These fruits grow on the highest branches

As a follower of Christ it’s imperative I keep my priorities straight: God first, others second and “me” third. When Paul listed nine spiritual fruits in Galatians 5 he put faithfulness, gentleness and self-control last. They’re the most difficult for me to reach because they deal with my personal spiritual growth. I searched for the “meaning of life” for decades before realizing it’s found in serving God. By serving Him He can work inside me and through me to produce a harvest of spiritual fruit. He’s the arborist. I’m just one of His trees. Philippians 2:13 confirms it: “…for the one bringing forth in you both the desire and the effort – for the sake of his good pleasure – is God.” It’s not if He’ll use me for His purpose. He will. He promised. Philippians 1:6 says, “…I am sure of this very thing, that the one who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” In other words, no matter how many times I let Him down, He’ll never give up on me because I am His!

 

First in this final trio is faithfulness. It’s not a fruit we can produce by ourselves. Only by yielding to the guidance of the indwelling Holy Spirit can we remain loyal to our Creator. In the King James translation of Titus 2:10 the word fidelity is employed and the dictionary defines it as “wholehearted devotion to one’s obligations.” It takes perseverance but here’s the good news. God rewards us when we faithfully do our duty. The stewards who performed their jobs efficiently in Jesus’ parable were told, “You have been faithful in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things (Matthew 25:21). If we show God we can be depended on to do the little things correctly He’ll let us take on the big things He needs done. Yet Satan will do whatever he can to make us drop the ball by enticing us with glittery-but-hollow idols this wicked world specializes in. That lure is strong. 2 Peter 2:21-22 warns us accordingly: “For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than, having known it, to turn back from the holy commandment that had been delivered to them. They are illustrations of this true proverb: ‘A dog returns to its own vomit,’ and ‘A sow, after washing herself, wallows in the mire.” At Celebrate Recovery we acknowledge relapses do happen in our walk with our Savior. Yes, we all fall down. But staying down is a worse sin. With the Holy Ghost’s help we get back up, dust off and continue moving forward by leaning more heavily on Jesus. That’s high fidelity.

3 John is primarily concerned with Christian faithfulness and a dependable dude named Demetrius gets singled out. In verse 12 it states he “…has been testified to by all, even by the truth itself.” Who among believers doesn’t want to be known foremost by our loyalty to God? Once we’re saved it’s imperative we get busy being a faithful servant of the Lord. One of the biggest regrets I have is that, between getting baptized as a kid and half a century later when I finally quit backsliding, I was anything but devoted to doing God’s bidding. It took longer for me to come to my senses than it took the Israelites to wander through the wilderness! If lack of fidelity is a sign of spiritual immaturity then I’ve spent most of my life wearing Huggies. I wanted to grow up but I balked at taking on the responsibilities that come with Christian adulthood and, by doing so, I was unfaithful to God. When the Holy Spirit didn’t make me perfect like Jesus the second I stepped from the baptismal I subconsciously decided to take matters into my own hands. Billy Graham wrote, “We can become impatient when we discover it takes so long to become like Him, but we should be patient and faithful, for becoming like Him is worth waiting for.” Maybe I didn’t feel it was. What my young brain couldn’t savvy was that the transformation of my heart would be a lifelong process, not a supernatural “presto change-o” magic trick. Perfection in this life is an admirable goal but it’s not a destination to be reached this side of heaven. When I stand beside Jesus in eternity then I’ll be glorified with Him, not a nanosecond before. In the meantime I’m to do all I can to magnify His magnificence. The past has passed. I’m not worried about the documentary of my life He’ll screen for me in His kingdom. Been there, seen that. What I dread is viewing the film of what I could’ve done.

