The Fruit of the Spirit – Galatians 5:22-23

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. – Galatians 5:22-23 NIV

I wonder how many self-help books have been written about character development. Books that teach us to be loving, joyful and at peace with ourselves. While certainly not everyone in the world sees these attributes as desirable, most people seem to. Or at least they want to see them in the people they are surrounded by. I suppose that some of these self-help books can give helpful advice. But anytime we focus on our own efforts to develop into loving, joyful, peaceful people, we produce something that is only an imitation of the real thing.

The only sure way to success is to walk with the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:16, 18). When I walk with him, allowing him to work on my life, the results of his efforts, the fruit of the Spirit, will be obvious: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. They will not come into full bloom instantly. But as we allow the Holy Spirit to work in us, these virtues will grow and mature. The Holy Spirit within will be reflected through me for all to see.

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Overflowing Hope through Joy and Peace – Romans 15:13

Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you believe so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. – Romans 15:13 CSB

This doxology at the end of the doctrinal section of Romans is in the form of a prayer. A prayer for the believers in Rome, as well as for anyone else who reads these words. Hope is the focus in this prayer; that the God of hope would cause us to overflow with hope. But Paul does not directly pray for hope. Rather he prayers for what will produce hope within us.

The first step in this process is that we believe in the God of hope. We should not expect God to do anything for us if we are not walking in faith. Paul prays that as we believe, God would fill us with all joy and peace. Joy and peace come, not from external circumstances, but through relationship with God. We can have real joy and real peace only when we are walking with the one who made us. But all too often we allow the troubles and cares of this world to intrude, dampening our joy and peace. Seeking to have God fill us with joy and peace is not a one time request. It should be the ongoing desire of the believers heart.

The end result of being filled with joy and peace is that we will overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Hope is not just a wishful desire. Rather it is a confidence in what God has awaiting us. And that hope grows in the soil of joy and peace, tended by the Holy Spirit. If your hope is weak, seek the joy and peace God will give to those who believe. Then you can know overflowing hope in your life.

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God’s Will: Rejoice, Pray and Give Thanks – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

The above passage is from Paul’s concluding remarks in his first letter to the Thessalonian church, and it is sometimes easy to just race past it to finish up the letter.  But I believe that is a big mistake.  These three tiny verses have some very practical application in our daily lives, especially if we want to follow God’s desire concerning our character. Three simple directives that will make such a big difference in who we are.

Rejoice always!  I am sure you have know people who always seemed positive, who always see the good, who brighten your day whenever you encounter them.  God wants me to be one of those people.  Not one who is wearing a mask and just pretending to rejoice.  But one who just does.  To have a heart that is always rejoicing in the Lord.

Pray continually!  This sounds impossible; and it is if you limit prayer to something that requires you to close your eyes, bow your head, and tell God what you want him to do for you.  But prayer is so much more than that.  Think of prayer simply as talking to God, without all of the ritual that we so often seem to wrap around it.  There is generally no need to bow your head, although there may be a time for that.  Closing your eyes can be useful when you need to block out other distractions, but would normally be a bad idea, especially if you are driving.  Prayer should not be limited to making requests, treating God like a giant vending machine in the sky.  Just talk to him, like you do your closest friend.  That is how you will get to know him best.

Give thanks in all circumstances!  It is easy to be thankful when everything is going just right.  It is quite another thing to be thankful when your life seems to be the subject of a country western song; dog died, wife ran away, and the truck is broke.  Hardly a day goes by that I don’t find something that is hard to be thankful for.  But fortunately we are not being instructed to be thankful for those things that happen to us.  Instead we are just told to be thankful while we are going through those trying circumstances.  Be thankful that we have a God who cares about us.  Be thankful for what the trials can produce in our lives.

This is God’s will for you.  There are a lot of things that I might identify as being God’s will for me, including some things that are specific for my life and not necessarily for others.  But for all of us who are ‘in Christ Jesus’, who have a relationship with him, he wants us always to have a spirit of joy and thanksgiving, and to stay in constant contact with him.  After all, we have been invited to be a part of God’s plan for eternity and to enter into fellowship with our creator.  Why would I not be filled with joy and thanksgiving?

