they did not forget and never forgave him.
God was telling David that day through Nathan that He has something more for David and that he needed to have his heart cleansed. “I have good things for you. I have joy for you. There is this thing in your life that needs to be taken away; that needs to be surrendered to me; that needs to be turned over to me. It is killing your life. It is robbing your life of my presence, of my ability and my willingness to work in your life.” David recognized it. And David chose to give it up. David wrote Psalm 51 in response to what happened with Bathsheba, her husband Uriah, and Nathan’s rebuke. Psalm 51:1-13: “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness; according to the multitude of your tender mercies, blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only have sinned, and done this evil in your sight—that you may be found just when you speak, and blameless when you judge. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me. Behold, you desire truth in the inward parts, and in the hidden part you will make me to know wisdom. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Make me to hear joy and gladness, that the bone which you have broken may rejoice. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with your generous Spirit. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners shall be converted to You.” David knew the source of joy. And he knew that joy comes from being forgiven and then following God and His ways.
Fruit of the Spirit: Peace
We do not have to walk the way the rest of the world walks and respond to life situations the way the rest of the world responds, but we can respond the way that God’s spirit empowers us to respond. Look at Galatians chapter 5. Galatians 5 describes the fruit of the Spirit and the deeds of the flesh. When things come into our lives, we have to decide how we are going to respond. Galatians 5, beginning in verse 19 says, “Now the deeds of the flesh are evident which are immorality, impurity, and sensuality, idolatry and sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions and factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such things there is no law.” Some things just do not mix. Golf and lightning storms, not a good mix. Chickens and alligators probably will never become good friends for more than two minutes. Chewing gum and hair, not a good mix. Plaids and prints. Oil and water. Some things by their very nature just seem incompatible. Sin and God, incompatible! God wants to come into your life and truly make a difference. God wants to enter and become united with your spirit. He wants to affect your life. But you cannot come into contact with the most holy God and not find out that there are some bad things in your life. You cannot come into contact with the most holy God and not have sin exposed. Also, you cannot come into contact with life’s situations and not have fears rise up. You cannot have conflict with someone else and not end up getting hurt feelings or rising anger in your life. And when this happens, Christians are called to respond in ways described in Galatians 5:22-23, not verses 19-21. It is their calling!
Where are you at in your relationship with God? Is there a barrier between you and God? Are there stresses and troubles and circumstances in your life that are causing fear to rise up or are you at odds with others who hold different values or viewpoints on issues and situations? Are you trusting God when things are good, but when you face troubles are you trying to muscle through the conflict in your own strength rather than listening to what God says and following His ways? Do you get along well as long as you stay on separate sides of the house or in your separate offices? Is it that “good fences make good neighbors” describes the way you normally respond? God wants you to see life differently and understand them and bring reconciliation, if possible, as much as it lies in your power (Romans 12:18).
If you lack personal peace, Jesus is the answer. If you lack or have a need for a peace of mind amid troubles, Jesus is the answer. If you need to bring peace to broken and disintegrating relationships, Jesus is the answer. And it is not just my say-so, it is God’s say-so and He has written it down so we do not have to try to imagine it or try to figure it out on our own. The whole Bible is about that. The whole Bible is about God seeking and providing for the reconciliation between God and man.
The theme of redemption runs through Scripture from beginning to end. Redemption is about God working for peace between Himself and rebellious people. Heaven will be a peaceful place because it is a place where God’s desires and ways are supreme and followed. Look at Ephesians chapter two. Ephesians chapter two teaches us that He is our peace. Scriptures talks about peace in three different terms--peace with God, peace with life (having the peace of God in life), and then peace with people. All three are found in Ephesians chapter two. Look at verse 12. “Remember that at that time you were separated from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise without hope, without God in the world. But now in Chris Jesus you who were once far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility.”
Let us look at how He is our peace in these three situations. How does Jesus bring these kinds of peace to our lives? What do we need to do to walk in that kind of peace, to walk His road towards peace? First of all, how does He bring peace with God? Turn over in your Bible to 1 John chapter one. First John 1:5: “God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.” That is why sin and God do not get along. They do not mix. Verse 8: “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us, but if we confess our sin he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” Do you see the contrast? One says, “I have no sin,” but the other says, “I have been cleansed by the blood of Jesus.” When we put our faith in Christ and say, “Lord, I want what you have to offer,” we are what is called “justified” which means we are declared righteous and at peace with God forever. Your acceptance and peace with God does not depend upon you, it depends upon the sacrifice of Christ that you accept as your own by calling out in faith to God. God loves peace so much, He sent His Son to suffer and die a horrible death to make it possible! It is up to you to accept it.
As Romans 5 says, “Therefore, since we have been justified through this faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus.” You may be thinking, “Well, yeah, I know that Dave. I have heard that before, but how does that kind of peace relate to the fruit of the Spirit because I just do not quite see the connection.” One of the roles of the Holy Spirit is to assure our hearts that through Christ we do have peace with God. Romans tells us, “The Spirit itself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” Is it not good to belong to somebody, to belong to a family, to have people that love you and accept you unconditionally? Second Corinthians 1:21-22 say basically the same thing: “Now he who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us is God, who also has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a deposit.” A deposit is just a smidgen of what is to follow, indicating there is going to be a lot more later. A deposit guaranteeing what is to come. That means the Holy Spirit will mix with our lives and guide us and strengthen us and convict us and train us. As Jesus promised, when He, the spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all truth. That is the promise of Jesus that He will give you His spirit to guide you into truth. The Holy Spirit is a witness in your life that you have peace with God. And your peace with God grows as you receive His offer. It is not dependent upon what you can do; it is dependent upon you accepting what He has offered to you.
Have you made peace with God? Do you stand separated from God or have you made peace with Him? Or are you just living in a truce, saying, “God I will mind my business, you mind yours and we will see each other in the hereafter, maybe, and we will work it out then.” God has made it vitally clear it is now that we have to choose to want to have a relationship with Him and everyday you are putting it off, you are cheating yourself of what God wants to do, what God can do with the help of His spirit in your life. Job got a lot of bad advice from his friends when he went through his troubles, but there is one snippet of wisdom that was wonderful advice. Job’s friend said, “Job, stop quarreling with God. If you agree with Him, you will have peace at last and things will go well for you.” We need to agree with God that we have a barrier that only He can get through. Confess it! “Though your sins be as scarlet, or crimson, they will be white as snow.” It is so that you will be acceptable and not just that your sins are gone, but then He can begin to work in your life and remove those things which destroy your relationships, your life, and your future.
Have you made peace with Him? Or are you just playing the game? Having had peace with God then enables you to have the peace of God in your life. It is knowing that He is there watching over your life. Often life seems to have a whole lot of loose ends. What is going to happen, we wonder. Does life seem to be unraveling like a knit sweater before your very eyes? Jesus tells us what we need to know amid those kinds of situations. Turn back to John 14. Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither be afraid.” I love the way the Living Bible says it: “I am leaving you with a gift, peace of mind and of heart. And the peace I give is not fragile like the peace the world gives. So do not be troubled and do not be afraid.” The word that Jesus uses for peace is the word that literally means “to bind together.” It is to take all those loose ends and to make something perfect and wonderful out of it. To take those loose ends and bind them together. Do you recognize that Jesus gave this advice, gave this encouragement, gave this command when He Himself needed it most? He is telling His disciples this literally hours before He is betrayed, literally hours before He is nailed on the cross, hours before He goes through the most horrendous suffering. Not just physical pain, but spiritual and emotional abandonment. He is telling them this out of His own heart because He has found it to be real. It is hours after this He says, “Lord, pass this cup from me. I do not want to do this, but your will be done.” Jesus was not a masochist but He endured it for the greater glory and our forgiveness. Jesus does not give us things that He does not practice Himself. Your peace with life grows as you trust in His plan, trust in what He has for you. Paul says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God and then the peace of God, which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and mind in Christ Jesus.”
You have a choice, you know. You can trust or you can worry. But all my experiences with worry is that worry sucks the life right out of you. It kills your joy, it demotivates, it paralyzes. So instead, Paul says “start praying.” He saw the difference prayer makes when you are sitting in situations of which you can be worried. Paul was in jail and he is praying and God provides a way of release for him. If you do not know what to pray when you are going through tough situations, just open up to almost any of the Psalms and you will see David praying amid trouble. Most people’s favorite is the 23rd Psalm. David is going through stress. He is going through trouble. “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.” Anybody there? Get that cancer report? Get these other things that may be going wrong in your life and you just feel like death is overshadowing you. But you have to keep reading. “Surely thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.” And boy, that is good news. “You prepare a table in the presence of my enemies.” “They are charging at me Lord,” you say. But God says, “sit down and have something to eat.” “You anoint my head with oil.” “And surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life.” By the time you finish praying that kind of prayer, you can get off your knees and with a deep breath, start walking again in God’s light and truth. Are you trusting Him to grow you amid troubles? What you have to remember and let me say this very clearly, is that everything that God is doing in your life is for your good. Everything! Can you say “amen” to that? Everything He is doing is for your good. Amen? You have a God who is sovereign and good and He is not here to bring harm and hurt to your life. Everything people are doing to you is seen by God and is not a surprise to Him and He guarantees He will use it for your good. Amen? It is like when David said, “God in whom I trust, whom shall I fear? I have no fear of mortal man, God my rock and my redeemer.” Are you trusting Him to grow you through your troubles? You see, part of this growth thing has to do with how you respond to your troubles. It is not just getting through it but allowing God to grow patience and endurance in the midst of it.
God wants to grow things in your life and one of the main things He wants to grow into your heart and life is righteousness. Do you recognize that righteousness and peace go together? Think about it. When something bad happens, when someone wrongs you, what is the first thing your dragon wants to do? He wants to roar right back. And what will that do? That will make a messy situation even messier. What does God want you to do? A gentle answer turns away wrath. When righteousness and peace go together, God brings good results. You have probably heard for years how God says, “There is no peace for the wicked.” Do you recognize that truth in this world? Those who have illicit gain and people who are trying to satisfy their lives by all kinds of different illicit pleasures find no peace. There is not the peace of God in their life and usually not peace with men, either. Isaiah says, speaking for God, “I will make peace your governor and righteousness your ruler.” Peace and righteousness work together to govern and control your life. Psalms 85:10 says, “Righteousness and peace are intimate companions.” Literally, it says, “Righteousness and peace kiss each other.” They are compatible. They go together.
You cannot attain the benefits God wants trouble to bring into your life if you respond to those troubles in sinful ways. Think about Joseph. Joseph was one who went through all kinds of troubles. And if he had not responded in godly ways, God could not have blessed and used his life. He could have hated his brothers. He could have killed his brothers. He could have become bitter and never cared about anybody else. He was lied about. He was cheated on. But he continued to trust God and so God was able to use his life and save his entire family and nation. Do you recognize that ungodly behavior creates messes and so if you respond to a mess in an ungodly way, it just compounds the problem. It is not a terribly complicated principle. But it sometimes seems pretty hard to learn. We can stoop to fight fire with fire rather than being led by God’s Spirit but what are the results? Your peace in life grows as you trust Him. The Holy Spirit works by injecting confidence and strength amid fear and dread and brings peace with life and all its struggles. And that is akin to growing peace with others.
