Unity in the Spirit

Most Christians agree that unity within the church is not only a worthwhile goal, but necessary,  In the high priestly prayer of Jesus, shortly before His death, he makes this request of God::

“…. that they (his followers) may all be one in me, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they may also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.  The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” John 17:21-23

This spiritual unity of believers is described in the Bible with organic analogies, such as the vine and the branches (John 15:5) or the human body (1 Cor. 12:12).  It is only possible through the reconciling death of Christ on the cross, and the action of the Holy Spirit.  It does not depend upon uniformity (we all have different gifts) or complete agreement with one another, but on love and forgiveness.  In Ephesians, Paul says:

“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  There is one body and one Spirit–just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call–one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.”  Ephesians 4:1-6

If you look closely, you will see that our unity depends upon the fruit of the Spirit:  love, gentleness, patience, and peace.  These are gifts.  Treasure them, cultivate them, be worthy of them.

For more on unity see these posts:

Unity Not Uniformity

Tertullian on Christian Unity

Dwelling In Unity

 

John Stott on the Holy Spirit

“Without the Holy Spirit, Christian discipleship would be inconceivable, even impossible.  There can be no life without the life-giver, no understanding without the Spirit of truth, no fellowship without the unity of the Spirit, no Christlikeness of character apart from His fruit, and no effective witness without His power.  As a body without breath is a corpse, so the church without the Spirit is dead.”  John Stott

This quote pretty well sums up all we have been discussing this month about the Holy Spirit.  For more about John Stott, see these posts:

How Should We Then Live? –A Quote by John Stott

How to Read Scripture (according to John Stott)

Stott on the Christian Life by Tim Chester –Book Review

 

More on Fruit of the Spirit

I’ve often heard older people, or those in ill health say, “there is nothing I can do for God.”  This quote expresses very well the truth that there is something any of us can do, regardless of our situation.

“We cannot be useless while we are doing and suffering God’s will, whatever it may be found to be.  If we are bringing forth the fruits of the Spirit, we are not useless.  And we can always do that.  If we are increasing in the knowledge of God’s will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding, we are not useless.  And we can always do that.  While we pray, we cannot be useless.  And we can always do that.  God will always find us a work to do, a niche to fill, a place to serve, nay, even a soul to save, when it is His will and not ours, that we desire to do;  and if it should please Him that we should sit still for the rest of our lives, doing nothing else but waiting for Him, why should we complain?  Here is the patience of the saints.”

Anthony W. Thorold

For more by Anthony W. Thorold see:

When Things are Unclear–Trust God

Two Quotes on the Sacrificial Life

 

Deep Kindness by Houston Kraft–Book Review

Kindness is another fruit of the Spirit.  If the book I recently reviewed on gentleness was challenging, some of the statistics in this one are chilling:

  • Empathy has dropped 40% in college-aged students since the year 2000
  • The average student today has as much anxiety as the average psychiatric patient in the 1950’s
  • A recent survey showed that 40% of U.S. adults eighteen and older reported feeling alone and 47% felt left out

The underlying reason for all of these problems in a lack of significant human connectedness.  The sharp decline in empathy and increase in anxiety and loneliness seems to  coincide with our technological inventions and advancement.

According to the author, kindness is not normal (we Christians would agree –(after all, we are innately sinful and selfish).– it is something we need to cultivate.  There are different levels of kindness:

  • Common kindness –i.e. politeness and courtesy.  Showing basic respect for others.
  • Confetti kindness– mass-marketed, warm and fuzzy things like “random acts of kindness” or pay-it-forward coffee lines.
  • Deep kindness– generosity that overcomes our selfishness and fear, and that helps others without expecting anything in return

The author explores some of the reasons we avoid deep kindness:  fear of rejection or failure, embarrassment, business, exhaustion and inconvenience.  There are also many suggestions and exercises for developing deeper empathy in our lives.  Most of us would agree that our world needs kindness now more than ever before.

Although not overtly Christian, this would be a good read for Christians.  It goes right along with the findings in a previous book I reviewed, The Other Half of Church by Jim Wilder & Michel Hendricks–Book Review.  Often our churches paint a picture of good behavior without any training in the “how” of actually achieving it.  In consequence, we know how we should act, we just don’t do it.

