Congregational leaders have been in the news again, with “character” being the focus. One of the leadership responsibilities of a pastor is to lead by example. Pastors and priests are called to lead by displaying the characteristics of Christian maturity, not by becoming the subjects of scandals.
By virtue of office, pastors are leaders, and they must lead by example. No one will follow if the walk does not match the talk.
In setting an example, one might ask, “Is there a universal or comprehensive set of benchmarks for Christian maturity?” According to Galatians 5:22-23, there is: “By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”
The writer of the letter to Galatia goes on to say, “If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.”
What might it mean not only to live by the Spirit, but also to be guided by the Spirit in our living? That notion suggests there is a spiritual path to each fruit of the Spirit.
Pastors are called to lead exemplary lives. Benchmarks for such lives are fruits of the Spirit. In pursuing aims different from the world, might there also be unique pathways to achieve such aims? How might we pursue fruits of the Spirit if we view God’s Spirit not only as author of the destination, but also author of the journey?
Let us explore “spiritual paths to fruits of the spirit,” examining love, joy, peace and patience in this column, and kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control in the next.
The spiritual path to love, the first fruit of the spirit, is action. Consider the number of times that Jesus wedded love and action: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (Jn 14:15); “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (Jn 15:13). For someone who claims to love Jesus, Jesus responds, “show me.”
1 Corinthians 13—the chapter of scripture commonly called the “love chapter”—is full of potential actions that characterize love. The spiritual pathway toward a more fully developed love for God is a more fully developed response to the world’s needs as spelled out in Matthew 25.
While the spiritual pathway to love is tied to action, the spiritual pathway to joy is just the opposite. Joy is much more about being than doing. Performing tasks that bring acclaim certainly will produce happiness. But joy, an emotion more long-lasting than happiness, results from recognizing who we are in Christ Jesus, rather than what we can do for God.
When we recognize that God created us just a little lower than angels, yet above all other visibly wondrous creatures on earth; when we recognize that God has shown us the immeasurable riches of his grace; when we recognize that someday we will be presented as holy and blameless and irreproachable … we have joy. Eternal joy comes from recognizing who we are, not from checking off one more item on our spiritual to-do lists.
In a similar manner, peace comes from experiencing God’s presence. Just as joy is more lasting than happiness, and thus must be pursued in a different manner, peace is more lasting than stillness and must be pursued in a different manner. Tranquility often results from a lack of difficulties or pressures in our lives. Asking to be led beside the still waters is a scriptural request, but is unrealistic as a daily expectation. Sometimes, calming the choppy waters of our circumstances takes time!
Reaching a moment of tranquility because the storm has subsided is a welcomed reality, but peace, through a recognition of God’s presence, can come more quickly and more permanently by never losing sight of God’s presence even in the eye of the storm. Peace comes from knowing that God will never leave nor forsake us.
The spiritual path to patience involves passing from the eye of the storm toward its tranquil edge. Such a journey is normally fraught with difficulty; thus suffering is the spiritual path to patience.
James Emerson, in his book Suffering, suggests that all suffering is a choice. If your mind immediately races to ponder how those suffering injustices might have chosen their plight, that is not what Emerson suggests. People often find themselves in difficult circumstances to no fault of their own. But the most patient pathway out of difficult circumstances is often a pathway of suffering.
Choosing to grieve over a loss, rather than choosing to block the pain, involves choosing a suffering pathway. This choice ultimately produces the spiritual fruit of patience. The more we choose to suffer—instead of taking the easiest way out of our dilemmas—the greater our capacity for patience in the future.
Jeff Woods is executive minister for the American Baptist Churches of Ohio.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Part 2 will be available at EthicsDaily.com on June 10!