In the passage that we looked at in Ephesians chapter two, Paul is addressing Gentile and Jewish Christians who have hated each other for years. They have been taught that way. It is like the Armenians and the Turks? It is like the Palestinians and Israelis. They have been schooled to hate. The governments and societies are focused on stirring up that hate. But God says, “I have broken down the barrier of hostility and you need to get along as one.” As Paul writes in Romans 12:18, “Let us therefore make every effort to do everything that leads to peace and mutual edification. If it is possible, as far as it depends upon you, live at peace with everyone.” So Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons of God.” When we work at preventing contention and strife in our homes, in our workplace, in our relationships, we are doing what God does, we are acting as sons of God.
It is interesting that Jesus does not say here, “Blessed are the peacekeepers,” but the “peacemakers.” It takes work; it takes effort. It could just as well be translated, “Blessed are the peaceworkers.” We have to work through conflict confidently, considerately, and constructively. It is important that the church itself not handle disagreements in the same way the world does. Do you recognize that conflict can glorify God when it is handled in godly ways? Second Corinthians tells us very clearly that God commissions us to the ministry of reconciliation. Christians are to work for reconciliation, not merely resolution. And there is a big difference. Resolution focuses on the issue. You try and find agreement or just to say, “You take care of that, I will take care of this and we will agree to disagree, and do it in separate spheres where we do not have to interact.” But reconciliation means the hearts and lives are restored. They become entwined and intermingled. They are blessed. That is reconciliation. They live in peace together.
Are there issues in your home that have become more important than the people in your life? Marriages go through that stuff all the time. “She never, he never, he just always. . .” Issues become more important than the feelings and the relationship. Are you more interested in winning conflict than restoring relationships? Can you agree to disagree without being disagreeable? Can you have unity without enforcing uniformity? Can you walk hand-in-hand without seeing eye-to-eye? Your peace with people grows as you obey His directions. And most of His directions focus on your relationships with people. To be controlled by His spirit, you are called to bear love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. Contending against false doctrines, the occult, the New Age movement with their spirit guides and false teachings, and those who dishonor God are notable exceptions. In these cases and cases like them, following Christ means standing for the truth even if it means separating from those who seek to lead people astray and turn them from God’s truth and ways. Jesus warned against trying to please everyone, standing up for little or nothing to avoid conflict. That is not what I am saying when I say “seek reconciliation.” Compromising God’s truth and God’s ways to avoid conflict with destructive doctrines and practices is sin. Seeking unity with evil has always been condemned in Scripture. So do not interpret what I am saying to mean “walk hand-in-hand when you do not see eye-to-eye with false teachers, occultists, and those who openly practice the types of sin recorded in Galatians 5:19-21 and Revelation 21:8.”
What relationships do you need more of Him and less of you? Where have solvable issues become more important than the people? Jesus is the answer to all these problems, all these barriers. When Jesus comes into the mix, your life becomes saturated with God. When Jesus comes into your heart amid problems, He gives you peace, He gives you clarity, He gives you confidence, He gives you wisdom as you ask for it, to face the problems rather than being immobilized or paralyzed by them. And when He comes into your relationships, He causes you to grow in love and become godly. It is your choice. How do you want to live? God makes it very simple. Galatians describes it very simply. You can choose to be controlled by your flesh or by His spirit. My prayer for you is that you will let it be controlled by the spirit of God and His ways.
Fruit of the Spirit: Kindness
A little girl named Lisa had missed most of the 3rd grade because she had been in the hospital. As she lay in her bed day after day looking through a window across a breezeway she saw the construction workers building a new wing to the hospital. Her curiosity got the best of her and one day she made a little sign, “Hi, my name is Lisa. What’s yours?” A couple of the construction workers saw that sign in the window and the little smiling face and they searched for and found a marker and made their own sign on some cardboard taken from an air conditioner box and wrote, “Hi, our names are Bob, John, and Matt.” The next day she said, “Hi, my name is Lisa. I’m 7 years old. How old are you?” And so they conversed like that for three or four days. And then a couple days went by and they did not see Lisa or a sign. They made a sign hat asked, “Hey Lisa, where are you?” And a nurse who had seen the process wrote a little sign, “Lisa is with Jesus. Thank you for caring” and put a little smiley face on there. The nurse saw the uplifted heart those construction workers gave Lisa, how they lifted her spirit. See, those guys could not touch her cancer, but they could touch her heart and that meant something. There are a lot of things in this world we cannot fix, that we cannot change, that we cannot make all better. We cannot help in some areas, but we can always care and express kindness to touch the heart. And that is important.
Katie and I have experienced that over the last few weeks. Some of you do not know, but Katie got an eye infection about six months ago. And when that happened, she took medication for about six weeks and it was fine. About six weeks ago she got another one in the other eye and found out it was not an infection. It was just an irritation so they gave it a lot of steroids to help it heal fast because that helps things heal fast and that is great, except when it was close to being healed, just out of the blue she got a spore infection. And spores love steroids. It is spore fertilizer, basically. And in about three or four days, that spore grew to cover her whole pupil and so she is now blind in that one eye. We do not know what is going to happen. The biggest thing, the most pressing thing on her all day long is the pain. Pray for her for ease of pain, for wisdom for the doctors and for getting her sight. There is nothing wrong inside the eye, it is just an abrasion and the scar tissue is forming on the outside of the cornea. Nowadays they have cornea transplants and other ways of dealing with things like this, so, Lord willing, she will regain her sight one way or another. But your love, cards, phone calls, bringing food by, people coming by to vacuum and to do the things she cannot do, that is making all the difference. You cannot fix her eye. I cannot fix her eye, but we can love her. And that makes a great deal of difference.
We are talking about a fruit of the Spirit that is often overlooked and much neglected because it just seems so bland. It is kind of like oranges in South Florida. You know, they are almost everywhere, just an everyday thing. But the kindness from the Spirit of God is one of the greatest fruits there is because it is what really expresses the love God calls us to express to one another. Kindness is simply love with its work clothes on. It is love that does something. It is not simply a feeling. It is a choice to express your care and concern for somebody else in tangible ways.
The best example we have of kindness came from Jesus’ own lips in Luke chapter 10. It is the story of the Good Samaritan. Someone asked Jesus, “Tell us, Rabbi, Who is our neighbor that we are supposed to love? What does it look like? Who are they? Whom are we supposed to be loving to?” And Jesus responded by telling about the experience of a Jew who was robbed and left on the side of the road that leads to Jericho. Starting off in the middle of verse 30, it says, “A Jew going on a trip from Jerusalem to Jericho was attacked by bandits. And they stripped him of his clothes and money and beat him up and left him lying half dead beside the road. By chance, a Jewish priest came along and when he saw the man lying there, he crossed to the other side of the road and passed him by. A Jewish temple assistant walked over and looked at him lying there but then went by. But a despised Samaritan came along and when he saw him he felt deep pity. Kneeling beside him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with medicine and then bandages them. Then he put the man on his donkey and walked alongside him until they came to an inn where they nursed him through the night. The next day he handed the innkeeper two denarii and said, ‘Take care of this man and if his bill runs higher than that, I will pay the difference next time I come back.’” This is the example we have of kindness—a Samaritan helping a Jew. As far as this Samaritan knew, the Jew he helped would have looked down on him had they met on different circumstances. But he was kind to him anyway.
Just highlighting again, it says, “He saw the man and he felt pity.” It is not just enough to feel something because it goes on and says, “Kneeling beside him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with medicine and bandage.” He put his spiritual work clothes on. The Samaritan did not leave the man where he was but it says he got him to a safe place and then provided for his needs in a very personal way. The Samaritan took responsibility far beyond anything that could be expected.
This story gives us some important insights about kindness. It tells us eight characteristics of kindness. First, kindness acts even when it is inconvenient. Kindness often gets in the way of our agenda. It interrupts our day. It certainly interrupted this man’s day. He was not expecting it. He was on a trip. You do not go from Jerusalem to Jericho for no reason. It is a lousy trip. It is through a dry and dangerous desert area. So he has a reason why he is going, but he stops and lets it all go to attend to this interruption. In your life, how do you look at interruptions? Do you get frustrated by them? Or are you open to the possibility that some interruptions are ordained by God as divine opportunities to show the love of God to someone. “Hey, will you serve me here? In your daytimer I noticed you do not have, ‘Be kind’ anywhere.” It is not something you always schedule. Life happens and much of it is a surprise to us. And kindness is one of the responses God want us to have to life’s circumstances. However we respond, God wants us to be kind. He wants our hearts to hold His kindness so that when it is needed it will come out. The kindness that was in the Good Samaritan came out on the side of that road. It was not planned or scheduled but when the opportunity was there he let the kindness out to the benefit of the wounded Jew.
Second, kindness puts others first. The Samaritan had to let go of his schedule and say, “This person is more important than my appointment. This person is more important than my daytimer.” Putting others first means being willing to give of our time, of our energy, of our focus.
Third, kindness is not just a matter of feelings. Kindness takes action. Kindness is love in action. It is not a matter of just ‘feeling’ kind. People can deceive themselves into thinking they are kind because they do not have any negative feelings toward someone. But when the opportunity for action presents itself they do nothing.
Fourth, kindness takes a risk. Do you recognize that this Samaritan is at risk just the same way this Jewish man was at risk? Those robbers are still in the area. They could have come upon him. But he overlooked that risk to help.
Fifth, kindness pays the price. Kindness cost this man his time, his finances, his appointments, his schedule.
Sixth, kindness finishes what it starts. The Samaritan did not just bandage his wounds and walk away--“Well, he has stopped bleeding. Now that I have stopped the bleeding I will let someone else take care of him from here on out.” But his heart and the call of God upon his life said, “I am going to finish this.”
Seventh, kindness does not seek recognition. Anybody know the Good Samaritan’s name? He is not named. The Good Samaritan does not go looking for the rabbi or for the priest or for the temple worker and say, “Hey, you guys, you walked by this guy. I am so much better than you are.” He does not look for recognition for himself. He does not leave his number and address or his pager with the innkeeper or with the person who was injured and say, “You can pay me back later.” He is not looking for repayment. He is not looking for glory.
Why does this story stand out? Because, eighthly, God’s kind of kindness is unnatural. People usually will not go as far as the Good Samaritan went. But that is the example Jesus gives us. It is not too uncommon to sympathize, “Oh, that is too bad. I sure wish that did not happen to them,” but to stop and help a perceived enemy is uncommon. It is not uncommon to be kind to someone who has been kind to us but to extend kindness to a complete stranger or perceived enemy is uncommon. And it is to this kind of kindness God calls us to live by.
Remember where this story fits in. It is an answer to the commands that Jesus said are the predominant commands—to love God and then to love your neighbor as yourself. Kindness is unnatural, but it is commanded. From this story we are able to formulate a basic description or definition of kindness--kindness is caring enough about others that we treat them with gentleness, graciousness, and generosity. With gentleness, we do not overpower them and look down upon them, but we use what we have for their benefit. With graciousness, we give them what we have even though they may not deserve it. And with generosity, we do not hold back just for ourselves. Kindness is, therefore, an attitude that manifests itself in actions. In fact, the very word for kindness is the word “krestos” which means specifically “to furnish what is needed.” Kindness is useful. Kindness is giving somebody what he/she needs for his/her physical and spiritual health and betterment.
