Last week we looked at the first three fruits of the Holy Spirit - Joy, Peace and Patience, together with Love, making up our emotional and spiritual relationship with God. These virtues could be viewed as passive, our direct standing with God as a result of being controlled by the infilling Holy Spirit. This week we look at the last five virtues, which are practical - how we treat other people around us, especially our Christian brothers and sisters.
Also in my last blog, I gave illustrations of two real life experiences - delays at an airport departure lounge, and being stuck in a supermarket checkout line by a fickle customer who was trying to redeem a few pence from a voucher. On both occasions I did not respond well. Take the airport delay incident. I was due to fly to Israel in 1993 to backpack the Holy Land for a couple of weeks when our airplane was found to have a technical fault - the hydraulic piping had sprung a leak, and had to be replaced with a new one before the plane can take off. This caused a six-hour delay which activated my panic button and I became very fidgety. Then I prayed for God to help me, and I became much calmer, felt peace and had patience. Nearby, some Orthodox Jews who were to share my flight were very serene and took the situation so calmly, that a couple of them slept through the ordeal. How come? Why as a Christian I had to pray while those Jews were naturally calm?
I think it was Jesus himself who gave an answer to this one. He said that it was not the righteous who needed a physician, but the sick. (See Mark 2:17.) I guess as an Italian, I panic very easily at the slightest threat or mishap, therefore I need the Holy Spirit far more than one who is naturally calm or have that British stoicism!
Now, supposing that during this long wait at the airport, someone cried out in despair, thinking that his vacation is already ruined. After all, that happened in 1978, but from someone sent back to the departure lounge as a result of an industrial dispute. Do I tease or mock this desperate person? Or more realistically, tell him to grow up? No, it's none of these things. The fruit of the Spirit is love, so I would do my best to make that person feel better. I talk to him, assuring him that we will take off soon and once we had arrived there, our delay will be quickly forgotten. One fruit of the Spirit here becomes manifest, kindness.
Then I offer to buy him a cup of coffee and perhaps a bar of chocolate or a cake at the nearby cafe, and he accepts, the fruit of goodness shines through. He opens up and we start talking, and he tells me why he is flying to Israel. He had suffered a bitter divorce and also having lost the custody of his children to their mother, he decided to visit Israel to see Masada, a hill fortress where a number of Jews in AD 70 decided on mass suicide rather than submit to their Roman oppressors, after reading so much about it in a novel. I respond with gentleness, refusing to pass any judgement, and when he begs me that the talk does not leave the table, faithfulness is the fruit of the spirit which would command loyalty.
By then I would feel love, joy, peace and patience, in fact I would have almost forgotten about the delay. He then asks me why I'm visiting Israel, and I answer that as a backpacker, I love the ancient archaeological sites and I feel a special affinity for the City of Jerusalem. Then, if the circumstance is right, I might explain that Jesus Christ was crucified at Jerusalem for the forgiveness of my sins.
The delay at the airport in 1993 was real, but of course the rest of the story was fabrication, but I have given it to point out that the fruit of the Spirit becomes manifest at certain, normally unfavourable situations. In the last blog, I gave the example of Peter, Paul and Silas, all three in prison. Peter was so secure in the love of Christ that his peace allowed him to sleep. Paul and Silas, being in each other's company manifested joy which caused them to sing praises to God, which convicted and saved the jailer and his family.
So taking a brief look at the remaining virtues:
Kindness. A lack of any form of cruelty, especially verbal. This includes teasing or mocking someone when they are in a difficult or adverse situation, or even to say that they don't have time or to declare that they have more important things to do. It also means showing a favour when others are opposed, or not have the time for. A good example of this is found in Mark 10:13-14 when some mothers came up to Jesus to ask to have their children blessed. The disciples scorned at what looked like a time-wasting request, but Jesus had the kindness to bless those children, despite what the disciples thought.