If you want examples of what a faithful person looks like the Bible’s chock full of them, starting with Abraham. He was ready to sacrifice his son if that’s what God wanted. While faithfulness shouldn’t be motivated by an anticipation of receiving heavenly accolades, it’s comforting to know our omniscient Lord does notice. James 1:12 says, “Happy is the one who endures testing, because when he has proven to be genuine, he will receive the crown of life that God promised to those who love him.” And in 1:25, “…the one who peers into the perfect law of liberty and fixes his attention there, and does not become a forgetful listener but one who lives it out – he will be blessed in what he does.” Because I made a solemn vow to my wife she rightly expects me to remain faithful to her. The great I AM expects nothing less. Those familiar with the Scriptures know all of us will one day stand before the judgment seat of Christ. I have no doubt I’ll feel about as deserving of His gaze as a garden slug. My earthly endeavors and accomplishments won’t count one iota. How faithful I was to the great I AM will be all that matters to His Son. All of us owe our very existence to the Heavenly Father. 1 Corinthians 3:16 asks, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? I surmise that’s the question Jesus will pose when I see him face to face. He’ll ask me to account for how much time I spent in His Word, praying and obeying the principles of righteousness he made crystal clear to me ever since I could understand English. If I dare mumble, “I tried, Lord. But it was hard…” I suspect He’ll calmly show me His puncture wounds from the steel spikes they nailed Him to the cross with. I won’t have a leg to stand on.

Jesus knows this world’s difficulties and hassles can interfere with and distract us from faithfully spreading the Gospel message across the planet. He’s keenly aware of how weak we are, especially when money enters the equation. In Revelation 3:17-18 He warned the church in Laodicea, “… you say, ‘I am rich and have acquired great wealth, and need nothing,’ but do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked…! When we rely on our savings account balance for our security our fidelity to God flies out the window. 1 Timothy 6:9-10 states, “Those who long to be rich, however, stumble into temptation and a trap and many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all evils. Some people in reaching for it have strayed from the faith and stabbed themselves with many pains.” Any cash we earn down here is a means to an end, nothing more. Our faithfulness to God’s calling should be our only treasure. That’s how the post-conversion Apostle Paul lived. He was faithful to the end. He wrote, “I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith! Finally the crown of righteousness is reserved for me. The Lord, the righteous Judge, will award it to me in that day” (2 Timothy 4:7-8). Paul knew he wasn’t perfect, that he’d stumbled from time to time, but he also knew he’d striven to be faithful every step of the way and that Christ would welcome him home with open arms because he did his best. We’re faithful to our Savior when we’re faithful to witness to His grace and glory, when we’re faithful to our commitment to use our spiritual gifts, when we’re faithful to love others as He commanded us to. Sometimes our path winds through dark passageways but there’s a warm glow at the end of the tunnel. Revelation 2:10 says, Remain faithful even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown that is life itself.”

As explained in the previous essay, gentleness is one aspect of the fruit of kindness. However, as a separate fruit of its own, gentleness conveys, as part of a Christian’s overall attitude, a consistently mild manner of behaving. One of the first things Jesus taught the masses was Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5). Understand in that era “the earth” basically meant everything one could possibly need so the significance of His statement was profound to those who had nothing. But don’t think of gentleness as the equivalent of timidity or cowardice. In Biblical times it carried the idea of being tamed like a wild horse. Until the Holy Spirit saddled Peter and brought his emotion-fueled zeal under control he was an impulsive, rash individual liable to explode in anger at a moment’s notice. Moses was known as a meek man but only after God had made him tend sheep for forty years, transforming him from the high-spirited firebrand who murdered an Egyptian in a fit of rage into a great leader.

A raging river can be harnessed to generate large amounts of power. Fire can destroy but it can also heat homes. God wants us to tame our animalistic impulses not so we’ll be cream puffs but so we can be of use to Him. Gentleness also connotes modesty. It’s the opposite of flamboyance or outrageousness. It’s keeping a low profile. When properly displayed gentleness exudes a quiet strength that confounds those who believe bullying others lets them get their way. Throughout His farce of a trial, His torture and His despicable crucifixion Jesus remained steadfast in maintaining a subdued, non-violent demeanor. As prophesized centuries before in Isaiah 53:7, “He was treated harshly and afflicted, but he did not even open his mouth. Like a lamb led to the slaughtering block, like a sheep silent before her shearers, he did not even open his mouth.” In the most horrible of circumstances few humans have ever been in, Christ never lost His composure because He never lost sight of who He was serving – the Father in heaven. Charles Allen wrote, “Pride comes from looking only at ourselves. Meekness comes through looking at God.” It’s when we’re ridiculed or persecuted for our faith that gentleness is most disarming. Meekness flourishes best in the soil of hostility. Jesus told us to turn the other cheek because He knew nothing frustrates an attacker more than someone who won’t fight back.