Because kindness is a core expression of our faith, we need to be able to spot the excuses that come to our minds when we have opportunities to be kind. Any of you have an opportunity that came your way this week and you just went off and neglected it? It happens all the time. If we can identify what stops us from being kind, we have a leg up on being kind. Sometimes it is our own fear. We do not want to be rejected or misunderstood. We see the opportunity to be kind but we stop ourselves from acting because we fear what might happen to us. It is safer to do nothing. Or cynicism--“You know, I cannot help everybody. I did my duty last year.” Or bitterness--“No one helped me when I was in trouble, so that is the way we learn. It will teach them to be smarter next time.” Or impatience--“I would like to, but you know, I don’t want to take the time.” Or bottom line, just plain selfishness--“I don’t want to. I would rather do something else. I am not sure what to say or how to do or what, this could get pretty complicated. This could get pretty involved and so I want to take the easy way out and just kind of look the other way as I pass by.”
You know, the logical question that comes up is, why would you bother? Why would people bother to be kind? What is the payback? Why should we do it? It is going to be hard. It is inconvenient. It is dangerous. Why bother with kindness? First of all, because God says so. God says to do it. God says kindness is to be a priority in your life the same way love and joy and peace should be priorities in your life. “By this they will know who you belong to, by your fruit.” The things He says are the fruit of the spirit are to be priorities in your life. I came from northern California and there we have pear orchards and apple orchards. And here in Florida we have orange groves. I cannot tell the difference between an apple tree and an orange tree unless it has fruit. I cannot tell a grapefruit tree from a tangerine tree unless I see its fruit. And that is how we are identified by the world around us—by our fruit.
When people at your workplace or in your classes at school or on the football field or on the baseball team or wherever you are see you, what do they see as your fruit? What is hanging all over you? What identifies you? Is it the fruit of the Spirit? Peace, joy, patience, kindness? That is what God says is to characterize our lives. God says it. That should be enough.
But secondly, there is a reason that involves our self-interest. Self-interest is different than selfishness. Self-interest considers what is good for the self. One cannot chose what is best for self without self-interest, and that includes the claims and promises of God in Christ Jesus. Is it a healthy thing to do? Is it good for me? Will this help me achieve my goals? Think about these questions. We cannot judge whether something is good for us without asking them.
Self-interest also considers self in relation to God and others and how our actions affect each. Selfishness does not. A selfish person focuses on the self and what it wants. One cannot pursue what is best for oneself without self-interest. Otherwise, why would we choose anything we do. Read Hebrews 12:2 closely: “…looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” In a self-interest way, being kind is good for us; it makes us better people, more like Jesus Christ. Our character is transformed. Do you want to be more Christlike? Is it selfish to want that? No, it is not. It is what is best for us. Being Christlike makes us more caring and giving people--the opposite is true of selfishness. It is also a confirmation that you are a follower of Christ.
Growing deeper in Christ is not simply knowing more deep, profound truths. It is not a feeling of ecstasy, a sense of “I just feel so close to Jesus.” It is not exercising some charismatic spiritual gifts. It is letting your heart and life be conformed to the image of Christ. That is spiritual depth, knowing Him who has redeemed you and letting your character be transformed by the power of the Spirit into the character of Christ coming out of you. Deep people are people who reflect Jesus. The fruit that comes out of their lives reflects the character of Christ.
Won’t it be great to see God pouring out of your life? Would you not like to have a little faucet you could turn and see God come out of your life? I want you to think of that this week when you take a risk and express kindness to someone. “Ok, I guess I just dribbled some God on them. I wish it was a gush, but at least it was a dribble. At least something came out.” Because again, it is not natural. It is called the fruit of the Spirit, not the fruit of Dave or the fruit of Eileen or the fruit of Marsha or the fruit of Bob or Mary. It is the fruit of the Spirit. It is not something that we squeeze out. It is something God pours into us and says, “Now will you let it out?”
How many have electricity in their house? When you plug in a toaster, what happens? Does it toast? No, it just sits there, not until you put some bread in and push that thing down does it toast. Ever plug in a light? You do not have light until you flip the switch so that a connection can be made with the power source? And that is what the fruit of the Spirit is all about. Let the kindness out. You are connected to the power, now you have to turn the spiritual switch on and let it out. It is not all that hard or difficult. You do not have to know about the pre-millennial return of Jesus to be kind. You do not have to memorize all the books of the Bible to be kind. It is something anyone can do. While looking to Christ for His grace and strength, you just have to do it.
Thirdly, kindness changes lives around you. See, you can talk all day about loving someone, but until you show it, they are not really feeling it. Kindness changes lives around us one life at a time. Kindness is what puts feet and reality to our faith. It moves me to make a difference in people around us. It moves me to BE Christian not just to act Christian. To be Christian not just think Christian thoughts. To be Christian not just know about Christian information. It causes me to be different, to be like Jesus.”
You can debate with people, but you are not going to debate them into Christ. You can talk to people about Christ, but what is going to make the difference is that they sense your genuine love and concern expressed through kindness. Kindness will influence far more than eloquence. Kindness with proper teaching about grace and salvation has converted more sinners than zeal or education or debate. People think that all the gods of religion are the same. They need to know that the God of Christians is different. The God of Christians makes a difference in Christians’ lives. Is that wonderful? Is that good? Would you not like to know that something good is coming out of your life and out of your heart rather than just going to church and studying, praying and hoping something good is going to happen?
How does it work? How can I have more kindness in my life? I want some. How do I get it? First of all, you get it by just doing it. I do not have to teach you. I do not have to say, “Ok, here. Let me take your hand and you. . . .” You act kindly You stop what you are doing and do something kind for someone else. You just do it. Anyone can do simple acts of kindness. It does not matter age, gender, race, nationality. We all can be kind. God in Christ has given us the capacity. You have the capacity. Just do it.
Secondly, remember what He has done for you. Why should you do it? Look at the sacrifice God has given for us. Jesus Himself is called the kindness of God. Scripture defines Him as the kindness of God. Titus says, “…the kindness and love of God our Savior was given towards all men with the appearance of Jesus.” Jesus is the kindness of God, something we did not deserve but something exactly that we needed. Something good that we needed, something healing that we needed. He gave us Jesus. He took us when we were in our brokenness, in our unfaithfulness, in our sin and rebellion against Him and gave us exactly what we needed. When we remember what He has done for us, it causes our agenda to become less important. It causes the priorities you think are more important to fall away because you realize your life has been redeemed and is valuable because of what He has done for you.
Thirdly, you are kind one person at a time. A couple weeks ago I saw big grocery bags of shoes in the office next to mine. People were bringing shoes to go to Guatemala. Now, those shoes can be given in two ways to those kids down there. They can take them out and dump them in the middle of a basketball court in downtown Comintacilla and say, “Anybody that wants some shoes come and get some. We care about you and we love you. Come get these shoes that the church has given you.” And they get shoes and say, “Thank you, church people.” Or they can be given to individuals. One of the team that went down there this last time took a bag of those shoes and went around to one of the villages and with wet wipes wiped off the dirty, dusty feet of little kids and put clean socks on them and then put shoes on them. Those kids felt loved and cared for because someone took a personal interest in them, they were personally kind to them.
Who can you be kind to? In your own world, who are you called to be kind to? You are called to be kind to your family, to your mom and dad, to your kids, to your brothers and sisters, as well as strangers and enemies. In good family and friend relationships there will be enough exchange of kindness that a bond is created between the parties. But realize we are not called to be kind just where a bond of caring exists. Jesus was kind to his enemies—because that is what kindness does and that is who Jesus is. The Good Samaritan helped that wounded Jew without expecting anything in return. That is what kindness does. Jesus is very clear on that. Jesus told the Pharisees, “Hey, you have been taught to love your friends and hate your enemies. I say, love your enemies. Be kind to them.” It is very clear teaching.
When someone has attacked you, when you feel put down and hurt by someone else, it is hard to be kind in return. We feel like it is payback time. I want you to remember the heroes that you see in many movies. He is ready to put a spear through the villain’s heart and there is a part of us that wants that to happen. “Kill him; he deserves it ” Jesus wants us to rise above vengeance. With Jesus as our example, we learn that when you express kindness to someone who has expressed dirt to you it is heroic in His sight. It may not be entertaining for prime time TV, but it pleases the One who is watching your life. Proverbs 19:22 defines the measure of a man. “What is desired in a man is kindness,” the New King James says. It is not his biceps, not the car he drives, the size of his house, the size of his paycheck or how many kids he has that matters to God. In God’s economy, or way of looking at things, the measure of a man is his kindness. And Proverbs 31:26 speaks to the women. In describing a good and wise woman it says, “She opens her mouth with wisdom, and on her tongue is the law of kindness.” Kindness is the measure of a man and a woman.
Kindness is contagious. It is like a smile. You ever notice how contagious a smile can be? Scientists have done research and they say you genuinely smile because you feel good on the inside. And that is true. But you know what, they have also done research and found that when you smile on the outside, you generally feel better on the inside. And it is the same with kindness. Sometimes we are kind because we feel good or feel the ever-present grace of God. And at other times, we do not feel so good but we choose to be kind anyway and that causes us to feel better. We cannot always ‘feel’ like being kind but when we hold God’s kindness close to our hearts and minds, we can look for ways to be kind despite how we feel. Let us seed kindness in our families and communities so that the grace of Christ may be known to all.
Fruit of the Spirit: Goodness
How are you doing? Are you doing good? Hopefully by the end of this paper you will be saying, “Well, I am not really doing good but I am doing better than I deserve.” Let me explain. Look at Luke 18. In Luke 18 Jesus tells a story about a man who came to Him with a very important question. Now, to set the stage a little bit, they are sitting out in the country with kids coming up to Jesus to see and hug Him, and He says, “Unless you (adults) become like these little kids, you will never enter into the kingdom of heaven.” These kids know how to trust. Unless you trust God with the same kind of blind abandon these kids trust their parents, you are not going to get into heaven. It is not just about what you do or how much you have. At that point (Luke 18:18), a rich young ruler comes up to Jesus and asks, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And look what Jesus says. “You call me good. There is no one good but God Himself.” Jesus was not denying that He was God, but He was questioning this young man’s criteria for pronouncing someone good. From the mouth of Jesus we hear that no one is good but God alone. As we look the world over both now and in history we seem to find a few people that most of us would call good. But Jesus says there is no one good except God alone. Jesus must mean something different by the word “good” than we do.
Jesus says to the young man, “You know the commandments?” And then He starts listing some of them. The young man replied, “I have obeyed all these commandments since I was a child.” But Jesus challenges that self-appraisal. “There is one thing you lack…sell all you have and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” And it says he walked away. Evidently it takes more than someone who has never committed adultery, murdered, stolen or dishonored his parents to be deemed “good.”
Contrary to this man’s self-appraisal, I want you to recognize that this man had not kept all the commandments because Jesus is convicting him of breaking the first two. Our first thought when Jesus is telling him to sell all he has and give it to the poor before following Him is that Jesus is making an outrageous demand. Can you not have money, can you not have possessions and follow Jesus? Yes, you can. Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea were rich and they followed Jesus. So, yes, it is possible to have plenty of money and still follow Jesus. Many Bible colleges and Christian institutions were started by people with a lot of money who decided to serve God with that money. Can we follow Jesus and own a car? Own a house? Yes, we can. So what is the problem? What is He saying here? Do you remember what the first commandment is? “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” What is the second commandment? “Thou shalt worship no graven image, no idol, nothing on heaven or earth but worship me alone. You shall trust none other but me alone.” Jesus is saying to this man, “You have trusted in your wealth and you are trusting in your wealth and all those things that you have. You are not abandoned to God. You are holding on to some things in this life more than you are willing to let go and hold on to God.” Living in such a rich and materialistic culture we have to be careful of that same thing.
