Faithfulness, Gentleness, Self-Control
In the New Testament, the same Greek word is used for faith and faithfulness. The two concepts are inseparable. New Testament writers assume that where there is faith there is faithfulness!
In the Old Testament faithfulness meant steadfastness, reliable, straightforward, what you see is what you get kind of living. God represents the ultimate example of this. There is no shadow, no hidden agenda with God. He is who he is, in fact this is what God said to Abraham from the burning bush, “I am who I am.” God walks the walk. He does what he says, he acts from the integrity of his character.
For us today, Old Testament calls to faithfulness are calls to act in the same way, to be who we say we are. Jesus echoes this call when he says “let your yes be yes and your no, no.” In James 2, James is encountering people who incredibly think that they can believe, have faith, without that faith affecting their lives and choices. We encounter the same thinking today.
Faithfulness is not really an option, though. True faith leads to our acting out of faith. The example James uses is key. Abraham acted on his faith and it was credited to him as righteousness. Works do not create faith. You can have empty works. But when we say we believe something and follow through, it shows our faith to be complete in that area.
1 Peter 3:15 "But in your hearts set apart Christ as LORD. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.2 Timothy 2:24 And the LORD's servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. 25 Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth."
Gentleness/Meekness means trusting God to do his work. When we understand who God is, we know that he does not need us to defend him. We do not have to fight on his behalf. We know and understand that God will do his work, he will carry out his plans. This enables us to be at peace within ourselves and to act gently towards those around us, even those who oppose us.
Gentleness is easy when it comes to those on our side, but God is instructing us through his servants Peter and Paul in their letters to the young Church that we are to be gentle with those who oppose us and mock our faith. They are people loved by God, and we must make sure that we do not turn them away from him and his plan to bring them to repentance.
There is an old story, which may or may not be factual about George Fox and William Penn regarding carrying a sword. Whether true or not, it makes a good example of this kind of gentle spirit. Penn feels out of sync with his fellow Quakers and asks Fox if it is permissible to continue wearing a sword. Fox responds that Penn ought to wear it as long as he is able. The implication is that if God wants to convict Penn about his wearing a sword, God will do so. Fox does not see a need to take on God's role, but trusts in who he knows God is.
We can do the same in our dealings with others, whether Christian or not, by sharing our beliefs gently and trusting God to lead and guide them into all Truth.
Self-control is not something we like to talk about. We associate it with following rules and in many cases with extreme legalism. In truth, controlling oneself is exactly what it seems. It is to control ourselves in situations where we face temptations. It is controlling the passions of the flesh. It is not, however, following a set of religious rules and regulations. It is not a matter of ritual and self-denial. In fact, Paul tells us in Colossians 2:23 that those practices seem wise, but do nothing to help us control our passions.
The key to self-control is found earlier in the chapter. Paul encourages the believers to continue to walk in Christ; to continue to allow Christ to make them new and complete from the inside out. Self-control is something that comes from our will. We must want to do right. In order for that to happen, we must be renewed in our minds and our desires.
This renewal is accomplished by Christ in us as we allow him to dwell in us and as we dwell in him. Paul says our hearts are literally circumcised and the sinful nature in us is cut off. We can still choose to sin, but sin does not have the same control over our lives as it once did. We receive power to resist temptation and to walk away from those things which invite destruction into our lives. This does not happen because of religion, but by living daily in the presence of Christ.
The Fruit of the Spirit must grow in us. It takes time. We must remain connected to the vine to receive the life and power to continue to grow and produce fruit. If we remain connected to Christ, the true vine, this fruit will grow in us as naturally as grapes grow on a grape vine. Trust in him to produce fruit in you, stop striving and rest knowing that he will accomplish his good plans for your life.