Joyful in Trials – James 1:2-4

Trials, difficulties, challenges, confrontations, IRS audits, economic meltdown, out of control kids, unemployment, persecution, etc., etc., etc..  None of us are immune to the difficulties of life.  And it oftentimes seems like being a Christian only makes things worse. How should I respond to the rocks that life throws at me?

James has something to say about this in his letter to Christian Jews scattered around the Roman world, who were also having rocks thrown at them.  But his message to them, and to us, can be pretty hard to swallow.

Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.  But endurance must do its complete work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing. – James 1:2-4 HCSB

Respond to trials with joy?  Sounds crazy doesn’t it.  That actually sounds like a response that should get us locked up in a padded cell as a masochist.  But before you pass off James guidance as foolishness, take a closer look at what he is telling us.

How do I respond to trials?  I could see in them the end of a dream, an overwhelming obstacle, or a painful experience.  Or, as a Christ follower, I could choose to respond in faith.  In faith, I believe that God cares about me, and that he is working to perfect me.  In faith, I can choose to believe that God will take this trial and use it to draw me closer to him, making me more dependent on him, and further develop me as a disciple.  Through faith, I can develop endurance, the ability to continue through the trial without being discouraged and giving up.

And at the end of endurance is maturity, becoming what I was created to be.  The trials I go through are not fun, and nowhere am I called on to enjoy them.  But they will be used by God in my development, if I respond in faith.  And so, knowing what the trials can produce in my life, I can respond joyfully; not joy because of the trial, but joy in what they can produce in me.

I run.  I am not particularly fast, and will likely never win a race with many competitors.  And, for me at least, running is not the funnest thing I do in a day.  My legs get tired, I huff and puff, my feet get sore, I have to dodge cars, and it can be a real mental struggle to continue.  So why do I continue; why run when watching TV is so much easier?  Because of that these “trials” produce.  I am in better physical condition than most 60 year old men. I can mostly eat what I want without worry. I can go out on long distance hikes and enjoy the creation.  And I just feel better.  I take joy in what the trials of running produce in me.

James calls on me to do the same thing with the trials of life.  Take joy in what the testing of your faith will accomplish.  Take joy in your spiritual development and maturity.  Dare to confound the world around you when you respond with a joyful attitude to the inevitable trials of life.

A Living Hope – 1 Peter 1:3-9

The epistle of First Peter is traditionally attributed to the apostle Peter, although many modern scholars dispute that today.  Regardless of the human author though, it is a very inspiring letter; and one filled with encouragement for believers who are suffering for their faith.  While not many of us in the US actually suffer for our faith, this letter is still very deserving of our study and meditation.

The introduction to this letter addresses it to God’s elect, those he has chosen to be his.  No reason is given here for why God chooses us, apart from his foreknowledge; God knew us long ago and has chosen us.  Following this introduction the letter reviews where we stand with God, and the reason we can face challenging times with confidence.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, 5 who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 9 for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls. – 1 Peter 1:3-9 NIV

This passage starts with a word of praise for what God has done for us.  And note that it is not something he did because we were deserving of it; rather it was because of his great mercy.  Because he has compassion on those he has chosen, God gives us new birth.  New birth implies starting afresh.  What we were and what we had to look forward to are left in the past.  God has transformed us, making us new, giving us both a new hope and an inheritance.

A Living Hope

As God’s chosen ones, he has given us birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.  Vines Expository Dictionary defines hope as a “favorable and confident expectation”.  What is this hope?  Given the context, I believe it is referring to to a confident expectation that we will share in Jesus resurrection, knowing that where Jesus is now, we will someday be.

That this hope is living would seem to mean that it is not something that I have put on a shelf to pull down someday.  Rather it is an active part of my life now.  Does it make a difference in my life now that Jesus rose from the dead, and that I can expect to follow him?  If it does not, then is it really a living hope?  We all know that life in this flesh is short; but my hope is in a life that will not end.  Why live as though this life is all I have?

An Inheritance

He has also given us birth into an eternal inheritance.  We often think of inheritance in conjunction with the death of the person leaving the inheritance.  But here, the only death is, in a sense, ours.  Having a new birth implies that we died to the old life, and in this new life we have an inheritance that is awaiting us; awaiting us until we indeed die to this life and enter into heaven.

