Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Juice So Sweet

Now, obviously, the fruit of the Spirit is not an "all or nothing" package. That is, it's not so simple as saying you either have love, joy, peace, patience...or you don't. Nor is it as easy as saying that you have love, joy, peace, patience...all to the same degree. The truth is that at any given time in a fallen world, you have some mix of measures of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. 

Of course, perfect love works best with perfect joy. Perfect peace is made simpler with perfect patience. Perfect kindness is only possible with perfect goodness. Perfect gentleness only comes from perfect self-control. But...who's perfect? We're all a mess.

So the key to the fruit of the Spirit is not actually the fruit itself, as odd as that may sound. It's easy to spend our lives in search of more love, more joy, more peace but there's always more. Sometimes, we fill ourselves to absolutely bursting with love and find that it's still not enough. We're overflowing with joy but something's missing. We're saturated with peace, but it's not yet enough that we can quite settle into it. We think these things are just about topping off our tanks, keeping our levels high, putting enough fruit in our diets and it will be okay. But it's not about how much fruit you have. It's not about the measure of fruit in your life.

It's about the measure of fruit in your life. (Yes, I know I just used the same word. Hang with me.)

It's not about how much you have; it's about how much you can have. In the former, the measure is the assessment of how much you have; in the latter, the measure is the standard by which you make that assessment. Said another way, the fruit of the Spirit manifest in your life is not as much about how much love, joy, peace, patience...you have; it is about your capacity for love, joy, peace, patience.... 

This all gets confusing, I know. Let's put a little more skin on it. Love and joy go hand-in-hand; you cannot love deeply without experiencing rich joy. Does that mean you cannot love deeply when joy is dim? Not necessarily. You don't need to be experiencing joy to be loving (although that is the ideal); you need only to be able to experience joy to be loving. It's the framework from which you love. Can you be kind without goodness? Yes, but only to the extent that you are able to have goodness. Can you be gentle without self-control? Sure. As long as the ability of self-control is there. 

Maybe I say this only to make myself feel better, knowing that I am not all love, all joy, all peace...all the time. But it seems to me that in a fallen world, this can't be too far off. Now, I'm more love, more joy, more peace...all the time, if I'm growing in God, but my flesh is never gonna get there. I'm never going to be all Spirit all the time. It's not going to happen. 

But if I can delight in the world (joy), then I can choose to love even when I don't feel delightful. If I can wait patiently on God, then I can choose peace even when life feels urgent. If I can understand the good in God's creation, then I can choose kindness even when I don't feel particularly good. It's the possibility of one that creates the possibility of the other, and that's how we come to be anything good at all - by possibilities (and, of course, by grace). 

So no, it's not black and white. It's not all or nothing. It's not the fruit of the Spirit or dry branches. It's always some mix of measures, some mess of this and that. It's always a little bit here that makes a little more there possible. It's not just love, joy, peace...it's the interplay of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control that makes any fruit evident in our lives at all. It's how the flavors run together that makes the juice so sweet.

...unless, of course, you pick a rotten apple. (More tomorrow.)

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