A series of essays exploring what the church, considering its ongoing reformation begun 500 years ago, will look like in the next decade and beyond: A futurist’s snapshot of the Christian Church.
Indeed, the characteristics called the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) are passed among Followers of the Way much like family norms. They are simply “picked-up.” That isn’t to say there is no formal instruction. Indeed, there is; and the Reforming Church provides the culture wherein these norms are supported and transmitted from generation to generation of Followers of the Way.
This week, this essay will focus on the last Fruit of the Spirit – self-control and one extra characteristic of the Followers of the Way – contentment.
There can be no question, for lack of self-control, the Church has been scandalized again and again throughout its history. It is at times as these when the value of self-control is most apparent. In the Reforming Church Followers of the Way exercise great care to practice self-control. Here’s why. The Apostle Paul contrasts the Fruit of the Spirit with the “works of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16-21). The “works of the flesh” are the things that Followers of the Way can do that deface the promise of hope, trivialize the Church’s mission, and erode the integrity of the proclamation of good news. In the Reforming Church, great care is taken to exercise the practice of self-control. It is in the role of the Reforming Church to function peremptorily, providing leadership to the Followers of the Way to help them avoid falling into the pit of flesh’s works. As important as it is to maintain self-control, it is even more so for those who exercise leadership in the Reforming Church to have-a-care.
The Fruit of the Spirit is intentionally cultivated to ensure the best harvest. All of them, the practice of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control is incumbent on all Followers of the Way, and especially obligatory on those who are called to lead. There is one more all-important characteristic Followers of the Way practice which is not included as one of the Fruit of the Spirit. It is “contentment.”
As challenging as it is for the Reforming Church to be on top of the norms characteristic of Followers of the Way as negotiated in the Fruit of the Spirit, the norm of contentment is especially challenging.
Again, it is the Apostle Paul who points to the value of contentment. In his letter to Timothy he writes, “there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment” (NRSV 1 Timothy 6:6). Perhaps nowhere more eloquently than in his letter to the church in Philippi, Paul underscores the value of contentment as an essential characteristic of Followers of the Way. He writes, concerning his own appellations in life, counting them as nothing – actually rubbish – “for the surpassing value of knowing Christ. . . .” (NRSV Philippians 3:8). He writes, “I have learned to be content with whatever I have” (NRSV 4:11). In his beautiful hymn, Paul sings,
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross. (NRSV 2:5-8)
And if this is his hymn, then this is his refrain, “I have learned to be content with whatever I have” (NRSV 4:11). And it is as well for the Reforming Church.
The Apostle Paul by word and deed counsels Followers of the Way to find contentment in all circumstances, not just in times of want, but also in times of suffering. He writes, “I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ” (NRSV 2 Corinthians 12:10). And the author of the Pauline-type letter to the Hebrews echoes a tune Paul would recognize, “Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, ‘I will never leave you or forsake you’” (NRSV 13:5).
To set aside any of these 10 characteristics, to fail in even one, it might be as if a company of preachers was to preach naked. No one hears their message, and the story is all about their nakedness.
The Fruit of the Spirit is produced in all Followers of the Way, or else the mission of the Church becomes clouded and deferred. The mission of the Church is determined by Gifts of the Spirit. Next week, I will discuss how the Reforming Church finds its mission in the gifts, God gives to each Follower of the Way.