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Faithlife

Fruit Toward Our Neighbor

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The second category of fruit-segments includes those that help us relate to our neighbor, viz., longsuffering, gentleness and goodness.

These three segments go together, just as love, joy and peace do. And just as importantly, we can’t have these three segments without the first three. Unless we love God and our neighbor, rejoice in them and are reconciled to them, we have no reason to be longsuffering, gentle or good.

So, without further comment, let’s begin to look at the present three segments of the Spirit’s fruit.

Longsuffering

When many of us hear the word longsuffering, the story of Job comes quickly to mind. We remember how Job patiently endured the loss of everything he had, yet maintained his trust in the Lord. He was so patient, in fact, that patience is almost synonymous with his name. The oft repeated phrase “the patience of Job” comes from the book of James: Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy (Jas. 5:11).

But patience is one of those things we can learn only in the right circumstances. I can even remember a Sunday school teacher once advising his class never to pray for patience. Why? Because patience, he said, comes only when we suffer. Unless we’re prepared for the difficulty, we’re not ready for the fruit that blossoms from it. However, this Sunday school teacher was probably a little extreme. Patience is a blessing from God. Ignoring it just because if often comes in unpleasant ways is a big mistake.

Most of us don’t suffer quite as much as Job. Nor do we have to wait as long as Abraham to see the fulfillment of God’s promises to us. This is probably good, since many of us would wear out long before they did. But we still have our trials, and according to the grace that God gives us our patience should imitate theirs.

And yet in another sense, our patience has to be even greater than theirs. Job only had to wait for good health, and Abraham for a son. But we wait for the second coming. Only then will all wrongs be made right.

In fact, this is the very issues that James was addressing when he mentioned Job’s patience. The problem was very simple. Some of the church members worked for employers who were about as corrupt as they could possibly be. They cheated their workers out of their wages, and if the employees dared to say anything, they found themselves answering trumped up charges in a court of law. James says that these employers would even murder to protect themselves.

Now, when unbelieving employers refuse the gospel, there isn’t much the church can do about it, except pray for them. But the time will come when God himself will hold them accountable. Even their gold and silver will cry out against them in the last judgment. But what about believers who suffer under them? What should they do? James’ advice is very simple: Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord (v. 7). We always want to fix things ourselves. But this is a situation where not much can be done.

Just one more point here. The dictionary defined patience in part as “bearing pains or trials calmly or without complaint.” James also says that grumbling is wrong in verse 9. The reason is it usurps a prerogative that belongs to God alone, namely, the right to judge and condemn.

It isn’t the circumstances that make an individual impatient. It’s what’s in his heart, viz., his unwillingness to wait for God to act. Enduring a hardship is not necessarily patience. Some people are just plain lazy and others don’t care. Biblical patience, however, teaches us to wait and reassures us that God himself, the sovereign Lord of creation, will make all things right in his own good time. For some his good time might not come until the judgment of the last day.

Gentleness

The word translated gentleness in the list of the fruit of the Spirit comes from another word (χρηστός) that has many different shades of meaning. The King James Version translates it easy in Matthew 11:30, where Jesus says, For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. In Luke 5:39, the same word is translated better: No man also having drunk old wine straightway desireth new: for he saith, The old is better. We rarely find exact word for word equivalents when translating one language to another.

Going a little further into the subject, we find that the word gentleness actually comes from the word for hand (χείρ). In other words, gentleness involves service. It’s what we might call today a helping hand. Christ’s yoke is easy or gentle because he gives rest to our weary souls. Old wine is better because it satisfies the palate more than new wine. Paul captured the meaning of gentleness in Ephesians 4:32, where the KJV translators render it as kind — And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.

Gentleness, therefore, is the opposite of selfishness, ambition and envy. Its chief concern is not me but you. It serves and helps those nearby.

The Old Testament gives us a wonderful example of the kindness Paul had in mind. In the story of Jonathan and David, each goes out of his way to be kind to the other (cf. 1 Sam. 20:14–‌15; 2 Sam. 9:1–7). In fact, they even made a covenant in which they promised not only to be kind to each other, but to kind to each other’s descendants for ever.

Their story begins with David killing Goliath. Everyone knew that he had done a great thing with God’s help. But Jonathan, Saul’s son, was especially impressed. He saw in David everything his father lacked — faith, courage and piety. But the differences between them were great. Jonathan was older, the son of a king, having the wealth of his father’s kingdom at his disposal. David was young, the son of a shepherd, relatively poor. Yet, Jonathan, in typical oriental fashion, gave his most prized possessions to David, and David received them.

The real test of friendship, though, came with adversity. Because of his courage in facing the giant, Saul elevated him to very high position in the military. But when David came home from battle and the women shouted, Saul hath slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands (1 Sam. 18:7), Saul could hardly stand it. From that time on, he sought David’s life.

But did Jonathan forget David when problems arose? No. To the contrary, he continued to love and protect him, even though it put him in disfavor with his father. But most impor­tant­ly, he encour­aged David to walk with the Lord (1 Sam. 23:16).

David’s kindness to Jonathan was no less. Years later, after Saul and Jonathan died in battle, David became king over the whole nation. It was common and expected practice then that, when one dynasty replaced another, the king of the new dynasty would exterminate everyone who had a valid claim to throne from the previous dynasty. But David didn’t follow common practice because he had made a cove­nant with Jona­than to be kind to his family for ever. So, instead of killing Jona­than’s only living descendant, Mephibosheth, who was crippled in both legs, he invited him to live in the palace. Further, he gave him back all the land that Saul’s family had formerly owned and required Saul’s former servants to farm it for him, so that he and his family would always have an income (cf. 2 Sam. 9). In all of this, David returned the kindness that Jonathan had shown him many years earlier.