Goodness. The ability to give from the heart especially to someone who does not deserve it. The Italian word for good is bene, from which we have the English words benefit, benevolent, etc. Generally it the giving of good things which blesses the recipient. A good instruction of this is given by Paul, when he teaches: When your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he's thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head. Romans 12:20. Again, Jesus demonstrated this fruit of the Spirit when he miraculously fed the five thousand, some of them could well have bayed for his crucifixion later when Jesus was tried by Pilate.
Faithfulness. Believing what the other person or group of people has to say and staying loyal to them. This is quite opposite to deserting, gossipping, telling other of one's faults and as such, bringing that person to ridicule or to let him down, or to leave him in his dire situation. Moses remained faithful to the children of Israel, despite on many occasions the nation complained, moaned and were ready to desert him and flee back to Egypt. When Korah and his allies had persuaded the nation to question the leadership of Moses and Aaron, they then fell on their faces to plead for the whole nation, and punish only the conspirators (See Numbers 16:20-24.) Luke too, was faithful to Paul when he was in prison, after everyone else deserted him (2 Timothy 4:10-11).
Gentleness. I remember one house-group when we discussed this fruit of the Spirit, the general opinion of the leader was that many believed that gentleness was a lack of rugged masculinity. Having played rugby, the "he-man's game" we knew where he was coming from. We British have a history in loving to think of ourselves as a nation of conquerers, out to establish an Empire, to rule over others with force where necessary. And there are newspaper journalists even today lamenting over loss of Empire. Yet if there was a person with such gentleness, it was Jesus Christ himself, who the British say they follow as a national religion. He was particularly gentle with women, the woman at the well was one of them. He did not upbraid her for her sins, but rather, his gentleness won her heart to the point when she decided that this man must be a prophet. And he was gentle to the woman caught in the act of adultery. While the Pharisees were ready to stone her for her crime, all he said to her was, "Go, and sin no more." (John 8:11.) Yet no one could have been more masculine in human history as the Lord Jesus Christ. Another fine example of gentleness was with Peter, after delivery from prison, kept on knocking while those inside, who were praying for his release, were debating whether it was him or not. Peter's natural character was to have upbraided them for their slowness to believe and answer the door. Instead, when the door opened, Peter simply beckoned them to hold their peace, with the explanation of his deliverance (Acts 12:12-17.)
Self Control. The final virtue, this is the fruit of the Spirit which prevents a believer erupting into anger or other emotional turmoil, especially where self is directly involved. For example, if someone abuses you, how would you react? If by natural means, you retaliate or seek revenge, or even smack him in the mouth. But this fruit of the Spirit gives you the ability to return the insult with either a gentle reply or with nothing at all. One good example of this was when Jesus was slapped across the face by the soldiers just before the crucifixion, the mocking and the pressing of a crown of thorns on to his head. Jesus could have lashed out physically. He could have protested his innocence to Pilate. He could have even called down a legion of angels to slay them. Instead self control, allowed him to go to the cross without a fuss, most likely enough to convict many of their sins, and to declare, "Surely, this is the Son of God!" And I believe that self control is more than stoicism, the stiff upper lip or the bottling up of emotions. Self control involves returning evil with goodness, kindness and gentleness. It involves making sure that your enemy or adversity is fed and well looked after, a virtue that can only come from the Holy Spirit.
These are all the nine virtues which makes up the fruit of the Spirit. Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness and Self Control, to which there is no law. (N.I.V.) Each of these virtues is a strength to meet every need in one's walk with God and alongside others. I believe that the first four are connected vertically with our standing with God, the other five, horizontally with our relationship with other people. Therefore not only do I liken the Fruit of the Spirit as an orange with eight segments within a rind, but also to a cross, the Cross of Christ.
Galatians 5:16 (KJV) says, Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh This is the key verse for all three articles in this mini-series.
Finally, God is willing for every believer to be filled with the Holy Spirit. I actually go further and say it is a command from God. But it is for believers only - those who have trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation. All he has to do is to ask, and God will fulfill his request.