Spiritual Warfare: Understanding the Enemy

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But He turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.'”

– Matthew 16:23

In warfare, the key to winning the battle is understanding the enemy. Military strategists spend a significant amount of time researching the enemy in an effort to understand how they operate. What are their skills? What techniques do they use? Where do they like to hide? What motivates them? What are their weaknesses? You want to learn to think like them so you can anticipate their next move. You want to beat them to it. You want to be ready when the attack comes. You want to be prepared for anything they may bring against you.

The same is true in spiritual warfare.

So who is our enemy?

The easy answer is Satan, Lucifer, the Devil, the Prince of Darkness – and we’ll get to him, but less obvious answer is ourselves. We are often our own worst enemy. I once heard Pastor Steven Furtick say, “The enemy is the inner me.” If spiritual battles takes place most often in our minds, then we have to learn how our minds think. If spiritual battles are the flesh verses the spirit, then we have to learn where our flesh is weak. We have to learn to strengthen our areas of weakness, and we have to learn to build on our areas of strength. We have to learn where we are most prone to attack, and where we are most prone to be attacked.

We need to ask ourselves, how do I pose the biggest threat to Satan? Because whatever that threat is – that’s what Satan will seek to destroy.

We need to ask ourselves, where is my flesh weak? Because wherever that weakness is – that’s where the Satan will aim his weapon of attack.

Think about competitive sports. Athletes and coaches will often prepare for a game by watching, studying, and analyzing videos of past games. They’ll watch their opponent to understand how they play the game, what strengths they rely on, and what techniques they use. But they’ll also watch themselves. They’ll learn from their mistakes. They’ll see where they went wrong. They’ll see where they left themselves open to attack. They’ll see where they made a wrong step or turned a wrong way. They don’t focus on the mistakes to dwell on the mistakes and tear themselves down, but they focus on the mistakes to make improvements and better themselves for the sake of the team.

Obviously we can’t watch our lives on a highlight reel. We can’t rewind, press pause, and zoom in on certain areas of our lives. We can’t always see our mistakes right in front of our eyes – but with prayer, and reflection, we can ask God to reveal it to us. With repentance comes self-awareness and transformation.

We can mentally destroy ourselves from the inside out by the lies we tell ourselves – or we can be transformed from the inside out by renewing our minds (Romans 12:2). A strong and secure inner self, completely dependent on the strength and security of Christ, is fully capable of defeating Satan in his many methods of attack.

In Priscilla Shirer’s Bible Study The Armor of God she talks about the importance of “undisguising” our enemy. She says we tend to make one of two mistakes in our beliefs about Satan, we either 1) overestimate his impact on our lives and live in a constant state of fear and anxiety or we 2) underestimate his impact on our lives and don’t take seriously the spiritual battle that we can’t physically see with our eyes. When it comes to understanding the enemy, there’s a lot we can learn from the many names he is given throughout scripture. As Priscilla Shirer writes, “The names of the enemy reveal his character, intention, and activity.”

He is described as Satan, meaning he is our adversary (Job 1:6).

He is described as Devil, meaning he is slanderous.

Ephesians 4:25-27 says, “Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another. Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity.

He is described as Lucifer, meaning “day star” or “shining one.”

This name is perhaps the most telling. We often are blindsided by his attacks, because we’re looking for a red robe and horns – but Satan comes to us in light. We are drawn to his lures because it is attractive and appealing. Luke 10:18 describes his fall as resembling lighting – the light is beautiful, but the power is destructive.

Isaiah 14:12-14 says, “How you have fallen from heaven, O star of the morning, son of the dawn! You have been cut down to the earth, You who have weakened the nations! ‘But you said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God, And I will sit on the mount of assembly in the recesses of the north. ‘I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.'”

His fall came as our own fall came – with a desire to be like God. His pride was his downfall – and he tempts us to fall in the same way as he fell, the same way he tempted Jesus to fall.

He is described as a Tempter (1 Thessalonians 3:5), and an Accuser (Revelation 12:10).

Matthew 4:1-3 says, “Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He then became hungry. And the tempter came and said to Him, ‘If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.'”

His tricks have not changed. In the Garden he tempted Eve by asking “Did God really say…” and with Jesus He asked, “If you really are…” He plants seeds of doubts with his questions. He promises the only power he has to give, the power of this present world.

He is described as a Ruler of the World (John 12:31), a Prince of the Power of Darkness (Ephesians 2:2), and a Father of Lies (John 8:44).

He is deceptive, and manipulative. 2 Corinthians 4:4 says, “In whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”

Now that we have a better understanding of who he is, the next question we need to ask is how does he operate?

In The Armor of God, Priscilla Shirer lists 10 different strategies Satan tends to use against us:

  1. Our Passion
  2. Our Focus
  3. Our Identity
  4. Our Family
  5. Our Confidence
  6. Our Calling
  7. Our Purity
  8. Our Contentment
  9. Our Heart
  10. Our Relationships

These are the areas of our lives where we need to hold steady that shield of faith. We need to protect ourselves. These are the areas of our lives that God uses for His glory and the expansion of His kingdom. Therefore, these are the areas of our lives where we pose the greatest threat to Satan. We need to infuse the Word of God into every of aspect of our lives, so that Satan can gain no foothold. If Satan is attacking you, it’s because you’re doing something right. Satan knows he is powerless. He knows he’s been defeated.

Priscilla Shirer writes, “Satan knows that he cannot destroy you. Too late for that. The best he can do (and he intends to make full use of it) is to make your time on earth futile and unproductive, to suffocate you with sin, insecurity, fear, and discouragement until you are unable to live freely and fully. He can’t ‘unseat’ you, but he can intimidate you and render you ineffective and paralyzed.”

When we live fully in our calling, when we walk in the ways of Jesus, and give Him glory in all that we do – then we remind Satan of his rightful place, and it makes him angry. It reminds him that He lost the victory at the cross. He reminds Him that Jesus has defeated death, hell, and the grave – and is seated at the right hand of God.

As Priscilla Shirer writes, it reminds him that he has been disarmed (Colossians 2:15), overruled (Ephesians 1:20-22), mastered (Philippians 2:9-11), rendered powerless (Hebrews 2:14), and all his works destroyed (1 John 3:8).

We have the victory, so let’s live in the victory. Let’s operate from a mindset of victory. Let’s battle as if God is fighting for us and the victory has already been won.

 “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.”

– Romans 16:20

Spiritual Warfare: A Battle of the Mind

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For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.

– Ephesians 6:12

Our thoughts hold immense power. Proverbs 23:7 says, “As a man thinks, so he is.” Our thoughts contain all our decisions (good and bad), all our habits (good and bad), all our fears (good and bad), all our personality traits (good and bad). They hold all of our hopes and dreams, all of our anxiety and insecurity. Our thoughts contain everything we think about God, everything we think about other people, and everything we think about ourselves. Shame starts in the mind. When we’re worried about what other people will think about us – that starts with a thought. Stress starts in the mind. If we’re worried about the future – it’s because we’re thinking about all the things that could go wrong. The way we think about a situation can be what motivates us and pushes us forward with confidence, or what paralyzes us and holds us back in fear. In times of spiritual warfare, we need to be in control of our thoughts. It is essential to our survival.

For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ, and we are ready to punish all disobedience, whenever your obedience is complete.”

– 2 Corinthians 10:3-6

Sin starts in the mind. We have to take our thoughts captive before they become actions. In Genesis, Eve first saw that the fruit was “good for food, and that it was a delight to eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise” (Genesis 2:6). She had already thought of three justifications for sinning before she ever reached out and touched the fruit. When she took it, she ate it. When she ate it, she gave it to her husband, and he ate it too. It created a ripple effect as all sin does. Satan tempted her. Satan asked the question, and planted the seed of doubt, but Eve reasoned within herself and she acted upon her reasoning.

2 Corinthians 10:3-4 tells us we walk in the flesh, but we war in the Spirit. Walking in the flesh is easy – it’s comfortable, and it comes naturally to us. But war is not easy – it requires preparation and training; it requires a willingness to sacrifice. The weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh. According to Ephesians 6, the only offensive weapon we have in our Spiritual Armor is the Sword of the Spirit. This weapon is capable of destroying fortresses. A fortress is defined as “a castle, a stronghold, anything on which one relies” (Thayers Definition). Our sins become strongholds when we start to rely on them. They start to rule over us. They become kings and queens in the castles of our mind – and they must be overthrown. They must be replaced with the King of Kings, the Prince of Peace. Only the Spirit is capable of destroying such strongholds. When we wage war against strongholds with the Spirit fighting for us, we advance into enemy territory. We take the castle captive. We win the victory. We replace those sinful thoughts of the flesh with thoughts of the Spirit. In the Spirit, we find strength for the fight. Matthew 26:41 tells us the flesh is weak, but the Spirit is willing. Romans 8:5-6 says, “For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace.”

“Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth.”

– Colossians 3:2

We are living in a time of information overload. We have encyclopedias of knowledge at the end of our fingertips. We can google search and find the answer to just about any question we have. We can find opinions on topics ranging from every end of the spectrum. No matter where you stand on a subject, the odds are you can find someone who adamantly agrees and another who adamantly disagrees. Social media is often where Satan does his best work nowadays. From pop culture to political commentaries – there is always something in the headlines causing division. From Instagram influencers to Facebook’s advertising algorithms – there is always something trying to sway our thoughts and opinions. Technology is being designed to get into our minds and anticipate our behaviors, our needs, and our desires. They try to sway us to vote us a certain way, to spend our money a certain way, to look a certain way, to act a certain way, to believe a certain way. If we don’t have control of our thoughts, we can be swayed in any way the wind blows. We have to be firmly planted in the Word of God. We have to focus our thoughts and set our minds on things above.

