Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self-Control
This morning we conclude our sermon series looking at the fruit of the Spirit. And the question we have been asking is really, “What do you want to be like when you grow up?” And to borrow a phrase from Steven Covey the author of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People to “Begin with the end in mind.” And as we’ve noted these last three weeks, these things I want to become when I’m 75 or 85 or 95, once I’m clear about that; then what do I have to do now so that I can become that over time.
And again Paul describes what he hopes Christians might be like when they grow up and he uses words like these: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. He says, “This is what you should be striving to become like.” And God will produce these fruit in you if you are willing to cultivate them. But if you do nothing else, if you don’t try, if you’re just sort of hoping that they will happen to you; you know you wake up at 75 and suddenly you’re all these things, it’s never going to happen.
And so we’re looking at what do we have to do to cultivate these fruit. And we’re trying to clearly identify what does that fruit mean, what does it look like in our lives.
Now we’ve already focused on the first 6. Today we’re going to come to the last three of the fruit of the Spirit. We’re going to be focusing our attention on faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Let’s begin with faithfulness. Now by the way I might mention to you that you notice the fruit of the Spirit, the list begins with love and it ends with self-control. And those are bookends on this list. All of these fruit come out of love and they’re all made possible by self-control. And everything else in between is sort of a way of unpacking what we might look like. But these two on the ends are the most important.
Now when we think about faithfulness, the Greek word for faithfulness is a word that usually in the Bible – in fact every other place except Galatians 5:23 is translated as faith. The Greek word is pistis and it means faith or it can means faithfulness. And so the first idea is simple trust. It is a trust in God. So before we talk about what it is in our lives its first this heartfelt trust in God, this confidence that God is, that God will take care of us, that God causes all things to work together for good, that we will never be abandoned by God, that He will never leave us or forsake us. So part of the fruit of the Spirit is simply growing in our trust in God.
Well another form of this word pistis is faithfulness. So there’s faith but then there’s also faithfulness. And so it’s all about faithfulness to God. We enter into a covenant in our baptisms. When we’re baptized God claims us as His children but we also and our parents on our behalf if we’re baptized as little ones, claim the faith for us. And then when we go through confirmation we say, “I am a follower of Jesus Christ. I commit my life to Him and I wish to follow Him and live for Him.”
We do that when we’re 12 or 13 but faithfulness means that when you’re 75 or 85 you’re still doing it. It means that God can trust you. You can trust God, but can God trust you? Can God trust you with the little things so that He can entrust even bigger things to you; responsibilities, resources, talents. And so faithfulness has to do with our relationship to God. God wants you to be faithful.
But faithfulness also has to do with our relationships with other people. So it has to do with our coworkers. You know, can your boss or your employees, can they count on you? Or your neighbors, do they count on you to be the person you’ve said you’d be? We make promises but do we actually fulfill those promises?
And sometimes I struggle with this because I make more commitments than I can possibly fulfill. You know, I say yes to so many things and then I really can’t get around to fulfilling all those things. That’s part of what creates stress in my life. And then impatience and problems with all the rest of the fruit of the Spirit. So knowing what our limits are and what we say “Yes” to, but then making sure we are people of our word, that others can count on us, they can have confidence in us. That’s what faithfulness means.
And that’s important in every type of work, in every human endeavor, in every relationship. So Dwight Eisenhower once said this, “In order to be a leader a man must have followers and to have followers a man must have their confidence. Hence the supreme quality of a leader is an unquestioned integrity. His teachings and actions must square with each other.”
So we get the sense that faithfulness and integrity go hand in hand. “I’ve said this and I’m actually doing this.” These two are things that are meant to go together. And you know people – maybe you’ve been one yourself - who they say one thing; they talk a good talk but they don’t walk a good walk. And after a while you say, “I can’t count on them for anything.”
But here’s the ideal, when you’re 75 or 85 or 95 – I mean I’ve had so many people when I’m preparing the funerals for some of our members, you know what they say? You talk to family and friends and they say things like this: “His word was his bond.” “What she said, she would do.” “You didn’t even have to sign a contract because when you shook hands you knew that whatever they promised they were going to deliver.” Are you that kind of person? That’s the fruit of faithfulness.
