I had an intriguing idea today while reading the morning paper. It seems that everything from movies to restaurants; hotels to web sites, use a star rating system to gauge how well they stack with one another. Then I thought what if Christians and churches used such a system to grade themselves. How many stars would we rate, both individually and as churches?
God’s word gives us the criteria on which to base such a rating. It is found throughout the Bible, but for our critique, we need to start with Paul’s letter to the Galatians; Chapter 5.
Here we find in verses 22 and 23, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, (23) meekness and temperance. Against such there is no law.”
These words give us the right as Christians to be fruit inspectors. This doesn’t mean becoming judgmental towards others, but gives us a method of testing ourselves and those we congregate with on the whole.
Let’s look at that first “fruit” love. Do you love others as Christ commanded? Remember that this aspect of your walk with Jesus isn’t optional. He commands it! In the Book of John 15:12 Jesus says, “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”
Jesus was talking to His disciples when He said that. Since we are His disciples now, those words are just as applicable to us as they were to the original twelve. He expects us to love one another without strings attached. That is the way He loves us. He accepts our short comings, our faults, our weaknesses and our personalities unconditionally.
All too often we shun people because of their appearance or their social status. Sometimes we don’t show our Christ like love because of some perceived injustice or injury they foisted on us either mentally or physically. But God’s word doesn’t justify us not loving them. Remember! Jesus loved you and gave His life for you while you were yet a lost sinner! That is the words that the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 5:8. “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Do you exhibit that kind of love for your brothers and sisters in Christ? Does your church as a whole show that kind of love for each other? You personally can not change yourself or those with whom you congregate. But through fervent prayer and fasting, Jesus is able to bring that kind of love to you and to those you uphold in intercessory prayer.
The second “fruit” that is listed is joy. A lot of Christians confuse joy with happiness. They are not necessarily the same! A person can have happiness and not have joy, and conversely have joy while experiencing unhappiness. This may seem contradictory but I will explain as best I can.
Happiness is based on satisfying our fleshly desires. New clothes, new cars, lots of cash, popularity, good health or anything that brings temporary satisfaction brings us a degree of happiness. But these things don’t usually bring joy! True joy only comes from a personal relationship with our Creator. It is a faith based knowledge that regardless of the present circumstances we find ourselves in, God is going to see us through. Joy is a permanence that this world cannot take from us. That is why we find in James 1:2, these words. “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, (3) knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.) As you may notice, James didn’t use the word happiness here. He used the word joy. He didn’t tell us to be happy when our world seems to be falling in around us, but instead to be joyful that God is working His will in our lives to help us become stronger in Him.
To help us understand the difference in worldly happiness and spiritual joy, God gave us these words through the Apostle Paul in Romans 8:28. “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purposes!”
What a powerful and glorious promise from our Heavenly Father! No matter what we are going through, He is with us and is shaping us for His glory and for our good! It is for this reason we can be joyful even at the darkest of times!
Unfortunately a lot of Christians haven’t learned how to exhibit that joy. Are you one of those people who look only at the present negatives in your life? Do you always try to let those around you know how miserable you are? I beseech you now to take your burdens to the only One who can help you. Only Jesus can make a difference. Not your pastor or deacons. Not your friends or family. Sure they can, and most likely want to pray with you about whatever the problems may be. But only Jesus, our Savior and Lord can help. Ask Him today for the joy that He promises. He will give it to you. And when you experience that God given joy, the third “fruit”, peace will envelope your life!
This third “fruit” peace goes hand in hand with joy. If you have the joy of the Lord in your life, you will experience a peace that goes beyond human understanding. It is also twofold in nature. First of all there is the peace, or tranquility that comes from knowing that in Jesus, everything is alright. Secondly is the lack of turmoil caused by jealousies and human frailties. This is existing with one another without strife and bickering; of being of like mind and in accord with each other.
That is not to say that we will always agree on every little point of life, but we can disagree amiably; without rancor or bitterness. When we learn that not everyone likes the same things or reacts the same way to the same stimuli we learn that differences are ok.