“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”

– Romans 12:2

Changing our behavior doesn’t change the source of our problems. We have to renew our minds. We have to get to the root of the issue. If we don’t pull up a weed from it’s root, then it will just grow right back in a matter of time. If we don’t learn to think differently, nothing will ever change. Those strongholds will start to rise up again. Repentance is more than just asking God to forgive us of our sinfulness, it is actively turning away from our sins. To turn away from our sins, we often have to turn away from the things that cause us to sin. The people who tempt us. The situations that entangle us. Our thoughts become actions. Our actions become our habits. Our habits become our behaviors. When we start thinking about God’s truth, we start believing God’s truth, and eventually we start living in accordance to God’s truth. We can’t just accept something to be true because it’s what we’ve always heard. We have to study to show ourselves approved. We have to rightly divide the Word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15). We have to take in the truth, reflect on it, think about it, apply it, and let it transform us from the inside out.

1 Corinthians 2:16 tells us we have the mind of Christ. We need to put Him in His rightful place of power and authority. We need to let His truth rule our thoughts. We need to put Him in control, and let Him fight for us. We need to trust Him. He has already won the victory. It’s ours to claim.

“The steadfast of mind You will keep in perfect peace, because he trusts in You.”

– Isaiah 26:3

Spiritual Warfare: Equipped for Battle

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“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints,”

– Ephesians 6:10-17

The battle we are fighting is not a battle of the physical, but of the spiritual. It is not an earthly battle, but an eternal battle. It is a battle for our hearts, minds, and souls. It is a battle of our flesh verses our spirit. We are facing an unseen enemy – so we have to put our trust in our unseen God. We have to surrender to His power, His authority, and His control. We have to equip ourselves fully with the armor of God. We have to come to God in prayer – asking Him to make us strong, asking Him to help us stand firm, asking Him to equip us with the tools of the trade. Our calling is high. Our mission is clear. And we can do nothing apart from Him.

Every morning when our feet hit the ground, we are entering a battlefield. The enemy is ready and waiting to devour us – so let us hit our knees in prayer and prepare ourselves with spiritual armor. Let us prepare for battle.

Loins Girded with Truth

In spiritual warfare, our enemy is a liar and a deceiver. John 8:44 says, “You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” When we understand this key aspect of our enemy, we understand why the first step in preparing our spiritual armor to fight against him is to “gird your loins with truth.” What does it mean to gird your loins? I’ve often seen this image to describe what it would look like in ancient times:

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In this sense, the truth keeps us from tripping over our own feet. Is that not what happens we listen to and believe the lies of the enemy? Girding our loins gives us freedom to fully step into the truth of who we are in Christ. Where the lies of the enemy try to box us in and minimize our calling, the truth of God expands our stride and gives us the flexibility we need to progress into enemy territory and receive the victory that has already been won for us.

In more modern times, “girding your loins” is described more like a belt. In warfare, the belt can help provide protection for many of the vital organs in the lower part of the body. The belt is also important because holds the rest of our spiritual armor in place. It gives us a place to safely hold our sword of the spirit, so we can quickly access it when we need it. The belt of truth literally holds our pants up – keeping our vulnerabilities from being exposed to the enemy, keeping us from the shameful nakedness of our sin. The truth is that God is love (1 John 4:8) and love covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8). The truth is that His blood cleanses us of all unrighteousness (1 John 1:7) and He has nailed our sins to the cross once and for all (Colossians 2:14).

To gird our loins with truth is to wrap truth around us. God is truth. He is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:16). We can’t come to the Father except through Him, we can’t overcome the enemy except through Him, and we can’t win the victory over the spiritual forces of evil in this world except through Him. We can’t just gird our loins with truth, we have to gird our loins with The Truth.

The Breastplate of Righteousness

The breastplate of righteousness protects the most vital of organs – the heart and the lungs. Proverbs 4:23 (NLT) tells us to guard our heart “above all else” because everything we do flows from it. Jeremiah 17:9-10 says, “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is? But I, the Lord, search all hearts and examine secret motives. I give all people their due rewards, according to what their actions deserve.” We hide the word of God in our hearts so that we don’t sin against Him (Psalm 119:11). Our breastplate is made of righteousness. I’ve often heard righteousness described as “right living.” God’s standard of living is intended to keep our hearts pure. In Psalm 24:4-5, David wrote, “Only those whose hands and hearts are pure, who do not worship idols and never tell lies. They will receive the Lord’s blessing and have a right relationship with God their savior.” 

The heart is what keeps the blood pumping throughout our body. The blood is what keeps us alive, and gives us new life. Our lungs give us the ability to inhale and exhale. God breathed the breath of life into us, and it is His Spirit that keeps us alive. Righteousness hides His words in our heart. If ever we let our shield of faith fall short, our breastplate of righteousness is there to protect the weakness of our flesh from the fiery arrows of the enemy.

Feet Shod with Preparation of Gospel of Peace

The Gospel is good news. The Gospel brings peace. Isaiah 52:7 says, “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of the messenger who brings good news, the good news of peace and salvation, the news that the God of Israel reigns!” 1 Peter 3:15 tells us to always be ready to give an answer to anyone that asks us about the hope we have as believers. We have to be prepared. We have to be ready to share the good news. The Gospel is good news for all people (Luke 2:10) and Jesus commissions us to go into the world and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19). Having our feet shod with the Gospel of peace prepares us for that journey. It protects the soles of our feet from the rocky terrain we may encounter along the way.

When I think about the relationship between feet and the Gospel, I think about the story of Jesus kneeling to wash the feet of his disciples during the last supper on the night He was arrested. He was preparing them for the journey ahead. He knew the warfare they would be coming up against. John 13:4 -5 says, “He got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.” When Jesus wrapped that towel around His waist, He was girding His loins. He was preparing for His own spiritual warfare. He knew He would be betrayed. He knew He would be denied. He knew He would be killed for their sins, and for our sins. But He still humbled Himself. He still served. He still sacrificed. When He had finished washing their feet, He said to them, “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” He washed their feet and sent them out to the battleground to be messengers of the Good News.

The Shield of Faith

When we are covered head to foot in spiritual armor, the shield of faith provides an extra layer of protection. To use a shield in warfare requires faith. We hold the shield out in front of us with confidence that the fiery arrows coming against us will hit against it and fall to the ground. We trust the shield to take the hits for us. We trust the shield to withstand the impact for us.

In battle, we try to anticipate where our next attack will be coming from. The benefit of the shield is we can move it from one area to another. We move the shield of faith to the areas where we need coverage the most. We need that extra layer of protection in the areas where we feel the weakest. We need a shield of faith in the areas where our doubt is the most present. Satan will take advantage of any inch, any opening, where He could sneak in and cause us to doubt. We have to keep ourselves covered by continuing to trust in God to be our defense against those fiery arrows.

Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” We walk by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). The greatest strategy of our spiritual warfare, is that we are trusting in a commander with a different perspective than our own. Our God is seated on high. We don’t know when or where Satan may choose to attack. Our vision is limited – but when we put our trust in God then He provides clear instruction to us. Romans 10:17 says, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” We hear His Word, we trust His Word, and we move in accordance to His Word. We put our faith into action, and we watch what He does through our obedience. We watch His faithfulness unfold morning after morning.

The Helmet of Salvation

The helmet of salvation protects our head, our brain – the seat of all our wisdom, thought, knowledge, and understanding. This is a vital piece of armor. We learn through the story of David and Goliath that one single blow to the head can send even the most intimidating of giant warriors crashing to the ground. Salvation guards our thoughts. Romans 10:17 tells us faith comes through hearing the Word of God. We believe with our heart, but Romans 10:9-10 tells us it is made into salvation with a mouth confession. We use our minds to process what we hear, and to formulate what we speak. 2 Corinthians 2:16 tells us we have the mind of Christ. The battle we are fighting is a battle of the mind, and a battle for the mind. If Satan can influence our thoughts, he can influence our actions. That’s why Colossians 3:2 tells us to set our minds on things above and 2 Corinthians 10:5 tells us to take our thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ.

The Sword of the Spirit

As we equip ourselves for battle, the only offensive weapon we’re instructed to carry is a sword – the sword of the Spirit. We are equipped with the Word of God. Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Truth. Righteousness. The Gospel of Peace. Faith. Salvation. These are all aspects of our spiritual warfare that we find in the Word of God. His Spirit unites them all. 2 Timothy 3:16 says, “All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.” In the NIV, this verse says “all scripture is God-breathed.” That’s what the Spirit does – He breaths and brings life.

When we carry such a powerful weapon into the battlefield, we have to be careful not to abuse that power. We are quick to draw the sword, and we’re often tempted to use it in a way that causes more harm than good. Do you remember what happened on the night Jesus was arrested? When the disciples saw that Jesus had been betrayed, they asked, “Lord shall we strike with the sword?” (Luke 22:49) but they didn’t wait for His response. Scripture says Peter drew his sword and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his right ear. But Jesus responded saying, “‘Stop! No more of this.’ And He touched his ear and healed him” (Luke 22:50). 

