One of my favourite hymns of the twentieth century is ‘Great is Thy faithfulness’, which was written by Thomas Chisholm in 1925 in testimony to God’s faithfulness to him during his ‘very ordinary’ life. The scripture referred to1 in the hymn shows that God never forgets to be kind to us, and this promise is beautifully reinforced in the New Testament. For example, James writes that with God there is ‘no variableness, neither shadow of turning’.2
It is worth noting that the word translated ‘faith’ here carries a very similar meaning to the word ‘faithful’. In fact, Abraham, who is included in the great chapter of faith,3 is also described as being faithful by Paul in this letter.4 Therefore, I take this aspect of the fruit to mean fidelity, trustworthiness or reliability.
The man who most exemplified faithfulness was, of course, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. This is seen in many aspects of His work, including His witness5 and His high priestly work.6 He is described in Hebrews as, ‘the author and finisher of our faith’.7
When young Christians seek to demonstrate faithfulness, they will be going against the grain of modern society. We are told that newlyweds should not bother to make promises of fidelity, as this is unrealistic. However, the Lord Jesus taught that this is precisely the behaviour that believers should display.8 Another practical example of faithfulness can be seen in consistent and regular attendance at all the assembly gatherings.9
This aspect of the fruit is another trait that is not in vogue in the twenty-first century. It is quite likely that young readers of this article will be taught how to be assertive, at university or in the workplace. However, meekness is the very opposite to this and those who possess it will demonstrate mildness and gentleness in contrast to arrogance and self-promotion. A meek person is someone who possesses power and strength yet, like an ox, can keep that power under control. In some respects, meekness goes together with self-control, which we will consider below.
So, we turn to our Lord Jesus and see how the prophet Isaiah spoke of Him as one who exemplified meekness.10 When under pressure, He would not ‘cry out’ in vengeance, or shout so loudly that His voice would be heard in the street. He said of Himself, ‘I am meek and lowly in heart’.11 This meekness was demonstrated to His enemies, such as the soldiers that came to arrest Him in the garden.
Only two other men in the Bible are described as meek. They are Moses and Paul. When Moses faced insurrection from Miriam and Aaron, in meekness He left it with the Lord to deal in retribution.12 It can be hard to be meek, especially when someone may have wronged us. Genuine meekness will cause us to ‘turn the other cheek’, to paraphrase Matthew chapter 5 verse 39.
Have you ever eaten through a box of chocolates, and then asked yourself, ‘why did I just do that?’ The answer is that we have impulses which are caused by physical sensations that may drive us to act in certain ways. A temperate person is one who can master these impulses and not respond, even when physical sensations, or other factors, are screaming at us to react. Such a person is one that ‘rules his spirit’ and in so doing is ‘better than the mighty’.13
Our sinful nature underlies these urges and the consequences are often disastrous, as when Adam and Eve were tempted in the Garden of Eden. Our Saviour did not have a sinful nature, and, as such, could never sin. However, He did face temptation from external sources.14 So, after a period of fasting in the wilderness, He experienced the physical sensation of hunger but demonstrated perfect self-control by refusing to turn the stones into bread to alleviate His hunger.15
The story of David and Bathsheba is a useful case study to observe both the causes and result of intemperance. It starts with David’s physical desires being aroused through the gateway of his eyes. Unable to exercise self-control, he then commits adultery and, ultimately, the murder of Bathsheba’s husband.16, 17 There are essential lessons for the young believer to learn here, as lust is particularly intense in young people. Firstly, we should seek to avoid seeing things that would stir passions, to minimise the likelihood of the loss of self-control. Thus, we must exercise control concerning internet usage, TV watching, ‘nights out’ and other areas where temptations might arise. Secondly, the best guard against lapses in self-control is immersion in scripture and close communion with God.
Paul uses the example of the well-disciplined athlete who is striving for the prize and is, therefore, ‘temperate in all things’.18 As with the training schedule of an athlete, so the believer needs to practise self-control routinely. Intemperate habits can take hold through one momentary lapse and, sadly, these habits may prove very difficult to break.
This concludes this series on the Fruit of the Spirit