Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Fruit of the Spirit as Evidence

The Fruit of the Spirit as Evidence

Stan Feldsine

Matthew 7:20  Therefore by their fruits you will know them.

There are many today, both Christian and secular, who believe that we as Christians are told not to judge based on what Jesus said in the "judgment" chapter of Matthew 7.  The oft quoted first verse, "Judge not, that you not be judged." is used in an attempt to redirect any light shone in the dark places being sheltered by Christians and the world alike.  Isn't it seemingly ironic then that Jesus in verse 20 instructs us in the very means by which we should render a judgment, that we would know them by their fruit. 

There is ample evidence in Scripture that Christians are not called to turn a blind eye to injustice, immorality, and other sin, and we are called to render righteous judgment.  Jesus instructs us in John 7.24 "Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment."  Later, Paul reminds us that "...he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one." (1 Cor 2:15)

The question then to be answered in this paper is what is righteous judgment, what is the true standard of rightly judging?  How can we correctly determine what activity leads to life, and which leads to death, and thus, rightly judge.  And perhaps more importantly, who then CAN rightly judge?

The Fruit...
First, let's look at what this "fruit" is.  If it is by their fruit we will know them, or in otherwards, by their fruit we can judge, what is this fruit?  In Galatians 5:22-23 we read "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  (23)  gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law."  The fruit then, refers to personal character.  Each of the fruit mentioned here is a descriptive characteristic of a persons interaction with others.  When we interact with others, is that interaction characterized by joy, peace, kindness, longsuffering (or patience), goodness?  We can look at ourselves and judge ourselves by these characteristics, do we treat those with whom we disagree with kindness?  With love?  Are we full of joy in our presentation to others?  These fruit are indicators or evidence of where we are at personally.  Likewise then, it follows that we can view others and judge by the light of these characteristics.

...of the Spirit
We now come to the question of from where does this fruit come?  Paul refers to this fruit as "of the Spirit". The implication then regarding the origins of the fruit is that we cannot manufacture this fruit ourselves, it is a product of the Spirit of God living in us and empowering us.  Guy P.Duffield in The Foundations of Pentecostal Theology states:

 "...these above named virtues, achieved by purely human effort, are not the fruit of the Spirit, but an imitation of it.  They are wax fruit in contrast with real fruit, just as beautiful as the real to view from a distance, but immeasurably inferior to the taste."

If we look at nature from where this metaphor comes, we see that natural fruit comes from trees and vines.  Fruit cannot grow itself, but depends on life from the host plant. Samuel Chadwick, quoted in 'The Foundations of Pentecostal Theology by Duffield speaking of human vs. Spirit fruit observes that:

 "The most striking feature of the contrast is the emphatic change from works to fruit.  Works belongs to the workshop; fruit belongs to the garden.  One comes from the ingenuity of the factory; the other is the silent growth of abounding life." 

 From where then does the real fruit come?

The Vine
Jesus made it abundantly clear where the source of fruit is. It is He Himself.  In John 15:1 Jesus states, "I am the true vine..."  And how does the vine produce fruit in us? Jesus in vs. 5 states "I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing."   It is clear then that there is more to fruit production than just a human will to be kind, gentle, and so on.  The fruit "of the Spirit" is produced through our connection to "the Vine", Jesus. Abiding implies an unbroken connection with the Lord of Creation, reading His Word, praying without ceasing, fellowship with other likeminded believers. Abiding means yielding oneself to the working of the Spirit in our life on a continual unbroken basis.

This fruit is more than the outward appearance of human kindness, but produced by an inner spiritual regeneration powered by the Holy Spirit as we abide in Christ. From the Holy Spirit flows a spiritual life force, that is often referred to as water. John illustrates the concept for us in John 14:13-14:  "Jesus answered and said to her, "Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life."

The image is clear that as we take in the "water" of the Spirit, our cup will be filled, and outward from us will overflow a fountain of living water.  Another way to illustrate this concept would be to say that as we plug into Jesus, He will by the Spirit flow His life into us resulting in an abundance of fruit. As the Spirit gives to us, so we fill up, and the Spirit doesn't stop when we are full, but continues to overflow from us outwardly to those around us in love.  It is our connection to the vine, abiding in Christ, that makes this possible.

Righteous Judgment
The nine characteristics of the fruit of the Spirit listed in Gal 5:22-23 are all outward manifestations of love.  In reading 1 Cor 13.1-3 it becomes apparent that Paul is speaking of our interactions with those around us.  The message is clear, no matter how spiritual we think we are, if we act without love, then we are nothing.  Love is the central point from which all our actions are to be influenced and guided. 