We should also note that our responsibility to show gentleness or kindness extends beyond formal covenants. Jesus commands us to love our enemies and do good to those who hate us (Luke 6:27, 35). The Pharisees had perverted the Old Testament law, teaching hatred for one’s enemies. But, if the Christian faith only requires us to love our own, how can we claim that our ethics are superior to theirs? Even they showed kindness to other Pharisees. Jesus also gave us a reason for loving our enemies: and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be children of the Highest (v. 35), who is kind even to the unthankful and evil.

About half of the times that kindness is mentioned in Scripture, it refers to the kindness of God, who like Jonathan, bestows kingly favor on the undeserving. His greatest kindness was in giving his Son for our deliverance. And now he calls us to follow his example of kindness, as our lives show forth the fifth segment of the Spirit’s fruit.

Goodness

The sixth segment is goodness. If any of the segments of spiritual fruit seems too vague to be listed separately, this would be it. Don’t the other segments — love, peace, gentleness and self-control — display goodness?

So, what is goodness?

To begin with, it’s more than just keeping the law. Some non-Christians conform more closely to Biblical standards than some Christians. But this really isn’t “goodness,” since they are not doing it in faith or to glorify God.

But who doesn’t have some mixed motives for his outwardly good works? Can anyone say he has done God’s will for all the right reasons? If anyone thinks he can, he is either mad or a liar.

Quoting from two nearly identical psalms, the apostle Paul wrote:  As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: there is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one (Rom. 3:10–12; cf. Pss. 14 and 53). There are no exceptions to this universal principle. It includes children (even babies still in the womb), adults, males, females, poets, mechanics, factory workers and scholars. There is no one who does good.

Once a rich young ruler came to Jesus with a question regarding salvation. Good Master, he said, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life? (Mark 10:17). But Jesus answered his question by asking him another question: Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God (v. 18). This almost sounds like Jesus was denying being good, but the opposite is actually true. He was asking the rich young ruler if he really understood what he had just said. Did he really know and believe that Jesus is the very essence of goodness, indeed God in the flesh? The contrast here is between Jesus (God) and man. Jesus’ question asked the rich young ruler to identify him as the final authority about what constitutes goodness. It asked him to confess that Jesus is so far removed from evil that his very nature is absolute perfection.

We cannot ascribe goodness of this kind to anyone other than God. Even David, as holy as he was, said, My goodness is nothing apart from You (Ps. 16:2 NKJV).

Scripture also encourages us to do good. Though we are not incarnate deity, we can follow in the footsteps of the Savior, who went about doing good and healing the sick. The grace of the Holy Spirit causes us “to live, not only according to some, but according to all the commandments of God” (Heid. 114). In this effort, we must “continually strive, and beg from God the grace of the Holy Ghost, so as to become more and more changed into the image of God, till we attain finally to full perfection after this life” (Heid. 115).

This is exactly what Paul exhorted the Philippians to do. He wrote, Wherefore, my beloved, as ye 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 (Phil. 2:12). Why should we do this? Or maybe a better question would be, How can we do it? Well, Paul answers this for us, too. He continued, For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure (v. 13). That is, we can do good works only because God works in us, causing us to want to do them and then giving us grace actually to do them.

A few minutes ago, I said that goodness is more than just doing good works. It’s having a nature that brings forth good works. The question is, Can we do good works with in our natural state?

The prophet Jeremiah answered this question more than twenty-five hundred years ago. He sarcastically wrote, Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil (Jer. 13:23). The skin of Ethiopians is black. Michael Jackson has been trying to lighten his color for years. Who knows how much he has spent to prove the Bible wrong? Who knows how much pain he endured for the sake of vanity? But his skin is still black. That’s how God made him. Leopards have spots. Nothing will change this. After making these observations, Jeremiah says, Then may you also do good who are accustomed to do evil. Right! Wicked men can as easily make themselves good, just as Ethiopians and leopards can change their physical appearance. In other words, it just can’t be done.

The second chapter of Ephesians explains how evil natures become good. This passage begins by reminding us of the spiritual poverty of the entire human race. We were dead in trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1). We walked in the ways of the world, and our leader was none other than the devil himself (v. 2). Our lusts controlled us, even bringing us under the just condemnation of God (v. 3). Is there any doubt that we would have continued in this course if the Lord had left us to our own devices? Of course not. But the story continues. The subject of the next several verses is God. God loved us, unworthy as we were. He made us alive, raised us up, and seated us in the heavenly places — all for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord. The theological explanation comes a few verses later: For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast (vv. 8–‌9). And verse 10 tells why God took the initiative to make us good: For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.

That Lord makes us good so that we can bring forth goodness in our lives to his honor and glory.

As I said at the beginning of this lecture, the three segments that we just looked at define our relationships with one another. The three characteristics that should be preeminent among us are longsuffering (patience), gentleness (helpfulness) and goodness (heartfelt desire to live with one another according to God’s commandments).

Because these are fruit of the Spirit, we should cry out to God to increase them in us every day to his honor and glory. And it should also be our sincere desire to practice them. Amen.

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