Jesus doesn’t need us to defend Him. He is more than capable of defending Himself. He is the one defending us. He is the one fighting for us. When we ask for His guidance, we need to wait and listen for His response. When He instructs us to move, we move. When He instructs us to stay, we stay. That’s why prayer is such an important part of our spiritual warfare – prayer is how we communicate with Him. Prayer is how we open our ears, open our minds, and open our hearts. Prayer is how we tune in to His still small voice. Prayer is how we receive our commands to advance, and our commands to withdraw. Prayer is the guiding force of our spiritual warfare. We need only be strong, stand still, and resist the enemy. Our God is fighting for us.

“The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”

– Exodus 14:14 NIV

The Fruit of Self-Control

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“Like a city that is broken into and without walls is a man who has no control over his spirit.”

– Proverbs 25:28

Self-control is defined by Thayer’s Biblical Dictionary as “the virtue of one who masters his desires and passions.” Scripture says in 2 Peter 2:19 that people are slaves to whatever masters them. We are enslaved by our sin, but Romans 6:6-7 says, “Knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin.” Paul goes on to say in verses 12-14, “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.”

We cultivate self-control by dying to our sin.

Because of Jesus, we have power over sin. When we follow the example of Jesus, we see how He resisted the temptation of sin. He prayed, and He fasted. He overcame every lie of the enemy with a truth from the word of God. His resistance was rooted in a knowledge of God’s Word. His resistance was rooted in an understanding of who God was and what God desired for Him. He looked beyond His temporary situation and ahead to an eternal purpose. He was driven by His love for the Father and His love for us. He came not be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom (Mark 10:45). By living a sinless life and dying a blameless death, He did what we were powerless to do. When He heals us, He does so without judgement and condemnation, but He tells us to go and sin no more. He tells us to take up our cross and follow Him. We have to die to ourselves daily. We have to surrender ourselves daily to His all-sufficient sacrifice. And when we fall, as we inevitably will, He picks us up and dusts us off with love and compassion because He is a God of second chances and unending grace and mercy.

“For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.”

– Titus 2:11-12 NIV

Our sinfulness is defined by unrestrained passions and desires, unhealthy cravings and addictions. Our sinfulness runs rampant when we surrender ourselves to the desires of our flesh rather than the desires of our spirit. In Galatians 5:16-17, Paul writes, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.” He goes on to say in Galatians 5:24-25, “Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.”

We cultivate self-control by walking in the Spirit. 

When we bear the fruit of self-control, we are focused and disciplined; our eyes are fixed on the things above, and we are practicing spiritual disciplines as if they are exercises for our soul. When we do not bear the fruit of self-control, we are wandering around aimlessly; we’re easily distracted and thrown off course. In 1 Corinthians 9:25-27, Paul writes, “Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.”

When we practice self-control, it’s important for us to be clear on what is the source of our motivation. I’ve heard it said that self-control cannot be practiced by ourselves or for the sake of ourselves. It’s important for us to remember that self-control is not dependent on our own power and ability, but on God’s power working through us. We must surrender ourselves to the work of the Spirit and be completely dependent on Him. If we make our ability to resist sinfulness and be spiritually disciplined something that is done our own willpower, then we negate the power of God working through us. This way of thinking takes the focus off of God and places it onto ourselves. This way of thinking invites in pride and idolatry. When we practice self-control, we have to be careful to avoid falling in to the trap of self-righteousness. For example, fasting is often used as a discipline to break chains of addiction and set our focus on things above. However, as Phillip Kenneson writes, “Fasting that is undertaken as a form of self-mastery can easily reinforce the self-centeredness that often fosters addictions in the first place.” We must be clear on what is the driving force of our motivation. We practice self-control not for ourselves or by ourselves, but for the Spirit and by the Spirit.

“For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.”

– 2 Timothy 1:7 ESV

If we think we must practice self-control all on our own, then the mountain seems impossible to climb. We must remember that we are not alone in this journey. God is with us. God is working through us and fighting for us. We need our Father to guide us in the way we should go and discipline us when we go astray, but we also need our brothers and sisters in Christ to hold us accountable and keep us encouraged as we battle against the sins that so easily entangle us (Hebrews 12:1). God has given us a spirit of self-control. The word for “self-control” in 2 Timothy 1:7 can also be translated as “self-discipline” or “a sound mind.” God knows what we need because He has been where we are, and He is with us now. He gives us what we need, and He gives us who we need. He empowers us to do what we need to do. He can relate to our struggles with sin because He was tempted in all the ways we are tempted, but sinned not (Hebrews 4:15).

We cultivate self-control by controlling our thoughts.

The battle of sin is a battle of the mind. It starts with our thoughts. 2 Corinthians 10:5 tells us to take our thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ. We are waging war daily against our sinful nature and the desires of our flesh. In Romans 7:18-20 Paul writes, “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.”

1 Peter 1:13-16 says, “Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.'”

Our emotions. The way we feel about certain situations. The way we respond to other people when they hurt us or make us angry. The way we react when we’re under stress. The words we speak. The things we do. The way we plan and organize our day. The way we spend our time and our money. The way we maintain our health and well-being. These things all originate in our thoughts, and they all impact how we cultivate the fruit of self-control.

Self-control leads to confidence, calm assurance, and trust. The more we listen to and believe the words of truth God has spoken to us and over us, the better we feel about ourselves and the better decisions we make. The more confidence and trust we have in God, the more willing we are to take risks and step out in obedience to what He is calling us to do. When we trust His will above our own will, our fear and anxiety will yield to boldness and confidence in who He is and what He is able to do.

Self-control is also closely related to the fruit of patience. Practicing restraint takes patience. We have to process our thoughts through the lens of Christ rather than act on the impulse of our desires. Self-control means thinking before we speak, and thinking before we act. Scripture tells us in Matthew 15:11 that it’s not what goes in that defiles us, but what comes out. Everything that we fill our mind with must be processed through our heart and through our Spirit. Without that filtration system, our sinfulness will surely come forth through our words and our actions. Cultivating the fruit of self-control means maintaining that internal filtration system and keeping it in check through our prayer, fasting, and spiritual discipline.

Let us pray….

Spiritual Warfare Prayer for Self-Control and Self-Discipline

Written By: Geevetha Mary Samuel

“Almighty Father, in this world filled with goodness, evil, pleasure, leisure, lust and temptations, my desire is to have the fruit of Your Spirit evident in my daily life. Grant me Father I pray, a spirit of self control. May I face all issues of life with calmness and control, from self and over-indulgence.

Father, please forgive me for the times I have said and done things rashly. Please remind me to consider self-control as “God-control”. It’s not trying to control myself with human effort. But rather it is depending on the Holy Spirit to guide my ways and choices.

Lord Jesus Christ, You defeated Satan in his attempts to tempt you to flaunt Your power with a spirit of self control. And now I call upon Your blessed name. I ask You to bless me with this virtue, which is very much needed in most aspects of life. I seek Your assistance and guidance. May Your Holy Spirit fill me with power, as I come in prayer and raise my supplications before You.

Lord Jesus, empower me with a spirit of self control when I’m tempted with sexual desires and lusts over the flesh. Help me to restraint myself from thoughts of lust. May I be pure in heart, mind and soul. In my relationships, may I practice self-control. May I not give in to others in sexual desires except within the bond of marriage.

May I grow in deeper mutual understanding, respect, honor. And, most of all, may I grow in love for my brothers and sisters, even as I grow in self control to be able to counter and defeat most issues in life.

I pray for a spirit of self-discipline as I deal with money, wealth, my daily living habits and my pleasures. Help me to do all in moderation and in accordance with your will.

As a family, may we keep ourselves in the right perspective. May we to live a life, evenly spread with all joys and pleasures that are blessed in Your eyes. May we never indulge in anything impure and illicit. And may our choices be never rash or impulsive. Help us Lord to pray and receive the guidance of the Holy Spirit in all our decisions of family, work, friendship and relationships.

Lord Jesus, I believe and trust that You will deliver me from temptations and self indulgence as I place my heart in Your loving care. Though I may stumble, Your mighty power will lead me back in focus and self control. You will deliver me from the evil schemes of Satan.

I believe in the power of the Holy Spirit. May I be renewed daily with a fresh filling of Your Spirit, as I come and surrender myself. In Your blessed name Lord Jesus Christ I pray, Amen.” 

The Fruit of Gentleness

gentleness2

But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children. Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us.”

– 1 Thessalonians 2:7-8

The Bible tells us in 1 Peter 3:4 says that a gentle and quiet spirit is of great worth to God. He values gentleness. Gentleness is useful and purposeful. So what does it mean for us to bear the fruit of gentleness? How can we cultivate gentleness in our lives?

When we look at the Biblical definition of gentleness, we learn that it means to be meek or humble. Let’s look first at the meaning of meekness. It’s important for us not to confuse meekness with weakness. I once heard someone describe meekness by saying, “Meekness is not weakness, it is controlled strength.” When we look at the spiritual fruits as attributes of the character of God, do we not see controlled strength in so much of who He is? Is that not the exact definition of mercy? I’ve heard it said that “Grace is when God gives us what we don’t deserve, and mercy is when God doesn’t give us what we do deserve.” Psalm 103:8 says God is “compassionate, and gracious, and slow to become angry.

What’s interesting is that the Hebrew equivalent of the Greek word for gentleness that is used in Galatians 5:23 is the word “ani” and this is a word that is rarely, if ever, used to describe God in the Old Testament. God is not meek in the ways that we typically think about meekness. However, as Phillip Kenneson writes in Life on the Vine, “If meekness is the strength to refrain from resorting to power and coercion, then certainly there is an important sense in which God is meek.”