Now we say, “Well, I have been faithful to my wife and I have not killed anybody and I try not to lust after my neighbor’s car.” But remember the first two commandments center on putting God in His rightful place in our lives. And that is why He can say to this man, “No one is good except for God alone.” I bring this up because we are talking about the fruit of the Spirit and “goodness” is the sixth one listed in Galatians 5:22-23. We have to ask ourselves. “If we are not really good, how can goodness come out of our lives?” Most of you guys are pretty good husbands. Most of you gals are pretty good wives. But let me ask you, wives, would your husbands still think you are good if he knew everything that you thought? What about you, husbands? There are natural things that come into our minds that are not good. We recognize that. And if they were acted on we would destroy our marriages, most all our relationships, and eventually ourselves. How can something that is truly “good” come out of our lives?
This young man is basically asking Jesus, “How good do I have to be to get to heaven?” And Jesus basically answers, “You cannot be good enough.” The Christian gospel addresses this issue. You cannot be good enough to get into heaven to inherit eternal life so it must be a gift of God. And this gift of God is founded in the death, burial, and resurrection of the Son of God on our behalf and our personal acceptance of it to our lives. Making that decision to accept Christ as personal Lord and Savior and then moving on and letting Him become Lord and Savior in our lives is what it means to be a disciple. In and of ourselves, we are not good enough to earn God’s favor. There must be something more for us to understand.
If we are called to be “good,” we need to recognize a couple things. The first thing we need to recognize is that God is good--God Himself is good. Goodness does not simply consist of the outward things that we do. Goodness, also, consists of the inward motivation for the action. Goodness comes down to the motivation and the attitude behind the things that we do, coupled with the actions themselves. Both must be deemed good. Robbing a bank to feed the poor is not a good thing. The good ‘motive’ of feeding the poor does not justify an otherwise bad action. It does not make robbing banks “good.” By requiring a good motivation and attitude behind an action for something to be called good is not an ends-justifies-the-means philosophy. We can do good things to gain a good reputation so that others will respect us, so others will think that we are good. We will put on a good “front” as we call it. But God calls us to be good all the way through. And that means governing our lives according to His ways and attitudes—with Jesus as our example and the Holy Spirit as our inner source for spiritual and moral strength.
God is good and so we recognize, secondly, that we are not. You are not good. All of us have fallen, all of us. As the Scripture says, “No one is good. Not even one.” All have rebelled against God and have fallen short of His goodness. All have fallen short of that.
God is good, we are not, and that brings us to the next question. How can goodness come out of our lives? The first thing you have to recognize is that God is good to you. Do you see the fingerprints of God on your own life? If you do not, you will not have any motivation to let Him be reflected to the lives of others. To know that God is alive, you must see the fingerprints of God in your life. How many like those crime shows? CSI? Law and Order? Monk? We have these mysteries and it is all about tracing down the culprit. We are trying to track down all these details so we can solve the crime. How did this happen? Who is responsible for this action? Do you see the fingerprints of God on your life? Fingerprints are something you really have to look for to see and most of us do not look very hard to see what God has done in our lives. We see just happenstance, circumstance, luck, the fortunate, the beneficial, but seldom give God thanks.
Katie is able to see. The pain is gone in her eye. That is great. That is so good. Al is able to walk. The pain is gone in Al’s back. Are we not really glad he has a good doctor? We want to give doctors credit and doctors deserve it because they are doing what God has enabled them to do, but without the healing taking place they cannot be successful. And much of that healing has nothing to do with them. We tend to see the fingerprint of God at some great event. You see the fingerprint of God on the Israelites crossing the Red Sea. Oh man, that was definitely the fingerprint of God But do you see it in the smaller things? Do you see it on the surgeon that worked on Katie’s eye? This doctor was able to take a cornea off of someone who died and cut it off that eye and cut open her eye and stitch it back on. But the doctor cannot make it heal. There are certain things the doctor cannot do. God and His design had to cause all those things to work together. God has given us the intelligence, the ability to have hospitals, to have doctors, to have technology, but those things all developed because of our God-given abilities.
We think, well, this is just the world in which we live. But did the intricacies of the human body with its recuperative powers just pop into existence from chance. Hardly It is when we believe and behave consistent with His design that health and healing are best. God gave us wisdom. God gave us understanding about how things work and God is able to work all these kinds of things together for our good. God is at work and God’s fingerprints are all over your life. We take for granted things that happen to us every day and do not give God any credit.
Do you recognize God’s goodness to you? When you do, it should move your heart. That should change your heart to be good to others. Psalm 145 says, “I will proclaim your great deeds. They will celebrate your abundant goodness.” Do you celebrate God’s goodness to you? In whatever form it comes? Because we do not live in the ‘garden’, our lives are going to have struggles. Jesus promised that we will always have trouble in this world. But He also promised us He would be with us if we seek Him through it. When you see the goodness of God in your own life, you begin to see the goodness of God in you. Not just God’s goodness to you but in you because God wants you to know He is alive and well to work and transform your heart and life.
Hebrews 13:20 says, “May the peace of God equip you with everything good for doing his will and may he work in us what is pleasing to him through Jesus Christ to whom belongs all the glory forever and ever. Amen.” And that seals it. It is to His glory forever and ever that God is working in you; not just on you, not just to you, but in you. He is out to transform and change your heart and life. Our natural bend is selfish. Our natural bend is to “take care of me.” Our natural bend is to focus on ourselves and what is pleasurable for us and let everybody else take care of themselves. But God is at work transforming our hearts to give us a heart of compassion and mercy toward others.
An eye-for-an-eye philosophy is not to characterize our personal lives. “They were a snot to me so I get to be a jerk to them.” “They were mean, so I get to be mean back.” Jesus corrected that. He said, “That is what you have heard. I tell you something else. I tell you to love your enemies.” Because you know what an eye for an eye means? It means you get to be just as big a jerk as they are. If someone is mean and nasty to you, you get to be mean and nasty back. Do you want to be mean and nasty? Someone does you wrong, you get to do wrong to them. Is that Christ like? Jesus wants us to rise above it and let our hearts be free from retaliation, from bitterness and resentment, from being an eye-gouger.
Instead, we are to bring sight to the blind. Not necessarily physical sight, but help them to see the error of their ways—a better way. Help them to see the loving God who cares for them and wants to make a difference in their lives. God’s goodness in you, to you and then finally, through you.
Ephesians 2:10 tells us that “we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works which He has prepared in advance for us to do.” It says you are “God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus.” That means He has brought you into His family. Created in Christ Jesus. Brought into His family, welcomed in. In Him means His life is being poured into your life, becoming more Christ-like. It is not because you are better but because Christ is pouring His life into your life. Created in Christ Jesus for what? So you will be able to stand taller and be proud and people will look up to you? No, because you have been created in Christ Jesus to do good works so you can be the servants of others that are around you. That is exactly what Jesus was teaching His disciples all through His three years of ministry--to be the servant. He who wants to be the greatest should be the servant of all, caring for the lives of those others around you. Let God build your life. Let God strengthen your life because you cannot live to please Him in your own strength. You will just make a mess of it. But as you humble yourself before God and let Him pour His life and His spirit into you that He can flow through you to touch the lives of others you will be doing “good.” It is not “you need to make an impact on other people because you are such a neat guy.” I know a lot of fabulous men that have a lot of good things to offer other people in training and abilities and business or automotive things or in sports. But the biggest difference people can make in other people’s lives is connecting them with God--to transform their life. Not only to make them a better athlete because those athletic skills are going to go away. Not only to help them be a success in business because business things are not going to satisfy and businesses are going to fail. But a heart that is conformed to God is going to go on and on to be strengthened and to be a strengthener of others. For you are created in Christ to do good works which He, catch this, has prepared for you. He has things for you to do.
Do you have a to-do list this week? Do you have a day timer? Do you have a work calendar? Do you have things on your list? Have you let God on that list? Have you given God time in your busy schedule? There are things that the world will put on your list and many of them are right and needed. But are you giving God any room on your day timer list? “Lord, what would you have me to do this next week? What have you prepared for me to do?” Now, the bad news is He probably is not going to put it on your day timer. That would be nice if it just appeared and you knew exactly what you were supposed to do that day. But God is going to nudge you and may disrupt your schedule. I was on my way to Sears and God stopped me. I did not like it. It was a flat tire. That was the only way God could stop me. I am glad He did because of the person I met. The things that you think may be an interruption may be the hand of God because sometimes the only way He can get your attention, the only way He can stop you is to cause something to go wrong so you have to stop. Because, otherwise, we have our agenda--things to do, people to see. And for God to work His will in your life, He has to say, “Cancel that appointment.” Make something out of it. Let God show you what He would have you to do.
To work His will in us and through us is not just a matter of us trying harder. It is us surrendering to God, letting Him have His way in our lives. Let God’s goodness come out of you. That is the fruit of His goodness and it is because you remain in Him that fruit will be born. Jesus says, “Apart from me you can do nothing.” Oh, you can do some nice things once in a while, but even that can be self-serving. As you abide in Him, Jesus says, you will bear much fruit because it is His life and strength coming through you.
Let me finalize this by asking you, “How good are you?” Are you doing good? How good do you have to be to get to heaven? You cannot do it. I cannot do it. But Christ on the cross has done it for us. You say, “Yes, Lord. Yes, Lord, I want that and you have created me, you made me a project. I am your workmanship for good works, created in Christ Jesus. I yield myself to you.”
Now, as He looks at your life, what do you lack? He told this young man, “This one thing you lack.” What would He put His finger on in your life? What is that area that you are putting in front of God? Saying, “God I trust you, but I just do not trust you enough to do that. Lord, I love you and care about you but I also love this other thing.” Are there things that are going on in your life that are corrupting your mind, your attitude, your spirit so that you cannot serve God wholeheartedly? Where is God putting His finger saying, “You need to let that go. You need to remove that from your life so that my goodness can flow in you and through you and leave my fingerprints on the world around you.”
God wants to touch this world. He wants to touch your community and He wants to do it through your life--one life at a time. One life at a time is the way God works. And you say, “I am just a high school kid.” “I am 81 years old.” Is there anybody here that thinks that an 81-year old man named Al cannot touch a life? We have seen him touch our lives. We know he can touch a life. Is there anyone here who says, “I know God could not use me to touch anybody’s life?” If that is what you think, then you are incorrect. You are God’s workmanship. Let His goodness flow out of you.
Fruit of the Spirit: Faithfulness
What image comes to your mind when I say the word, “faithful?” What do you think of? What picture? For many of us it is Old Faithful—that geyser. It is the idea of repetition, the same thing happening over-and-over again. I want to expand your view of faithfulness because it goes far beyond what is expected, what is normal, what is mundane, what is routine. Faithfulness is not weak, it is not sour, it is not soft. Faithfulness brings strength, brings courage and brings integrity and adventure to your life.