Just think! If everyone’s likes and dislikes were identical, we would all be driving pink Cadillac’s! However, with Jesus in our lives, we learn to accept our differences and seek peaceful solutions to our disagreements. Sometimes this takes understanding that each of us is an individual and where there is no black and white, right or wrong, we must turn to God’s word for guidance. In Philippians 2:12 we find; “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” (Emphasis is mine.)
No matter what comes into our lives, when we walk closely with Jesus, when we are empowered by the Holy Ghost dwelling with us, we will experience a deep inner peace and a tranquil and peaceful existence.
The fourth “fruit” that we need to show in our lives is longsuffering. This simply means patient endurance from the Greek word makrothumia. In other words we need to bear long and patiently with the frailties, offences, injuries, and provocations of others, without murmuring, vengeance, repining, or resentment. That may seem like a tough order but that is exactly what Jesus expects of us.
When we remember how Jesus stood in front of Pilate and was mocked and accused, He stood silently and did not offer recriminations against those who were unjustly accusing Him. (Read it in Mark 15.)
The sad thing is that when someone does something that angers us, the first thing we want is some sort of retribution. We want to exact some sort of payment so we can feel avenged! But God’s word is explicit concerning our actions. Jesus told us in Matthew 5:39, that when someone hits us up one side of the head, we should turn the other side to him. (I paraphrased that scripture.) But the Bible is clear that we are not to seek our own vengeance, but instead, take it up with God in prayer and let Him handle it.
It’s not just what people do to us personally that sets us off either. We tend to get our nose bent out of shape by the way people act around us. We have all heard people say about others, things like, “he sure isn’t acting very Christian!” Or my favorite is, “if he were really a Christian, he wouldn’t do that!”
To really show the fruit of longsuffering for others, we must first understand that every Christian is a work in progress. From the moment of salvation, until the day we stand in the very presence of Jesus the Christ, He is chipping away our sinful shell, to expose that perfect being that is in each of us. This is not an instantaneous transformation, but a lifelong process. Remember this! None of us developed our sinful habits instantly. All of our sinful ways were acquired over our lifetime, regardless of our age at the time of our salvation. It’s just that some of us have had a longer time in which to sink into our sinful ways.
Keeping that in mind, we must realize that it will take some time for people to get rid of their bad habits and replace them with good ones. An angry person will still get angry after he is saved. A smoker will still crave tobacco, an alcoholic will still want a drink, a liar will still find it hard to be truthful and so forth. But instead of getting upset and spiteful with these people, we are to be supportive in their quest for holiness. Admonish them yes! Shun them or punish them? Never!
When Paul wrote in Romans 12:2, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God”, he showed an ongoing, daily act of obedience to God’s will. Notice, if you will, he didn’t say renew your mind and be transformed, but instead said, be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
Understanding that the person that just upset us may not know that he did something offensive, and even if he did know, may be regretful and repentant, will help us show the fruit of longsuffering for others.
Here again, we must search our own heart to rate ourselves in this area! Do you bear the failures of others with out spite and malice?
Are you able to show God’s love to them even though they may have caused you sorrow? Does your church show this kind of longsuffering as a whole? If not, take it to the cross of Jesus. Put it on the altar and let Him renew your mind that you may prove that good and acceptable and perfect will of God!
Gentleness, the fifth “fruit” is another one that is sometimes difficult to show, especially for the male members of our society! We are taught from infancy that gentleness is a sign of weakness. Oh! It’s fine to show gentleness towards our spouses and our children, but we are taught to be gruff and unyielding to the rest of the world.
In the Book of James, chapter 3, verses 17 and 18, we find these words. “But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, GENTLE; willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.”
Gentleness is a giant leap towards righteousness! By definition gentleness is a gentle disposition, soft spoken, kind, even tempered, cultured, and refined in both character and conduct.
Concern for others, compassion, willingness to listen to others, and willingness to help whenever possible are ways to exhibit gentleness. Are you a gentle Christian? Is the majority of your congregation gentle to one another? Or is this an area that needs attention? Ask Jesus on a daily basis to help you be gentle to those around you! When you do, you will become a better person and will discover that goodness, the sixth “fruit”, and shines in your life.