Of course we also see this in our most intimate relationships, the relationship of marriage. Now let me just mention when it comes to faithfulness in marriage you know often we immediately jump to infidelity and we think of that as one person becoming intimate with somebody outside the bonds of marriage. And of course that hugely destructive to any relationship.
But unfaithfulness also comes when I’m not fulfilling the other parts of my vows. I’ve had several weddings recently and the bride and the groom, I said, I asked them if they would love one another and care for one another, “For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish until death do us part.” I didn’t say anything about sex. It was all about other things that we do to show intimacy, to show care and to love the other person. It’s possible to be unfaithful in a whole host of areas in our relationships. When we stop caring, we stop blessing, we stop encouraging, we stop giving ourselves to the other. We stop caring about their needs. In all of that we might find ourselves unfaithful.
And when you see it happen you see the pain that comes from that. And for us when we are not cultivating the fruit of the Spirit it becomes more likely that we are going to find ourselves being unfaithful in one way or another. Because here’s the thing about the fruit of the Spirit, we don’t naturally move toward those things – that’s our ideals. We naturally move away from them. So my natural posture, what comes naturally for me is to be unfaithful unless we’re cultivating the fruit of faithfulness in our lives. And so I have to everyday, I cultivate that fruit. “Lord help me to be faithful to Robin until the day that we die. Help me to love her the way that you want me to love her. Help me to be the husband that she needs me to be.” And I’m not always that for her.
And so we pray for that and we seek that and we have a picture of what it looks like and then we strive to live into that. And then the Holy Spirit helps us. And when we don’t we find great pain.
Ok let’s talk about gentleness. The 8th fruit of the Spirit is gentleness and the Greek word here can be translated as gentleness but also as humility or as meekness. And this is a really important word. And many times we hear meek and you know somebodies mild and meek and we think they’re “namby pamby”; they’re weak or soft. Jesus was meek. He was about the strongest human being you’d ever meet.
Meekness – I once heard a definition of it - that meekness or gentleness is “velvet covered steel”. It is the strength of character that is unparalleled and yet it’s cloaked in something that’s soft.
It’s like the power of a laser. You take that light and if it was diffused it wouldn’t have any impact. But gentleness is managing to harness it and bring it under control; and focused and under control that’s a power that can slice through steel. That’s gentleness. It’s strong. It’s not weak. It’s powerful.
And its opposite is what we naturally tend toward, which is a harsh word. Its saying things we probably shouldn’t say. It’s being abrupt with other people. It’s demanding what we want and getting our way. But that’s not what leads to life and it hardly ever works for people.
We learned the same thing when it comes to kindness last week. Almost nobody responds better to harshness than they do to gentleness or kindness. Even the animals. We learned last week cows produce more milk if they’re being treated gently and kindly by their dairy farmers than those who are being treated harshly.
We remember the words of Proverbs 15:1 which says, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
So often today we live in a confrontational world in which we just naturally get irritated. We naturally go toward, “You’re going to get a piece of my mind.” And you know when somebody says that you know you immediately find yourself in this place of, “now we’re ready to fight.” Expect for a gentle answer is very different. It actually brings healing and resolution as opposed to conflict and more pain.
I love what Paul says in Ephesians 4:29. And here we recognize that gentleness is often manifest – it’s certainly manifest in touch and in our other deeds, but it’s often most clearly manifest in our words. And so the apostle Paul tells us what not to do and then what to do when he says this, “Let no evil talk come out of your mouths but only what is useful for building up as there is need so that your words may give grace to those who hear.”
I love that. It’s a word to live by. And when he says, “Let no evil talk come out of your mouth,” here’s what you need to picture. The Greek word there has sort of the sense of something putrefied. So if you think about that lunch you took with you to work and you left it in the Tupperware and it sat in the back of your car for like a couple of weeks. And then you pry open that Tupperware. That’s the word here. Let none of this kind of stuff come out of your mouth, “but only what is useful for building up as there is need that your words might give grace to those who hear.”
And you know when you do that you can still be firm. You can say, “Listen, I love you. I’m so proud that you work with me but we’ve got to talk about this because this can’t go on. We have to change this.” But see there’s a way to broach that conversation that doesn’t immediately make the other person feel small, but lets them know that you care and now let’s talk about the thing that needs to change.
This is true in relationships, in close intimate relationships as well.
