What do kindness and heaven have to do with one another? – Fruit of the Spirit: Kindness, Part 3

In the previous post, we read Paul’s words in Galatians 5 where he writes that if you are regularly demonstrating hatred, discord, and fits of rage, you will not inherit the Kingdom of God. Is Paul saying that if we are not kind, we cannot go to heaven?

“Paul,” you might say, “I thought you wrote in Ephesians 2:8-9, that it is by grace you have been saved, through faith, not by works, it is the gift of God.  I thought you wrote in Romans 10:9-10 that if we confess with our mount, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in our hearts that God raised him from the dead, we will be saved.  Now you’re saying in Galatians that we will not inherit the Kingdom of God if we are struggling with sin?” 

It can seem like Paul is contradicting himself.  How are we saved?  By believing or by being good?  

Paul is not contradicting himself. Christians are people who believe in Jesus.  A relationship with Jesus starts by believing in him, believing that God raised Jesus from the dead.  But a relationship with Jesus is not just believing an idea in our minds.  A relationship with Jesus is verified as authentic when we allow our beliefs to affect our actions.  This is why Paul also wrote, “Confess Jesus as Lord.”  When we confess him as Lord, we Christians respond to the grace of God in Christ by making different choices, living a different way.  We work to get rid of the acts of the sinful nature.  We do the work to walk in step with the Spirit.  We do these actions of getting rid of the sinful nature and walking in step with the Spirit as acts of gratefulness to God.

Paul’s implication in Galatians 5:19-21 is clear.  If we do not get rid of the acts of the sinful nature from our lives; if we allow hatred, discord and fits of rage to have a hold on our lives, then we should not believe that we will inherit the Kingdom. When he writes about the inheriting the Kingdom, that is language describing experiencing abundant life now and eternal life in heaven.  So evaluate yourself. Are hatred, fits of rage or discord a regular part of your life?  Then you are not experiencing the abundant life Jesus wants for you, and you should not have confidence that you will inherit the Kingdom of God.

If so, what will you do to work to get those things out of your life?  Don’t just simply say, “Well, I’m forgiven.  God loves me.  I believe in him. I’m good. I don’t need to worry,” and then live as though your acts of the sinful nature don’t matter, maybe just continuing to be unkind.  Remember the heart of God in saying these things; he wants what is good for us.  A heart that has rage, hatred and discord as a part of it is not going to be joyful, content, is not in good relational standing with others, which is what God desires for us, to be in good relationships with others. 

Instead, make a point to walk in step with the Spirit and grow kindness in your life.  In the next two weeks we’ll talk about goodness and gentleness.  For the remainder of this week, let’s return to the definition of kindness. And we’ll do that in the next post.

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The antidote to unkindness – Fruit of the Spirit: Kindness, Part 2

In the previous post, I mentioned that unkindness has power. We humans can wield unkindness as a weapon to benefit us. And we often do. Yet, in the process of being unkind, we leave a trail a bodies. What is the antidote to unkindness? As we continue our study through the Fruit of the Spirit, this week we are studying kindness. I’m sure it wouldn’t surprise you to read that I believe kindness is the antidote to unkindness. But there’s more. In fact there are three qualities in the list of the Fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23 that are very similar. Take a look.

Kindness is “to provide something beneficial for someone as an act of kindness.”[1]

Goodness is “the act of generous giving, with the implication of its relationship to goodness—‘to be generous, generosity’.”[2]

Gentleness is “gentleness of attitude and behavior, in contrast with harshness in one’s dealings with others—‘meekness, mildness’.”[3]

Do you notice how similar the concepts of kindness, goodness and gentleness are? In fact it might seem like these three words are talking about the same thing.  I wondered if I should combine all three into one week.  But I decided against it because, while they are certainly related, they are different enough to warrant a special focus. 

I also think that we should have one sermon on each of these topics because we live in angry, unsettled times.  Think about the political advertisements we just endured for the last month or more.  Candidates willing to trash talk their opponents, including opponents in the same party.  Candidates willing to curse in their commercials. (I don’t believe all curse words are automatically sinful, but I do believe it is in the best interest of society for politicians to maintain a level of decorum that does not include curse words.)

