“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law… If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.”
According to Jesus, the mark of his disciples is not in their spiritual gifts or natural talents. It is the fruit their life bears—period. How does your garden grow?
I think it important to stress here that the planting and cultivation of spiritual fruit is, quite literally, your garden. This fruit is grown by the Spirit with you, in you, and for you.
You cannot truly love your neighbor unless you love yourself. You cannot live at peace with others until you live at peace with yourself. The same is true for each of these fruits.
God wants you to experience love, joy, peace, and all these blessings for yourself first, then to share them. You are to be filled with these things just as you are filled with the Spirit. Are you waiting for the catch—then, here it is. You are not to wait until you have enough before you begin sharing the fruit with your neighbor. The more you give away, the more that grows in you.
I want to share just a word or two about a couple of these spiritual fruits—longsuffering and temperance. You will find different words used in the newer versions of the Bible because these two have fallen out of favor with modern thinking.
Longsuffering, means very much what it sounds like. To be suffering in this sense is to be patient, It is to be willing to let things come right in God’s time without pressing too hard. It means to allow people and things the time and space to grow—the seventy times seven forgivenesses in a single day for those who fail you. Longsuffering affords us and others the opportunity to be ourselves, to be the best we can be today without the guilt or shame that we are not yet perfect.
It is said that because God is longsuffering that he is easy to please, but hard to satisfy.
I have a son who has a talent for drawing. When he was five, he brought home the drawings he did at school, I hung them on the refrigerator with pride—pleased with what he created. When he was in high school, the childhood drawings had lost nothing, but they were less than what he was then capable of. Neither of us was satisfied any longer with the drawings of childhood, we expected the talents of the young man to shine.
I didn’t know the extent of his talent when he was five. But, God did. We don’t know what we are capable of achieving spiritually, but God does. The scripture says God calls the things that are not as if they were. That is, he sees our less than perfect efforts, sees what we are capable of, and what we will become. He waits for that finished product patiently, suffering our setbacks and failure with an eye to the prize that is our life.
We associate the second word, temperance, with the teetotalism of various temperance movements. Temperance has nothing to do with abstinence from alcohol or anything else. It means to have self-control, to be moderate.
C.S. Lewis points out the regularity with which error seems to come in pairs. Aristotle in his Ethics does the same. It is at the extremes of behavior that error lies.
Nowhere does scripture condemn the use of alcohol. It condemns drunkenness—the extreme intake of alcohol. Neither does scripture attach virtue to abstinence from alcohol. On the contrary, Paul, pointed out to Timothy the benefits of a little wine. Science as subsequently confirmed the health benefits of moderate red wine use.
Extremism on either end postulated as the sole ground for faith and practice ignores the virtue of temperance. If one cannot practice temperance, it is well to abstain. However, it is wrong for that same person to condemn all who are moderate. Temperance is best served by avoiding extremes in judgment and behavior on the way to working out one’s own salvation.
The fruit that grows from our life determines what we harvest now and eternally.