Maybe that’s why Jesus was rejected by those He came to save – because they couldn’t recognize this meekness, this gentleness, as part of His character. They wanted to see Jesus as a powerful ruler, but He came instead as a humble servant. They wanted Jesus to bring vengeance and wrath towards their enemies, but instead Jesus directed His anger toward the money-changers in the Temple (Mark 11:15-18) and told them to love their enemies and pray for those who persecuted them (Matthew 5:43-44). Jesus is both the lion and the lamb. He is both loving and just. David, who tenderly cared for the sheep of his pasture and defeated a giant with a sling of a stone, is described as a man after God’s own heart. 

In Matthew 5:5 during the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Phillip Kenneson makes an insightful observation about this verse of Scripture. He says, “The meek do not aggressively conquer the earth and subdue it; instead they inherit it: it is given to them.” Meekness is a powerful force for good. It is valuable to God and to His Kingdom.

Meekness is often viewed in opposition to aggression and violence. When we live in a society that glorifies violence and aggression, to be a person of meekness is to be counter-cultural. Those who are gentle and meek are makers of peace and not of war. They do not stir up trouble, and they do not cause division. They do not return an eye for an eye. The meek are those who turn the other check (Matthew 5:38-39). We will inherit the Kingdom of God because we are sons and daughters of the King. We do not need to conquer it, we do not need to fight for it. We need only be still, because our God is fighting for us (Exodus 14:14).

The meek will inherit the earth, and the humble will be exalted. In Matthew 23:12 Jesus says, “Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.” Where meekness is viewed in opposition to aggression and violence, humility is viewed in opposition to arrogance and pride. 1 Peter 5:5 says “…clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

We need to “clothe” ourselves with humility, just as we need to “put on” the armor of God. We clothe ourselves in the morning. We go through a process of getting ready and preparing ourselves for the day ahead. We clothe ourselves according to the weather outside our door. We clothe ourselves to provide warmth and defense against the bitter cold, or we clothe ourselves to provide coolness and relief from the summer heat. In the same way, humility defends us against outside forces.

In the beginning, clothing was created as a result of sinful disobedience. Adam and Eve covered themselves with fig leaves because they realized they were naked and they were ashamed. After God called them out of hiding, He created clothing for them out of animal skins. Their feeble attempt at covering themselves was not enough, the true covering for sin required a blood sacrifice. And now we have Jesus – the perfect sacrifice who’s blood covered our sins once and for all. Because of Jesus, we can wear our humility, not as a covering of shame, but as a covering of grace. When we clothe ourselves with humility we are making a confession that we have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). When we clothe ourselves with humility, we are making a confession that we are sinful and imperfect beings who have been covered by the love of a perfect God (Matthew 5:48, 1 John 4:18). Our humility takes the focus off of ourselves, and points to Jesus – the author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2)

We are capable of living with humility, because we are created in the image of a humble God. In Matthew 11:29 Jesus describes Himself as being “gentle and humble in heart.” When Jesus entered this earth, He came in the form of a lowly baby in a manger. The Savior of the world, slept in a food trough made for animals (Luke 2:7). The announcement of His birth was made to lowly shepherds in a field (Luke 2:8-11). When He entered public ministry, He chose not to come baptizing, but to come being baptized (Matthew 3:13-15). When He was tempted in the wilderness, He didn’t fall into Satan’s trap to satisfy His own physical desire for food, to make a spectacle of Himself to capture the awe and attention of man, or to bow down to Satan for the power and glory of earthly kingdoms (Matthew 4:1-11). Instead, He chose the path of true humility. He chose to ride in on a donkey (John 12:14), and be crucified on a cross (John 19:18). He chose to be betrayed, denied, and rejected by those He loved and came to save (John 1:11, Matthew 26:14-16, 69-75). He chose to wash the feet of His disciples (John 13:1-17). He chose to not have a place to lay His head (Luke 9:58). He chose a Kingdom beyond this world that eyes cannot see. He chose the Father above who was well-pleased (Matthew 3:17). He chose the eternal over the temporary. He chose the spiritual over the physical. He chose love over legality. He chose love because He is love (1 John 4:8). And in choosing love, He didn’t abolish the law, but fulfilled the law (Matthew 5:17). When we look at Scripture through the lens of Jesus – love abounds. Love is humble – it is not jealous, it does not brag, it is not arrogant, it does not act unbecomingly, it is not self-seeking, and it is not easily provoked (1 Corinthians 13:4-5). In Ephesians 4:1-2, the Apostle Paul implores us to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love.”

When we follow the path of humility, we follow the path of Jesus. When we look at the life of Jesus, we see that His humility was often related to His hospitality. Matthew 11:19 describes Him as a friend of sinners. He ate and drank with those society had rejected and cast aside. He was welcoming to all. He invited all to the table, and He asks us to do the same. In Luke 14:12-14, He says, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, otherwise they may also invite you in return and that will be your repayment. But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” Romans 12:20 says, “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink.” Jesus teaches that when we give food to the hungry and drink to the thirsty, when we give clothing to the naked, and when we visit the sick and imprisoned then it is as if we are serving Jesus Himself (Mathew 25:31-46). The Book of Hebrews says that when we show brotherly love and hospitality, we are “entertaining angels unaware” (Hebrews 13:2).

To be gentle is to be wise.

James 3:13-17 says, “Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy.”

The fruit of gentleness is a fruit of restoration and peace-making.

Galatians 6:1 says, “If anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness…”

2 Timothy 2:24-25 teaches that, The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth.”

We cultivate a spirit of gentleness by humbling ourselves in prayer, repenting of our selfishness and pride, and turning away from our sin. We cultivate gentleness by imitating the meek and humble character of our God. We cultivate gentleness by loving our neighbors, loving our enemies, and loving strangers. We cultivate gentleness by practicing the art of being slow to become angry and quick to forgive. We cultivate gentleness by being focused on a Kingdom that is beyond this present world, and by striving to make our Father proud. We cultivate gentleness when we focus more on Jesus and less on ourselves. We cultivate gentleness by loving God and loving others.

“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

– Philippians 2:3-11

The Fruit of Faithfulness

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“Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.”

– Hebrews 10:23

God is faithful to fulfill all that He has promised. He placed a rainbow in the sky as a sign of His promise to Noah. He told Abraham to look up at the sky and count the stars as a sign of the promise He made to him. We need only look up to remember the promises He has made to us. When we look at the fruits of the Spirit, we quickly begin to realize that they are all rooted in the character of God. The more like Him we become – the more fruit we bear. We can be faithful, because He has been faithful.

Faith is defined in Hebrews 11:1 as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Faith is trusting in what we cannot see. We trust gravity to continue holding our feet to the ground. When we flip a light switch, we trust the electricity to light  up the room. We trust our heart to keep beating. We trust our lungs to keep filling with air. We trust our minds to keep instructing our hands and feet to move and operate. We are trusting in invisible, unseen things. We are trusting in work that is being done behind the scenes, beyond what our eyes can see. We don’t see the rainbow until after the storm. The stars shine brightest when the night is darkest. We take the first step of faith before we see the stairs in front of us. Peter didn’t step out of the boat because the waves seemed steady and secure enough to hold His weight – He stepped out of the boat because He saw Jesus. Our faith looks like foolishness to those who don’t know our Jesus. Those who can’t see with eyes of faith, don’t understand.

As the song Waymaker says, “Even when I don’t see it, You’re working. Even when I don’t feel it, You’re working.” We know He is faithful, because we have experienced His faithfulness. He is a promise-keeper, a miracle-worker, a light in the darkness. That’s who He is – His faithfulness is part of His identity. To be faithful is to be steadfast. It means holding steady through trials and tribulations. It means showing up consistently when fears and doubts arise. It means being reliable. It means being dependable. We can depend on our God to be there in our times of need, because He has promised to never leave or forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6). He is an ever-present help in times of trouble (Psalm 46:1). We can trust Him because He is worthy to be trusted. We can put our faith in Him because He is faithful to fulfill what He has promised.

“The primary reason we lose faith is because we forget the faithfulness of God. Maybe that’s why the word ‘remember’ is repeated 250 times in Scripture.”

– Mark Batterson

When we remember God’s faithfulness, we are reminded of our own faithlessness. In Matthew 26:75 when Peter heard the crow of the rooster, he remembered what Jesus had said to him… “Before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.” The same Peter who had enough faith to step out of the boat and onto the crashing waves towards Jesus, had denied Him three times, just has Jesus had told Him he would. Scripture says Peter then “went out and wept bitterly.”

But God is faithful, even in our faithlessness. He doesn’t leave us. He doesn’t abandon us. His promise still stands. We have hope because of the resurrection. The cross was not the end of the story. After the resurrection, Jesus appeared to His disciples on the Sea of Galilee and three times He asked Peter, “Do you love me?” And three times Peter responded “Yes, Lord, You know I do.” And three times Jesus responded, “Feed my sheep.” Jesus had made a promise that Peter was the rock on which He would build His church, and that promise was not made void through Peter’s denial. Peter went on to feed the sheep. He helped establish the church. And Peter was martyred for his faith – dying upside down on a cross because he didn’t deem himself worthy to die in the same manner as our Lord, Jesus Christ. Faithfulness comes with a cost. Jesus commands us to take up our cross and follow Him (Matthew 16:24).