It seems as though the goals civil discourse and civil society are being eroded.  What people believe in increasing measure, as verified by their actions, is that anger, sarcasm, cursing, gossip, confrontation, tearing down, and belittling are the best means we use to get what we want.  Unkindness works.  Unkindness is all around us.

Words like Kindness, Goodness, and Gentleness seem like antiques.  Those words seem to be weak and impotent.  Kindness, Goodness, and Gentleness seem to be the pathway of those who are losers.  Christians, have we bought into the idea that though the Fruit of the Spirit is  the way of Jesus, because it is not the way of the world, we can dispense with the Fruit of the Spirit in the areas of politics, business, and commerce?  I have seen unkindness even in the church, when a person believes that their viewpoint is correct.  Do the ends justify the means, so that we can be unkind if we think it will lead to a good result?

No!  We followers of Jesus grow all the Fruit of the Spirit, the entire package, and we allow that Fruit to flow from the Spirit into every area of our lives.  Remember, Paul said that growing the Fruit of the Spirit involves two things: first, crucifying the acts of the sinful nature, and walking in step with the Spirit.

It’s been a few weeks since we read the verses Paul wrote just before the Fruit of the Spirit, and it is important to remind ourselves of them.  In Galatians 5:19-21, Paul writes,

“The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

We eliminate those acts of the sinful nature from our lives.  Notice verse 20 includes a few sinful acts that are the opposite of kindness, goodness, and gentleness.  Hatred, discord, fits of rage. 

Because our struggle with these sins is so prevalent, I think we need one week about kindness, one for goodness, and one for gentleness.  We Christians are called to live differently.  We are called to express ourselves differently.  Paul’s warning in verse 21 should cause us to pay attention: if you live like this you will not inherit the kingdom of God.  If you are regularly demonstrating hatred, discord, and fits of rage, Paul says, you will not inherit the Kingdom of God.  Yikes!

What does Paul mean? In the next post we’ll find out.

Photo by Dim Hou on Unsplash

[1] Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 749.

[2] Ibid, 569.

[3] Ibid, 748.

The surprising efficacy of unkindness – Fruit of the Spirit: Kindness, Part 1

My wife recently shared a prayer request in a group text, and one person texted back, “No praying!”  Then a few seconds later the person wrote, “This phone has been killing me lately with autocorrect…that was supposed to be ‘NOW praying’.” 

How many of you have had text messages auto-correct to something crazy? Something unsavory? Something that was maybe the opposite of what you intended? Something unkind?

Our friend didn’t have to text us the explanation. We are so used to typos in text messages, we knew.

Those were unintentional unkind words.  Like our friend did, when you and I send an errant text, we feel embarrassed and quickly send off an apologetic text saying, “Ugh, Auto-correct strikes again…sorry…what I meant was …” 

The reality is that often we intentionally do, say or think unkind things.  And we mean them to be unkind.  Maybe we don’t 100% mean to be unkind. I suspect it is rare that we do sinful things with 100% motivation.  Instead, when we are unkind, we are usually in the middle of an emotional or difficult situation, and our fear, our anger, or our sense of justice is heightened. If we have not cultivated our inner strength enough or are not walking in step with the Spirit enough, we can choose to be unkind.  We can also have patterns of unkindness.  Habits of unkindness.  Almost to the point where it can seem that it comes out of us without thinking. 

But there is another side to unkindness.  Some of us have watched unkindness benefit us. There are people who cower and fall in line in the face of unkindness.  If we use a certain tone, if our posture is aggressive, domineering, or authoritative, certain people are intimidated by us and will do what we say.  If the words we use are harsh or accusatory, there are plenty of people who will bow before us.  Have you learned the dark power of unkindness?

In other words, we can use unkindness to get what we want.  In relationships, in business, on the sports field, and in the church, unkindness can be a method for personal advancement.  We can even spiritualize our unkindness, believing that God has blessed us with a special coercive power, and that he is working through us. When we think like that, we don’t believe that unkindness is wrong.  We usually call it boldness or persuasiveness or committedness or leadership.  And the people who lay broken and hurting in the dust behind us, we declare them to be weak, that they couldn’t handle life or the truth, and thus their pain is not our fault.  We say they just misunderstood us and took things too personal.

We can be deeply unkind.  Followers of Jesus, however, are willing to pursue kindness, even if it slows down our progress, even if it puts us at a disadvantage, even if kindness doesn’t seem to be working. 