VERDICT:  5 Stars.  This would be a good choice for a book club or small group to read and discuss.

For more on kindness see these posts:

A Quote on Kindness

The War For Kindness by Jamil Zaki — Book Review

The Kindness Crown

Apathy, Sympathy or Empathy?

 

 

A Gentle Answer by Scott Sauls– Book Review

This book will challenge you, convict you and possibly bring you to tears, as you consider how gentle Jesus is to us, and how often we fail to extend that same gentleness to others.

It is divided into two sections.  The first describes the gentleness of Jesus who befriends the sinner (in us), reforms the Pharisee (in us) and disarms the cynic (in us).  The second section discusses how his gentleness should change us.  We must become less prone to taking offense, control our anger, receive criticism graciously, forgive completely and bless those who hurt and betray us.  He uses stories and examples, some personal, others well-known, to illustrate his points.

Many of us are self-satisfied because we have avoided the “big” sins;  throughout this book, the author reminds us that we are all capable of serious transgressions when the situation is right.  We may not kill, but we have murderous thoughts;  we may not steal, but we rob others of their good reputation through gossip;  we give lip service to forgiveness while harboring grudges, and so on.

After each chapter there are discussion questions, so this book could be easily used in a small group.  In fact, I think it would be an excellent choice, because it encourages change as well as understanding.  Two of the questions are always the same:

  • Name one thing from this chapter that troubled you, inspired you, or both.  Why were you impacted in this way?
  • Based on this chapter, identify one way that the Lord might be nudging you toward growth or change.  What steps should you take to pursue this change?

VERDICT:  5 Stars.  Biblically sound and highly recommended.  It certainly comes at an opportune time, when gentleness is sadly lacking in our society.

P.S. In case you haven’t noticed, gentleness is a fruit of the Spirit, so I selected this read because of our monthly theme.

For more on gentleness see:

With Gentleness and Respect

A Gentle and Quiet Spirit

Some Quotes on the Fruit of the Spirit

 

Keep in Step with the Spirit

In our second church study of the Holy Spirit, we took up a new topic — the fruit of the Spirit.  Good fruit in our lives does not come through self development — it is a gift from God.  Our redemption has a purpose — to transform us into fruit-bearers. This is called sanctification — the process of becoming Christlike.

In Galatians we find a detailed description of what this means:

“So live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.  They are in conflict with one another, so that you do not do what you want.  But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

The acts of the sinful nature are obvious:  sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery;  idolatry and witchcraft;  hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy;  drunkenness, orgies and the like.  …..

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self control. ”  Galatians 16:5-22

You may take note that love is central to the fruit.  The sinful acts listed destroy love, while the fruit of the Spirit increases love.  Why would this be?  Because God is love, and His desire for us as His creation is that we love Him and love one another.  We were made to live, not for ourselves, but for the glory of God.  So,

“Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.”  Galatians 5:24

In other words, LOVE.

For more on the Fruit of the Spirit see these posts:

Let the Fruit of the Spirit Flow

Martin Luther on the Fruit of the Spirit

Increasing the Fruit

 

 

 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer on the Fruit of the Spirit

“Fruit is always the miraculous, the created; it is never the result of willing, but always a growth. The fruit of the Spirit is a gift of God, and only He can produce it. They who bear it know as little about it as the tree knows of its fruit. They know only the power of Him on whom their life depends”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

For more quotes by Dietrich Bonhoeffer see these posts:

A Quote from Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Dietrich Bonhoeffer on Brotherly Love (Philia)

Blessed Are the Merciful by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

 

 

Some Quotes on the Fruit of the Spirit

“We have cause to suspect our religion if it does not make us gentle, and forbearing, and forgiving;  if the love of our Lord does not so flood our hearts as to cleanse them of all bitterness, and spite, and wrath.  If a man is nursing anger, if he is letting his mind become a nest of foul passions, malice, and hatred and evil wishing, how dwelleth the love of God in him?”

