The Fruit Of Gentleness

Meekness, gentleness, and mildness get a bad rap in today’s society. People tend to think of them as synonyms for being weak or boring. A door mat. But those three words I opened with are all possible translations of the Greek word praotes (G4236), which is listed as part of the fruit of the spirit in Galatians 5:22-23.

The spirit of God is not weak or boring. It is full of power, and it is also “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, and self-control.” Indeed, though we may not think of these traits as “powerful,” we cannot display them all unless we’re empowered by God. It takes a great deal of inner strength, commitment, and willingness to be transformed by God to live-out the fruit of His spirit, including gentleness.

The Meekness of Christ

In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul opened one of his lines of thought with the words, “I Paul, myself, entreat you by the humility and gentleness of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:1, WEB). The traits of gentleness, humility, and meekness that the world spurns are key to understanding Jesus Christ’s character. Read more

Advertisements

Are We Making The Most Of God’s Gifts?

Salvation is a free gift that we cannot earn, but which we can lose or refuse because God always gives people a choice. Adam and Eve had access to a close relationship with God, but they also had the option to choose sin and death instead. Ancient Israel was asked to choose between “life and prosperity, and death and evil,” and implored to pick life (Deut. 30:15, 19). The Lord is not willing that any should perish (1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9), but He also won’t force you into His kingdom. You need to choose, and then act on your choice.

We also can’t say “I choose life” and then keep living as if we chose death. We will be judged by what we do with the gifts given to us by God, and for those in His church today this judgement has already started (1 Pet. 4:17). God is watching us now to see what we do with all the gifts He gives us.

As we think about our relationship with God and examine ourselves as Christians, we all need to ask if we’re doing what God would want us to do with the gifts He’s entrusted us with. That includes examining how we respond to salvation, how we heed and use His Spirit inside us, and whether or not we’re truly following the example of Jesus Christ.

The Parable of The Talents

Shortly before His death, Jesus told a parable that illustrates how important it is for us to do something with the gifts we’ve been given. He compares His absence from earth between His first and second coming to “a man, going to another country, who called his own servants, and entrusted his goods to them” (Matt. 25:14, WEB).

This man divided his goods between his servants, entrusting each with a certain number of talents (a “talent” is  measure of weight, typically used for silver, that is equal to 30 kg or 66 lb). This pictures the time that we’re in now as servants awaiting our master’s return. Like the servants in the parable, we’ve each been given gifts “according to his own ability” and must now decide what to do with them (Matt. 25:15). Read more

Good and Bad Fruits

As Christians, we’re asked to find a balance between being too judgmental and an “anything goes” mentality. We must not condemn others, but neither should we ignore sin. We have to exercise discernment, “judge righteous judgement” (John 7:24), and make decisions about right and wrong in our own lives, and in the lives of people we choose to associate with.

When we’re deciding that teachers to listen to, which groups to fellowship with, and who to count as our closest friends, God gives us guidelines for making decisions.

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them. (Matt. 7:15-20)

A parallel scripture in Luke 6:43-45 shows this principle applies to people in general, not just leaders. It also applies to us. Before we can recognize good and bad fruits in other people, we have examine ourselves. We must remove the plank from our own eye before we can clearly see the speck in our brother’s eye (Matt. 7:3-5). This is especially important as we approach the Passover season, traditionally a time of reflection and self-examination (1 Cor. 11:28-31).

Bad Fruits

When we’re trying to discern good and bad fruits, what should we be looking for? The Bible outlines many good and bad traits that individuals may have, but today let’s focus on a list given in Galatians. We’re very familiar with the fruits of the spirit, but leading up to that there is also a list of undesirable traits and actions.

 Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Gal. 5:19-21)

Credit:  oatsy40, CC BY, via Flickr
Credit: oatsy40, CC BY, via Flickr

This is serious stuff. Those who have these “bad fruits” in their lives will not be welcomed in God’s kingdom. It’s easy to just read over lists like these, pick out a few traits that seem particularly bad, then pat ourselves on the back because we’re not practicing witchcraft or murdering people. But let’s take a closer look. We need to be able to recognize these sort of bad fruits in church congregations, in leaders, and in ourselves.

