My previous essay dealt with the specific fruits of the Spirit Paul listed in Galatians 5:22-23 starting with the first “cluster” – love, joy and peace. All three are blessings from God. Each one a reward of sorts for our focusing time, energy and effort in developing and maintaining an intimate relationship with the Heavenly Father, His Son and the Holy Spirit. The next trio on the Apostle’s roster are patience, kindness and goodness. These have more to do with our attitude toward others and how we respond to the aggravating things that bug us in this fallen world. If we’re prone to display anger, rudeness or intolerance in front of others we’re not producing appealing fruit in our lives and, consequently, we’re of no use to our Savior. However, a follower of Christ who allows the Holy Spirit to transform them into a new creation will find patience, kindness and goodness becoming traits that best define their personalities.
Patience, like peace, is in short supply these days. “Waiting” has morphed into a bad word. The term “patience” comes from the Greek root that refers to a person’s steadfastness while being provoked or under duress. The image it presents is that of someone who’s patiently enduring an exasperating situation without entertaining thoughts of how they might retaliate or get even with the source of their angst. By practicing calm patience we produce positive spiritual fruit that pleases our Lord. It’s a way to share agape with those who may not know what Christian love is. If we’re grouchy, revenge-seeking, resentful human beings we’re not representing the one who suffered and died to save us from our sins at all. We’re confirming the Holy Spirit is not in the driver’s seat of our lives. Patience says volumes about who we are. Billy Graham wrote, “Patience is the transcendent radiance of a loving and tender heart which, in its dealings with those around it, looks kindly and graciously upon them.”
Patience exudes compassion, grace and a sympathetic understanding of what another person may be feeling or experiencing at a given moment. Yet it never sinks into codependency. Patience is also perseverance in that, due to our faith in Jesus, we’re able to bear up under weariness, strain and persecution when others are succumbing to their animal instincts and lashing out. If we’re to be Christ-like we must learn and put into practice His patience. In Colossians 1:11 Paul said through Christ we can be “…strengthened with all power according to his glorious might for the display of all patience and steadfastness…” The more patient we are the more others will see the work of the Holy Spirit going on in us as well as our willingness to let Him lead the way. When we get frustrated and belligerent because things aren’t unfolding the way we’d like them to we contribute to the escalating tension in the vicinity instead of easing it. We push the Holy Ghost aside so our ego can take over and that’s never a good thing. As believers we have to recognize when our engorged pride is stepping out front. Then we must renounce our sinful nature and humble ourselves on the spot. Remember, we’re ambassadors of Jesus and should act accordingly. Folks are watching.
An old saying goes: “Don’t pray for patience or God will give you something to wait on.” In the Bible patience is closely related to the Lord’s testing of His children. I consider myself a reasonably patient dude but stick me in a snail-paced traffic jam on I-30 and I turn into a foul-mouthed ogre in a heartbeat. That’s when I need to produce that particular spiritual fruit, not when I’m sitting quietly in church. This is one reason the Scriptures tell us encountering things that “push our buttons” can be beneficial. Patience is like a muscle. It must be exercised in order to become stronger. James 1:2-4 states, “My brothers and sisters, consider it nothing but joy when you fall into all sorts of trials, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect effect, so that you will be perfect and complete, not deficient in anything.” Since we’ve been taught this fundamental truism by the Holy Spirit who inspired the author of those verses we shouldn’t loathe hassles when they arise but sincerely welcome them because they force us to turn to God, not us, for the strength and patience necessary to withstand the devil’s assault. Let there be no doubt. Satan is real and He does cartwheels when we spin out of control and flip our lids over trivial inconveniences. Contrarily, he slaps himself in the forehead like Homer Simpson when we take a second to pray for the Lord to grant us patience while we’re facing the temptation to erupt in rage. Romans 12:12 says, “Rejoice in hope, endure in suffering, persist in prayer.” Only when prayer becomes second nature to us will it be the first thing that comes to mind when spiritual battles flare up seemingly out of nowhere. We must never forget the power of prayer. It’s the ace up our sleeve that trumps every card the devil deals us.