Now one last thing I want to mention about this and then I want to go on to self-control is I recall having a funeral some years back and usually I meet with the family members and I say, “You know tell me about your loved one.” Well there was only one family member. No friends and only one family member I could meet with and it was the daughter of the woman who was deceased.
And so I sat down with this daughter and I said, “Tell me about your mom, I really want to hear about her.” And she started to cry. And she said, “I feel terrible saying this but I can’t think of one nice thing to say about my mom. Every time I was with her I felt hurt, I felt cut to the quick, I felt she was driving daggers in my heart. I would walk away, I would try to be strong when I was with her and I’d get out to the car and I’d start crying, every time I was with her. I can’t think of anything nice to say about her.”
How do you preach a funeral like that? You know somewhere in there there’s somebody that needs healing. You have a whole bunch of people who’ve been hurt and they need healing and your task is to try to figure out, how do we draw out of a painful situation something good?
I don’t want to be like that when I grow up, do you? You know I want my boys to be able to say, “You know my dad really loved me and he always built me up and he encouraged me. And even when he was mad he tried to show gentleness.” Now my boys will not tell you that’s how I always did it growing up but you know I’m working on it. And I’m hoping to cultivate more of that gentleness over time.
May our words give grace to those who hear.
Let’s talk about self-control.
This week I asked you, on Facebook I listed all 9 fruit of the Spirit and I said, “Which ones do you struggle with the most?” Number 1 was self-control. Number 2, not far behind was patience. And it was close. 14 chose patience and 17 said self-control. None of the others were even close. So my sense is that this is probably a big problem for many of us. And certainly it is for me.
Robin was out of town and Ricky was working so on Friday night it was just Robbie and me. As he was on his way home from work he called me and said, “What are we going to do for dinner? We went through our usual routine, “I don’t know what do you want to do? Doesn’t matter to me. What do you want to do?” Finally he said, “Why don’t I go by the store and get something for us to grill out.” And Robbie’s our grill master so I was like, “That sounds great to me!”
By the time I got home he had already just about got everything cooked. And I asked him what what he had gotten. And he said, “Go out there and take a look.” So I went out and open the lid on the grill and there were 2 steaks, that no lie, were this big and that thick! I came back in and he had also got an entire party size shrimp cocktail platter. And there was a huge pan of tater tots in the oven. (I love it when Robbie goes to the store!
We sat down to eat and I kind of paused and said a little prayer. You know, “Thank you Lord for providing this food…And bless me as I prepare my sermon on faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” And then I opened up my eyes and I looked at my plate and I just had to laugh. Its like, “Yeah, bless me with self-control and I’m going to eat this entire side of beef, and all these shrimp. I’m going to be miserable the rest of the night and I’m going to put on 3 pounds tonight, but bless me with self-control.”
You know it requires a little more than just asking for self-control. Right? We’ve got to do something. We’ve got to cultivate something, because our natural tendency is to have very little self-control.
The word control is actually dominion. Its rule over. So in Greek its egkrateia. And you recognize the krateia from democrat – not as opposed to republican – but democracy. It’s the power of the people. And in our lives its power over ourselves; sort of inner control, self-control.
When it comes to self-control there are several things I notice in my own life. There are some things that are not bad for me by themselves. Like someone gave me a couple of big boxes of M&M’s for Pastor’s Appreciation month several weeks ago. I had them sitting on my desk for a while. And if I take a small handful of them – no problem.
But the challenge for me is if the box is on my desk, I don’t stop at one handful. So then I grab another handful. And you know I find the second handful wasn’t as enjoyable as the first handful, but I still find myself, if the box is still on my desk, I want to reach for one more. And I grab a 3rd one. And the 3rd one really doesn’t provide me any enjoyment at all, but after a little while I find I reach one more time. Why am I reaching that last time? I have no idea. And by the time I eat the 4th handful I feel sick. You following me here? You’ve been there too?
So that there’s some things that really having a little bit in moderation is fine but the more we have, the less we enjoy it, the less satisfying it is, and ultimately it makes us sick if we keep going after it.
But that’s one kind of self-control that we have to have. The other is there are other things that are just bad for us. They just hurt us. And yet we find ourselves like a moth to a flame drawn towards doing these things that we shouldn’t do.
So the apostle Paul describes it like this in Romans 7. He says, “I do not do the good I want but the evil I do not want to do is what I do.” I mean that’s what life looks like for us. And it’s a constant battle that we have to fight.
