How can we bare the fruit of the Spirit in the difficult times in our life? What can help us show strong character in the face of strong adversity?
We live in a dark world where strong character is a rare commodity. One person with exceptional character lived in the darkest of places: a World War II prison camp. Under horrific conditions, Corrie ten Boom reflected the life of Christ.
Corrie actually loved her persecutors, felt true joy while those around her were embittered, and was filled with a peace that undermined the tormentors who wanted to break her character. She was able to do so because of the abiding presence of Christ in her life. And abiding in Christ is the secret to developing a Christlike character.
Many of us are familiar with the list of spiritual character qualities found in Galatians 5:22,23: "When the Holy Spirit controls our lives, He will produce this kind of fruit in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control" (New Living Translation). The Lord wants to produce all these characteristics in our lives, not just one or two. We may have one or more gifts of the Spirit, but we should demonstrate every fruit of the Spirit.
Notice the quality that Paul lists first. Love is the fruit that guides and enhances the growth of the rest. Love is based on choice, not on feelings, and is the ultimate test of our authenticity as God's children. Jesus said, "Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are My disciples" (John 13:35, NLT).
All these character traits are closely aligned to one another. There is reasoning behind the order in which the fruit is listed. Love is joyful, and when joy breaks through, it brings peace. Those at peace can be patient, and patience makes kindness possible. Kindness is an expression of goodness. Someone who is patient, kind and good is also likely to be faithful. These fruits all grow together and lend their unique flavors to one another.
Finally we come to gentleness and self-control. We often make the mistake of thinking that gentleness means being passive and ineffectual. But gentleness has nothing to do with weakness. On the contrary, it is quiet strength under great control. Gentleness tames a stallion or calms the raging waters. It is not for the weak.
And quite naturally, this brings us to self-control. This fruit is the final victory of love over our old, sinful nature. How seldom we see it in today's world of self-gratification. Biblical self-control means strength that enables us to master our thoughts, emotions and deeds. As the Spirit focuses us on Christ's purposes, we are self-controlled because our mission is too great to waste a moment on trivial matters.
Are we to strain and struggle to produce this kind of fruit? No, fruit appears in season because the branches draw life from the vine. In the same way, we draw life from abiding in Christ, our Vine. We plant ourselves in the grounding of His inspired Word, remove the weeds of sin by confessing and repenting, bask in the living water of prayer, and submit to the necessary pruning of spiritual discipline. This is how we stay deeply connected to Christ.
Consider His character:
› He was loving—He reached out to minister to people He passed.
› He was joyful—He attended parties and celebrated when sinners found God.
› He was peaceful—He calmed stormy waters.
› He was patient—He never gave up on immature, quarreling disciples.
› He was kind—He embraced lepers.
› He was good—He cared for the physical hunger of a large crowd.
› He was faithful—He never neglected prayer, even when His time was short.
› He was gentle—Children rushed to Him everywhere He traveled.
› He was self-controlled—He took our punishment when He could have escaped.
You need not struggle to be a fruitful believer; simply abide in Christ. Simply live each day in step with the Spirit, and He will bring a pleasing harvest of strong character qualities. You will be surprised and delighted to see patience, gentleness and many other traits blooming in full flower in your life.