The definition of goodness, according to Dakes study bible is the state of being good, kind, virtuous, benevolent, generous, and Christ like in life and conduct. To me, this means being willing to help others with our labor, finances, possessions and material goods, as well as being friendly, pleasant and spiritually solid.
Goodness and gentleness are almost inseparable. I find that gentle people are almost always good people, and good people are almost always gentle. There are exceptions though, but I’ll save that for another time.
The Bible tells us in Matthew 5:44 to “…love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which spitefully use you, and persecute you.” If you can truly do those things, you are showing the fruit of goodness in you life!
Imagine what it would be like to attend a church where all people understood what goodness is! There would be no back biting, gossip, jealousies or bitterness. There would be no enemies, cursing, hatred, persecution or spite in the churches if everyone would let God’s goodness rule their lives!
The seventh “fruit” on our Christian vine is faithfulness. This is also a twofold item like peace is.
First there is having faith. Faith is the wholehearted assurance, confidence, trust, and reliance in God and all that He says. It is divinely acquired; the living principle of an inward realization that God is the Creator and the Savior of His creation! Faith is believing without seeing and trusting without proof. When Jesus was praying in the garden, just before He was arrested, He said, “I do not pray for these alone, but also FOR THOSE WHO WILL BELIEVE IN ME THROUGH THEIR WORD!” We have faith because Christ’s disciples gave us their witness of Him. That is having faith in Jesus.
I cannot imagine a person being a Christian and not believing that Jesus is who He says He is, and not believing that He arose from the grave and is alive today. To be a Christian, we have to have faith in Him!
But having faith does not necessarily bring faithfulness. In a nutshell, faithfulness is loyalty. Loyalty to friends, family, spouse, church, and Jesus! You can believe in Jesus yet not be faithful in any of the fore mentioned areas.
Faithfulness really shows in church membership! When a person accepts a membership in a local church, he assumes important responsibilities as a member. Those responsibilities are faithfulness in attendance, faithfulness in giving, and faithfulness in service.
Do you attend church regularly? Do you tithe consistently and cheerfully? Do you serve in the capacity in which God has called you? If you do then Praise God! If you don’t then you are not showing the fruit of faithfulness and need to get on your face before God and repent!
God’s Word tells us in Hebrews 10:24&25, “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the ASSEMBLING of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see THE DAY APPROACHING!” Be faithful in attendance.
Jesus taught tithing in Matthew 23:23, when He told the Pharisees that although they paid close attention to the income of the church, they were neglecting the spiritual feeding of the congregation. He told them that they should be paying attention to both!
The Prophet Malachi covers our command to tithe quite thoroughly in Malachi 3:10-12. He not only gives us the command to tithe, but lists the blessings that come from faithful giving. Some preachers teach that the giving of tithes is personal between a believer and God. I say that if you don’t give God his ten percent, you are stealing from Him.
Jesus taught us a good lesson on tithing in Matthew 22:21. The Pharisees at that time were looking for a way to trap Jesus into saying the wrong thing when they asked Him if it was lawful according to scripture to pay tribute to Caesar. Jesus answered them with these words. “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
As Christians, we pay our taxes or tribute to the government, knowing that this supports our county and our right to live in a free society. We should therefore gladly and cheerfully give to God the small amount that He expects to support the mission to spread His Word to a lost community.
If you regularly attend a local church, whether you are a member or not, it is your responsibility to pay your tithe to that church! If you don’t, you are expecting others to shoulder your share of the burden.
When you became a Christian, God began preparing you for His service. He has given you a gift that He expects you to use in service to Him for His glory and honor. In Romans 12:4-8, the Apostle Paul lays it out pretty plainly. Only you and God know what that gift is and only you know if you are using it properly. This is where we get into the area of faithfulness in service.
As a Christian, and if you are faithful in the areas of attendance and tithing, it is also your responsibility to be faithful in service. In almost every church in the world, you will see a handful of the attendees doing most of the work. According to God’s Word this is not the way He planned it.
Not long ago, I was approached by a one of the brethren in our church about the fact that the outside of the church need to be cleaned up. He complained that the shrubbery needed trimming, the grass cut and the storage area behind the church needed to be straightened up. He wanted to know what I, as the head deacon was going to do about it.
