It is easy to be good and pleasant to those we like. But, it is a lot harder to do the same with those who irritate or, worse, anger us. Or, people we frankly just don't like very well. People we disagree with. People we find offensive or situations where our emotions get the best of us. It is easy for our emotions to hijack our "goodness" in all those cases.
We say words that reflect our emotions, which can be harsh and unkind. Think of emails you have written that you wish you could take back. Or words you spoke to a family member or friend that you wish you had never uttered. Angry, unkind or negative words that hurt someone. It may have made us feel good at the moment, but we know they were not words that pleased God.
We can say the same for how we treat people. We can give them the cold shoulder, ignore them or mistreat them. The ultimate way to hurt them is to gossip about them, share negative information or drop subtle hints that it would be good to pray for them because….and we piously suggest what they need prayer for. It is simply another way of sharing negative information and leaving a poor impression.
OK, OK, you say. "I get the picture." Have you ever wondered why we do these things, and every one of us has been guilty? Maybe even in the past day or week. The answer is simple. They are called "acts of the flesh" in the New Testament relating to our natural human nature. It is who we are, having been born into a sinful world with a sinful nature.
Here is how Paul puts it in Galatians 5:19-21. "The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity, and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God."
It's not a list that we are proud of, but every individual since the sin of Adam and Eve in the garden struggles with the flesh or the lower, unredeemed nature. It is why Jesus came to die for us to pay the price of our sinfulness. He came to redeem us from the need to live by the flesh and give us the freedom to live by the Spirit of God.
Again, Paul in Galatians 5: "You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: "Love your neighbor as yourself." If you bite and devour each other, watch out, or you will be destroyed by each other."
Did you catch how God wants us to treat one another? He wants us to serve one another in love. As people who God has redeemed, we can resist our lower nature, which is at war with our new spiritual nature. "For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'"
So what does it look like to love your neighbor as yourself or to serve one another in love? Do you remember the description of our lower nature? There is also a description of our spiritual nature which is the result of God's Holy Spirit who lives in our hearts. He takes up residence in us when we give our lives to Jesus. These are called the Fruit of the Holy Spirit because they reflect the character of God. And since we have God resident in our lives, we have access to God's character.
Here is what God's character looks like, according to Galatians 5:22-26. "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things, there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking, and envying each other."
Wow: Think of what relationships would look like if, instead of the way of our flesh, we specialized in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. It is the way of the Spirit. Paul says that the other way, the fleshly way, the lower nature way, was crucified or put to death with its passions and desires when we came to Jesus. He nailed that junk to the cross when He died for us. All so we could live by the Spirit and treat others how God treats us.
This is the way of love and the way of God. This is the life we have been called to. As Paul says, "since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit." Or, to put it another way, let's live and act and speak like the Spirit who lives in our hearts.
Think of the people in your life who are the most difficult to love and be kind to. And then ask the question: What would my attitudes, words, and behaviors look like toward them if I lived out the Fruit of the Holy Spirit? If I specialized in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control? And then Paul says, "Just do it." You have the ability through the Holy Spirit to live that way. Just do it.
The Christian life is about less of our old sinful nature and more of the Fruit of the Spirit who lives in us. It is less of me and more of Christ. So today, ask God to help you live with less of you and more of Him.
Father, would you help me to be conscious at all times of how I can live with less of my old unredeemed self and far more of you. Please help me reflect your Spirit in my words, attitudes, and how I treat others. Especially those who are hard for me to love. Amen.
The question for today: In what relationships do I need to have less of me and more of the Holy Spirit?