This inheritance can never perish, spoil or fade and is safely kept in heaven awaiting us.  It does not need polishing or dusting.  It is not at the mercy of an investment broker and the economy.  It will not go out of style or spoil.

It is really easy to get caught up in the here and now, focusing on the temporary and volatile things that surround me and make up my life now.  But I have something waiting for me that is so much better.  I have no reason at all to be concerned about the little I have now.  No reason to hold onto it so tightly.  No reason to fear losing what I have here.  None of it will last.  None of it is worth taking with me.  Something much better is waiting.  Let go of the cheap trinkets of this life and embrace the glorious inheritance that awaits you.

Shielded by God’s Power

We have new birth, a living hope and a glorious inheritance.  But we still live here in this world.  And the people of this world are not generally fans of Gods chosen ones.  Life can be hard: we face all of the difficulties that come from living in this world, as well as the challenges presented by people who take offense over those with a living hope, who look forward to a glorious inheritance.

But we are assured here that God’s power serves as a shield to protect us while we are here.  Many would like to apply this shield to every aspect of our lives, but I do not believe that is appropriate.  God’s people face hurricanes along with everyone else who lives along tropical coastlines.  All of us are equally at risk from disease and drunk drivers.  I believe Paul explains this shielding in 2 Timothy 1:12: “I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.”  Paul had entrusted his eternity into God’s hands, and was convinced that God’s power would be a shield around him until he ultimately stood before God.

There is another interesting aspect to this passage here, and that is the role of faith.  I believe this is also explained in the 2 Timothy passage: Paul had entrusted something to God and was convinced he would guard it.  Paul, through faith, had given himself to God, and in faith believed that God would guard, in spite of what was going on around him.  We can be assured that God will guard what we entrust him with.  Will you trust him with yourself?

The Refiner’s Fire

Do you ever find your surprised, and a bit discouraged, when you find yourself in the midst of challenging times?  Somehow many Christians have developed the feeling that God should shield them from all of the owies that life throws our way.  And so, when something unpleasant comes along, they are left to wonder why.

But it is unrealistic to expect that your life as a believer will be a bed of roses, nor is that really even a desirable goal.  We are told here that we may well have to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.  Some of these trials come simply because we live in this world, while others come about because of the worlds opposition to Christ.  But however they come, we can rejoice because of the hope we have and the inheritance we look forward to.  As Paul says in Romans 8:18: “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”  Rather than moaning about what is happening now; look ahead to what is to come.  The present cannot begin to compare with our future.

Peter then compares our trials to a refiners fire.  I have never seen gold refined, but I did use to watch my dad as he prepared lead sinkers for fishing.  He had a small pan he put on the stove and added lead to the pan.  The lead would melt and he would scrape off the dross from the top before pouring the pure lead into molds for his sinkers.  I understand that the same process is used for gold: it has to be taken to the boiling point before the impurities can be stripped away.

But instead of gold, it is our faith that is being refined here.  How do you respond to difficult times?  Do you collapse or do you persevere?  Persevering is a demonstration of the genuineness of your faith, and is the desired outcome of the testing times.  Those challenges should lead us to trust ever more in our creator, and ever less on the temporary things of this world.  Instead of dreading the refiners fire, we should welcome it because when our faith is proved genuine, it results in praise, glory and honor in the end.  Hang in there during life’s challenges, and rejoice in what they are accomplishing in your life; getting rid of the unimportant, and preparing you for a wondrous “Well done, good and faithful servant!

An Inexpressible and Glorious Joy

The return of Jesus is still in our future.  Those of us living and following him now have never seen him, either in the past or the present.  But not seeing him with my eyes does not prevent me from believing in him, and loving him.  The world will scoff at faith, because it seems foolish to them.  Yet the foolishness of faith brings me into God’s presence.

What is the goal of faith?  It lets me know God.  But the end result of faith is the salvation of my soul, the “me” that inhabits the shell I walk around in now.  I find it interesting that we are even now receiving the salvation of our souls.  It is not just something to look forward to at death, or at Jesus return.  But even now that goal is being accomplished.  The more I come to know God, experiencing his presence in my life; the more I experience the refining of my faith through the trials of this life; the more my soul is delivered from the bondage of this flesh and into the glory of his presence.  And that should fill me with a glorious and inexpressible joy.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!
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