Paul makes an interesting and pertinent statement about love to the Phillipians:
Php 1:9-11  "And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment,  (10)  that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ,  (11)  being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God."

He prays that our "love" may abound to knowledge and discernment, that we may make a judgment call, approving that which is excellent.  The implication here is that without love, we have no foundation from which to make judgment calls.  From this and other passages it is clear that righteous judgment is judgment that is borne from a foundation of love, having been filled with the Spirit and overflowing with kindness, gentleness, patience. When we render a judgment on a brother or sister, or on a non-believer, we can hold up our words and actions against this banner of love, with the helpful definition of love from Gal 5.22-23 "love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  (23)  gentleness, self-control".  Is what I am saying or doing peaceable, kind, good, and so on?

At this point it is worth pointing out that the word translated faithfulness, or faith, depending on the translation is frequently understood by people as "being personally full of faith", but this Greek word "Pistis" is derived from the Greek "peitho", which unveils the meaning to be that of projecting faithfulness outwards towards others, as is consistent with every other fruit listed.  In this sense, faithfulness implies having faith in others, believing the best about them and making friends, being loyal, in contrast with viewing others with suspicion. This is in line with 1 Cor 13, in which we are given several ways in which love manifests itself towards others. (1 Cor 13:4-7)  Love suffers long and is kind, does not behave rudely, thinks no evil, bears all things, and so on.  Having a basis of suspicion is sandy ground on which to launch judgment of others.

Answering the Questions
Righteous Judgment - So back to the questions to be answered.  What is righteous judgment, and what is the true standard of rightly judging.  Perhaps the reason the world is so fearful of being judged by the Christian community is because so many have been judged without love.  They have been the receptors of unkindness, rudeness, harshness, impatience, and so on.  It is no wonder that they  misuse the words of Jesus and fire back at us to "not judge lest we be judged".  Righteous judgment is this.  It is the judgment of those who are abiding in Christ. Who have received the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and are being transformed into His image which is one of love, with all it's shades. It is kind judgment, gentle judgment, patient, good, and friend making judgment. It is judgment that demonstrates unmistakable love to the receiver.

Discerning Between Life and Death - Drawing on Paul's letter to the Phillipians, Phil 1:9-10 a  "And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment,  (10)  that you may approve the things that are excellent...", we understand that it is in love that we may discern properly.  John said in 1 Jn 4:16 that "God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him." Every judgment that God makes is borne from a center of love toward us.  If we are to judge as He does, then we also need to do so from that same center of love, and we do that by abiding in Him.  With love we can discern between the issues of life and death, physically but more importantly spiritually.

Who Can Judge - Everyone it seems wants to be a judge.  Judgmental statements it seems are epidemic, across social media, news media, blogs, and various articles across the internet.  But Jesus has set the standard for being a person who judges rightly, and few measure up to it.  He has said that those who can judge are those who love.  But it is not a worldly love, a wax imitation of love shown forth in human emotion and works.  It is a love that is placed into us by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit with our spirit.  It is a love that we lay hold of by faith that the God who said He would cause living waters to spring forth from us like rivers will actually do it.   It is a love that the Lord places into our innermost beings, that grows from the continual nurture of the Spirit, as we abide in Him, drawing close to Him in prayer, study, and fellowship that continues in an unbroken chain of time.  It is the Lord who is the judge, from perfect love, which He shares with us.

The Fruit of the Spirit stands forth as evidence of love in our lives.  With love we can discern the spiritual health of those around us.  We can discern who can judge, first by the fruit that we ourselves emit, for if "we will know them by their fruit", then we will also know ourselves by our fruit.  If we ourselves have poor fruit, then we should not be a judge of others at all, for love has not matured in us.  We run the risk of calling out a speck in the others eye when we have a beam in our own.

