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My brothers and sisters, For the past several months I have been writing to you some thoughts on the fruit of the Spirit. We have considered in this series two of the three trios of the nine aspects of that fruit, and now we begin to consider the third and final trio. This final trio begins with faithfulness, which arises from saving faith but is distinct from it. Saving faith is essentially receptive of God’s gracious giving. Faithfulness is essentially an outworking of that saving faith. So, the faithful person receives blessing from God’s ordinances of grace, and is also faithfully loyal and true to the God of salvation, as well as to His ordinances, and to His people. The faithful person not only maintains a grateful and joyful allegiance to his God, but he also and especially acts in fidelity to, with, and for his Lord who has revealed His person, work, and will in His Word. The faithfulness of those possessing the fruit of the Spirit will prompt them not to manifest their love or kindness or any other aspect of the fruit of the Spirit in a way that would be contrary to the Lord or to His Word.
We should observe from this that faithfulness describes the character and strength of a relationship that the faithful one has with various entities. As with all facets of the fruit of the Spirit, so it is with faithfulness that it comes to us by God as a measure and aspect of His own divine Spirit. We can, therefore, come to a clear understanding of our faithfulness by our first considering the faithfulness of our God. Our Lord manifests His faithfulness in three primary areas: He is faithful to Himself; He is faithful to His Word; and He is faithful to His work.
These areas touch not only His own person but they also embrace others. For example, in all that the Lord plans, promises, and provides, He acts in accordance with and never contrary to or separate from His own holy, just, and loving character. Supremely, He delights in Himself, acts for His own glory, and swears by His own name. In our Lord’s high priestly prayer, we learn that our God loves and delights in Himself as the one, true, and living divine Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Jn.17:21-26). God always acts for the sake of His own glory (Isa. 48:9), and when He condescends to give assurance to His people of His covenant love, He swears by His own name (Heb. 6:13-18).
The Lord is also faithful to His Word. His promises recorded in His Word issue from His holy and loving character. The provisions the Lord has given and will yet give in fulfillment of those promises are certain and in conformity with those promises due to God’s faithfulness to His Word (Heb. 7:20,21).
God is also faithful to His people. The God who is love has inspired in His Word the use of a Hebrew term that means faithful, covenant love, and has employed that word far more than any other synonym for love. We might think that God’s supreme faithfulness to Himself would either exclude us from His faithful actions or at least reduce us to a place of lower consideration.
The reverse is true. It is precisely because God is faithful to Himself—the God of holy love— that He is faithful to us to a degree that would seem to indicate that He considers us as more important than Himself. We cannot avoid that appearance when we consider the incarnation of God in Christ and His atoning death on the cross that He freely undertook in love to save sinners. And yet it is the height and perfection of God’s glory that He should so manifest His saving grace for us.
The faithfulness that we who are new creatures in Christ have growing in us by the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit operates along these same three lines that we have observed in the operations of the Lord’s faithfulness. As God’s faithfulness is supremely a matter of His fidelity to Himself, so our faithfulness essentially and supremely operates in our being faithful to our saving God. We are called by His Word and impelled by our new natures and by His Holy Spirit to love Him, trust Him, and serve Him with all of our being. As we grow into spiritual maturity our thoughts, emotions, and actions are increasingly captivated by God in Christ.
Therefore, we desire to know Him more truly and to be conformed to His character more perfectly (1 Jn. 3:2,3). Accordingly, our fidelity to Him also becomes our highest fidelity to ourselves as we truly are and are ever more becoming in Christ.
Our faithfulness also operates in relation to God’s Word. We love the Word precisely because through it our God reveals Himself most perfectly to us in our walk through this world of distracting sorrows and misguiding shadows. We, like Jesus, would rather starve physically before we allow ourselves to starve spiritually, for we now live not by bread alone but by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of our Lord. And while we can draw a distinction between God and His Word, we can never separate the living, divine, eternal Word from the written Word of Scripture. The faithfulness that is developing in us gives us a growing hunger and thirst of this Word that is our light and liberating power.