Does a church congregation overlook sexual sins among its members or ignore them in society? Is that teacher impure in his deeds? Am I allowing an absence of restraint to characterize my life? Does this church group put anything before God on their priority list? Do they teach that it’s okay to dabble in the occult?

Is a minister acting out of hostility or hatred? Am I stirring up debates and contentions? Are we jealous of others, or easily made indignant? Are the people in that congregation known for their anger? Does their leader encourage strife and divisions, or teach things contrary to sound doctrine? Do we envy each other, or hate someone so much that we’ve wished them dead? Am I lacking self-control and moderation, or engaging in riotous conduct?

Christ made it clear in His sermon on the mount that the laws of God are still in effect, and operating on a spiritual plane. Even a longing to sin is a sin (Matt. 5:17-30). We need to be on guard against bad fruits showing up in our lives, as well as being wary of associating with a church or following a minister who is producing bad fruit. God expects better from us than that.

Good Fruits

God expects us to bear good fruits for His glory, and to associate with other Christians who are also bearing good fruits. We do this by developing a strong relationship with Him and with Jesus Christ.

Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. … By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples. (John 15:4-5, 8)

Credit: net_efekt, CC BY, via Flickr
Credit: net_efekt, CC BY, via Flickr

If an individual or church group has a strong relationship with Jesus and the Father, it is made visible in the kind of fruits that show up in their lives.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. (Gal. 5:22-23)

Let’s ask ourselves the same kinds of questions about this list. Is that church congregation characterized by active goodwill and godly love towards all? Is this minister filled with joy and gladness, and encouraging that in his brethren? Do I “live peaceably with all men”? (Rom. 12:18).

Do the people of our church congregation show self-restraint before acting, and choose to suffer long rather than taking vengeance? Does this teacher have a “grace which pervades the whole nature, mellowing all which would be harsh and austere”? (Zodhiates, G5544). Can God look at me and say that I am actively practicing goodness?

Is this church group defined by their faithfulness to the Word of Truth? Is that minister a humble man who calmly accepts God’s will in His life? Do I have self-control that lets me moderate my desires? If we can answer these questions with a “yes,” then we can be assured that our churches, our leaders, and we ourselves are bearing “good fruit.”

Examine Yourself

We’re less than three weeks away from Passover, and whether or not you observe it as part of your Christian walk this is a good season to take a close look at ourselves and what kinds of fruits we’re producing. When John the Baptist was preaching, he warned the Pharisees about how important it was to produce good instead of bad fruits

Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. (Matt. 3:8-10)

A sense of complacency will not get you in to the kingdom of God. Jesus told the Jews near the end of His ministry, “the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it” (Matt. 21:43) We don’t want that to happen us us as individuals. We must abide in Christ and bring forth good fruits while getting rid of bad fruits in our lives.

And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. (Gal. 5:24-26)

That’s the concluding thought at the end of the “works of the flesh” and “fruits of the spirit” lists. We belong to Jesus – there should be no room in our lives for evil fruits. We have to battle against that fleshly, rotten side and truly walk in the spirit as we follow Jesus

Spiritually Fruitful

At the beginning of this week, I was reading Luke 3 and trying to come up with a topic to guide this week’s study and become today’s post when I came to these verses:

“Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Luke 3:8-9)

This passage was particularly striking because I’d just heard a sermon about the phrase “abide in Me” from John 15:4 that relied heavily on the vine/branch and tree/root analogies.

What Shall We Do?

blog post "Spiritually Fruitful" by marissabaker.wordpress.com
pictures of our grapevines, taken yesterday

Looking closer at the phrase ” bear fruits worthy of repentance,” I wonder if the sense it means to convey is that we should be producing fruits in our lives that show we are sincerely repentant. The word “repentance” (G3341, metanoia in Greek) means, “a change or alteration of mind .. from evil to good or from worse to better” (Zodhiates).

