Last week I wrote an article titled, "The Fruit Of The Spirit Is Love.." In it I likened the singular word "Fruit" Paul uses as one orange, within are eight segments, each segment representing a virtue - Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness and Self Control, all eight tightly protected with a rind which forms the one fruit - love, I believe to be symbolised by the one orange fruit.
Love is the most important of virtues, because it is the very character of God himself. We have seen that God is love, the interaction between Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and his wish to share this interactive love with the pinnacle of all creation, mankind. The way of allowing this love to flow in us and through us to others is for the believer to be filled with the Holy Spirit, in other words, to be filled with God himself. With the Holy Spirit living within us, eight characteristics becomes manifest, the first one after love is Joy.
I recall 1978. That was the year I was about to take off from London Gatwick Airport for New York to spend a whole month backpacking the USA. But at the time of take off, at the start of August, there was a strike among French Air Traffic Controllers. That meant all flights into Europe from the British Isles were severely disrupted, delayed or cancelled. Therefore it was natural for me back then to feel apprehension on what to expect on arrival to the airport. This apprehension tempered my excitement of the coming adventure. Would I board the flight at all, let alone on time? Would I end up sleeping at the airport departure lounge? And with the knowledge that the Travel Insurance Policy which I carried did not cover industrial disputes in those days.
When I arrived at the airport to check in, the teller informed me that my flight was on schedule with take off on time. So at the boarding gate we were just about to file through to board the plane, when an announcement came through the speakers - addressed to the crowd of waiting passengers preparing to board at the very next gate. After spending the whole night at the departure lounge, they were told to return to the lounge from the gate. One young man about my age at the time, vented his frustration after seeing that his dream trip to Spain was ruined, after working so hard to save up for it throughout the year. As they filed back to the lounge, we boarded the plane. My spirits were up, despite feeling sorry for the frustrated young man who should have been at the Spanish Costa by then, after what had meant to be his first night at his hotel.
Suppose the tables had been turned, with the American Air Traffic Controllers being on strike instead of the French? Would I had been any better in handling the situation than the frustrated young man on the other flight? This was why I shared this story. It highlights that there is a difference between happiness and joy.
Happiness is a feelgood factor based on the current circumstance. Even though I was a Christian in 1978, I knew full well that I would not have been mature enough to handle the situation any better than the other guy. What I felt was happiness, because the plane I was on was about to take off on time. But joy is based on the knowledge and trust that God is in the situation, and being held up by an industrial dispute was foreseen by God, with the plan that all things work out for the good for those who love him, and are called according to his purpose. But to be joyful in such a frustrating situation is not natural. Let me emphasise this here: It is impossible to feel naturally joyful when your vacation is ruined or even spoiled by some body's idea of what looks to be greed and spitefulness. Let's be realistic. This sort of situation would make anyone feel like tearing at their hair in frustration!
But it is also a test on one's Christian maturity, on whether he is filled and controlled by the Holy Spirit within. Because the basis of joy is its partner-virtue, Peace which, I believe, that it was no accident that Paul lists Peace right after Joy, as the two go together. Then the third characteristic, Patience also provides the third strength for the other two to be manifest. So in this article we are looking at a group of three virtues that looks to be directly linked to the inner man, his spiritual state. If this is true, then the other five are to do on how one re-acts with others, and we shall look on those in the next blog. In all, one can conclude that the first three after love - joy, peace and patience are to do with our relationship with God. Kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control seems to be all to do with our relationship with other people. Therefore we can conclude that the fruit of the Spirit also resembles the Cross, our vertical relationship with God together with our horizontal relationship with other people.
It would be impossible to nurture joy naturally while stuck at an airport. But I can relate a similar incident in 1993, also at London Gatwick, concerning my flight to Israel to do a little backpacking there for two weeks. Our flight was delayed for six hours due to a technical fault on the plane, and the replacement part was at the principal airport of London - Heathrow - a good few miles away, hence such a long delay. At first I panicked, but after silent prayer I felt at peace which was backed by being patient.