Finally, our faithfulness pertains to our relationship with others in our world, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. Our God tells us that if we do not love others, we cannot truly say that we love Him (1 Jn. 4:20). We who are in Christ are directed by our God not only to love Him with all that we are, but also to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matt. 22:37In fact, we are to love our brothers and sisters in Christ as though they were more important than ourselves. Husbands are to sacrifice themselves for their wives (Eph. 5:25), and we all are to regard others in the body of Christ as being more honorable than ourselves (Phil. 2:3,4). In these ways of seemingly losing ourselves for the sake of others (who may actually be less worthy than we are) we find ourselves in ever more faithful relationship with our Lord, with His Word, and with our brethren. Accordingly, our faithfulness progressively leads us out of out mistrustful fears and sinfully self-regarding passions that were killing us, wounding others, and grieving God. Our faithfulness does all of this negative work as it positively leads us into the love of God that casts out all fear, and into the love of His Word that enlightens and empowers us in our working out of our salvation, and into the love of others that never impoverishes but only profits them, even as it pleases us.
My dear friends, In this letter I will address the eighth of the nine facets of the Fruit of the Spirit. This facet is gentleness and it is the second in the final trio that begins with faithfulness. We have seen that faithfulness is essentially our outworking of our saving faith. The faithful person receives blessing from God’s ordinances of grace, and is also faithfully loyal and true to the God of salvation, as well as to His ordinances, and to His people. The faithfulness of those possessing the fruit of the Spirit will prompt them to manifest their love, joy, kindness, or any other aspect of the fruit of the Spirit only in a way that is acceptable to the Lord and in conformity with His Word.
As it is with faithfulness, so it is that gentleness has its root in the person and work of God in Christ. Its outworking is summed up by Paul when he writes that those who have received mercy from the Christ who is meek and humble in heart (Mt. 11: 28,29) should, be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. (Eph.
4:32). The imposing Christian is not only a contradiction of his new nature but also of the Spirit’s graces and of Christ’s person and work and of the Father’s tender and saving compassion.
It might seem to us that the sovereign authority and almighty power of our God would impel Him to relate to His children and certainly to those who sinfully live and act in rebellious alienation from Him with manifestations of His holy zeal and consuming wrath. If He has all power and dominion, why should He not act powerfully, exerting His omnipotent strength?
However, what we actually observe is that our God acts with extraordinary patience and gentleness. His tender mercies can be considered even by His children and certainly by His enemies to be His folly and weakness. Why should He who called the universe into existence by the word of His power not roar in dominating force over all the evil that is in this world and over all of the imperfections that remain in His people? Why should God reduce His might to the confines of a book that people can ignore at will? The answer is that our God acts gently toward us because He essentially is meek and humble in heart (Matt. 11:28-30). He is also love (1 Jn.
4:8). When those whom He loves are poor sinners who are essentially ashamed of themselves and filled with fear and trembling toward Him, His love is supremely demonstrated by His humbling Himself to die for us (Rom. 5:8; Phil. 2: 5-8), rather than through His strong demands that we serve and honor Him. It is this very quality of our Lord’s gentleness that makes us great as those who have been exalted by His grace (Ps. 18:35). And it is this divine, infinitely costly gentleness that redounds to God’s highest glory, as holy angels and all of the redeemed declare our saving God to be worthy of all power, riches, wisdom, might, honor, glory, and blessing because He has been slain for our salvation (Rev. 5: 12).
If our infinite, eternal, and divine Master has so tenderly and mercifully dealt with us, should we not love and serve one another with merciful and loving gentleness? It is the unbelievers who seek to dominate others (Lk. 22:25). Our new natures incline us to grow into perfect gentleness in our dealings with others, as our Father is perfectly gentle in all of His dealings with us. We may be tempted to lord ourselves over others. We may think it enhances the gospel when we hold to it with grim zeal and declare it with thundering words of warning. We may yearn for the days when the Church is respected by the world, if not ruling over the world. Yet all of these forms of domination are foreign to and militate against the Lord who has made us to be partakers of His nature that includes gentleness.
Too often we present the precious doctrines of grace in a graceless manner. Our words are never to be ones of hard demands, however right we delude ourselves into thinking they may be.
We are to convey truth and love (Eph. 4:1-3, 11-16) seasoned with the grace of God (Col.4:6).
This means that we are to think and feel and speak and act not in ways that are high or harsh or imposing on others, regarding that they deserve such treatment while we in our righteousness have warrant to dish it out to them. Instead, our new natures and the Holy Spirit and loving example of our God all lead us to manifest through our gentle ways how safe and secure they can be in our love for them. If we live and serve in that spirit, we will not be condoning people in their sin and faults and failures. Instead, we will be effectively drawing them out of those things that are killing them and leading them to the One whose merciful gentleness has saved us and filled us with thanksgiving and joy.