So what can we do? You see in actuality it isn’t about will-power. It’s about strategies for dealing with your temptation. So you just can’t say, “Well I just don’t have as much willpower as you.” It’s coming up with creative strategies for dealing with what you’re wrestling with.
What are you focusing on? What are you thinking about? Are you putting yourself in a situation where you’re going to have to stare at it all the time? And those tie into part of the strategies maybe you’ve heard about for resisting temptation; the 5 R’s of resisting temptation. One of which is to remove yourself from the situation. Another one of those is to remember who you are. So you don’t forget, “I’m a child of God and this is what God’s expecting of me.” Part of it is to recognize the consequences of your actions; to think about, “After I’ve done this what will it feel like, how’s this going to work out, who is it going to hurt?”
And so we look at all of these strategies as Christians we say, “This helps me to be able to cultivate the fruit of self-control.”
Now it’s interesting one of the things to note is that the Bible only mentions self-control 4 times. Because it’s not the highest of virtues for Christians in the New Testament. In fact Paul sort of tells us by itself, it really doesn’t work. Why? Well because you see the goal isn’t really self-control, its surrendering your control to God so that God is in control. That’s the strategy of the Christian life.
And it’s one that AA picked up on in the 12 steps. And in the first 3 of the 12 steps: You admit you’re powerless over whatever addiction you face. You come to believe that a power greater than yourself could restore you to sanity. And you make a decision to turn your will and your life over to the care of God as you understand Him.
The idea in the Christian faith is surrender. Its confession. It’s, “God I can’t do this by myself. Please forgive me and then help me Lord. Save me.”
So the apostle Paul in Romans 7 when he talks about, “The good that I want to do I can’t do and the bad that I don’t want to do I find myself doing.” He goes on to say this, “Wretched man that I am who will rescue me or save me from this body of death?”
And here’s the answer. “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” That’s what it means to call Jesus Savior. And that’s what it means to call Him Lord is that we surrender control of our lives to Him.
And then daily we wake up and we pray, “Here I am Lord. I surrender my life to You.” And when you’re in the middle of temptation: “Lord, once more I give myself to you.” You know prayer is like a cold shower in the middle of temptation, when you stop and you pray and you just remember who you are.
And so Jesus talked about bearing fruit and in a passage we read last week in John 15 He says, “I am the Vine and you are the branches those who abide in Me will bear much fruit.” It’s not just trying harder. As important as that is, to have a picture of the goal. It’s also staying connected to Jesus Christ. And as we stay connected to Him, we abide in Him and then set out, “Here’s the end that I’m working towards,” we find that together, He and we have a chance to produce this fruit in our lives.
So cultivating the fruit of the Spirit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control is in part about surrendering control to Christ. It’s in part about the Holy Spirit working in us. It’s in part pursuing the spiritual disciplines. So yes it’s moving the M&M box off my desk and over on the counter across my office out of my reach. But it also has to do with my daily staying connected to Christ; so that it involves prayer, scripture reading, being with other Christians. It includes serving others. It includes receiving the sacraments. And largely it includes worship every week.
One day in 7 you come and you get your head on straight again and you remember who you are and why you exist and what you were called to and the goals that you want to strive towards as you grow up.
So that Dr. Phillip Kenneson who wrote an excellent book called Life on the Vine: Cultivating the Fruit of the Spirit, a book that I referenced several times as I was preparing these messages said this. He gets to the end of the book and he says, “I’ve insisted throughout these pages that the single most important venue for cultivating the fruit of the Spirit is the community gathered for worship.”
So we gather here every week and we drink from the living water. We confess our sins to Christ. We listen for His word. We pray with other people. And we’re reminded for one hour, we remember, this is who I am.
That’s the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
What do you want to be like when you grow up?
“Jesus I surrender control of my life to You. Be Lord and savior for me.”
Lord heal us of our brokenness. You see a natural tendency in us to be drawn away from the path that leads to life. Forgive us. Help us to be real Christians, people who model and live love, who experience joy, who know Your peace. Lord help us to be those who are patient, and kind, and generous. And make us people who are faithful to you and faithful to one another, who grow in our faith over the years, our trust in you. Who are gentle, and who exercise self-control, that when we grow up we might look more like You. In Your holy name. Amen.