Hugo Black

 

“The worst kinds of unhappiness, as well as the greatest amount of it,come from our conduct to each other. If our conduct,therefore, were under the control of kindness, it would be nearly the opposite of what it is, and so the state of the world would be almost reversed.  We are for the most part unhappy because the world is an unkind world.  But the world is only unkind for the lack of kindness in us units who compose it.”d

Frederick Wm. Faber

 

“Let nothing disturb thee; Let nothing dismay thee; All things pass; God never changes. Patience attains all that it strives for. He who has God Finds he lacks nothing: God alone suffices.”

St. Teresa of Avila

For more on the fruit of the Spirit see these posts:

Dietrich Bonhoeffer on the Fruit of the Spirit

Martin Luther on the Fruit of the Spirit

A Fruit We All Need — Self Control

 

 

 

 

 

Make My Joy Complete

In the apostle Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi, he is addressing people he knows and loves.  He urges them to “make my joy complete” by being of one accord, living in self- sacrificing love and unity with one another.  It reminds me of this verse from Psalm 133:

Behold how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell together in unity!

If you are part of a church community, you know how true this is, and how disturbing disagreements can be.  My devotional reading this morning featured a quote by Andrew Murray (1828-1917), a South African writer and pastor.  It speaks to this topic.

“Let our temper be under the rule of the love of Jesus:  He can not alone curb it–He can make us gentle and patient.  Let the vow, that not an unkind word of others shall ever be heard from our lips, be laid trustingly at His feet.  Let the gentleness that refuses to take offense, that is always ready to excuse, to think and hope the best, mark our intercourse with all.  Let our life be one of self-sacrifice, always studying the welfare of others, finding our highest joy in blessing others.  And let us, in studying the Divine art of doing good, yield ourselves as obedient learners to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  By His grace, the most common-place life can be transfigured with the brightness of a heavenly beauty, as the infinite love of the Divine nature shines out of our humanity.”

Let’s all make it our prayer today, that the fruit of the Spirit will be displayed in our lives, and in the life of our Christian communities.

For more on the fruit of the Spirit see these posts:

Mmm . . . Fruit.

Let the Fruit of the Spirit Flow

A Fruit We All Need — Self Control

A Fruit We All Need — Self Control

We’ve been using a study in our Sunday School class on the fruit of the Spirit, which St. Paul lists in the book of Galatians. This has been a long study and we’re nearing the end — self-control.  At the beginning of this section, one of the questions was about anger — what circumstances tend to make you angry? Anger is an emotion that often causes us to lose our self-control.  We all have our hot buttons, and one of mine is customer service people, or even people in general, who don’t care about doing their jobs conscientiously.  Maybe it’s because before I retired, I was a buyer, and our supervisor always stressed the need to help our customers — and our customer was anyone who called with a question or needing help.  (Hmmm … sounds a bit like the who is my neighbor question, doesn’t it?)  It was simply not acceptable to say “I don’t know” or “That’s not my job” or just route the caller to some other department.  If we didn’t know the answer, we were to find the answer and call the customer back ourselves with the exact information or person needed.  (Oh my, I fear this is becoming a rant).

At any rate, my devotional reading today was speaking right to me and the way in which I sometimes lose control.  Here is the Bible verse:

Like a city whose walls are broken through
is a person who lacks self-control.”  Proverbs 25:28

 

In other words, when we lack self-control our emotions can easily overwhelm us.  We say things we regret, and act in ways that are unbecoming to any Christian.  We may think our anger is righteous, but if we look carefully, that’s rarely the case.  Anger is generally all about us and not getting what we want.

The quote from my devotion was written by H. L. Sydney Lear:

“One valuable way of practising self-control is in checking grumbling, and an unnecessary display of vexation at petty inconveniences.  A workman has fulfilled his task imperfectly, some order is wrongly executed, some one keeps you waiting unreasonably;  people are careless or forgetful, or do what they have in hand badly.  Try not to be disturbed;  be just, and show the persons to blame where they are wrong, even (if it be needful) make them do the thing over again properly;  but refrain from diffuse or vehement expressions of displeasure.  A naturally quick, impetuous person will find that to cultivate a calm external habit is a great help towards gaining the inward even spirit he needs.”

Point taken.  I’m going to try cultivating that habit of calm the next time my buttons are pushed.  What about you? Where do you need to exercise self-control?

For more on the fruit of the Spirit see these posts:

Mmm . . . Fruit.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer on the Fruit of the Spirit

Let the Fruit of the Spirit Flow