Nobody likes to be tested. We didn’t like it in school and we certainly don’t like it in adulthood. Charles Hembree wrote, “In the full face of affliction it’s hard to see any sense to things that befall us and we want to question the fairness of a faithful God. However, these moments can be the most meaningful of our lives.” When the disciples asked Jesus in John 9 who was to blame for the blind man being born with his beleaguering handicap He answered them thusly: “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but he was born blind so that the acts of God may be revealed through what happens to him.” What’s often overlooked in Christ’s explanation is the word “may.” He didn’t say “would.” What He was trying to convey was this: the cause of the affliction wasn’t nearly as significant as what the man did after receiving the Lord’s amazing grace. Jesus turned the emphasis back on us! We may reveal God’s mercy and love in response to whatever ills befall us but we definitely don’t have to. It’s our decision to make. In the same way we may opt to be patient or we may not. What Christians are expected to do is trust in God’s promises that He will put all things right in time. Psalm 30:5 reads, “One may experience sorrow during the night, but joy arrives in the morning.” One preacher said the morning being referred to doesn’t have an A.M. after it. Morning comes when we wake up!
Everyone talks about the “patience of Job” but the “patience of Joseph” is just as impressive. His conniving, envious and cruel older brothers tossed him into a hole in the ground and then sold him to a slave merchant. Next the gullible doofus who bought him from the trader believed his wife’s lies and had him thrown into a filthy Egyptian prison. There Joseph saved the life of a fellow inmate but was betrayed by the jerk when he failed to even try to inform Pharaoh of the poor boy’s innocence. He spent two more arduous years in that rat-infested jail before finally getting out. Yet it’s never even implied he became bitter about his predicament. Instead, he learned and practiced the fruit of the Spirit called patience. God may appear to be slow in coming to our rescue but He never shows up too late. 2 Corinthians 4:17 states, “For our momentary, light suffering is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison…” In Luke 21:19 Jesus told His disciples, “By your endurance you will gain your lives.” We must all strive to cultivate patience because there’s a day coming when we’ll need all of it we can muster.
However, we believers mustn’t misinterpret patience and tolerance and begin thinking they mean we’re to let evil walk all over us. We also can’t allow our long-suffering to turn into an act of neurotic self-flagellation we can parade before others to signify how righteous we are. Jesus never did that. Nor should his followers. There are times when we must stand firm and confront iniquity head on. When the occasion called for it the Messiah came out swinging. Matthew 21:12 states, “Then Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all those who were selling and buying in the temple courts, and turned over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves.” The Son of Man was no pushover that day. And He didn’t hold back from letting the scribes and Pharisees verbally have it with both barrels blazing. Restraint can be an asset but it can also become an excuse for inaction or a crutch to mask our lack of faith. A Spirit-filled Christian will know when “righteous indignation” is warranted and when the exercise of patience would be a wiser path to take.
The next fruit mentioned is kindness, also called gentleness. Kindness flows outward. In the original Greek it connotes a gentle temperament that pervades and penetrates one’s entire being. Kindness wipes away all that’s harsh and corrosive. We never showcase agape love better than when we’re kind to others. Jesus was a gentleman who changed everything. In His era there were few institutions that dispensed mercy. Hospitals were scarce and facilities for those with mental problems were non-existent. No homeless shelters. No orphanages. The general population couldn’t be bothered with helping the disenfranchised struggling out on the edge of society. Christianity changed that. It was Jesus’ followers who made His kindness and gentleness a dynamic force for good in the world. Is there a hospital in your town named for Muhammad, Buddha or Shiva? In Dallas alone we have a Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist (Baylor) and a Saint Paul Hospital. And each one of them treats Christians and non-Christians alike because the denomination that supports them believes in extending healing kindness to all.
The word gentleness doesn’t pop up in the Bible often but when it does it’s used in conjunction with the Holy Trinity. In Psalm 18:35 it’s a characteristic of God; in 2 Corinthians 10:1 it refers to Christ’s countenance; and in Galatians 5:23 it describes the Holy Spirit’s demeanor. Kindness is a critical aspect of unconditional love. Charles Allen said, “In one’s disdain of sin, one can be harsh and unkind toward a sinner… Some people seem to have such a passion for righteousness they have no room left for compassion for those who have failed.” The gay rights movement presents all Christians who strive to obey God’s laws with a huge dilemma. Some vociferously condemn homosexuals while some consider their sin no big deal. The Bible advocates neither response. Jesus, as He did with all sinners, would’ve treated them with gentle kindness while informing them of the unflinching truth of the matter. He saved His outrage to vent upon the hypocritical, conceited religious leaders, not upon the poor in Spirit. If Jesus came here to hate on sinners He would’ve hated on everybody! We must ask ourselves how attractive the Gospel is to those bound in the chains of sin if we refuse to love indiscriminately as our Lord did. Christ didn’t condone the sins of the guilty adulteress yet He didn’t allow the “holier than thou” crowd to murder her, either. He simply urged her to “sin no more” and let her go on her way. Whether she stopped being an unfaithful wife after that episode was totally up to her. She’d been educated about God’s unyielding moral edict in a tender, compassionate manner but the decision to follow the Savior’s command was hers to make. Jesus didn’t have to check up on her. He knew the Heavenly Father would. 2 Timothy 2:24 says that a believer “…must not engage in heated disputes but be kind toward all, an apt teacher, patient.”