Faithfulness in our world is about strength. It is about courage to do something that is hard. It is about integrity and putting yourself to the test. How many men, how many women do you know that have collapsed and failed the test of faithfulness? It destroys lives, it destroys families, it destroys businesses. Faithfulness is vital and important to our lives and to everything that we do. I want to give you a bigger picture of faithfulness. When you think of faithfulness, I want you to start thinking about strength. Strength to do that which God calls you to do with His power even when you cannot begin to do it yourself. Also, faithfulness means courage, the ability to do what seems impossible, what you would not even want to try on your own; courage to do what is right, to stand out from the crowd, courage to be right. And that brings us to integrity. Integrity means willing to stand up and do what is right even when you may be standing alone. It is the ability to stand up and do what is right thing when no one else may see you do it. In summary then, faithfulness means being able to stand up and do the right thing even when others around you do not deserve it, when you have every excuse to get out of doing the right thing for somebody else and you choose to be faithful because you realize you are not doing it for them. You are doing it for God.
The word that is used in Galatians 5:22-23, “the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith” (or “faithfulness”), if you have the King James says literally “faith” because the word is the same exact word that is used elsewhere through the New Testament for the word “faith.” It is translated “faithfulness” in many versions because by context it sometimes describes a quality, as it does in Galatians 5. But the quality is not simple faithfulness like doing the right thing over-and-over again. It means more than that. It means faith full-ness, being full of faith, having a faith that moves you to right action. Faithful in this way is the geyser. Faith full-ness is courageous and strong, and describes a person of integrity that moves beyond what is normal and natural. When you think of faithfulness, I want you to think of taking a great risk in moving ahead and getting through a difficult situation not simply by your own strength but by God’s strength.
There is someone in the Bible who typifies faithfulness but you usually do not think of him in these terms. He is one that typifies strength, courage, and integrity. Who are we talking about? We are talking about Joseph. Turn to Genesis 37 because we are going to do a brief survey of the 13 chapters that deal with the life of Joseph. And as we go through them, I want you to notice his strength, courage, and integrity.
Chapter 37, verse one: “Jacob settled in the land of Canaan where his father had lived. This is the story of Jacob’s family. When Joseph was seventeen years old, he often tended his father’s flock with his half brothers, the sons of his father’s wives Bilhah and Zilpah.” It was a family of two different mothers and so they had inherent squabbles, inherent jealousies. It says, “But Joseph reported to his father some of the bad things his brothers were doing.” Now, no one likes a tattletale. But what I want you to catch here is, he is not tattling. It is not a tattletale situation. He is willing to take a stand for truth to say the right thing even when it is unpopular.
Who does Joseph’s loyalty belong to? His brothers are going to hate him for this. But the faithfulness that is in this seventeen year old kid says, “My loyalty belongs to my father more than to you guys and it belongs to God above all.” And so as a man of integrity, to be faithful means to stand up for the truth even though he will lose friends over it, even though others and the easy thing to say would be what pleases everybody else. Faithfulness takes a stand for truth.
Now verse four says, “But his brothers hated Joseph because of this and because of his father’s partiality.” Go down to verse 14. There we see the next test of Joseph’s faithfulness. “Jacob said, ‘Go and see how your brothers and flocks are getting along.’” The brothers had gone up north to the fields to pasture the flocks and Jacob wanted to know how they were doing. It had been a couple months since they had gone and he wanted to make sure everything was going ok, to see if they had any needs. So he sends Joseph up there to do that. Now that does not sound like a big task except he has to walk a long way. He cannot get on his Harley and ride up there. He cannot get in his Buick and motor up there. He does not have a horse to ride. He has to walk up there. Hebron is about 20 miles south of Jerusalem and Shechem and where he is going is another 30 miles north of Jerusalem. He is walking 50 miles through the desert. It is just sand, dust, sagebrush, and cactus. It is not a nice journey, but he does what his father asks. He is faithful to the task.
Look what happens though. Verse 14: “Jacob said, ‘Go and see how your brothers and the flocks are getting along.’ Joseph traveled to Shechem from his home in the valley of Hebron.” And he gets there and what does he find? There is no one there. His brothers are not there. Now, he had every reason to say, “My father sent me to Shechem. I can go back now and say, ‘They weren’t there father. They went someplace else.’” And he could say, “I don’t know where.” He could have lied, but he followed through to the task because his father said, “Go and see how your brothers are doing and bring me back word. I want to know how they are doing.” So he is faithful, courageous. He fulfills the trust that is given to him.
In Chapter 39:1 we read that Joseph arrived in Egypt as a slave with the Ishmaelite traders and is purchased by Potiphar, a member of the personal staff of Pharaoh. Potiphar was the captain of the palace guard. He was a pretty high official. Notice what it says, “And the Lord was with Joseph and blessed him greatly.” It does not say “the Lord blessed him greatly and the Lord was with Joseph.” And there is a profound difference. Joseph had an attitude knowing that the Lord was with him and because of his attitude of trust in God, God was able to bless his life. Joseph had every reason to be mad at God, to be angry and frustrated. “Lord, I have been doing good. I have done the right things. I have gone all the way for you. I had excuses to go back and I did not. I went to where my dad said and I am telling the truth. I did all the right things and look what happens to me. I am not going to trust you no more, Lord.” Is that not the way it feels some times for us? When we do all the right things and things still work out bad, you want to say, “God, where are you?”
Joseph knows God is still with him and I want you to catch this. Because he knows God is still with him, he trusts him, has an open heart toward God so God can still bless his life. Do you think God could have put him in Potiphar’s house to become in charge of the whole place if he had a mean, bitter, angry spirit? But because his heart is right, because he trusts God, God can bless him.
Faithfulness means keeping a right attitude about who your Lord is. Courageously trusting God even when the situation is terrible, when you do not like what is going on, when you are getting the bad medical report, when you cannot get things straightened out in your life, when you cannot fix other people, when you just hate it. This world is still the world and people are still people, but the Lord is still God and He is the one who is in charge of your life and the one you are responsible toward. Having that picture of things makes all the difference as we live in a world that is often hostile to God and His ways.
Look down in verse 4. It says, “Joseph became favored by Potiphar and Potiphar soon put Joseph in charge of his entire household and entrusted him with all his business dealings.” Again, why did Potiphar trust him? Because Joseph had demonstrated his faithfulness and an attitude of trust and a soft heart that Potiphar, even this pagan Potiphar saw and said, “This is a man that I can trust.” He did not see an angry, vindictive, frustrated person. He saw someone who is willing to be used and trustworthy. That is a man who is faithful.
Now verse six goes on and describes a problem that starts developing. “Now Joseph was a very handsome and well-built young man and about this time Potiphar’s wife began to desire him and invited him to sleep with her.” And verse ten goes on, “She kept on putting pressure on him day after day.” It was not a one-time thing. This was going on day after day and notice what it says, “But he refused to sleep with her and he kept out of her way as much as possible.” Again, recognize what is going on here. How old is Joseph at this time? He was seventeen just a few verses ago. He was eighteen, nineteen, twenty years old at the most. Does Joseph have any hormones? Yes, and here is this brunette with bangles and dangles and belly dancing and saying, “Come get me.” And what does he say? Does he do what is natural? No, he is faithful. “But he is not married. He would not be the one committing adultery,” you say. Oh yes, he would be. Adultery involves more than just the one who is married. The one who is having the sex with a married person is also committing adultery. The one who destroys a marriage is also guilty of adultery and fornication.
Joseph is standing up for truth and the ways of God. He is also preparing himself for a new bride that he is going to have a few years later. So he stands up for truth even when it is going against every natural hormone in his body. We who watch from afar cheer him on. But what happens to him? He gets thrown into prison. She falsely accuses him of rape. Again, Joseph had good reason to be mad at God. “God, this is the second time. I do the right thing and then you let me down again. I feel like a yo-yo, Lord. I am doing good, bad, good, bad. I keep doing good, but my life keeps going up and down, up and down.” And God says to him and us, “That is ok. I have a hold of the string. I will bring you back up. I have not let go of the string. I have not let you go. You are going to come back up. I have a plan for you but you have to keep your attitude right and your faith and trust in Me.”
Let us go down to verse 21. He is now in prison. It says, “But the Lord was with Joseph there too.” Joseph recognized that God was with him while he was in jail. Now if I am in jail, I am not thinking God is with me. I am thinking, “Lord, you have forsaken me.” Joseph has more faith than I have. He does not say, “I am in jail, what good can I do now?” But you know what ends up happening? It says, “The jailer,” verse 22, “put Joseph in charge of all the other prisoners.” That is a good thing. I would like to choose my roommate. I would like to be in charge of all the other prisoners. God is taking care of him there as well. And again, the jailer knows this is a man that he can trust. Joseph is faithful. “He put him in charge of all the other prisoners and over everything that happened in the prison.”
Then in chapter 40 Joseph interprets dreams. Now this is just preparation for what God has in mind because there is a cupbearer and Pharaoh’s chief butler that are there in prison and Joseph interprets their dreams. And then, the cupbearer, who has the good dream and is brought back into Pharaoh’s favor gets to go back and tell Pharaoh about Joseph. But notice what it says. Verse 23: “And Pharaoh’s cupbearer promptly forgot everything about Joseph.” Is that not the way it goes for faithful people? They put their trust in somebody else and that person lets them down. He put his trust in that man and then he totally lets Joseph down and as a result Joseph has to stay in prison two more years. Does Joseph have good reason to quit on God, to stop living virtuously, faithfully because people have let him down? He is trusting God and he is still in prison for two more years. But God has a plan that involves Joseph. I want you to recognize that even though Joseph was put in the pit, even though Joseph was dragged in chains, even though Joseph was put in prison, even though Joseph was accused of raping Potiphar’s wife, all these things going bad in Joseph’s life, Joseph’s life is still blessed by God.
Despite all those years he is in prison, Joseph is still blessed by God. What do I mean? You can be in two different prisons. You can be in a prison with bars or you can be in a prison with bitterness. And I will take the prison of bars over the prison of bitterness. I will take the prison of bars over the prison of anger and frustration and hatred. You see, Joseph is in a physical prison, but his heart, his spirit is free because he rests in God. Where you are physically stuck is not the most important thing. It is your attitude that matters most. When you can say, “It is all right. God is taking care of me,” you are free. If you are faithful, it does not matter where you are. It matters who is with you. If you have God with you and you sense, “Ok, I do not like this. I do not like the situation, but I am not here alone. I have a God who is watching over and is preparing me,” you can be free in your heart.
Two years later, it says in chapter 40, verse one, Pharaoh has a dream. Pharaoh sent for Joseph and said to him, “I have had a dream and these other guys cannot interpret it. Can you interpret it?” And Joseph says, note what he says in verse 16, “No, I cannot do it. Pharaoh, you are the mighty king of all of Egypt and pretty much of all the world right now and I cannot do anything for you, but God can.” But God can! Joseph is not just being self-effacing, “Oh, I cannot do anything.” The natural tendency here is to say, “Yes, I can tell you.” But he is not trying to elevate himself. He is saying, “I cannot do it, but God can.” This is a key moment in the entire Joseph story. There are two ways this could go. By taking credit Joseph would be looked upon as a wise man in Egypt. Or, he could be known as the man who is connected with God. And that does not go unnoticed by Pharaoh because look in verse 45. Pharaoh gives him a new name. First of all, it says he puts him in charge of the entire land of Egypt because he tells him the dream and explains what it means. And it says, “Pharaoh named him Zaphenath-paneah.” Zaphenath-paneah, that is a nice name. I think I like “Joseph” better, except what does “Zaphenath-paneah” mean? Pharaoh gave this man in the kingdom of Egypt the name “God hears and answers.” This man’s name is “God hears, God speaks and answers.” It implies that this man knows God and that God is real. That is going to get people’s attention because you are not just speaking to a man who did something good for Pharaoh, you are speaking to the man that got an answer from God and that this God is alive and making these things happen.