We have been studying the Fruit of the Spirit, which we read about in Galatians 5:22-23.  In previous weeks, we’ve talked about how the Spirit grows his fruit in our lives so that we can be in healthy relationships with God and others.  Our God is a relational God, and how we treat one another is incredibly important to Him.  Look at the lengths He went to to be in relationship with us.  We’ve already studied love, joy, peace and patience in relationships.  This week we will study kindness. 

Before we focus on kindness, I want to point out that some of the qualities in the Fruit of the Spirit are very similar.  In the past two weeks we talked about peace and patience.  They are not identical, but they are related.  This week and the following two weeks we are going to learn about kindness, goodness, and gentleness.  These three are also related. 

In the next post, we’ll take a look at their definitions, and I think you’ll see what I mean.

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The frustrating difficulty of kindness – Fruit of the Spirit: Kindness, Preview

“Just be kind!” 

I can’t tell you how many times those three words have been uttered inside my house.  The reason why we have said those words so often over the years is because people in my house are not treating each other with kindness.  Usually this bad behavior is the outflow of sibling rivalry or annoyance. 

Maybe you’ve experienced what I’m talking about.  Perhaps you’ve experienced people treating one another unkindly in other relationships.  Would you believe that husbands and wives can be unkind toward one another?  Or how about neighbors?  Have you ever had an unkind interaction with a neighbor?  Maybe it was a blow-up with a co-worker or boss. 

Some societal observers have noticed that there is an increasing decline of kindness in our culture.  People feel more and more comfortable to express themselves in unkind ways.  It seems that social media has only made it easier and more comfortable for people to be unkind.

Many of us say, “Just be kind!” to our world, thinking that if people were kind to one another, that kindness would solve a lot of problems. People could choose to be far more kind than what is normal, but time and time again people do not choose kindness.

Why would people not embrace kindness?  Why do you and I allow unkind words and actions to flow from our lives?  The answers are complicated, as we wrestle with sin and pain and bad habits, broken relationships, and systemic injustice.

It is quite difficult to be kind sometimes, isn’t it?  How do we grow kindness in our lives? In our continuing series on the Fruit of the Spirit, we are learning to walk in step with the Spirit, which means growing the Fruit of the Spirit in our lives.  We’ve learned about growing love, joy, peace, patience and now this coming week we’ll study what it means to grow kindness. 

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Forgiveness as necessary for patience – Fruit of the Spirit: Patience, Part 5

As we walk in step with the Spirit, we will have the Spirit’s empowerment to live patiently.  That means we will be patient with others.

In 1 Thessalonians 5:14 Paul writes, “[W]e urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone.” Wait, Paul…everyone?

What Paul is suggesting is not easy.  Some people are exceedingly difficult for us, right?  We might say back to Paul, “Paul, you don’t know _______ like I know them.”

My guess is that we all have our lists of family members, co-workers, and friends with whom we have a hard time being patient.  Maybe they are annoying.  Maybe they are unkind.  Maybe they think they are funny, but we don’t.  Maybe they are know-it-alls.  Maybe they are the people who won’t shut up.  Maybe they are the people who have hurt you, time and time again.

To those people, Jesus teaches us what is perhaps the ultimate tool of patience.   Forgiveness.  Forgiveness is the practice of those who are patient.  Forgiveness is rooted in God’s patience.  Think about the extreme lengths God went to forgive us, through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.  He forgave our sins.  Think about how patient he was with us in his forgiveness of us.  So God says, you who have been forgiven your sins, you now forgive others who sin against you. 

Forgiving patience doesn’t mean that allow people to abuse you.  You may need to set boundaries with them so they don’t perpetuate the hurt. 

But you can still forgive them as God has forgiven you, even if you no longer have a relationship with them. 

Thankfully, in most of our difficult relationships, with most of the people who we have a hard time being patient with, we will not have to cut off the relationship.  But we will have to grow patience with them, and for them.

That is partly why God has given us his Spirit to be with us, to live in us.  Remember Romans 8.  The Spirit helps us in our weakness.  The Spirit intercedes for us, with groans that words cannot express.  God is with us.  Though it seems like God is far away or asleep, we would do well to cultivate the knowledge that the Spirit is living with us.  Think about that.  God in us.  Do you need to dwell on that?  Maybe daily?  God with us.