One of the best examples of the faithful love of our God is the story of the Prophet Hosea. God instructed Hosea to marry Gomer, a woman who was described as a harlot and an adulteress. In their marriage, Gomer bore three children. The Bible is not clear if the second two children were biologically Hosea’s, but their names indicate that they were not. Gomer had been unfaithful to her husband. Eventually she left her husband and returned to a life of harlotry, but Hosea went back and purchased her from those who were holding her captive. He ransomed her. He redeemed her. Their story is symbolic of the redeeming love our God has for us. When we run back to our life of sin, God brings us back into His arms of love. He paid the ultimate cost for our redemption. His love is unrelenting. He never gives up. He doesn’t stop pursuing us. His love never fails. In our unfaithfulness, He remains faithful.

He is the same, yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). His love knows no bounds. Psalm 89:8 says, His faithfulness surrounds Him. We need only get close enough to Him to experience the fullness of it. His faithfulness strengthens and protects us (2 Thessalonians 3:3). His faithfulness does not allow us to be tempted beyond what we are able to withstand, but gives us an escape route so that we can be faithful to endure the temptation when it comes (1 Corinthians 10:13). And when we allow ourselves to fall into temptation, when we miss the escape route and fall into sin then we need only confess and He is faithful and just to forgive (1 John 1:9). 

“For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.”

– Philippians 1:6

It is difficult for us to wrap our minds around the faithfulness of our God when we live in a culture that is “increasingly characterized by rapid change and instability” (Life on the Vine by Phillip Kenneson). We live in a culture where things are not built to last. Your cellphone only lasts until the latest version comes out. Furniture is often cheaply made and falls apart after only a few uses. We buy disposable cups, plates, and silverware that we can throw away after a single use. We design products that will “save us time” but what do we actually do with the time we’ve saved? It takes time to build something that lasts. It takes time to design something that fulfills a purpose. It takes time to maintain something that will continue to endure throughout generations. Even our jobs and our relationships seem temporary and fleeting. In businesses where you used to interact with people, now you’re interacting with computers and screens. We live in a “cancel” culture where people are dismissed if their views don’t align with your own. We live in a culture where “ghosting” is a term the younger generation uses to describe simply cutting off communication in a relationship without explanation. It takes commitment to maintain a relationship. When we put time and energy into maintaining our relationships and our commitments with people, we are making an investment in a future we cannot see. We are practicing faithfulness.

We practice faithfulness when we abide in the love of God. We practice faithfulness when we trust God’s promises. We practice faithfulness when we make and keep promises. We practice faithfulness when speak truth. We practice faithfulness when we keep showing up. We practice faithfulness when we keep putting forth effort.
Our efforts are weak and imperfect – but they make our Father proud! His faithfulness gives us the strength to endure.

Jeremiah 17:7-8 says “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord and whose trust is the Lord. For he will be like a tree planted by the water, that extends its roots by a stream and will not fear when the heat comes, but its leaves will be green, and it will not be anxious in a year of drought nor cease to yield fruit.”

In the Parable of the Sower in Luke 8:15 Jesus says, “But the seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance.”

In his letter to the Colossians, Paul wrote, “For even though I am absent in body, nevertheless I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good discipline and the stability of your faith in Christ. Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude” (Colossians 2:5-7).

We can’t bear spiritual fruit if we are not firmly rooted in who God is. God’s faithfulness  lays the foundation for us to bear the fruit of faithfulness. As we trust Him, our roots extend, bringing more stability. With more stability, comes more security. With more security, comes more confidence. With more confidence comes more boldness of speech and action. In this manner, faithfulness creates a ripple effect. We are being built up so that our branches can grow out, and the fruit we bear can bring nourishment to hungry hearts. We are being built up so that our fruit can bear more fruit.

The Fruit of Goodness

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“Oh give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, For His loving-kindness is everlasting.”

– Psalm 107:1

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth… and it was good. I remember when I was little, I sat down with my grandparents for a time of Bible Study and we decided to start in the beginning  – the book of Genesis. If you know anything about my grandpa, you know that he likes to pay attention to the details. He loves picking up on little inconsistencies in movies and TV shows – always noticing if the clock jumps ahead or if someones shoe color is different in one scene than in the next. As we read through the first chapter of Genesis, He said, “You know what’s interesting? After everything God created, He always said ‘it was good’ but after He created mankind, He said ‘it was very good.'” I don’t remember how old I was when he made that observation, but it has stuck with me ever since. Creation was good, but when God created us in His image, it was very good.

Goodness is a broad term that we use a lot, but often have difficulty explaining or defining. What makes someone or something good? The Strong’s dictionary defines goodness as “virtue or beneficence” and the Thayer’s dictionary defines it as “uprightness of heart and life.” We know from Scripture that all good things come from God. In Mark 10:18, even Jesus Himself says, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except for God alone.” In Romans 7:18-19, Paul says, “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want.”

Good vs. Evil

Good is often explained in direct opposition to what is bad or what is evil. In fact, the reason most people turn from their faith is because they can’t understand how a good God could create evil. They doubt that God is truly good, because they don’t understand why bad things happen to good people. I think it’s important for us to recognize that God did not create evil. When we go back and read the account of creation, we see that everything God created was good. When God created light and saw that it was good, what did He do? He separated it from the darkness. Evil exists in this world because sin exists in this world. Sin came into this world when Adam and Eve disobeyed the instruction of God and made the decision to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. God knew that if they ate from the tree, they would die in their sins. He wanted to protect them from evil. He wanted to protect them from death. But He wanted them to have the freewill to make their own decisions – and they chose death. They chose to know evil, because they wanted to be like God, knowing all things.

Scripture tells us time and time again to overcome evil with good:

Romans 12:1 says, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Romans 12:9 says “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.”

Psalm 34:14 says, “Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.”

The sinfulness of our humanity cannot be described as good, but we are still capable of goodness because we are still created in the image of a good God. He is goodness defined, and He created us to do good works. Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” He’s prepared us, He’s given us all we need to live a life of goodness. 2 Peter 1:3 says “His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.” Jesus showed us that goodness is possible. He showed us what a good life in human flesh looks like. He’s equipped us and empowered us to live a life of goodness. We can’t use our human flesh to justify our evil actions, because Jesus showed us what a life without sin looks like, and He calls us to take up our cross and follow Him. In Life on the Vine, Phillip Kenneson writes, “In the light of Jesus’ life we come to realize that our problem is not that we are “only human” but that we are not human enough. Blaming our shortcomings on our humanity, therefore, makes a mockery not only of the life of Jesus but also of the lives of those saints throughout the ages who have sought to be human in the ways that He was human.”

We often have a hard time understanding the full magnitude of goodness because we have underplayed it’s importance for so long. Someone asks us how our day was or how we are feeling and we automatically respond with a simple “good” – without giving much thought as to why it was good or what made it good. Often we’ll say we had a good day when in fact our day was actually pretty average, and we’ll say we’re feeling good when actually haven’t felt all that great. Overtime good starts to feel less and less good. In Life on the Vine, Phillip Kenneson says, “If one is merely decent, one is increasingly considered good.” He uses the story of the Good Samaritan to support this. He says that the man we call the Good Samaritan, was not actually called “good” by Jesus. When you go back and read the story, you’ll see that Jesus actually refers to him as a “certain” Samaritan – because what this man did was something any decent human being should have done. However, as Kenneson says, “we regard him as good as if what he did was exceptional or heroic.”

Our human goodness cannot be compared to the goodness of our God. As Titus 2:14 says, our God “…gave Himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for Himself a people that are His very own, eager to do what is good.” If we want to live godly lives, we must eager to do what is good. The path to goodness is a path of righteousness, justice, and fairness (Proverbs 2:9). This is not an easy path. In 2 Timothy 3:1-5 we learn that in the last days, people will hate what is good. They will hate goodness because goodness is not self-serving. Goodness, like the love of God, is sacrificial. As 2 Timothy 3:5 says, these people will have a form of godliness, but will deny it’s power. We are commanded to avoid these people. The fruit of these people is fake. It looks good on the outside, but there is nothing of substance on the inside. There is no nutritional value. If we bite into this type of spiritual fruit, the effects can be toxic and harmful for our spiritual growth and development.

“Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company corrupts good morals.'”

– 1 Corinthians 15:33

Good Fruit vs. Bad Fruit

Have you ever heard the saying, “One bad fruit ruins the whole bunch?” It’s true. We need to surround ourselves with good people who speak goodness into our lives, and set positive examples of goodness for us to imitate. If we surround ourselves with negativity, negativity will corrupt and corrode our character. People who declare themselves to be Christians but do not live in a way that imitates the life of Christ are creating a bad name for all Christians. John 13:35 says, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” How much love is being displayed in our words and in our actions? Are we truly living as Jesus lived and loving as Jesus loved? What image of Jesus are we painting for this world to see?

We are known by our fruit. If you say you had a good day, but your face doesn’t reflect it – people know. If you say God is good, but don’t live as if you know it’s true – people see that. If we want to be good, we have to do good. Out of the overflow of our heart, the mouth speaks. Matthew 12:33-35 says, “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak what is good? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. The good man brings out of his good treasure what is good; and the evil man brings out of his evil treasure what is evil.If we fill our heart with goodness, goodness will flow out in our actions. If we plant goodness deep within, then goodness will spring forth. If we practice good works, then we’ll be strengthened to do good works. We’ll recognize opportunities for goodness. We’ll see with more clarity the opportunities God puts before us to be good and to do good. Galatians 6:10 says, “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people…” and 2 Peter 1:5-7 tells us “Therefore, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love.” Our good actions reveal the goodness of our God and the goodness of His love. Our good actions build good character within us. The Samaritan man Jesus spoke of was just a man, but his actions spoke of his character. The fruit of his actions spoke of the content of his heart. He is recognized and remembered as being good, because He made the conscious decision to do good.