Yet close by, there was a group of Orthodox Jews who were also to board the same flight. Their dress mode stood them out in contrast to everybody else in the lounge. Yet among them there was not a ruffle of emotion. They looked serene, one or two even took the opportunity for a nap. So was my sense of peace supernatural? Indeed it was. Otherwise my reaction to the delay would have been similar to that of the young man back in 1978. After all, it was 1978 since I last disembarked from a plane, the intervening fifteen years were spent building up my window cleaning business.
Joy - the feelgood or happiness felt despite adverse circumstances. The best example of this found in the Bible is recorded in Acts 16:25. Here Paul and Silas were shackled in prison, without any guilty cause. Therefore not only were they locked in a cell but they were unable to walk around. In a situation like this one could be in near panic, or protesting his innocence. Instead they were singing their praise to God, within earshot of other prisoners. In fact so infectious were their joy, that the jailer and his family were saved.
Being two together in the same cell seemed to have enhanced their joy to the point of singing praises to God. Earlier, Peter too was locked up in a cell (Acts 12:1-10). Being alone, chained to two guards, one on each side together with two more at the door, Peter did not express his joy outwardly as Paul and Silas had done. But the fruit of peace and patience took his mind off the circumstance, and enjoyed a good sleep. A person in the throes of panic usually cannot rest, let alone sleep.
Peace - A feeling of contentment which is free from worry, anxiety, fear, stress or any other turbulent emotion. It can be likened to a very calm sea, with not a breath of wind to stir up the waves. This kind of peace can only be achieved with the full reassurance that one is forever secure in the love and sovereignty of God. That is one of the reasons why I believe in Once Saved Always Saved, and therefore a true believer is forever a child of God, redeemed. This kind of reassurance brings peace to the soul even in the most unjust and hostile circumstance. It was this sense of peace which allowed Peter to sleep. He knew that the worse Herod could have done to him was destroy the body and allow the apostle to go home to Heaven.
Patience - The ability to wait for something even during a long or unreasonable delay. This is a fruit of the Spirit which took a very long time to come to maturity in my soul. One of my besetting sins is at a supermarket checkout line. You perhaps are familiar with the story. You stand there waiting and waiting to be served, while the customer in front keeps on quibbling at the teller over a 10p (or say, a 15 cent) voucher. Eventually the teller calls on the store manager as arbiter, only to find that his delay in arrival is due to a more important discussion over the phone. In my case, it was the perfect opportunity for my emotions to rise to a full-blown rage. If there is an area in my life where the Holy Spirit needs to do a lot of work, it is at the supermarket checkout line. Wouldn't had been much better, say had I offered the customer some loose change and gently plead with that person to accept the money and move on? Not only would this diffuse the situation, but it would have been highly likely to have received thanks from those queuing behind me!
The circumstances of Peter, Paul and Silas were much worse than being stuck in a supermarket checkout line or airport departure lounge. Their very lives were at stake. But their peace and joy which enabled them to sleep or sing praises were interlinked with their patience. None of the three were fidgeting or watching the clock, wishing that whatever they were waiting for would be over and done quick.
Moses, was to my opinion, the greatest example of demonstrating patience. After leading the children of Israel out of Egypt by means of such miracles of God, Moses had to put up with forty years of baying from a whinging and complaining nation. Yet rather than taking vengeance at such ungratefulness, he always interceded when God himself came down to discipline and punish them for their unbelief.
Love, along with joy, peace and patience are fruits of the Holy Spirit which adds strength to every situation in one's walk with God. Jesus said to all believing on him only to ask their Father in Heaven for the Holy Spirit, and God is willing to fulfill their request. In other words, God is saying,
"You wish to be filled with my Spirit? Well, there you are, he is yours!"
(See Luke 11:13.)
He is the best gift anyone can receive.