Pharaoh recognizes it. Pharaoh named him Zaphenath-paneah and gave him a wife named Asenath. Out of all the men in the Old Testament, this is one of the few that is faithful to his wife. I was so glad to find that. I was beginning to wonder, is there a man in the Old Testament who is faithful to one woman for his entire life? Yes, his name is Joseph and he again had every reason not to be. He had every reason to come up with excuses and say, “Lord, this wife you gave me, she is not the one for me.” First of all, he did not pick her. Anybody here want someone else to pick out your wife? “Have I got a girl for you ” And Pharaoh gives him the daughter of the high priest of Ra, the high priest of the pagan culture. And this is the woman that Pharaoh gives him and he says, “Ok, I am married to her for life and I am going to raise my family with this woman.” All kinds of excuses are possible. The best man and the best woman I know who get married can be at each other’s throats within a few years if not a few weeks. There is baggage that builds up and I do not think Joseph and Asenath were any different. But Joseph recognized that God, through Pharaoh, had given him this bride. It was not simply Pharaoh’s choice but God had worked through him. And I personally wonder what positive effect Joseph had on the religious scene during his life in Egypt.
As far as we can tell, Joseph is free from the burden of guilt and bitterness in his life. Joseph was patient enough to wait for God to turn the evils done by men into good, to redeem the storms for His own glory. Joseph may have thought something like, “I may not like you guys, but I know what God has done and I have great confidence in Him.” That is what faithfulness looks like. Faithfulness is not based on your ability. “Oh no, now I have to try to do the hard things. I have to be like that geyser squirting up all the time. I do not feel like squirting but I am going to squirt up. I do not want to do it, but ok, I am going to.” It is not your ability, but your faith in God’s ability coming through you that matters.
There are four simple things to do to grow your faith, so that Joseph’s pattern can be imprinted on your life. First, commit yourself to God’s way. You say things like, “Lord, you have said this very clearly, ‘thou shalt not, thou shalt,’ therefore I will, I won’t. There are some real clear directions you give me for my life and I am going to follow them. There are things where I have my choices. Some things are not very clear. Lord, I trust you will make clear the things I do not understand right now. But the things you have said clearly that I am to do and not to do, I align myself with those.” You commit yourself to God’s way.
Secondly, choose faith full-ness, not just faithfulness. If you choose just faithfulness, you are going to start saying, “Oh, I have to do it. I have to make myself do it” rather than “Lord, I do not want to do it. I do not think I can do it, but Lord, with your help I am going to be full of faith and I am going to trust you to work and let your light come out of my life.” Faith full-ness!
And then thirdly, confess your failures. Say, “Lord, you know I have blown it and I know I have blown it and that is my reminder that I am weak and I will blow it again. I will blow it now without your help. Lord, I confess that I need your help.” “I was silent,” it says in Psalm 32, “and my bones withered, but I confessed my sin and he restored my health.” Recognize your failure and recognize God’s ability to bring strength to your life.
And then finally, connect yourself with trainers. People who would stand beside you and say, “You can do it ” Rather than someone who says “Ah, you will never do it. You ought to give up right now.” Are your friends strengtheners of your life or are they naysayers? Do they bring health, do they bring good things, do they bring power and strength to your life or do they undermine your faithfulness? “Oh, if he did that to me, I tell you what I would do to him.” Yes, tell me what you would do to him so I will know what I should not do. Because what you are saying to do is the natural thing to do and I know that is what God says I should not do. Do your friends undermine your faith or do they strengthen your faith?
I do not know how many of you guys, how many of you ladies are part of a small group, a crew of three, four or six other guys or gals that meet together on a weekly basis just to strengthen your life. I have a group of guys I have been with for about 12 years. I would not be here today if it were not for them. They have strengthened my life, to carry through on the obligations, on the commitments I have made, to be faithful when it was hard and when I did not want to continue anymore. Being faithful causes you to do what is right and then wait for God’s blessing. Faithfulness will bless your life with integrity, with strength, and with courage in order that you can live for Him regardless of what else is happening around you.
Fruit of the Spirit: Gentleness
Excluding Jesus, the Son of God, Who is the greatest man in the Bible? A lot of people make the case for Paul because of all the things he did, his travels, his emphasis on the churches, and all the things he suffered. Or how about king David, a man after God’s own heart? But in my opinion you probably cannot get past Moses. If there is one man that stands out in the Bible, particularly the Old Testament, it is Moses. And I want to paint a little clearer picture of Moses for you so that you will understand why I think he is the greatest biblical figure, next to Jesus. We think of mighty Moses, the leader of the Israelites, the one who stands and leads the charge, the one who divides the waters, the one who brings water from the rock, the one who raises the staff of healing for all the people of Israel. The leader who carries two million people through forty years of wilderness wandering. I would not want to do that. What a horrendous task He is the one who goes before Pharaoh and declares, “Let my people go ” That sounds like a pretty awesome leader, does it not? But that is not why I chose Moses. I have another reason for choosing Moses.
Turn to Numbers 12. I want to show you something that you maybe have never seen about Moses’ life. Before we look at Numbers 12, I want to remind you that Moses has already been dealing with a lot of grumbling people as they move from place to place in the wilderness. Leaders will always have to deal with criticism but Moses had a throng of two million people to deal with. Imagine that you have to walk every day for 20 miles and take your family and all your stuff with you. Would anybody get tired of that? The first day it is a great adventure. But after a few days people just want to stop and stay somewhere for a while. You have two million people needing to be watered and fed every day. That is a horrendous task in and of itself but Moses also has to listen to the criticism, murmuring, and grumbling. That wears on a person. That is hard.
What carried Moses through? What enabled him to endure that? But then the situation gets worse when those who are closest to him, his big sister, Miriam, who took him and put him in the basket when he was a baby and his little brother, Aaron, who was his right hand man , turn against him. And why? Did it have anything to do with the way he was doing his job? No To Moses it was just more criticism. Look what it says in verse one. “Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife, for he had married a Cushite.” He had entered into a mixed marriage. Now that will raise some eyebrows. Moses probably chose her because she could help him to cope with his many responsibilities and her high character but all they could see was her nationality and race. That provoked a lot of criticism and you may be surprised at God’s opinion of this. He is absolutely outraged, outraged at the people that are criticizing Moses for this. Because Moses married this woman, Miriam and Aaron questioned Moses’ ability to lead them. Notice what they said in verse two. “Has the Lord spoken only through Moses? Hasn’t He also spoken through us?”
Essentially they are saying, “We are important too and we think, because of what Moses has done, he should be set aside from leadership and we should be the leaders now?” Miriam is telling Aaron, “We ought to take this over because Moses is no longer making good decisions.” And look at God’s reply. “At once the Lord said to Moses, Aaron and Miriam, come out of the tent of meeting, all three of you.” “Get out of my house,” He says, “because there are going to be some things going on that I am going to do to you that I do not want to happen in my house.” I have a feeling they are walking a little scared. I would be walking pretty slow. “Then the Lord came down in a pillar of cloud and stood at the entrance to the tent.” The tent that they had just walked out of, the tent that the cloud of God, the pillar of the cloud comes down and stands between them and this temple, clearly signifying, “You are on one side and my holy people and my holiness are on the other side and you are wrong. You do not belong here. You are separated from me and until you get things right with me, you cannot be leaders in my tent of meeting anymore.” “Then the Lord came down in a pillar of a cloud, he stood at the entrance to the tent and summoned Aaron and Miriam.” “Ok, Miriam, Aaron, right here. Step up right here.” Imagine God calling you and saying, “Ok, take that step forward. Come here. Now ” “Ok, Lord.” What else can you do? You cannot run away.
“And He said to them, ‘Listen to my words.’” And I do not think God really has to say that. I think that they got the idea. “When a prophet of the Lord is among you, I reveal myself to him in visions. I speak to him in dreams.” Again, recognize that God is saying, “When I speak to the prophets, I spoke in visions, I spoke in dreams. I gave them ideas and thoughts when they were semi-conscious.” “Not so with my servant Moses. He is faithful in all my house.” He is different from all the rest. He is unique. “With him I speak. With him and him alone I speak face to face, clearly and not in riddles. He sees the form of the Lord.” I can see Miriam and Aaron, “Ok, yes Lord, you are right.” They are doing anything they can to get back in God’s good graces and they are not going to argue with God on this thing. So He says, “Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses? And the anger of the Lord burned against them.” This is scary. God help us when the anger of the Lord burns against any one of us. “And he left them.” It means the cloud goes up and goes away. “And when the cloud lifted from above the tent, there stood Miriam, leprous like snow.” Miriam's whole body is covered with white sores, leprosy, which means she is going to lose feeling in her entire body and that will cause her whole body to begin to rot, become wounded and afflicted, and eventually die.
I want you to notice something. This is God’s personal response to the disrespect Miriam and Aaron showed Moses. God is more offended than Moses is. “And the anger of the Lord burned against them and He left them and when the cloud lifted above the tent, there stood Miriam, leprous like snow.” And then Aaron turns towards her and saw that she had leprosy and he said to Moses, “Please, my lord,” and this is not a capital “l,” but he is saying, “I am putting myself back under your authority, Moses. I recognize what God has said is right.” “Do not hold against us the sin we have foolishly committed. Do not let her be like a stillborn infant coming from its mother’s womb and its flesh being half eaten away.” And so, in verse 13, “Moses cried out to the Lord and said Lord, please heal.” And the Lord honors Moses’ request. He says, “She is unclean for seven days.” She is going to have to bear the punishment for this for seven days so that all of Israel will know and recognize that God is not to be trifled with, that rejecting God’s spiritual leadership is serious business. “And then after that she will be restored.” Moses used his special relationship to the Lord not to condemn Miriam but out of gentleness and mercy to restore her.
This incident tells us a lot about Moses. First, Moses does not say, “Finally Lord, thank you. It is about time those ingrates were put in their place” Have you ever had anybody in your life being a critic, not wanting to follow you, not being with you, and finally something happens and they are removed from your life? And you say, “Hallelujah I thought this day would never come. My critics have finally been silenced and I do not have to fight against these people anymore.” He does not say, “Lord, it is about time.” He says, “Lord, heal. Lord, I forgive her and I beg that you forgive her and show her mercy. Hold this not against her.” That is the picture I want you to have of gentleness. Gentleness is not a word and is not a trait that we really strive after in our society. Gentleness is often translated in the King James as “meekness.” And we just do not pride ourselves in our meekness. Meekness sounds like “weakness.” You get the mental image of someone who is very soft-spoken because he or she cannot do anything else. I want you to understand, that is not the description of biblical gentleness.