This is a man who is retired, with time on his hands to do pretty much what he wants, when he wants, but instead of just taking care of the thing that was bothering him, he wanted to make it the responsibility of some one else. When I told him I would lend him the tools to get the job done, he understood that if God burdened him with it, it was his to do!
The next “fruit”, number eight on our list, is meekness, depending on which Bible translation you use. The King James translation uses the word kindness for gentleness and gentleness for meekness. Since we already discussed gentleness as being kind, we will use the term meekness here.
Being meek is not being weak. Meekness is simply possessing the disposition to be gentle, kind, indulgent towards others faults, even tempered, balanced in passions, and patient when suffering injuries from others without feeling a spirit of vengeance.
Meekness is also being humble. Unless we are meek and humble, God can not reach us. That is the reason most of us have got to go through some real hard trials before we reach out to Him. We have to be brought to our knees before we are humbled and made meek. Otherwise our pride makes us keep trying to save ourselves and that just isn’t possible! If we are not humble and meek, we can’t be taught. Consider what David wrote in Psalms 25:9 “The humble He guides in justice, and the humble He teaches His way.”
Our Pastor once preached a sermon titled “God loves a FAT Christian.” FAT stands for FAITHFUL, ATTENABLE, TEACHABLE. If we are not meek or humble, we most likely won’t be faithful as we described in the section on faithfulness, and we will surely be unteachable.
When we spend time meditating on just how mighty and powerful our Creator is, and on the fact that He still cares about us personally, so much so that He know the exact number of the hairs on our heads, we can’t help but be meek!
If you find you have trouble showing meekness, remember what Jesus said in His Beatitudes in Matthew 5:5. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”
It is pride, or the total lack of humility and meekness that is going to keep a lot of so called Christians out of Christ’s New Kingdom.
Finally we come to the ninth “fruit”. Temperance is nothing more than possessing self control. Any thing that we allow to control us becomes sinful and harmful to us. No matter what that thing is, whether it is something tangible, or something in our thoughts, if we don’t control it, is is not good for us and can ultimately separate us from God.
The best examples of this is impulsive buyers, impulsive eaters, alcoholics, drug abusers, gambling addicts, fornicators, homosexuals and any thing else that becomes controls our everyday habits.
Without getting into a theological debate, I will say that if you cannot walk away from a temptation with God’s help, you lack temperance. We cannot help the thoughts and desires that the devil bombards us with, but we should be able to draw on the power of the Holy Ghost to refuse to act on those desires. It is up to each individual to know those areas and those things that try to consume us. It is also up to each of us to seek God’s help in controlling those desires.
To enjoy a full, exciting and joyful Christian life and a close walk with our Lord Jesus, we must learn to control our lusts, desires and habits. Always remember that we are under scrutiny by the world and how we present ourselves to them is how they judge our Lord! Paul wrote these words in 1 Corinthians 9:27. “But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.” (NKJV)
When we claim to be saved sinners, but fail to control our desires, we become hypocrites and disqualify ourselves as keepers of the faith.
The fruit of the Spirit that Paul listed in Galatians is imbedded in each and every one of us who call ourselves Christians and have had that saving experience through Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, we sometimes don’t exercise it and just like our body, it becomes atrophied through disuse.
Now, having read this missive, I hope and pray that it will help you pinpoint the areas in your Christian life that needs improvement. Remember this. A church is only as good as its members. You can not improve those you worship with, but by bringing improvement to your own life, the goodness, the light, and the love of our Lord Jesus can affect others through you!
If you want to use this as a rating for yourself and your church, I suggest that you get a blank sheet of paper and list the fruit of the Spirit as it is listed in the Scripture. Then, using a rating system of one to five stars, draw however many stars you think you deserve next to each “fruit” on your list.
When you finish with the list, add up ALL the stars and divide that total by nine. This will give you your star rating as a Christian. Do one for yourself and one for you church as a whole. Please don’t use it to rate other individuals. They are responsible to Jesus for their own actions.
Also, be honest! If you honestly believe that you rate a perfect five in all areas, please give my dad, my grandparents and especially Jesus a big hug for me because you have to be in heaven!
May God bless you,
Pastor Dave Wetherbee