If we put forth good fruit, we have love.  Only in love can we tentatively judge righteously, but we must take care, lest we fall. (1 Cor 10:12)

It is my desire that this paper will lead some to come to see love as the greatest good, far above the calling out (judging) of the errors of others.  If love were mature in Christianity, there would be far greater unity, with the resulting far greater witness of the love of Christ amongst ourselves, and then with the far greater inpouring of the lost to the kingdom. (Jn 17:23)

Friday, June 7, 2013

Criticism Undermines Revelation

Criticism Undermines Revelation

By Stan Feldsine

The Rushing Wind of Revelation

While reading the preface for a book recently, "Fearfully and Wonderfully Made", I  became aware of a building rush of Wind coming from it's pages.  The author, Phillip Yancy was describing an individual whose life was one of continual worship, the world renowned surgeon, Paul Brand.  Paul had given the very foundation of his life to Jesus, entirely built on Christ Himself, and the magnificent "building" that made up his life, every facet was completely given to the worship of his Creator.  In this preface, Phillip was describing insights regarding the human body's relationship to the heavenly kingdom that Paul Brand had shared with him that were so profound, in which the Holy Spirit was such a part of, that the Spirit literally rushed out of the pages and through me such that my hair almost perceptibly was moved.  My emotions however, were completely moved by the revelation I was sharing such that I could not contain myself as tears of joy rolled down my face as I came to see by illumination another facet of Jesus' care and love in the construction of His body, the Bride.  I was at once aware of how incomprehensible God's works are, how unimaginably deep His love is, and how complete His perfection.  This experience of fellowship with the Spirit was truly indescribable, as these feeble words testify.

Coming with a pure heart to gaze upon His majesty, it is by His great mercy and grace that He opens just an unimaginably small pinhole through which His infinite glory blinds us with overwhelming light and emotion.  We are shielded from the unimaginable pressure of His glory, holiness, and divine wisdom through the infinitely wise dispensation of progressive revelation.  Paul must have seen the glory constrained by this pinhole for he prayed for all of us:

Eph 1:17-20  that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him,  (18)  the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints,  (19)  and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power  (20)  which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places,

I pray that all will be transformed from glory to glory (2 Cor 3:18), and know the unsearchable riches by revelation in the knowledge of Jesus, as we lay aside every weight that constrains us. (Heb 12:1)  In this paper, I would like to look at one of the many restraints that can cause us to fall short on the path to having our understanding enlightened.  This obstacle is a form of spiritual impurity running rampant in the church today, criticism.

The Deadness of Impurity

Jesus said in Matthew 5:8 "Blessed are the pure in heart, For they shall see God."  The implication here is clear, if we harbor an impure heart, we will not see God, and thus put at risk our transformation. (2 Cor 3:18)

James gives us instruction in the truth about the heart and purity when he tell us Christian brethren:

James 1:26  "If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one's religion is useless." 

He continues, speaking to Christian brethren:

James 3:8-11  "But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.  (9)  With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God.  (10)  Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so.  (11)  Does a spring send forth fresh water and bitter from the same opening?"

Jesus provides a clear indication of the relationship between the heart and speech in:

Luke 6:45  "A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks."

If then the mouth reveals the heart, and a pure heart will see God, then by our mouth we can discern one obstacle to knowing Him in His fullness.  We must ask ourselves, do we comprehend fully the holiness of God's pure heart, which He commands us to have? (1 Pet 1:15-16)  To attempt to gauge our understanding of the holiness we are called to, we should consider the humility and depravity of Isaiah when, after viewing the Seraphim cry "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts..." (Isaiah 6.3)  Isaiah cried: 

Isaiah 6:5 "Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, The LORD of hosts."

To be "undone" means to "be brought to silence", according to Strongs definition of the Hebrew "damah".  How great is the holiness of the Lord God that the prophet Isaiah should be so moved, and to such humility. 

When we consider Isaiah, lamenting His low stature of holiness and purity in the presence of God Almighty, and associating with others of the similar virtue, we have a hint of our own present status of purity and holiness.  Our realization of our own true measure of purity in relation to Jesus should generate a like measure of humility as that found in Isaiah. When looking around the church today, a proud spirit has come in, and those afflicted by it are shouting insolence from the rooftops. Observe a few from thousands of examples of actual comments by Christians taken from Facebook and blogs:

  • Regarding "The Purpose Driven Life" by Rick Warren - "Warren is a heretic and his congregation that still has a Biblical foundation should run quickly."  "You know, I shook my head when all these people gave me this book. (Purpose Driven Life) My wife passed away, and they gave me this crap!!"  "Warren will be the one to account for these souls in misleading them."
  • Regarding the death of Rick Warren's Son - "Rick warren False Prophet in my book Sorry for his lost maybe GOD giving him a wake up call."  "rick warren supports gay marriage and crislam. If he dont repent and stop compermising the gospel of jesus christ so every body can like him. I dont understand u preachers who think u can drink the cup of the lord and of devils!!! repent or go to hell its that simple period!!"
  • A song by a Christian Rap artist, Fal$e Teacher$ by Shai Linne - (Accuses 10 teachers) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pl4WevY-GPU - "This really is an excellent song. I'm glad a christian isn't afraid to call these false teachers out."
  • Regarding Paula White - See the comments following the web article linked here, where many Christian brethren exhibit unmistakable "evil speech" -   http://wadeoradio.com/paul-white-ministries-responds-to-shai-linnes-fale-teacher-song/
  • Regarding Joyce Meyer and Perry Stone - "I am quite aware that she (Joyce) has many followers and supporters. However, she utilizes this eastern technique and Christians should be aware of what it is and why it is not to be used."  "Perry Stone and his father both said that they talked to dead "friends"... that's necromancy... forbidden by God. I used to follow Perry Stone until I saw, from his own lips, that both he and his father both received a "word" from their dead friend. Once I heard that, I saw so many unbiblical teachings from him. Pray from him but don't follow him because he's preaching another gospel"

James comes to our aid in properly judging comments such as these: 

James 3:17-18  "But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy.  (18)  Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace." 

To those that make such comments under the cloak of discernment, I ask, do these comments reflect humility?  Is this wisdom from above, and as such are these words peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits?  Are you sowing the fruit of righteousness in peace, as one who makes peace, or is this hurtful to those who are targeted?  Is your view of holiness of God shaded by limited human understanding, such that you believe Christ has modeled such speech as this?  He has not.

Matthew Henry advises us:

"If we are wiser than others, this should be evidenced by the goodness of our conversation, not by the roughness or vanity of it. Words that inform, and heal, and do good, are the marks of wisdom; not those that look great, and do mischief, and are the occasions of evil, either in ourselves or others." (Matthew Henry Commentary - James 3:13)

Paul provides stunning insight into this problem,  speaking of religious leaders, with whom he disagreed, and unintentionally spoke evil of:

Acts 23:5  Then Paul said, "I did not know, brethren, that he was the high priest; for it is written, 'YOU SHALL NOT SPEAK EVIL OF A RULER OF YOUR PEOPLE.'"

We are all of miserable unclean lips, speaking evil of our religious leaders.  While we may have some discernment, some of our responses as illustrated in the comments above are proud, haughty and arrogant, when we should be driven to silence before a holy God to seek His purity in our own lives, remembering in humility that none was found worthy to cast the first stone at the adulterous woman, (John 8:7) and that we will give account for every idle word we speak. (Matt 12:36)

An incredible consequence of arrogant finger wagging is our own blindness, and the risk falling into the trap of being a false witness against others, calling bad what God has called good, as is happening with heartbreaking regularity.  (Job 18:8, Prov 18:6-7, Prov 22:24-25)

Love Purifies

The reality is that comments such as those shown reveal impurity in the heart, for they do not lift up, are not kind, gentle, peaceable, loving nor longsuffering.  There is no reflection of the Lord's goodness in them.  It is not within the scope of this article to address the teachings of those listed above, but instead, the Christian response to these teachings, good or bad, is in focus.  It is the impact upon our own heart and speech that is in focus.  It is our response, revealing our heart, which is affecting our ability to behold the face of God and to can keep us from experiencing our own transformation from glory to glory.  Whether you have discernment or not, your response to what is thought to be discerned displays where your own heart is, and itself condemns or frees you.

The great tragedy brought about by giving in to this impure spirit of criticism is this purity lost, without which we cannot truly see God, and especially the deep things of God. (Psalms 92:5)  Satan is relishing his ability to distract Christians believers from a pure heart and the knowledge of God by causing them to receive his critical spirit, and respond to others from a critical heart with critical words, thus introducing impurity into the body.  He desires that men fail to come to the knowledge of God, and he is succeeding. 

Can light and darkness exist together? It is in the pure light that we can see, the light from which illumination and revelation comes. (2 Cor 4:6)  It is through revelation that we are changed into His image from glory to glory.  (2 Cor 3:18) 

I pray that you, the reader, would come to gaze into the face of God, that you would banish spiritual impurity, that you would set aside evil speech in favor of revelation in the knowledge of Him, that you would cease criticism in favor of illumination, that you would come to the knowledge of God's eternal, unending, unbounded, and unconditional love for every person, and that you would follow the example of Isaiah and wear humility. For John advises us that without love in our heart, which produces kindness and gentleness, we will not know Him with intimacy:

1 John 4:7-8  Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  (8)  He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.