The truly meek are the believers others can count on most because they possess the peace of Christ and never feel they have to wield their power arrogantly or in a destructive way. Jesus wouldn’t have told us the meek will be blessed by God if it wasn’t true. Fact is, most of our Savior’s teachings contradict what human nature insists we must do to survive. He told us to love our enemies. Walk humbly. Be in this world but not of it. Give up our life to save it. Show mercy always. Be kind to others even when they’re beating us down. Rejoice when folks make fun of us for being a follower of Christ. Be a decent, law-abiding citizen but obey only the indwelling Holy Spirit no one sees. The list goes on and on but in doing these things we produce the fruit of the Spirit called gentleness. Jesus said in Matthew 11:29, “Take my yoke on you and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” The Master rebuked Peter when he drew his sword on the soldiers at Gethsemane. In 3 John a guy named Diotrephes incurred the wrath of the author by being a boisterous blowhard. Jannes and Jambres, two of the Pharaoh’s magicians identified in 2 Timothy 3:8, will forever be known as the epitome of conceit and arrogance due to the snarky way they treated Moses. Meekness is an essential quality all Christians should have. Romans 12:10 urges believers to “…honor one another above yourselves.” Dr. Graham wrote, “The enthronement of Jesus in our lives makes it possible for meekness to become one of our virtues. Gentleness may be the most tangible sign of greatness displayed in us.”

Paul saved the rarest fruit for last – self-control. Almost every day we hear of people in lofty positions who’ve fallen into disgrace because of their inability to corral their physical appetites and mental habits. The word “temperance” isn’t just about abstinence from booze. It means exercising self-restraint from entertaining any of our sinful tendencies. Romans 8:5 states, “…those who live according to the flesh have their outlook shaped by the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit have their outlook shaped by the things of the Spirit.”   When a person turns their life over to the Lord it doesn’t exempt them from needing to cultivate self-control. We Christians have been given an important personal responsibility – to yank back on our own reins when everything around us screams “full speed ahead!” We all have a temper. In most it can blow up in the blink of an eye. Proverbs 16:32 says, “Better to be slow to anger than to be a mighty warrior, and one who controls his temper is better than the one who captures a city.” All book stores have a section devoted to self-help material and there’s nothing wrong with someone attempting to gain a healthier, more positive outlook. But no one can assist us in improving ourselves better than the Holy Spirit who lives inside. Never forget that He’s God and He can do anything.

Self-control also means bridling our judgmental thoughts. A lot of us have an elastic conscience when it comes to our own character defects and an inflexible one when it comes to the shortcomings of our neighbors. We come down hard on those who cheat on their spouse but secretly view porn without a twinge of shame. We condemn a drug addict’s compulsion while stuffing our pie holes with Oreos when we’re 20 pounds overweight. Jesus told us to not fret over the speck in another’s eye when we have a flagpole sticking out of our own. As His disciples we must exert self-control in all aspects of our lives and set an example for others who blindly indulge their every whim and wont until they destroy themselves. If Christians aren’t role models who’s gonna do it? Our elected leaders? Yeah, right. All fall short but in Christ there’s hope for all. Every person in Celebrate Recovery came there initially because they lacked self-control over a habit or hang-up that was ruining their relationship with God. Through that ministry many have found help because at CR we do what James 5:16 says; “..confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” It works if you work it.

God the Holy Spirit lives in every Christian heart. Therefore all believers have everything necessary to produce all nine spiritual fruits – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. So why aren’t we neck-deep in fruit? Dr. Graham wrote, “We do not fail to enjoy the fruit of the Spirit because we live in a sea of corruption; we fail because the sea of corruption is in us.” I’m not the Christian man I should be because I stubbornly (and stupidly) hold on to various worldly things that’ll never slake my thirst for the living water only my Savior can supply. I get lazy and conveniently forget I belong to Jesus Christ who sacrificed Himself for me so I can spend eternity totally justified, sanctified and satisfied. On our own we believers can’t produce anything but rotten fruit. But if we let the Holy Spirit fill us with His divine flood we can feed the world fruit so sweet its lost souls won’t be able to resist eating it.

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