In the Pause App, the one phrase that is repeated in nearly all of the prayers is “God, heal my union with you.”  I love that because we can feel distant from God.  And yet, God the Spirit is with us.  We have union with God.  That means when life is hard, God is with us.  Jesus said to his disciples that after he left them, a comforter, a counselor, would come to them on his behalf.  That comforter and counselor is the Holy Spirit.  There is a very biblical basis for disciples of Jesus to spend time, lots of time, growing our relationship with the Holy Spirit. 

What do you need to do to grow patience in your life?  Do you need repent of your impatience?  Has your impatience caused you to act in ungodly and inappropriate ways to others?  Do you need to confess your sin to them?  What will you do to walk more in step with the Spirit in the area of patience?

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Growing patience through thankfulness – Fruit of the Spirit: Patience, Part 4

In Colossians 1:11 Paul writes a prayer that includes an important teaching about how to become more patient. Paul prayed that the people would be “strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father.”  Now that’s interesting.  Thankfulness and patience together.  When you are walking in step with the Spirit, you are thankful for the opportunity to be patient.  How does that grab you?  I so often hate being in the situation that is requiring me to be patient. 

In Philippians 4:6-7 Paul writes, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God, and the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  This verse reminds me that there is a close connection between peace and patience.  When we are in a situation requiring us to practice patience, so often we are not feeling peace.  Paul says, at that moment, “Present your requests to God and be thankful.”  Yes, Paul is suggesting that we pray something like this: “Lord, I am thankful for having to practice patience.” 

What do you do if you’re not thankful?  Be honest.  Tell it to God.  “Lord, I’m struggling right now.  I know I should be thankful in all circumstances, but I’m having a hard time with this situation.  I want to be thankful so that I can experience peace.  I want to be patient the way you are patience.   But I’m not you.  I’m struggling.”  That sounds a lot like lament, doesn’t it? 

When you read the psalms of lament, they are people really struggling with patience.  The psalms of lament say things like, “How long are you going to wait before you rescue me from this horrible situation, Lord?  I’m dying here.  I need you now!  Wake up, Lord!  Why are you sleeping on the job???”  Psalms of lament seem to be the opposite of patience, don’t they? 

They’re not. Psalms of lament are faithful expressions of honest struggle to God.  They are human.  Lament flows from people who are wrestling with the tug-of-war that is pain of life on the one side, and trying to be faithfully patient on the other.

If you are struggling with a situation, godly patience cries out to God in the middle of the situation.  Lament is that cry to the Lord, coming from a faithful place, saying “Lord, I need you.  I want to be patience.  I don’t know that I can keep this up, Lord.  Help!” 

God is not duty-bound to answer our lament they way we believe he should answer.  He might.  It is so awesome when he does.  But he might not.  When God doesn’t answer, and we must keep waiting, that does not make him evil.  It also doesn’t mean that he doesn’t care, or that he is not trustworthy.  Even when we are waiting well beyond how long we think we should be waiting, God may not step in.  We may need to keep struggling as we wait.  Those are the difficult moments when we learn godly patience by having an opportunity to practice godly patience. When we walk in step with the Spirit, we will grow patience. 

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How to grow patience – Fruit of the Spirit: Patience, Part 3

What does growing patience look like?

In Proverbs 19:11 we read that “A man’s wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense.”  Patience is rooted in wisdom.  Proverbs are illustrations of what is a wise course of action almost all the time.  There will be exceptions to the rule when it would be unwise to be patient.  To perform CPR.  To pull a baby away from touching fire.  To make a business deal that is time-sensitive.  But for the most part, it is wise to wait, to give time for evaluation, to ask questions, learn more.  “Be quick to listen, slow to speak,” wrote James, the brother of Jesus. 

If you’re the new kid on the block, maybe at a new school, a new job, a new sports team, patience means taking time to get to know your new surroundings, and especially to get to know the people involved.  Patience means having a humble, teachable heart so that you don’t come in like a hurricane, thinking you know it all.  Instead, if you see something that seems nonsensical, and you think you have a better way of doing things, stop yourself.  Keep your mouth shut.  Listen.  More than likely, just by patiently listening, the question will be answered for you in time as you learn more.  But if not, then formulate a question.  Patience avoids accusation and judgment, but instead, patience asks, “Why do you do it that way?”

