A series of essays exploring what the church, in light of its ongoing reformation begun 500 years ago, will look like in the next decade and beyond: A futurist’s snapshot of the Christian Church.
The characteristics called the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) are principally passed among Followers of the Way much like family norms are passed among members of the family. Ordinarily, families don’t teach their norms to their children. Non-the-less, the children learn to embody those norms and pass them on to the next generation. That isn’t to say that the family doesn’t attend explicitly to its norms, for it does, often, as I have noticed, for example, with little reminders. I remember my own father saying to me at a moment I was required to express thanks, “What do you say?” So it is with the Fruit of the Spirit.
Love, joy, and peace are the focus of this essay.
Love is not so abstract or ethereal a concept as to be incomprehensible. It is within our grasp. I am not talking about a sentimental attraction, one person to another person, or especially an erotic experience which cannot be sustained. I am talking about a durable, tough, inexhaustible love which will not disappoint. I am talking about a love that will go the distance. I am not going to use the word sacrifice here because Jesus does not require sacrifice (Matthew 9:13). And yet, the love that Followers of the Way embrace and which embraces them is a love that will stand any trial, much as we think of the trial Jesus endured for the love of the world. This is first among the characteristics of Followers of the Way of Jesus; and the Reforming Church has a hand in guiding, nurturing, and even training the Followers of the Way, bolstering them and encouraging them in this love. The Apostle, Paul, describes this love in 1 Corinthians 13:5-8a, using some of the same descriptive words he also uses characterizing the Fruit of the Spirit – Galatians 5:22-23a – characteristics embedded and incumbent on Followers of the Way, and supported by the Reforming Church.
Similarly, neither is joy simply an abstract concept that welcomes entertaining discussion. Indeed, there are so many opinions as to its meaning. It is a basic construct of the Christian life and the Reforming Church. It is a sense of intense satisfaction with the context that structures one’s life. It is a satisfaction that comes from a single focus: an assurance of God’s plan, and contentment in life that comes from knowing that nothing will deter God. In Jesus’ great prayer (John 17), Jesus is rehearsing God’s plan that he shares with his followers “that they may have my joy made complete in themselves” (NRSV 17:13b). Paul, in his letter to the Philippians where he writes from prison for the sake of the Gospel, rejoices as he finds his purpose is served, even in prison (1:18). He writes, “Make my joy complete” (NRSV Philippians 2:2), exhorting the Followers of the Way to have “the same mind . . . that was in Christ Jesus” (NRSV 2:5). He calls the Followers of the Way to “Rejoice in the Lord always” (NRSV 4:4). For Paul, joy is found in embracing in one’s life gentleness, truth, and justice (4:4-9) no matter the context. The Reforming Church provides structure for Followers of the Way to amplify joy in their lives.
It has probably been true always, but I can think of nothing the Church has to offer that everyone values more than peace. Peace is not a parochial aspiration of the Church of Jesus Christ. It is a universal hope and dream. If the Church has anything the world needs, it is the way of peace. Not surprisingly, peace is a Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5: 22), a characteristic of every Follower of the Way and of the Reforming Church. Of these three, love, joy, and peace, scripture provides that peace is Jesus’ to give. He says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you” NRSV John 14:27a). More than anything, especially now, the world craves peace. The Reforming Church is on top of this. Beyond the rigor of the noisy peace movements, the Reforming Church structures for Followers of the Way a contagious peace – a peace that begins with each Follower of the Way and is caught – like an infectious disease.
These three, love, joy, and peace, are a single package. Together they are the core of Christian life. They are not characteristics valued for and in themselves – while striving for them and attaining them is personally rewarding, more importantly, they are the way of the hope of the world. The Reforming Church enables, intensifies, activates, and helps to maintain love, joy, and peace in every Follower of the Way. It isn’t so much to be taught as it is established as the norm for the church. And yet, the Reforming Church does teach them, distilling easily the curriculum from scripture.
Next week, I will turn my focus on patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, and gentleness – Fruits of the Spirit, characteristics of Followers of the Way and curriculum of the Reforming Church.