The key characteristic that stood Moses head and shoulders above everybody else was not his upbringing. It was not his education. It was not his birthright, but was his heart. Verse three clearly states God’s opinion of Moses. “Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.” When we think of Moses, most of us do not think of humility. We think of a leader who stands in front of his people and tells Egypt, “Let us go! ” I think of Charleston Heston with his commanding presence and booming voice. But God looks at him and declares him to be humble. How did he get that way? God orchestrated and worked through all the events of Moses’ life to build humility into his life. Think about it. Who has pride? Often, it is those who have come from nowhere to success who say, “Look what I have done ” They have started at the bottom and worked their way up and built a life, built an empire, built a bank account, built a reputation and therefore have a tremendous amount of confidence in themselves. So much in fact, that they think and feel that they do not need God. We admire those kind of people and that is kind of the American dream, is it not? And of all people on this earth, Moses could not say that. Because Moses started at the top and ended up at the bottom. He was put in that basket and picked up by Pharaoh’s daughter and taken to Pharaoh’s palace and raised as one of Pharaoh’s sons. He had the education, the training, the soldiers, the protection, the food, everything. He started at the top. Every advantage that you could be given was given to Moses. He even was given his natural heritage in addition to the Egyptian heritage because his natural mother was able to be involved in raising him. He was raised with the best of both the Egyptian and Hebrew cultures. But he ends up being alienated from the Egyptians and the Hebrews, out in a desert tending sheep–for 40 years There was room in Moses’ life for God’s involvement. He knew he needed God to succeed at the task God gave him.
As we think about gentleness, I have two pictures I want you to see. The first is of a still, calm, serene, lake scene. The second looks much the same as the first, but there is a profound difference. They are both from the same place near Parker Dam on the border between California and Arizona. Both look very calm and serene, but there is tremendous potential power in the one and not the other. In the first the water is about a foot deep. It is just wet, reflective, and pretty. But there is no power there. The second is deep water. The second is behind Parker Dam. This dam is on a huge lake, Parker Lake, and it provides the electrical power for all of Los Angeles, San Diego, part of Phoenix, and part of Las Vegas. There is quite a bit of power there and it is all coming from the water that is just below the surface of the lake. That dam is 300 feet tall with 85 feet of it above the surface. The water that comes out of the four eight foot in diameter tubes comes out at 5,000 cubic feet per second. And it is blasting out of those tubes 100 feet before it even starts to fall and hit the rest of the water. There is a lot of power there. The depth of Parker Lake allows it to be used in this way. Gentleness has that kind of power. A deep, abiding strength that does not abuse power but uses it for the benefit of others.
Gentleness shows up in our words. Be careful what you say, harsh words can hurt. Proverbs says, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” In marital disputes, watch your words and recognize that you can stop, you can stop the chain of arguing, of fighting by just taking it down a notch, just taking it down and gentleness will bless your marriage and bless your life.
Power under control also shows up in our attitudes and the way we think about things and the way we act toward things. It says in Proverbs 26, “Just as charcoal keeps a fire going, a contentious person,” the attitude of contentiousness, of arguing, of just wanting to show how much smarter you are than everyone else, “a contentious person keeps an argument going.” A self-restrained, gentle response can avoid much trouble.
An attitude of impatience also does not show gentleness. “I want it and I want it now. Give me that ” There is a sense of entitlement. There is an aggression here that is not open to gentleness. False expectations can also lead away from gentleness. Scripture talks about a father not exasperating his children by putting unrealistic expectations on them. Gentle exhortations to nudge them along, to encourage them is great, but a hard attitude breaks them down. “You cannot do that. You are stupid.” An adult has the physical presence and verbal power to emotionally destroy a child. There must be self-restraint for the benefit of the other. That is good parenting. And in Moses’ case that is good leadership.
Power not under control can ruin your life. And there are core challengers to your gentleness. These are the things that I found that churn up my own life, my own heart and I know it will do it also for you. What churns you up? I say first of all, it is anger. Anger stirs us up. In Luke 9 we are given the story of Jesus going from Galilee down to Jerusalem and he has to go through Samaria. It is like a three-day journey and James and John are sent ahead to find a place for them to stay overnight in Samaria. And in the town that they went into, no one would receive them. No one would give them lodging for the night because they were Jews heading to Jerusalem and they did not like them. They were angry with the Jews and so that angry response caused anger in the hearts of James and John because when James and John come back to Jesus, they say, “Jesus, they would not receive us. They would not receive you as the Messiah. Should we call down fire and brimstone upon them?” “Can we charbroil them, Lord?” They are angry but Jesus rebukes them. “That is not what I am about. I am meek and gentle of heart. If you want to be like me, that is not what I am about.”
Secondly, what churns me up is fear. “I do not know what is going to happen with that. I need to have better control. I need to have more control over life’s situation. I am wrestling for control or I want to have control and do not just want to trust God.” That is what the disciples felt when they were going through the storm and Jesus was in the back of the boat. When things are not going right, we want to take control. And when we lose control, we are afraid of what can happen next. And that is what they are feeling. But Jesus was in that boat and that made all the difference. These times are when God is able to grow you the most. Because when everything is going well, we tend to forget God. When things are hard, character is built.
And thirdly, pride churns up your life. “I deserve something better than this. I deserve respect. I should not be talked to this way. I should not be told these things.” Kind of like Rodney Dangerfield’s, “I just get no respect.” So you start churning up inside and you get angry and all too often loose control of your emotions. That is where Jesus says, “I am gentle.” Will your family survive your loss of control? What will help us survive ourselves? If we coat our lives with mercy, we calm the raging waters of anger before it can rip through our lives. Micah 6:8, one of my favorite verses because it summarizes what we are called to do as believers, says, “This is what the Lord requires of you, to live justly.” That means “do the right thing.” Not real complicated. Do the right thing If you want a list, I can give you a list and God gives you lots of lists but because it is practically impossible to cover every possible situation, God gives us general overarching behavioral descriptions so that we can live a godly life. Catch the second admonition--“to love mercy.” If you do not love mercy, you are going to be eaten up with anger and resentment the rest of your life. You will be an unforgiving, hard person, treating others harshly. And then thirdly, “to walk humbly with your God.”
Paul tells us in Romans 12:20 the practical benefits of mercy and forgiveness. It says to “bless those that curse you and feed those who are hungry that hate you because by doing so, you will heap coals, burning coals upon their head.” It will drive them crazy because you are being nice to them when they are being mean to you. They will no longer have excuses to be mean to you but by seeing your grace toward them God will be able to prick their consciences and hearts. Of course this is not a 100% equation. Many will not listen to God’s leading or will have hearts so hard they cannot feel the Spirit tugging within but that is not our responsibility; we are to do it anyway.
Notice it says, “You will heap burning coals upon their head,” and I will tell you right now, if you do not do it, if you go after revenge, being unmerciful, being revengeful, being bitter, being resentful, you will heap burning coals upon your own head. They have done something wrong. They have sinned against you and you are the one carrying around burning coals on top of your head. They have destroyed your heart and your attitude. They have been wrong and now you are suffering because of it. And God says, “Forgive them so that you will not have burning coals upon your head.”
Fear! Calm the torrents of fear by trusting God. Jesus gives His last command to us, His last promise to us in Matthew 28, the very end, the last phrase in the book, “Lo, I am with you always.” Know that God is with you so that you can conquer pride the way Moses did. Calm the whirlpools of pride with humility. “Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord and He will lift you up.” Moses is the one who was humble before God and God lifted him up above all others.
I challenge you as we conclude, are you strong enough, are you man enough, are you woman enough to be gentle? To turn over control in your life, of your power, of your strength, and of His power in you to God? Say, “Lord, I give up control of that situation. I trust you. I will give a gentle response even though I know I could say a few things and just tear her up.” “I could put him in his place so quickly. I could say this in this argument and I would settle this argument.” Give it up and give a gentle response. Respond physically in gentle, nurturing ways rather than in bullying ways. This means not using any position of power to abuse another person but you use that position to build up others, not knock them down. Don’t be a bully. Bullies use their size, their position, their status, their superior intellect, their economic wealth, whatever, to force their will on others. Bullies have a too high opinion of themselves (at least on the surface) and a too low opinion of others. God calls us to change both. He calls us to be gentle toward those we are in a position to harm. That is the power of gentleness. That is power under control.
Fruit of the Spirit: Self-Control
Self-control has two aspects. But before we look at them, I want to give you the definition of what having self-control means. You are not commanded in Scripture to do self-control. “Oh, I have to control myself.” That is not what it says. You are called to be self-controlled, to have yourself controlled. You see, self-control is choosing God’s control for your life. Self-control is not you being in charge, you doing what you want with no reference to God or what is right and true, with only your desires and wishes guiding your way. That is being “you-control.” Self-control, scripturally, is choosing God’s control for your life. And this is altogether different than Dave or even Eileen or Katie being in control. We can control a lot of things and we can be very self-disciplined, but we are called to be under God’s control which is stronger, better, and wiser than “you-control.”
Self-control has two aspects. Many times we think just of the negative aspect. When we think of self-control, the first thoughts we usually get revolve around eating and sex. Yes, sexuality needs to be controlled and eating needs to be controlled and Scripture devotes ample space to these two issues. But beyond individual issues, self-control has two aspects that we need to understand to give us a better idea of what self-control is. The first concerns the things I do. You need self-control to do the right things. And that allows you to become the person you admire. To become what you want to be. To fulfill God’s intent for your life, being controlled by God empowers you live up to God’s expectations and will be a blessing to your life. Self-control, choosing to be under God’s control, helps you get out of your own way. Remember the old Pogo cartoon, “I have seen the enemy and I is it?” Self-control helps you get our of your own way. It helps you become the person you admire. In 1 Corinthians it says, “Don’t you know that all the runners run the race, but only one gets the prize, so run in such a way to get the prize.” In order to pursue God’s directives for your life, your baser desires and instincts need to be subdued and directed toward God’s original intent for them. And in order to pursue godly objectives we need God’s help and strength–we need His control.
The other side of that, the flip side is what you do not do. It is choosing God’s control to say “no” to things that will destroy your life. Similarly, it says in 2 Timothy 2:5, “If anyone competes as an athlete yet does not receive the victor’s crown unless he competes according to the rules.” Choosing God’s control helps you avoid being what you abhor, what you hate. Do you ever find yourself doing the things that you hate? Are you ever disgusted with yourself? That is our fallenness, our brokenness and God wants to help us move out of that to victory in Him, under His control. Not gutting it out ourselves, “I am going to try harder,” but allowing our hearts to be controlled by Him. Recognize also that you are in good company if you find yourself disgusted with your thoughts and behavior, at times. Paul said, “I am just baffled, my own behavior baffles me. I cannot understand it. I find myself doing the very things I hate and the things I want to do, I don’t end up doing.”
When we are out of control, life becomes very destructive. I have found six things that if left uncontrolled can destroy our lives and relationships. The first is uncontrolled anger. Proverbs 29:11 says, “A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control.” I learned a lesson very early in marriage. When you are angry, keep your mouth shut. When we are angry we tend to be self-justifying of the expression of the more selfish aspects of our nature. We say “yes” to sin more readily when we are angry, as if our anger justifies whatever we do. We say “yes” to things we would never allow when we are calm and in a more neutral emotional state. Beware of anger in your life.
The second is uncontrolled lust. Your libido can destroy your life. Your libido does not have a brain. It is up to you and I to direct it toward wholesome expression. Job 31 says, “I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a girl.” As children we were taught about Samson, the mighty man who was able to strangle a lion, but could not strangle his anger nor his sexual lust and how this destroyed his life. Read the sad account of his demise in Judges 15 and 16.