Likewise in Proverbs 25:15 we learn that “Through patience a ruler can be persuaded, and a gentle tongue can break a bone.”  Or consider Ecclesiastes 7:8, “The end of a matter is better than its beginning, and patience is better than pride.”  Patience is waiting.  But not just any waiting.  Patience is a certain kind of waiting. You can lock up a person in chains and force them to wait against their will.  They might not be too thrilled about that, and we wouldn’t be surprised if they rebelled against this imposition.  They would try to free themselves.  They don’t want to wait in chains.  They are impatient.

Godly patience, however, is influenced by the other qualities in the list of the Fruit of the Spirit.  It involves, joy, peace, kindness, gentleness and self-control.  Patience submits to God, saying honestly, “I don’t want to wait.  I don’t like to wait.  I would much rather be done with the waiting.  But I give myself to you in the waiting. Help me wait like you want me to wait.”

Tom Petty once sang, “Waiting is the hardest part.”  It’s true.  If we’re waiting on information, we want to know that information fast.  I remember being a teenager thinking that it was taking forever for me to turn 16.  Then I remember dating and being engaged thinking that our wedding day, 8 months from then, was so far away.  When I started my doctoral degree in September 2018, the thought of taking 10 courses, passing comprehensive exams, and especially writing a dissertation seemed an impossible mountain.  Waiting is difficult.

When you are in the middle of a challenging time, you are waiting, you’re living in what is called in the liminal space.  Liminal space is not the before or after, but the middle.  You don’t know when things will change.  You don’t know when the pain will end.  You don’t know how long you will be alone.  You don’t know how you will pay the bills.  You don’t have a diagnosis.  You are waiting. 

In the waiting, God calls us to walk in step with the Spirit and be filled with his patience.  It is a gracious patience.  It is a kind patience.  It is a loving patience.  It is a self-controlled patience.  It is a joyful patience. 

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Jesus’ patience with his mom – Fruit of the Spirit: Patience, Part 2

Remember the wedding where Jesus turned water into wine? In that culture of honor and shame, running out of wine would have been a significant embarrassment for the father of the bride. So Jesus’ mom, Mary, goes to him, asking what seems to be a totally innocent observation, “They have no more wine.”  But hers was no innocent remark.

Jesus could have said, “Oh wow…bummer.”  Or he could have looked at her with snide look, “Mom…everyone knows that.”  As if Mary’s comment had nothing to do with him.  But he knew his mom.  He knew exactly what she was getting at.  Maybe it was her tone of voice, maybe it was a twinkle in her eye.  Mary was communicating that she knew Jesus could do something about the wine running out.

Notice Jesus’ response, “Dear woman, why do you involve me?”  He totally knows what Mary is doing here.  He knows that she wants him to do something about the lack of wine.  She wants him to solve the problem that the father of bride is facing.  What Jesus says next is fascinating, “My time has not yet come.”  Even after his ministry got started, we find him often saying things like “Please keep quiet about this, my time has not yet come.”  Jesus was patient, managing the pace of his ministry so that it stayed in line with the mission of God. 

Back at the wedding in Cana, I find it fascinating that Mary chooses to disregard Jesus’ comment.  You gotta love Mary in this story.  I wonder if she was a bit of a fireball.  Jesus says to her, “My time is not yet come.”  He wants to keep his ministry on a particular pace, not too fast, not too slow, but reaching the finish line at just the right time.  In other words, he is patient.  He’s concerned that if he does a miracle, like changing the water into wine, it could result in something like him becoming popular too fast. 

Mary, though, doesn’t even acknowledge this.  I don’t know if she rolled her eyes at him, shrugged him off, or said, “Talk to the hand.” More than likely she just smiled at Jesus, and with a twinkle in her eye, she basically dismisses him.  She dismissed Jesus!  The Messiah.  Mary ignores him.  Is she being rude or sinful?  No, I don’t believe so.  She’s his mom.  She is the only person who gets to ignore Jesus.

Notice, he didn’t say “No, I will no do this.”  He simply said, “Why do you involve me?  My time has not yet come.”  Jesus invites a discussion, asking a question.  Mary interprets Jesus’ response as him leaving the door open, that he might possibly help.  What is so amazing to me is that she doesn’t interact with him.  She doesn’t attempt to reason with him.  She doesn’t attempt to get him to say, “OK, mom, fine…I’ll do it.”  In fact, she doesn’t even answer his question to her, “Why do you involve me?” 