What John calls attention to as he continues speaking is that people who thought their physical descent from God’s chosen people automatically made them acceptable to God were mistaken. We can make the same mistake today if we think that we’re part of God’s family simply because we’re attending the “right” church group. Like the people John was addressing, we must actually being doing something to show that we 1) recognized the need for change, and 2) are sincere about changing.

So the people asked him, saying, “What shall we do then?” He answered and said to them, “He who has two tunics, let him give to him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise.”

Then tax collectors also came to be baptized, and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Collect no more than what is appointed for you.”

Likewise the soldiers asked him, saying, “And what shall we do?” So he said to them, “Do not intimidate anyone or accuse falsely, and be content with your wages.” (Luke 3:10-14)

The specific responses here are based on principles found throughout the Bible: “Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phil 2.4); “godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Tim. 6:6), and the two great commandments (Matt. 22:37-40; Mark 12:29-31).

For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not bear false witness,” “You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. (Rom. 13:9-10)

Now that we have an idea of the kind of fruits we’re supposed to be producing, lets take a short detour from the discussion in Luke 3 and focus on how we can be spiritually fruitful.

How To Bear Fruit

blog post "Spiritually Fruitful" by marissabaker.wordpress.com

Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. … By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples. (John 15:4-5, 8)

The key to being spiritually fruitful is abiding in Jesus. If you look at a healthy vine, every branch firmly connected to the rootstock and main vine will also be healthy. It can’t be healthy by itself, though. The moment it’s disconnected from the vine it starts to wither and is no longer capable of fruiting. Similarly, we can’t do anything by ourselves — all our fruit is produced because of our closeness to Jesus.

And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ, being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. (Phil. 1:9-11)

All the fruit that we produce in our lives is a direct result of Jesus Christ’s involvement in us, and it is all for God’s glory. We’ve talked before in the weeks leading up to Pentecost about how closely Jesus Christ’s work in us is connected with the Holy Spirit indwelling us. This is yet another example — we cannot bear the fruits of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22-23 unless we are abiding in Him and keeping His commandments.

Unfruitful Branches

Let’s return to our imaginary healthy vine, and suppose that there are some branches on it that don’t have a good connection to the rootstock. They may be visibly withering and dying, or they might have great showy leaves that can initially hide the fact that they have no fruit. Those kinds of branches need to be trimmed out so they do not impact the overall health of the vine.

I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. … If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. (John 15:1-2, 6)

blog post "Spiritually Fruitful" by marissabaker.wordpress.com
pictures of our grapevines, taken yesterday

Like most of God’s instructions and warnings this boils down to a very simple principle. If you do good things (abide in Jesus, obey the commands), good things will happen to you (a relationship with God, eternal life). But if you do bad things (disobey, become arrogant and distant from God), bad things happen (no relationship with Him, death). This brings us right back to John the Baptist’s words in Luke.

And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Luke 3:9)

This is a warning, and it was also a prophecy of what Paul addresses in Romans 11. In this letter, Paul writes to the Gentile believers who were “grafted in” after so many of the Jews, like the ones John was talking to, refused to accept Jesus as the Messiah.

And if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree, do not boast against the branches. But if you do boast, remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you.

You will say then, “Branches were broken off that I might be grafted in.” Well said. Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. Do not be haughty, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either. Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off. And they also, if they do not continue in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. For if you were cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, who are natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree? (Rom. 11:17-24)

This is both a sobering and an awesome message. God grafted us into Himself when He called us out of the world! He took something which was once opposed to Him (Rom. 8:7-8) and made us part of His church by attaching us to His Son — the Vine — and making us part of Christ’s body (Eph. 1:22-23).

The sobering part is a reminder of how dangerous it is to let our awe of what God has done for and in us slip away. Arrogance takes it’s place, here in Romans 11 and in Luke 3, with the idea that we’re important in and of ourselves. In reality, any importance we have comes from God. He did not choose us because of our own merit, or because of our heritage, or because of what church group we attend. He chose us because He is in the business of redeeming insignificant people and turning them into something glorious through His boundless grace and mercy (1 Cor. 1:26-31). Our response to that should be to cling ever closer to Him, and to be producing fruits in our lives that show how drastically we have been changed by Him.