Ok, as an artistic, not-so-macho man, I may not be the person to write this particular post. On the other hand, I’ve heard lately that some people consider the Fruits of the Spirit listed in Galatians to be a list of very soft traits. I’d like to correct that.
For one, it was written by a man’s man: Paul of Tarsus. This, if you recall, is the same man that regularly confronted people who were slacking off or missing the mark in the church family. He also dealt with things like shipwreck, beatings, philosophical meetings, and church board meetings. So for all intents and purposes, this guy, on top of being a tent maker, managed to punch several points into his “man card.”
So what would make anyone think the list of wonderful traits in Galatians might not be the manliest of qualities? Let’s see here… we have “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.” Oh… ok. Yeah, the wording here isn’t exactly the cover of a gearhead magazine.
Ok, so let’s go through these and see if we can’t see the deeper meaning here.
First off, love. Sure. Men sometimes have a hard time with this word. Getting a guy to say, “I love you,” can be a bit of a task, even if he genuinely feels the sentiment. But what is the sentiment in the first place? It’s the “I’d take a bullet for you” sentiment. In action movies, when does the guy say he loves the girl? Right before or just after the near-suicidal rescue attempt. Love, in this case, isn’t a mushy feeling, it’s a statement of putting someone else’s needs, safety, and survival above my own. It’s self-sacrifice. And, dang it, men aspire to be the kind of guy that would do that kind of thing. We ask ourselves that question when we watch movies or the news, “Would I be the guy to stand up and protect everyone else?”
Also, just to add on to love and the rest of the following traits. Love doesn’t mean standing back and watching someone destroy themselves. Sometimes, like Paul, like Jesus, like Peter, it involves reaching into someones life and (literally or figuratively) slapping someone awake to reality. Confrontation is a part of looking out for someone’s best interest, especially when they cannot see the harm they’re doing to themselves. Love contains courage, truthfulness, and a desire to pick people up and watch them succeed. This is what motivates teachers, coaches, generals, and squad leaders. We call it different things, but it’s a sense that we can help people by watching their backs and helping them succeed even when they don’t believe they can.
Second, joy. No, this isn’t a “happy-go-lucky” smile plastered across our face. Joy is the expectation of good even in the face of defeat or disaster. In other words: hope. And what person could face off against the likes of evil empires, destructive tyrants, or gross injustice without a sense of something good coming down the pipes? What man could face the loss of a job, the loss of a friend, or an impending disaster without the hope that things will turn out ok in the end? Joy is necessary to the soldier, the rescue worker, or the corporate climber – it’s looking at the end product and working toward that good after all the work has been done.
Third, peace. It doesn’t just mean calmness. It’s a clarity of mind that comes from being connected to something bigger and more powerful than we could ever imagine. It’s the kind of clarity that allows a person to see the wrong in the world and fight against it. It’s the clarity that allows a person to have their lives in order to the point where they can begin pulling others out of the line of fire. It’s the sense of letting go of daily worries so that the job at hand can be done with excellence.
Next, patience – it’s not just for dealing with annoying people anymore. It’s also connected with joy. It’s being able to play the long game, to outwit, outplay, and outlast whatever obstacle is in the way of victory. Patience is necessary for knowing which risks to take, and which ones will just waste time and energy. Great generals, and people of history had this kind of patience when they were setting up to change the world.
After patience comes kindness. Kindness isn’t weakness. It isn’t letting someone walk over us. Kindness is being capable of voluntarily “giving the shirt off our back.” It isn’t a demanded kindness, it is an offer of help from a place of strength and assurance. It’s like being a safe port during a storm for another human being. It’s sharing rations with survivors of disasters or giving a car to someone in need.
Goodness. We’ve missed this one a lot in the past few years. This isn’t goodie-two-shoes stuff. This is the deep integrity of character we admire out of great men like Lincoln, Washington, Socrates, Churchill, and many more. The great men of history who changed the world for the better, but also maintained a sense of virtue when not in the public eye. We value integrity, honor, and loyalty, and goodness contains all of these things and more, especially when connected to the goodness of God.
Faithfulness. Loyalty. Who are the most hated men in history? The cowards, the betrayers, the disloyal. Many of them have their names become synonymous with the act of betrayal: Judas, Brutus, Benedict. Loyalty goes with integrity, as stated above. Men who stay loyal, who stand their guard or man their post in the face of overwhelming odds are celebrated. Faithfulness may be one of the most honored traits on this list because it does require so much courage to remain faithful as the ship is sinking.
Gentleness. This one probably gets the worst rap of all of these. “But gentleness is weakness.” Obviously you don’t understand the English language. Gentleness is power under control. Consider this example: a sick horse lying on the ground in pain and whimpering and a Clydesdale, gigantic muscles rippling as it leans its muzzle down slowly for a child to pet it. Which one would you say is gentle? A baby is not gentle, but that baby’s gigantic, ripped father with plate-sized hands cradling the tiny body is gentle. Gentleness is being able to wield power (physical, mental, financial, or political) in such a way as not to crush those around us.
Self control. Call this one weakness, and I’ll ask you to find your way to a martial arts training facility. That’ll change your mind quickly. See above for explanation, but suffice it to say, many of our honored men of history were self-controlled. They maintained a constant work ethic and disciplined mental activity to accomplish great feats – whether those be military, artistic, literary, culinary, or politically. Guided effort over time can create the greatest change.
So, in short, the idea that the Fruits of the Spirit are all weakness and not power – kind of a false illusion. In a way, the world has tried to strip away the powerful attributes of Jesus and use particular words to tone him down. As said in the following verse, “against such things there is no law.” Again, these are some of the highest human traits – the pinnacle of what it means to be fully human -to be fully alive!
Which trait most speaks to you? Which one is the hardest for you? How are you helping to train your kids into using the power we have through Jesus to build the Kingdom and change the world for the better?