Instead, Mary turns to the servants and simply says, “Do what he tells you.”  How does Jesus respond?  With a “Woah…mom…I told you, my time has not yet come.  Why are disrespecting me?  I’m not telling these servants anything.  Geez, mom, don’t you know I have to be about my father’s business?  I’m not getting involved in some wedding party.”???  No.  Jesus follows his mom’s lead, tells the servants to fill some large jars with water and take the water to the master, who discovered it was the best wine.  We see in this Jesus is not only patient for his mission, but he is very patient with his mom. 

God is our example of patience.  And it’s a good thing, because we humans need it.  Imagine if God wasn’t patient with us!

Thankfully Paul reminds us in 1 Timothy 1:16, “I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.”

Peter points this out in 2 Peter 3:9 and 15 “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. … Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him.”

Because God is patient, he calls us to be like him.  What, then, does it mean for us to grow patience in our lives? In the next post, we’ll learn more!

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Better to be a late bloomer, than a flash in the pan – Fruit of the Spirit: Patience, Part 1

I recently started using my phone to pay at the store. At the checkout, all you have to do is double tap on your phone’s fingerprint sensor, hold the phone up to the credit card reader, wait a second for the lights to flash green, and you’re done. The receipt comes flying out of the printer, and off you go. It’s one of those contemporary technologies that would astound my 16 year old self.

Except for when it doesn’t work. When it doesn’t work, you know what happens? I immediately feel anxious because it is not working! I start tapping the phone all over the reader trying to get it to connect. I turn off the payment function on my phone, then turn it back on. Maybe resetting it will help. If a reset doesn’t help, I feel tension growing inside me. Is the malfunction my fault? Is my phone not working? Is it the payment reader? Finally, in frustrated impatience, I pull out my credit card and insert it. What a pain it is to have to get out my wallet, then my card, then insert the card into the chip reader, then tap the debit PIN. Ugh. All that work.

I’m partly being facetious, but partly not. We humans can be very impatient, can’t we? Sometimes about minor annoyances like the payment reader not connecting with my phone. But sometimes we can be impatient about major realities in life.

In our continuing series on the Fruit of the Spirit, we are learning to walk in step with the Spirit, which means growing the Fruit of the Spirit in our lives.  We’ve learned about growing love, joy, peace, and now this coming Sunday we’ll study what it means to grow patience. 

What is patience?

The people who study languages tell us that the word Paul used here is defined as “a state of emotional calm in the face of provocation or misfortune and without complaint or irritation[1]

They also tell us that “In a number of languages ‘patience’ is expressed idiomatically, for example, ‘to remain seated in one’s heart’ or ‘to keep one’s heart from jumping’ or ‘to have a waiting heart’.”[2]

This week we’re going to learn that Scripture says quite a lot about patience. First Scripture teaches us that God is patient. Paul wrote in Romans 2:4, “Do you show contempt for the riches of [God’s] kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?”

God is our example.  God never asks us to do something that he himself did not first demonstrate for us.  As we learned recently in the Ezekiel series, God was extremely patience with the nation of Israel.  He is patient with us too. 

Patience is a part of God’s character.  That means Jesus was patient.  Imagine being Jesus, living a no-name life for 30 years.  Maybe when Jesus was a kid, he knew that he wasn’t ready to go out on his own and have a preaching and healing ministry.  But what about when he turned 20?  Or 25?  Of course, the culture of First Century Jewish Palestine was very different from our culture.  We are used to pushing our kids to make a name for themselves as soon as possible.

We’re rarely patient with our kids.  We want them to be superstars when they are still tiny, as if it is a major achievement that they got their first tooth at three months, or are reading by two years old.

Our culture breeds this impatience in us, pushing us so early on.  I remember taking one of those career tests in 9th grade, where you’re supposed to find out what you are going to do with the rest of your life.  I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life in 9th grade.  The only desire I had at that point was to be like Maverick in Top Gun and fly F-14 Tomcats for the Navy. But because my eyesight is so bad, I knew that wasn’t happening.  How many of us knew what we wanted to do with the rest of our lives in 9th grade, and then actually did it? 