Dr. Graham wrote, “The gentle heart is the broken heart – the heart that weeps over the sins of the bad as well as the sacrifices of the good.” We dare not get so hung up on “the law” that we ignore Christ’s standing order to love. Brennan Manning said, “Jesus liberated His disciples from the tyranny of the law. He did this not by abolishing or changing the law but by dethroning it from its place of primacy, relativizing it, making it subordinate to love and compassion – to the law of the Spirit.” Romans 7:6 states, “…now we have been released from the law, because we have died to what controlled us, so that we may serve in the new life of the Spirit…”
Rounding out this distinguished threesome is goodness. Once again the original Greek word deserves contemplation. It designates a quality found in a person who constantly gravitates toward and aims for the highest in moral and ethical values no matter what. Ephesians 5:8-9 tells us we’re to “Walk as children of the light – for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness, and truth.” 2 Thessalonians 1:11 reads, “…we pray for you always, that our God will make you worthy of his calling and fulfill by his power your every desire for goodness and every work of faith.” In Romans 15:14 Paul commended the church in Rome with “…you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able to instruct one another.” It should be obvious to all Christians that goodness should be our collective hallmark. It’s true an agnostic can be considered a “good guy” because he’s always so thoughtful but he’ll never be able to produce this particular fruit of the Spirit unless he’s firmly connected to the vine that is Jesus Christ. Not one of us is “good enough” to get into heaven no matter how “nice” we are. Goodness is not a surface feature. It goes much deeper than that. Goodness is love in action. It’s how we prove the Holy Spirit residing in us is in charge. It’s indulging in doing good deeds because Jesus has cleansed our heart of selfishness. It’s because we sincerely desire to please God without expecting recognition for our efforts. It’s because the new creation the great I AM has transformed us into is bent on doing as much good in and for the world as humanly possible. Acts 10:38 says of Jesus, “…God anointed him with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went around doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, because God was with him.”
Springtime is springing up in Texas and soon bluebonnets will be blooming everywhere. Earth can be a very pretty place. But when it comes to the behavior of its inhabitants it’s ugly more often than not. By putting our goodness out there for all to see we Christians identify ourselves as people marching to the beat of a different, divine and incredibly merciful drummer. Some we meet couldn’t care less about that but some will notice and want what we have. We’re to exemplify what it means to conscientiously attempt to spread God’s goodness to all His creation. On our own our self-generated goodness is pitifully weak. “Your goodness is as fleeting as the morning mist, it disappears as quickly as dawn’s dew!” (Hosea 6:4). But if we’re walking with the Lord the goodness He cultivates in our heart is capable of miraculous things. If folks acknowledge our goodness we should respond as Christ did in Mark 10:18 with, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” Jesus wasn’t being coy or patronizing, He was setting an example for us to follow by diverting all attention upward to the Heavenly Father. Satan will try his darndest to pervert the good we do by feeding any accolades it garners to our ravenous pride. But if our goodness is a fruit of the Holy Spirit he can’t touch it because it’s covered by the blood of our Savior. Spiritual goodness is forever outside his jurisdiction.
Goodness never stands alone. It’s always accompanied by patience and kindness or it isn’t genuine. They’re an inseparable power trio and they were immaculately displayed in the life of our perfect Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. If we model our lives after Him the fruits of the Spirit will be indelible personality traits no entity can steal from us. The Holy Spirit pours living water into our souls, irrigating the fields of our subconscious tended by the Father, sown with seeds of patience, kindness and goodness so others may behold His Son Jesus shining brightly through us.