Friday, 25 September 2015

Good Fruit: Healthy Living in the Spirit (Part 3)

The following appears in the Fall 2015 issue of Anglicans for Renewal magazine. 

ARM’s purpose is to help us all experience and enjoy more of the refreshing presence of God, the Holy Spirit, in our lives, our relationships and our church. With God’s presence come the gifts of the Spirit. When we walk by the Spirit and his gifts, we become the branches (John 15.1-8) upon which the fruit of the Spirit grows. As always, Jesus is our vine and model. Jesus perfectly reveals kindness, and all the other Fruits of the Spirit, in action. He is always perfectly loving, joyous, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle and self-controlled (Gal 5.22).

This is the third in a series of reflections on the Fruit of the Spirit.

Patience

While I know that, as someone said, God is the fastest checkers player in the world so it’s always my move, I always seem to find myself waiting and hoping patiently (or not) for something from him; for Jesus to come again (but not too soon—there are things I’d like to experience first), for someone to be healed, for provision, for dear (or irritating) brothers and sisters in the Lord to agree with me, for all manner of things I think it would be good for the Lord to do. The waiting becomes spiritually perilous when I lose patience and sinfully rebel by thinking God is too slow or missing what I think is the point, or by taking matters into my own hands, or just ceasing to believe and worship.

John, the gospel of and Revelation writer, knew something of that. A composer friend of mine who wrote an oratorio on Revelation reckoned John must have been on LSD or something like it to generate its apocalyptic energy, imagery and visions. But it wasn’t LSD, it was the Holy Spirit John was on. He was “in the Spirit” one Lord’s day when he wrote,
I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus (Rev 1.9-10).
That patient endurance in the face of tribulation sounds like Spirit Fruit to me. It’s patience which isn’t easy or superficial. It comes from the real life depths of hearts and minds filled with the Holy Spirit.

James knew something of it, too. “Be patient, therefore, until the coming of the Lord,” he wrote.
See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. 8 You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand (James 5:7–8). 
I don’t know how it grows, I just plant my heart in the Lord and wait. Patiently. And just as the seed in the good soil in the Parable of the Sower, “are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience” (Luke 8.15), so will I, Lord willing.

Patience shares roots with other Spirit Fruit, primarily love (1 Cor 13.4; Eph 4.2; Col 3.14) and joy (Col 1.11). Patience, along with faith, will see me counted among those who will inherit the Lord’s promises (Heb 6.12). It is patience with which I must bear with others in love (Eph 4.2; Col 3.12-13), seek for glory and honour and immortality in well-doing (Ro 2.7), face tribulation (Ro 12.12), admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted and help the weak (1 Thes 5.14). Spirit Fruit patience will do the same for you if you wait long enough.

Kindness

As regards kindness, scripture is clear. We are required to love kindness and show it to one another (Mic 6.8; Zech 7.9). We are to put it on, bearing with and forgiving one another in love and in the name of the Lord Jesus (Col 3.12-17). Whoever pursues it “will find life, righteousness, and honour” (Pr 21.21). So, just as Paul exhorts you and me to “earnestly desire” the Gifts of the Spirit (1 Cor 13.31; 14.1), Spirit Fruit kindness must also be worthy of earnest desire.

That kind of kindness is more than the milk of just human kindness and being nice. It’s like John 3.16 and 1 Cor 13 love which has less to do with feelings, especially warm fuzzy ones, than with self-denying acts of the will.

It’s easy to be kind to some people. To those of whom I’m fond, who suffer quietly and with no demands I can be kind in my own strength. It’s easy to be kind to small animals such as bunnies and puppies. Where I need the Spirit Fruit to kick in is with people I dislike, who are demanding or have hurt me, who, to my plank-blinkered eyes are wallowing in self-pity. That’s when, more often than I like to admit, I need the Fruit of the Spirit operating in my life as grace.

Speaker and author James Ryle defines grace as the empowering Presence of God enabling me to be who he created me to be, and to do what he has called me to do. Dallas Willard wrote that grace is what enables me to do what I can’t do on my own. God’s grace empowers me to BE kind and to DO kindly. It enables me to be kind to people towards whom I don’t feel particularly kindly. God’s grace works in me and you, through spiritual gifts we do not lack (1 Cor 1.7), which are given to each of us for the common good (1 Cor 12.7) and “to each one individually as he wills” (1 Cor 12.11). As we cooperate by earnestly desiring the higher gifts (1 Cor 12.31; 14.1) and doing our best to follow the more excellent way of love (1 Cor 13), he sets the Fruit of the Spirit on us branches to grow and ripen so Jesus is glorified and the church may be built up (1 Cor 14.5 & 12).

That’s what patience and kindness and all the others are for. Thanks be to God.