I like the phrase, “Better to be a late bloomer than a flash in the pan.”  Sure, the rare person achieves greatness at a young age, but most don’t.  In fact, the popular people, the early achievers usually flame out.  I’d rather be a late bloomer.  That requires patience.  I suspect Jesus was a late bloomer.

In Jesus’ culture there wasn’t much pressure to pick your career early, as more than likely, you’d do what your father did.  But Jesus was different, right?  It’s possible that he was identified as having a special mind early on, and some scholars believe that he could have been tapped to go to elite rabbinical schools.  We don’t know.  What we do know is that he would have learned his father, Joseph’s trade, some form of carpentry or more likely masonry, which was the more prevalent kind of construction. 

Because his father, Joseph, does not appear in the stories of Jesus’ adult life, we believe Joseph had passed away, and Jesus being the eldest son, could have fulfilled the role of taking over the family business and making sure his mother, Mary, and siblings were cared for.  You know what I am describing here?  A totally normal life. 

Even if he did go to the elite schools, at some point Jesus moved back to Nazareth, which was a tiny town in the northern Galilee region of Jerusalem.  It was a nothing-special kind of town.  You don’t come from Nazareth if you want a chance at stardom, and you certainly don’t go there if you want to make a name for yourself.  But that’s exactly what Jesus did, and likely for years.  Jesus was patient.  Very patient.

I find Jesus’ example highly instructive, because we can want the next thing, or a bigger thing, a better thing, and we want it now.  Yesterday would be better.  Our American culture is not one that builds patience in our lives.  Certainly circumstances can force us to work on becoming more patient, but our culture is all about faster, faster, faster.

Last week, I was sitting in my living room, and I heard a voice from on high, “Dad!!! The wifi isn’t working!!!” My daughter was in her room upstairs and her use of social media was suddenly interrupted. Maybe you know the feeling. When the internet is down, what happens?  We freak out.  Then there is the new world of email and text message etiquette.  When you send a text message asking a question of someone, how long do you wait for them to respond before you start getting upset?   

We are called to become like Jesus, which means we will cultivate patience. But how? In the next post, we’ll learn more.

Photo by CardMapr on Unsplash

[1] Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 306.

[2] Ibid

The agony of waiting – Fruit of the Spirit: Patience, Preview

In December my daughter turned 16, and we went to the PennDOT Driver’s License Center at East Town Mall so she could take her permit test.  We walked in the front door, and she received her number from the receptionist.  At the far side of the large waiting room, we found seats near the bank of computers used for permit tests.  Then we did what you do in waiting rooms.  We waited for her number to be called.  The system announced number after number over the loudspeakers, as screens displayed the number of the person being served.  We waited as other numbers were called, and we waited some more.

I started feeling the need to use the restroom, but I didn’t want to go in case my daughter’s number was called.  So our waiting continued, with a growing unsettledness as people around us got up after hearing their number called.  We pulled out our phones to keep busy.  I thought that I should have brought my laptop to work on my dissertation.

My urge to use the men’s room steadily grew, and I began shifting in my seat like you do when you’re feeling discomfort.  We looked around trying to determine if people who arrived after us were having their number called before us.  It sure seemed like that was happening.  Was something wrong?  Did our number get skipped?  Should we get up and ask for help? 

As the minutes ticked by, I was now becoming very uncomfortable.  I got upset with myself, thinking that I should have gone to the restroom when I first felt the urge.  I would have been back with plenty of time to spare.  Now I was shifting in my seat and bouncing my feet, certain that if I ran to the bathroom now, my daughter’s number would be called while I was away. 

Have you been in that situation?  Waiting. The DMV is usually a good bet if you want to try your hand at patience.  But there are plenty of other experiences in life that force us to wait, often for much, much longer than the DMV.  Graduation from grade school is a 12+ year process.  Working for retirement usually requires decades.  How do you do with waiting?  Are you good at it?  Or not so good? What, or who, tries your patience?

In our continuing series on the Fruit of the Spirit, we are learning to walk in step with the Spirit, which means growing the Fruit of the Spirit in our lives.  We’ve learned about growing love, joy, and peace, and now this coming week we’ll study what it means to grow patience. 

Check back in on Monday, and we’ll get started.

Photo by Matthew Henry on Unsplash