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)

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