Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and…
There’s one more attribute on Paul’s list of fruits of the Spirit. It’s helpful to remember that this list from Galatians 5 is called “fruit”, as opposed to “works.” In that book in particular, Paul sets those two things against each other. “Fruit” is related to the Spirit; “works” are related to the flesh.
That’s because the whole book of Galatians is about the purity of the gospel. It’s about remembering that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. The original recipients of that letter (and many of us today) needed the reminder because they had drifted into an understanding of Christianity in which salvation came partly by faith in Christ, but also partly by our own good works, whatever they may be. So Paul reminded them.
He reminded them that the kind of behavior and character attributes produced by the flesh are “works.” But that the Spirit produces “fruit.” It’s helpful, I think, to look at those words literally.
A tree doesn’t will itself to produce fruit. Rather, the fruit comes because the tree is healthy. Further, the kind of tree determines the type of fruit. An apple tree isn’t going to produce oranges, after all. So back to Galatians, Paul is saying that if you are simply willing yourself to try and produce these good works then that’s really a work of the flesh. But if you have truly believed in Jesus, then you have been changed at such a deep level that the very core of who you are is different.
You are a new kind of tree. And the fruit that comes from this tree, as you abide in Christ, is fruit. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. And it’s that last attribute that is particularly applicable for us right now.
That’s because we are living in a culture of reaction. Of anger. Of outrage. True enough, there are many things about which we should be outraged. But if the Spirit is at work within us, even our outrage should be tempered with consideration and self-control. In my view, there are at least three things we should consider before we make that post, or yell that statement, or send that email:
1. Our own sin.
We should pause, first of all, and remind ourselves of who we are without Christ. And even who we are still as the Holy Spirit is working within us. We should be mindful of our tendency toward judgment and piling on those who, in our view, have violated our sense of justice. Now that doesn’t mean that we should not explicitly and forcefully call out sin. We should. It does mean, however, that we can do so without moral superiority and with an end toward redemption and reconciliation.
2. God’s judgment.
We should also remember that judgment will inevitably come. And it will come not in the way we see fit, with our personal biases, but instead with the perfect wisdom of God. He alone is fit to judge. Once again, this doesn’t keep us from speaking the truth to each other and the world, but it does mean that not every, single thing we see and hear warrants a reaction from us. God knows. God sees. And God will make everything right in the end.
3. Who is listening.
We have at our fingertips, more than anyone else in history, the ability to broadcast our own opinions and outrage at a moment’s notice. We can post, comment, or whatever anything we want. And because it’s so easy and because it can seem to anonymous, we often forget there are real people watching. Reading. Listening. We would to well to consider this, and as we do, we will no doubt find ours sense of self-control heightened.
Friends, the Holy Spirit is at work within you. And one of the things He’s doing is building your self-control. Be aware of His work. Consider what He’s doing. And as far as you’re able, consider these truths in order to surrender to His work.