The third is uncontrolled drinking. Proverbs 23 says, “Who has woe and who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who has needless bruises?” Not simply because he has fallen down, but because his life is bruised because he does not have his faculties about him to do the right things. He is seeking escape from problems rather than how to solve those problems. Who is this one? “It is he who lingers over wine.”
The fourth is uncontrolled speech. Psalm 39 says, “I will watch my ways and keep my tongue from sin. I will put a muzzle on my mouth.” Not bad advice. Foolishness dwells in our hearts and to talk without self-restraint invites foolishness to pour forth to do its damage in our lives.
The fifth is uncontrolled ambition. Proverbs 23:4 adds, “I will not wear myself out to get rich but have the wisdom to show restraint.” Excess of all kinds is bad for us. To get all you can, to make all the money you can, to rise as high as you can, to play that game, will destroy your family and lead you on a path that will not satisfy. Uncontrolled ambition will also make you unusable for God’s purposes and works.
And finally, the sixth thing that can destroy our lives is uncontrolled spending. Proverbs 21 says, “The wise man saves for the future, but the foolish man spends whatever he gets.” The foolish man spends whatever he gets with little thought to restraining himself for the benefit of some greater good. The foolish man or woman sees it, wants it, and buys it with little regard for need or saving for harder times.
Now these are not new revelations for most of you. You know these things are wrong. You know they are bad but how do you overcome them? You know they are bad but somehow they keep sticking up their ugly heads to wreck havoc in your life. It is one thing to intellectually recite those things but it is another to actually live them out.
When you are angry, stop and say, “Lord, I am angry, I am frustrated, I do not like the situation. I think I have every right to be upset. But I want to behave in a godly way, please help me!” Stop and choose His loving leadership. What does His leadership say to do in your life? Recognize, number one, it is a choice that you make. His power, His resurrection power wants to work and is available to work in and through you but you have to choose to acquire it. An available resource is not the same as an applied resource. Scripture says that He has given us everything we need for life and godliness. We cannot say, “God you did not give me enough patience, enough goodness, enough self-control.” He says, “Oh, I had it all for you. You chose to ignore it.” An applied resource makes all the difference.
I came across a story of a pastor who was new at the church and was just an interim pastor and so they gave him a car to use. The guy who gave him the car said, “The one problem with the car is that it will not start. You have to push it if you want to start it.” This pastor was pretty smart so he figured out how to always park on hills so he would not have to push it, how to leave it running if he was only going to be there for a few minutes and he figured out ways so he never really had to push that car. The next pastor came to town and he was given the car and told the same thing. He decided to look under the hood and found that the starter cable was corroded. He just made the connection and the car started fine. You see, we have the resource, but we need to get connected with it. And many times when we are in the heat of the moment, whether it is lust, whether it is language, whether it is our mouth, whether it is our actions, whether it is anger, we just have to stop and say, “Lord, I want to choose to respond your way.” And that first thing to do is you have to stop, you have to pause and ask yourself, “What would God have me do?”
It is good to hear the truth taught, but I want you to have a picture of a man who applied it to his own life. Turn to the book of Daniel. Daniel chapter one, beginning in verse one, let us just read through the passage and then we will go back through it and explain it. “In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and beseiged it. The Lord gave Jehoiakim, king of Judah into his hand along with some of the vessels of the house of God and he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god and he brought the vessels, the vessels from the house of God into treasury of his gods. Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, the chief of all the officials to bring in some of the sons of Israel, including some of the royal family and the nobles, youths in whom there was no defect, who were good looking, showing intelligence in every branch of wisdom, endowed with understand and discerning knowledge and the ability of serving in the king’s court. And he ordered him to teach them the literature and the language of the Chaldeans. The king appointed for them a daily ration from the king’s choice food and from the wine which he drank and appointed that they should be educated for three years at the end of which they were to enter the king’s personal service.
“Now, among them from the sons of Judah were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. And the commander of the officials assigned new names to them. And to Daniel he assigned the named Belteshazzar. To Hananiah, Shadrach, to Mishael, Meshach, and to Azariah, Abednego. But Daniel made up his mind that he would not defile himself with the king’s choice food or with the wine which he drank. So he sought permission from the commander of the officials that he might not defile himself. Now God granted Daniel favor and compassion inside the commander of the officials. And the commander of the officials said to Daniel, I am afraid of my lord, the king who has appointed your food and your drink. For why should I see your faces looking more haggard than youths of your own age? Then you would make me forfeit my head to the king.” You can clearly understand what he is saying here. If you do not do well, the king is going to have my head. Why am I going to take the risk for you on this? “But Daniel said to the overseer whom the commander of the officials had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, please test your servant ten days and let us be given some vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then let our appearance be observed in your presence and the appearance of youths who are eating the king’s choice food. And deal with your servants according to what you see. And so he listened to them in this matter and tested them for ten days. At the end of ten days their appearance seemed better and they were fatter than all the youths who had been eating the king’s choice food.” This starts the life story of Daniel.
Daniel stands out as a man under God’s control. Not his own control, but doing what God’s call is on his life. To not do certain things and to do certain other things. He is thrown into prison because of his prayers. He is thrown into prison because he does the right thing even though it is contrary to the governmental law. Kind of like what Peter and John said, “Shall we obey Cesaer or shall we obey God?”
Now look back at verse one. The name Jerusalem means “possession of peace.” Salem, shalom, is a word that means “peace” in Hebrew. And Babylon is a city that typifies all through Scripture as an area of darkness, or sin, and of selfishness. Now the word “besieged” is a word that means to be cramped up or confined, to enclose, to be distressed or surrounded, to be attacked. So Jerusalem was besieged by Babylon. Now let me ask you, is there an encroachment of evil forces in your life, of influences that threaten to destroy the peace that you possess in Christ? Does this world attack you? Are there things that come at you that threaten your peace, that try to lead you out of God’s plan and God’s design for your life? If you are human and live in Lake County or anywhere else on this earth, I think your answer has to be “yes.”
Verse three says, “bring in also some of the sons of Israel, including some of the royal family and the nobles.” They wanted to use the more gifted of the Israelites for their own purposes. And to do that they needed to take away their old identities and give them new ones. I want you to recognize what Daniel recognized. And that is who you belong to. Who do you belong to? I want you to, when temptation beckons, remember, who you belong to. And if you call yourself a Christian and proclaim Christ as your Lord, you are to live your life under His direction and according to His ways. I choose His leadership because I belong to Him. He leads me because I belong to Him. He loves me because I belong to Him. I belong to Him! Daniel was called a son of Israel, a son of Judah. He knew who he belonged to. Do not forget who you belong to. When temptation, frustration, or a threat to loss of control comes over your life, remember who you belong to and act accordingly.
You are purchased with a price. You are His possession, a people for His own purposes. First Peter tells us, “You also are living stones, being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God.” You may not feel like you are a prize. You may not feel that special, but realize that is how God describes you. In Christ, you are more than you are in yourself. In Christ, you have righteousness. But as low as, as failing as I am or as you are, when you add God into the equation, there is more than enough to succeed in God’s eyes. Remember who you belong to and act accordingly. Satan will always try to undermine God’s power and your identity in Christ because he knows it is the source of successful Christian living, the source for glorifying God with our lives.
When temptation, when a loss of control comes your way, you need to recognize Satan’s tactics and how he operates. This is the same way that Nebuchadnezzar operated with the Jews. Satan will try to isolate you from the family of God. Nebuchadnezzar took them out of their homes, away from their friends, in order to take their identity away so that he could make them useful for his purposes. Satan will try to isolate you from your spiritual support system. He will try to substitute lies for truth. It seems like every few months there is a new ‘discovery’ coming out. The Gospel of Judas, the DaVinci Code, the sarcophagus of somebody, the pyramids. There are lies coming out regularly that seek to undermine the truth of God, the truth of His Word. Once one is proved erroneous, the detractors soon forget it and move on to the next false teaching to pin their unbelief on. Satan will try to tempt you with possessions, with pleasure, with security. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abenego and Daniel had it made. They could have been slaves building buildings, hauling blocks on their backs, feeding pigs. But instead they were put into Nebuchadnezzar’s household, in his palace, given good food and clothes. They had it made. Satan will try to tempt us the same way. And if he succeeds we will forget our identity in Christ. We will belong to the ways of this world, useless to the influence of God in our lives. That is why God called Israel to be separate from its neighbors. And that is where they failed. Instead of influencing the world with the goodness of God’s ways they were corrupted by their neighbors. And instead of representing God to the world, which was their purpose, they caused His name to be blasphemed. If we, as Christians, are not careful the same fate awaits us.
Our identity in Christ is important. Satan will try to challenge your identity. That is why you have to remember you belong to Him. What did Ashpenaz do? He gave Daniel, Mishael, Azariah new names. He took away their Israelite names away and gave them Babylonian names. Their Hebrew names declared who God was in their lives and that God was important to them. Daniel means “God is my judge.” But they changed his name to Belteshazzar which means “keeper of the hidden treasure of Bel,” which is the pagan god. “Daniel, you are no longer to be called Daniel because that God is out of date. Now you get to be the keeper of the hidden secrets of our god. You have the wisdom. You have the knowledge. We are going to come to you for answers. You are going to be the answer man.” Does that not sound beautiful? They are appealing to his pride. “You will become the keeper of the hidden treasures of wisdom and your words will be respected throughout the entire kingdom.” Hananiah’s name means “the grace of the Lord.” But they changed his name to Shadrach which means “the inspiration of the sun.” Boy, that is a nice name–the inspiration of the sun. Does that not appeal to the pride as well? “You will be called the shining star.” Kind of like Lucifer, is it not? To have the power to be self-controlled, you must expect, anticipate, pray and know who God is. You must know the enemy’s tactics. He will appeal to your pride. He will appeal to your comfort. He will try to isolate you and move you out of fellowship, move you out of supportiveness with other Christians.
And look down in verse 8. “And Daniel made up his mind that he would not defile himself with the king’s choice food.” He said, “I choose God. I belong to Him. I am under attack, but I choose to follow God. I choose His loving leadership.” Daniel, the word here for choosing means “to resolve, to purpose, to decide in your heart and your mind and follow through with your life.” He resolves, but also recognize here in this passage that he also perseveres. We all say, “I am never going to do that again.” Anybody ever said that? And then, well, what happens? That is why Peter in 2 Peter 1:6 tells us how to grow as Christians. “Add to your knowledge (so you know what the right thing is to do) self-control (so you will do it) and then add to your self-control, perseverance.” Patient endurance. To be self-controlled, to be controlled by God and then to keep on even when the going is hard. Daniel resolves and he perseveres. Look where it says he wants to not take the food they are giving him. He says, “I want to do this other. I want to eat a diet that is healthier and designed by God.” And the guard says, “Why should I take this risk?” But with gentleness Daniel answers, “Please, let us try this. Just for ten days and see how it works. I do not want to put you at risk.” He responds with gentleness, grace, and respect rather than in anger and contempt. Daniel recognized what the king was doing. He was being soften up so that he would give his loyalty to the king and the Babylonian empire. But notice, also, how he lived out his faith. He was gentle and respecting toward that guard, he was not demanding or uppity, as if he were superior. Many Christians need to learn this lesson.
Daniel is an example of someone who exhibited the desire and fortitude to place his life under God’s control. He restrained his natural tendencies and sin nature in order that God might be able to use him for His purposes and ways. Daniel enacted self-control that God might have control of his life. As Christians, we are to do the same thing.