If Jesus had told that parable today, what would you be remembered for?

In Acts 11:24, Barnabas was remembered as being “… a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and faith” who helped bring numerous people to the Lord.

In Titus 1:8, goodness is listed as one of the qualifications for a church leader. They are required to be “…hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, just, devout, self-controlled.”

In a world that is filled with evil, let us choose goodness. Let us do good. Let us be good. Let us live good lives that imitate the good life our Savior lived. Let us always strive to be more like Jesus.

The Fruit of Kindness

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“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”

– Micah 6:8

Do justice. Love kindness. Walk humbly.

How timely these words are! How relevant. How powerful that prophetic words written over two thousand years ago are still able to be applied to our lives today. God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He still wants us to do justice, He still wants us to love kindness, and He still wants us to walk humbly with Him.

All three of these words go hand in hand. You cannot have one without the other. They are each dependent on one another. We need justice that comes forth out of kindness and humility. We need kindness that works from humility and towards justice. We need humility that works with kindness to produce justice.

Our world is hungry for the fruit of kindness – it’s time for us to get to work giving it out.

In Life on the Vine,  Phillip Kenneson says that kindness is the most outwardly visible of the spiritual fruits. He says, “Kindness is neither a state of mind nor an invisible attitude or emotion. Neither do we think people kind simply because they refrain from doing unkind things. Rather, we regard people as kind because they go out of their way, often quietly and without fanfare, to engage in kind actions.”

Kindness is love in action.

Kindness is the act of sharing joy with others.

Kindness is the act of making peace with others.

Kindness is the act of being patient with others.

Actions speak louder than words – so what are our actions telling the world about Jesus?

Do our actions reveal His kindness?

Did you know that the Greek word for Christ is “Christos” and the Greek word for kindness is “Chréstos”? The two words are so similar that early Christians were often called “the kind ones” – I love how God uses language to speak so much to the truth of His character. But are we living up to that name? Are we truly living Christ-like lives? Are we truly portraying ourselves to be “the kind ones”?

Kindness comes easy to us when we’re helping someone who looks like us, thinks like us, is clearly in need, and is willing and able to return the favor. It’s easy to be kind to someone who has been kind to you, but kindness becomes difficult when God calls us beyond the borders of our comfort zone. It’s easy to speak kindly to someone who agrees with you, but it becomes increasingly more difficult to be kind towards someone who is hostile and argumentative. Kindness is easy when we’re simply repaying the kindness of others, but it becomes more difficult when God asks us to be kind to our enemies – those who have treated us harshly and unfairly.

 “But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either. Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back. Treat others the same way you want them to treat you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”

Luke 6:27-36

Anger is reactive. Anger is an emotional response to injustice, and there is a such thing as righteous anger – but kindness is proactive. Kindness takes thought and intention. Kindness ultimately leads to repentance (Romans 2:4) – and repentance leads to forgiveness and reconciliation. We don’t win people to Jesus through arguments and debates, we win people to Jesus through kindness and compassion. In Ephesians 4:31-32, the Apostle Paul tells us, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.”

This type of kindness is not easy. If it were easy, it would not be a fruit of the Spirit. The Spirit makes it supernatural. We need the power of the Holy Spirit to love, to forgive, and to be kind to those who do not “deserve” it or did not “earn” it. Kindness is a fruit of the Spirit, not of the flesh. Our flesh cannot produce true and genuine kindness, because our flesh is too focused on the self. We live in a world that values independence and self-sufficiency. We live in a world that gives only when we expect something in return, but that’s not the type of kindness God calls us to. The kindness of God is more than a currency exchanged for goods or services, the kindness of God is an investment in a kingdom we cannot see with our physical eyes.

When we find it hard to show kindness – we need to remember our own story. We need to look back and remember where God brought us from. We need to remember the kindness, the grace, and the mercy He showed to us. As the Israelite’s did in Deuteronomy 8, we need to remember the wildernesses He has led us through. We need to remember how He delivered us. We need to remember how He humbled us – how He fed us when we were hungry, clothed us when we were naked, and gave us water when we were thirsty. We need to remember how He protected us, how He delivered us, and how He forgave us for our many faults and failures. We need to remember that it was not us who got us where we are – it was only the goodness of God! We can love because He first loved us. We can be merciful because He first showed us mercy. We can be gracious because He first gave us grace. We are not self-sufficient, we are grace sufficient – and His grace gives us strength. His grace gives us the ability to act with kindness and compassion. His grace is our strength in times of weakness.

When we find it hard to show kindness – we need to listen to the stories of others. We need to remember that people who have been hurt, will hurt others, because that is what they know. When we listen to them with genuine care and concern, it catches them off guard. It’s unfamiliar, they’re not used to it. When we understand that they may be acting out of anger, hurt, and frustration – then we can begin to put ourselves in their shoes. We can allow our empathy for them to drive our actions towards them. Look for the areas where people may be hurting – and pray for them. Look for the areas where people may be in need – and serve them. When Jesus washed the feet of his disciples – that included Judas who would betray Him and Peter who would deny Him – but Jesus did not allow His hurt to hinder His kindness and compassion. He acted against His flesh, He acted within the Spirit – and He showed grace and mercy. He showed kindness, even though He knew it would not be returned to Him. Let us be like Jesus.

We must not only be kind, but we also must learn to accept kindness when it is given to us. In this world that promotes independence and self-sufficiency, asking for help or accepting help is often seen as a sign of weakness or failure. We do not want to be a burden to others. We do not want to feel as if we “owe” something to others. When we accept gifts of kindness from others, we feel indebted to them and we feel obligated to reciprocate their kindness. Love binds us to one another, so we often put up walls to avoid this type of connection. We do not want to be dependent on others – but we are. We are created for connection. Self-sufficiency is a myth; an illusion. We need others, and we need to learn to recognize that God did not put us on this earth to do it alone. God created Eve as a helper for Adam. God knew we would need other helpers along this journey – that’s why He puts the lonely in families (Psalm 68:6) and that’s why He gives us a body of believers to help us live out the great commission (Acts 2:42-47). We are not alone.

When we attempt to “settle the score” by paying someone back or immediately reciprocating their act of kindness, we are diminishing the value of their gift. I’ve often heard people say, “Don’t rob me of my blessing!” When others feel led to give, let them give. When others reach out their hand to help, reach out and accept it. We must humble ourselves to be kind, and we also must humble ourselves to accept kindness at times. God gives us what we need, when we need it, and He often uses other people to do it.

We need to learn to see other people as gifts for the kingdom rather than as threats to our own self-sufficiency. We work best when we work together. Our gifts compliment one another. We can’t allow this world to continue dividing us. In such an individualistic society, we begin to believe that our talents and abilities belong to us. We begin to believe that our money and resources belong to us. We begin to believe that we earned what we have, that we deserve what we’ve been given – rather than viewing it as a gift of God’s grace. We invest our gifts and abilities back into ourselves, only doing things and saying things that will profit us, only buying and purchasing things that would benefit us. When we withhold kindness, we are hoarding the gifts that God has given us, but in Matthew 6:19-21, Jesus tells us to not to store up treasures on this earth. He tells us instead to store up treasures in Heaven. Kindness is an investment in people. Kindness is an investment in the Kingdom of Heaven. Kindness plants a seed that we may never see come to fruition on this side of Heaven, but we continue planting the seed because we are trusting God to bring the rain and produce the harvest. We need to examine our hearts and examine our gifts. We need to use what God has given us. We need to give out of the abundance God has given to us. We need to be His hands and feet. We need to extend His grace as He has extended it to us. We need to put our love and compassion into action. We need to look for opportunities to show kindness – and we need to be obedient when God calls us to action.

“Whoever pursues righteousness and kindness will find life, righteousness, and honor”

– Proverbs 21:21

 

The Fruit of Patience

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“We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.”

– Romans 8:22-25 (NIV)

“Hope that is seen is no hope at all” – We can’t hope in what we can see. We hope in what we cannot see. We hope in what is yet to come. And because we hope, we wait. We wait patiently. We wait confidently. The word patiently in Romans 8:25 can also be translated as to wait eagerly, or to expect fully. When you are waiting eagerly for something, or fully expecting something to happen, what do you do? You prepare for it.

Think about a child on Christmas Eve. They’ll set out the cookies and milk out for Santa. They’ll brush their teeth and put on their pajamas. They’ll go through the bedtime routine more willingly than any other night of the year. Even though their excitement level is enough to keep them up all night, they know they have to go to sleep in order for Santa to show up. They expect it. They’re eager for it to happen – so they prepare for it.

Think about someone getting ready for a date, or preparing for an interview. Up until the moment they’re walking up to the door, or when they’re inside waiting for the person to arrive, or waiting outside the office door – they’re preparing. They’re going over what they’re going to say, checking their hair and make-up in the mirror, adjusting their clothes, looking back over their resume one more time. They’re getting ready. They’re preparing. Maybe they’re excited, maybe they’re nervous, or maybe it’s a combination of both – but they’re feeling all the feelings because they’re eager. They’re expectant. They know what’s coming next, so they’re getting ready for it.

