This column makes two primary assumptions: that fruits of the Spirit, as described in Galatians 5:22-23, form an excellent set of benchmarks for Christian maturity, and that a unique spiritual pathway for pursuing each benchmark exists. In the last column we explored spiritual paths to love, joy, peace and patience. Now, let us examine kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
This column makes two primary assumptions: that fruits of the Spirit, as described in Galatians 5:22-23, form an excellent set of benchmarks for Christian maturity, and that a unique spiritual pathway for pursuing each benchmark exists. In the last column we explored spiritual paths to love, joy, peace and patience. Now, let us examine kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
Pursuing kindness involves embracing servanthood. Micah 6:8 challenges us not only to perform acts of kindness, but also to love kindness itself. The only way to love both the act of kindness and the result of kindness is to pursue servanthood. Only through servanthood do we learn to enjoy the acts of kindness themselves.
For Americans, this will not come easily. I am told that our culture embraces servanthood less than other cultures. Indeed, service-oriented professions that are often esteemed in other cultures are devalued in our own. “Being our own boss” is seen as the ultimate American job. Still, for those who dare, embracing the act of serving others leads to one of the benchmarks of Christian maturity, kindness.
Pursuing the next spiritual gift—goodness—involves a constant emptying of oneself in order to make room for God’s righteousness. Understanding God’s goodness is a task that evolves. As every year passes, I curtail more practices in order to live a life more pleasing to God.
As I discover that the world is my neighborhood and all of its inhabitants my neighbors, I discover new esteem for my neighbors. I become aware of actions that are hurtful to others. I discover sinful sides to practices previously deemed harmless. Pursuing goodness involves a constant confessional and a renewable daily commitment toward becoming the creature we are capable of becoming in God’s eyes.
The path to faithfulness is the path of expectation. Luke 5 contains an extraordinary passage of scripture in which Peter is called to catch people rather than fish. In order to introduce Peter to his new job description, Jesus asks Peter to cast his net on the other side of the boat. As Peter obeys, he is nearly unable to haul in the great number of fish out of the same lake in which he had fished all night and caught nothing.
Surprised by the catch, Peter confesses the sin of improper expectations for God: “When Simon Peter saw it [the catch], he fell down at Jesus’ knees saying, ‘Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man'” (Lk 5:8). Peter’s faithfulness will increase as he learns to expect great catches from God. Increasing our expectations of God’s handiwork is the pathway to faithfulness.
The capacity for gentleness is often contained in one’s perspective. Recently, a friend of mine told the story of someone struggling to understand the events of Sept. 11. The struggle was depicted as having two wolves raging inside oneself.
One of the wolves is the wolf of rage, characterized by anger, revenge and evil. How could one not experience those emotions following such tragic events? The other wolf is consumed by compassion, mercy and healing for the victims and even the perpetrators of the events themselves.
Upon being asked, “Which wolf do you suppose will win the fight?” comes the reply, “I suppose the one I choose to feed.” The path to gentleness involves feeding the wolf of compassion, mercy and healing. Increasing our capacity for gentleness results from altering our perspectives of others.
The path to self-control involves: prioritizing our lives and then acting upon the priorities that please God the most; recognizing that life is not about us; diminishing the pride of self in order to increase the worth of self. Most actions that break self-control are aimed either at defending or gratifying our selfhood.
When we recognize that our lives are integrally connected to the lives of others, and more importantly, placed upon this earth to please God, self-control becomes a more approachable benchmark.
Jeff Woods is executive minister for the American Baptist Churches of Ohio.