But what about when the thing we’re waiting on isn’t so positive? What if we aren’t so eager, but afraid of what’s coming next. Patience can also be translated as long-suffering. How do you exercise patience in those moments? What if you’re broken down on the side of the road? You’re waiting for someone to come help jump start your car or change your tire. You’re impatient because you’re ready for it to be fixed. You’re impatient because you’re ready to be back on the road and headed to your destination. You’re worried about how much it may cost. What if you’re waiting in a hospital waiting room? Hospital waiting rooms are a scary place to be. You never know what’s going on with the person next to you. One family may be excitedly welcoming a new life into the world, while the other may be preparing to say their goodbyes to the one they love. Maybe you’re hoping for good news – desperately hoping and praying to hear that everything is going to be okay. But you don’t know for sure. The future seems so very shaky, and so very unknown. Sometimes it feels like that strand of hope is slipping through your hands. How can you hold on to hope? How can you wait well in those moments? The first thing to do is to realize you aren’t alone. There is a Great Physician sitting right beside you, holding your hand. He is our anchor of hope and peace in the midst of fear and uncertainty. He is with you, cling to Him. If there are others around you, friends and family, cling to them. If not, find someone to talk to or simply to sit with –  A pastor. A counselor. A support group. Know that you are not alone. Look for the good, and focus on it. Even when everything around you seems to be going wrong, there is always something to be thankful for. Find that thing, and fix your eyes on it. There is purpose in this time of fear and frustration. Look for that purpose. Fill your time of waiting with prayer, and worship, and service.

We often think of patience as being something that is passive. We think of it as if there is nothing we can do but sit around and wait for it to happen – but that’s not the case. Patience is active. Waiting is an act of service. Think about servers in restaurants – they are called “waiters” and “waitresses” but they aren’t sitting around passively. They’re actively attending to the needs of the restaurant patrons. They’re on the move – constantly going from table to table, asking how things are going, refilling glasses, and taking orders. That’s how our spiritual waiting should be. Patience is difficult when we’re sitting around watching the clock and counting down the time – but it goes by more quickly when our waiting is active.

There is a song by John Waller called While I’m Waiting and in the song he says, “I’m waiting on You, Lord. And I am hopeful. I’m waiting on You, Lord. Though it is painful. But patiently, I will wait. I will move ahead, bold and confident, taking every step in obedience. While I’m waiting, I will serve You. While I’m waiting, I will worship. While I’m waiting, I will not faint. I’ll be running the race, even while I wait.” We can serve Him and worship Him while we wait. We can continue moving forward with boldness and confidence. In fact, Hebrews 12:1 tells us to “run with patience the race that is set before us” (KJV). It seems odd to run with patience. If you’re running, you’re usually in a hurry to get somewhere or you want to finish the race with the fastest time, but a true runner knows that running is about pacing yourself. Slow and steady wins the race – isn’t that what we learned from the story of the tortoise and the hare?

Slowing Down

There is a challenge going around on social media right now called the “candy challenge” – and in this challenge parents sit a bowl of candy out in front of their young kids. They have a hidden camera in front of them and they tell them not to eat the candy until they get back. Then they leave the room. The kids are eager to eat the candy. Many of them immediately stick their hand in and grab a piece. Some of them lick it, smell it, touch it to their tongue – they get as close as they possibly can to eating it. Many of them resist, but it’s not easy. Why do we struggle so much with being patient? We often resist patience because we’re so excited about what’s to come – We’re so excited that we want it right now, but we need to learn to shift our mindset. If those kids would only think – “When mom comes back I get to have this candy!” then the waiting period would be a lot more enjoyable. But instead, all they could think was, “This candy is sitting in front of me right now and I can’t eat it!” They were more focused on the fact that they couldn’t have it right now, instead of the fact that they could have it as soon as their parents returned. That’s often where the root of our impatience lies – We want immediate results and instant gratification.

Our culture values speed. Technological advances are all about saving time. The printing press. The assembly line. The car. The train. The plane. The telephone. The cellphone. The computer. The internet. The microwave. They all have allowed us quicker ways to communicate, to travel, to produce and manufacture goods, to prepare food, to access information. We now have an encyclopedia of news and information right at our fingertips. Literally. We can have anything we want delivered to our front door in a matter of hours. Even our Bible studies and devotionals are often labeled based on the amount of time it will take us to complete it –  “The 1-Minute Bible” or the “The 5-Minute Bible Study.” There are get rich quick schemes, and weight loss programs that try to guarantee you the weight will fall off in 30-days or less. There are apps to help you find love with the swipe of your finger. There are life hack videos and meal prep videos. They all want to save us time, but what are we doing with all this saved time? It almost seems as if we actually ended up with less time than before.

Waiting involves slowing down, and we don’t want to slow down. We want to speed up. We’re constantly in a hurry. We want to do more. We want to accomplish more. We value productivity. We want to do as much as possible, in as little time as possible. That’s why we get irritated when we have to wait in long lines at the store or when the car in front of us doesn’t immediately press on the gas as soon as the light turns green. We get impatient in long lines at amusement parks, in traffic on the way home from work, and when we’re on hold over the phone with a bill collector. We’re in a global pandemic right now, that almost feels as if our whole lives have been put on pause. We don’t know what to do with it, because it is so counter-cultural.

We want quick fixes. We want all our problems solved in as little time as possible, so we grow impatient the longer we have to wait. We become irritated when we’re forced to slow down. But it’s important for us to remember that spiritual growth takes time. James 5:7 says, “Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains.” Planting takes time. Farming takes time. Harvesting takes time. Sometimes droughts come. Sometimes we have to till up the ground and start again. How does it impact our spirituality when we live in a culture of drive-thru’s, curbside pick-up’s, and next-day delivery – but serve a God who operates as a patient Farmer? What happens when we pray and God doesn’t immediately answer our prayer? We start to lose faith. We start to lose hope. Even in worship services – We grow impatient if we don’t feel like we’re getting something out of it. In our minds, we’re thinking about what we’re going to have for lunch or what chores we need to be doing at home. We open up our Bibles and skim the pages, but how often do we take the time to read, reflect, and respond to the words? How often do we just sit in the silence and listen for God to speak? In Life on the Vine, Phillip Kenneson writes, “Perhaps our fixation with productivity instills in us a deep sense of impatience that might partly be responsible for our lack of joy in worship. How can we joyfully engage in worship if we are continually mindful of all the other more productive things we could be doing with our time.” It’s a dangerous place to be spiritually. It is counter-productive to our spiritual growth. We need to go against the grain of our society. We need to be more like Jesus.

Like Jesus

When we look at the life of Jesus, we see that He was never in a hurry. He allowed Himself to be interrupted. When the woman with the issue of blood touched His garment, He felt it, and He turned around and made notice of her faith. When a father came asking for a miracle for his daughter who had died, Jesus got up from His teaching and went and followed the man (Matthew 9:18-26). When the disciples saw children coming to Jesus as a distraction and tried to rebuke them, Jesus welcomed them and blessed them and told them the Kingdom of God belonged to them (Mark 10:13-16). When Jesus went to the well for water, He didn’t turn around and leave as soon as He got the water, but instead He sat down and talked with the woman He saw there (John 4). Jesus lived in the moment and was attentive to the needs of those around him. He welcomed distractions. He used interruptions to build relationships, bring healing, and bring salvation.

Like all other Fruits of the Spirit, patience is a characteristic of God. God is love (1 John 4:8) and love is patient (1 Corinthians 13:4). He is slow to anger (Psalm 103:8). As Christians, as followers of Jesus, we should strive to demonstrate this same loving patience and slowness to become angry. James 1:19-20 says, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” It’s important to realize that scripture does not say God did not become angry; it says He was slow to become angry. There is a such thing as righteous anger. In John 2:13-22 we see Jesus making a whip and driving people out of the Temple who were there selling cattle, sheep, and doves. Then in Matthew 21:12-17 we see Him flipping tables in the Temple when He sees the same thing happening again. In Life on the Vine, Phillip Kenneson writes, “God’s patience does have a purpose; it is not simply restraint for the sake of restraint. God is slow to anger, but God does get angry. God bears with people for a long time, but a time of judgement is coming.”

Bearing with someone is a form of patience. Praise God He bears with us. Praise God He is slow to anger, and quick to forgive. Let us imitate His love. Let us imitate His patience. Let us imitate His mercy. Colossians 3:12-14 says, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” In Ephesians 4:1-3, Paul says, “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” When we are patient with others, we are showing the love of God. When we are patient with others, we are striving for peace. And it isn’t easy; it takes effort. But it is worth it. And love makes it possible.

We can’t take God’s kindness and mercy for granted. We can’t take His patience for granted. It is purposeful. It leads to repentance. Romans 2:2-4 says, “Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?” What kind of example are we setting if we return to the sin which God so mercifully freed us and forgave us? We cannot grow weary in doing good. Galatians 6:9 says, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” When asked how often we should forgive someone who wronged us, Jesus responded, “…not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” That requires an immense amount of patience. But it is possible. We can forgive others because He first forgave us. We can be patient with others because He is patient with us. In 1 Timothy 1:16, Paul says, “But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.” Let us be an example of God’s love and patience.

In the words of Paul, I pray this prayer:

For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience.”

– Colossians 1:9-11

 

 

The Fruit of Peace

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What is peace?

Peace is often defined as the absence of conflict or the end of war, but in Scripture, peace is often synonymous with wholeness or salvation. For example, Isaiah 52:7 says, “How lovely on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who announces peace and brings good new of happiness, who announces salvation…” The Gospel is good news of peace. In the Armor of God passage of Scripture in Ephesians 6, verse 15 tells us to shod our feet with the preparation of the Gospel of Peace.

I find it interesting that in both of these passages of Scripture, peace is correlated with our feet. Often, we think of peace as being associated with our mind and the way we think, but it is more so about our lifestyle and the way we walk out our faith. Isaiah 59:8 says, “They do not know the way of peace, and there is no justice in their tracks; They have made their paths crooked, whoever treads on them does not know peace.” Romans 3:17 also refers to a “path of peace” and in Luke 1:79 Zechariah prophesied that Salvation would come “… to guide our feet in the way of peace.”

In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word for peace is “Shalom” which means completeness in number, safety or soundness in body, welfare, health, and prosperity. Shalom means peace, quiet, tranquility, and contentment. As Phillip Kenneson writes in Life on the Vine, shalom “refers to the state of well-being, wholeness, and harmony that infuses all of one’s relationships. Such a view of peace is inherently social; to be at peace only with oneself is not to experience shalom in all its fullness.”

We need people. We need community to experience true peace. Romans 12:18 says, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” This is a difficult task for us to work towards when we live in a society that is so individualistic and divisive.

We live in an electronic age that allows us to hide behind a screen. We can type out hurtful words and press the send button, knowing we would never actually say those words aloud if we were face to face with the person on the other end. We can’t see the impact of our words, so we can’t see the harm being done. With these technological advances, we can create an image of the person we want others to see us as online. We only post the pictures we want them to see, and only share the stories we want them to hear. Meanwhile, we are completely alone, completely anonymous, and completely void of true connection. Without true connection, how can we know true peace?

Even outside of technology, we’re still divided. The media has divided us. Marketing has divided us. Politics have divided us. Greed has divided us. Pride has divided us. The love of money and the desire for power has divided us. As Phillip Kenneson writes, “Politics no longer involves the search for the common good, but a competition between warring factions, each bent on securing or protecting its own interests. All of this contributes to the further fragmentation of our lives, both as individuals and as a society.” The world sees no gray area, no middle ground, no sense of nuance. Only right and wrong. Only us against them. And this leaves little room for peace. We are taught to think one way, and we rarely see both sides of the story. We rarely listen to people with different worldviews and different life experiences than our own. When we’re so focused on ourselves, we start to lose sight of the bigger picture. When we never lift up our eyes to see what’s going on in the world around us, then we eventually end up tripping over own feet as we journey on the path to peace.

In Life on the Vine, Kenneson describes how our fragmented lives have created a barrier to peace. He says, “trying to embody such integrity (that is, a fully integrated life) is difficult in a society that cultivates fragmentation rather than wholeness or shalom.” What does it mean for us to live fragmented lives? Think about this: Is who you are when you’re at home different from who you are when you’re out in public? The way we talk and interact with our neighbors and the people we live around may be different from how we talk and interact with those we work with, and the person we portray ourselves to be at church may be different from the person we portray ourselves to be with our friends and family. Does that sound familiar? Isn’t it exhausting? No wonder it’s so hard for us to be at peace with ourselves and with other people. How do we know which one is the real us? How do we know what our real convictions are verses the opinions that we’ve formed based on other people’s opinions? Each group of people we surround ourselves with have different expectations of us, so we shape and mold ourselves to fit into the image of who they want us to be. We are far too concerned about what other people think about us, and the truth is, no one really cares about the image we’re portraying because they’re too concerned with their own image.

Even our Christianity has become individualized. We call it a “personal” relationship with Jesus. We choose our churches based on what’s convenient for us and what’s most beneficial for us. We complain about church when we don’t “get something out of it.” We leave a church when they didn’t reach out to us, or when they did or did not do this for us. We make it about ourselves, but the church doesn’t exist for us. The church exists to glorify God and make His Name known. The church exists for the community. The church exists to make disciples, to care for the orphans, the widows, and the least of these. We are part of a body of Christ, and peace is found when we are all working together in harmony towards one purpose. Peace is found when we use all of our differing spiritual gifts to spread the Gospel of Peace – the Good News of a Savior who unites both Jew and Gentile, male and female, slave and free. Peace is found when we lay down our pride. Peace is found when we shift our focus from ourselves and start putting the focus on serving and honoring God with every breath that He graciously gives to us.

Peace is a gift.

In John 14:27 Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.”

If peace is a gift, then what does that tell us about peace? That tells us it can’t be bought, and it can’t be earned. It must be received. If you want to receive peace, you have to open your hands to accept it. You have to surrender. You have to let go of control. You have to let go of pride, and selfishness. You have to let go fear, anxiety, and insecurity. You have to trust the Giver of the gift. You have to trust that He is the Giver of good gifts. You have to trust His intentions, trust His plan, and trust His purpose. You have to trust that He gives out of the abounding love He has for us. He does not intend to harm us, but is working all things together for good.

Peace is freely given to us. And that’s great news! Who doesn’t love a good gift?! But in this particular passage of Scripture we can’t be so quick to focus on the peace that we neglect to consider the words that came before the gift of peace:

“I am leaving you…”

Suddenly that peace doesn’t seem like such a great gift – because Jesus didn’t just give it, He left it. Jesus spoke these words to His disciples on the night of the Last Supper, the night before His death. Jesus was warning His disciples about what was to come, and in leaving them with the gift of peace, He was leaving them with a gift they didn’t even know they needed yet. They didn’t understand. They couldn’t comprehend. Jesus had shifted their world upside down, and they could never have imagined a world without Him in it. They could never have imagined the horrors He would face on the cross. They could never have imagined that He was going to die and rise again. They could never have imagined the persecution and martyrdom they themselves would face as His followers. And Jesus knew that. Jesus knows our hearts. He knows our limited understanding. He is compassionate. He is merciful. He is gracious. In verse 29 He says, “I have told you this before it happens, so that when it happens, you may believe.”

Peace is a promise.

Last week, when we talked about joy, we talked about its connection with sorrow. This week, we see that peace is closely connected with fear and anxiety. Jesus knew that because He experienced our humanity. In Him, we find faith to face our fears. Jesus gave the gift of peace before the promise of pain was fulfilled because He knew it was coming. He equips us for every trial we will ever face. He does not leave us alone. With the gift of peace, comes the gift of His Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is our Peace. And Jesus said “It’s better that I go so the Holy Spirit can come” (John 16:7). The Holy Spirit is our Comforter. He is our Helper. He is our Advocate. “These things I have told you,” Jesus says in John 13:33, “so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”

Jesus tells us that His gift of peace is not the same peace that the world offers. The world offers a fake peace, a counterfeit peace. The peace that the world offers only provides a temporary fix; it puts a band-aid over the gaping wound of sin in our lives. The peace the world offers just wants us to forget our troubles or mask our troubles. There’s no promise to remember. The peace the world offers is found in money and possession, in lustfulness and addiction, in likes and attention. The peace of this world is found when we blend in with this world, but the peace of God is found when we stand out from this world. The peace of God is found only in Jesus. The peace of God is found when we praise Him even in the midst of the storm. The peace of God is when we smile, even when our hearts are heavy and burdened. The peace of God is found when we surrender fully to Him, even when our minds are filled with fear and anxiety. There is a song called Peace by Hillsong Young & Free and the words say, “You will stay true, even when the lies come. Your word remains truth, even when my thoughts don’t line up. I will stand tall on each promise you made… Dare anxiety come, I’ll remember that peace is promise you keep.” We find the promise of peace in the words of Jesus. Countless times throughout John 13-16 we see Jesus start a statement with the phrase “These things I have spoken to you…” or “This I have told you…”  In John 16:33 He says, “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace.” His words hold the gift of peace, and we find peace when we call those words to remembrance.

In Hebrews 10:32-35, Paul writes:

“But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings, partly by being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated. For you showed sympathy to the prisoners and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and a lasting one. Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised.”

If peace is a promise Jesus spoke to us, then we can trust He will provide peace for us. We can trust His Word because He is faithful to fulfill all that He has promised. Jesus does not just speak truth, Jesus is truth. Jesus is the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6). Peace is not a place we go to, it’s a person we run to. The Prince of Peace is the One walking with us through all of our trials. The Prince of Peace is the One in the boat with us in the midst of the storm. When He speaks, the winds and waves cease. His presence is all the peace we need. So why do we fear? We often fear because we do not trust Him. When Jesus calmed the storm for His disciples, He asked them, “Why are you afraid, you men of little faith?” Fear is the opposite of faith. Do you know what command is given more often than any other command in Scripture? Do not fear. I’ve heard it said that the command is given 365 times throughout Scripture – once for every day of the year. We constantly need to be reminded not to fear. We constantly need to be reminded to trust Jesus to be our Peace and to speak Peace into our lives. Peace is not the absence of conflict – We will face troubles in this life. We will face times of fear and uncertainty – but peace is an anchor in the midst of the storm. Peace is calmness even in the midst of the chaos. Peace is the ability to find harmony even with those who are different from us – even when the world is doing everything it can to try and divide us. When we live at peace, we live in the confidence that Jesus is exactly who He says He is and that He will do exactly what He says He will do. Peace is a way of life. Psalm 34:14 says, “Depart from evil and do good. Seek peace and pursue it.” We should always be seeking peace with ourselves, peace with each other, and peace with God. We pursue peace when we pursue Jesus. As long as we are seeking after Jesus, then we are seeking after peace!