The Bible teaches us how to live not only by giving commandments, but also by the listing of important moral virtues. In Galatians 5:22 Paul wrote:
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
If only everyone had such qualities! Life would be so much better. But as much as we might desire those virtues, no one can claim to have mastered them. Paul himself knew what a struggle it was to do the right thing all the time, as he wrote in Romans 7:15:
I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate, I do.
Paul was a good man; but as his own letters show, he had problems with patience and gentleness and love, to just name a few from the list. Paul had a short fuse, could be very harsh, and he lamented his failure to be loving with those with whom he disagreed.
But Paul had no desire to give up and say, “Oh well, I am forgiven, I’ll do what I want.” That is what some were saying in response to his preaching, so in Romans six he corrects this misunderstanding. After describing the wonderful gift of God’s freely given grace, he said:
What shall we say then; shall we go on sinning so that we can get more grace? Absolutely not… We must not let sin be our master. (from verses 1, 2, 14)
In other places Paul described the Christian life as a battle against Satan, against temptation, and against our own sinful will. He calls us to a lifelong struggle to do the right thing in grateful obedience to the God who saves us and calls us to himself.
Max Lucado wrote a little meditation on Galatians 5:22. He began by describing his early morning prayer time:
It’s early. It’s quiet. My coffee is hot. The sky is still black. The world is still asleep. It won’t be long and this peace and quiet will be exchanged for the noise of the day. The calm of this solitude will be replaced by the phone ringing, by places to go, by people to meet. The refuge of this quiet, early morning prayer time will be invaded by duties and dilemmas and decisions. For the next twelve hours, I will be exposed to the day’s demands. But for a few moments, I have an opportunity to receive God’s Word, and so I read: “The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” Well, now I can make a choice, a choice to hear and obey that word, or to ignore it. Because of God’s love for me, I choose to do my best to hear his word and obey it, and I pray for his help and guidance. And so I choose…
Lucado then goes on to list how he chooses to practice each of those nine virtues. I will go through that list, using some of his words and some of my words.
First, choose LOVE. The Bible says, ‘Since God has loved us, we also ought to love one another.’ If God loves that person I cannot get along with, and commands me to love him or her also, who am I to despise them? I may, this day, have to disagree with and oppose other people, but I will not hate them. I will approach all my relationships with as much good will as possible. I choose to try and understand people, see the best in them, and remember that they too are children of my heavenly Father.
Choose JOY. I choose to be joyful by being thankful. One can choose to be filled with resentment and bitterness at all that one does not have, or, one can choose to be grateful for all which God has given. Gratitude fills one with Joy, so I will choose to be grateful. This is expressed in a little saying I once saw: Get Rich Quick: Count Your Blessings. Count the blessings you already have, and you will see how rich you already are. This is choosing to be joyful.
Choose PEACE. Paul perhaps had in mind what Jesus said: “Blessed are the peacemakers.” The nations of the world might be at war, and there is not much I can do about that; but I can choose to make peace with those around me. I will try to see the best in people, I will be quick to forgive, and I will not use my conversation to sow the seeds of anger and distrust among others.
Choose PATIENCE. A little patience by even one person in a relationship will make for a more peaceful relationship. Patience gives one time to see and understand the other person’s point of view. Patience will help one think of the best way to respond, as in Proverbs 15:1: “A gentle answer turns away wrath.”
Choose KINDNESS. “Be kind, be kind;” said the old Scottish preacher, “for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” Nothing endears you more to other people than simple kindness. An old friend died a while back, and what I remember about him most was his kindness. He always had a kind word for everyone, and if he ever spoke of others, it was in kindness; and he was loved by all.
Choose GOODNESS. I will go without something before I take it by dishonest gain. I will be content to be overlooked before I will boast. I will try to see my own fault before I accuse. I will be truthful. I will always choose goodness.
Choose FAITHFULNESS. I will keep my faith in God first in my life above all other things, and I will make all my choices and decisions in obedience to God. I will be faithful to other people. I will keep my promises. People will not have to question my word or wonder about my commitments.
Choose GENTLENESS. I will look at Jesus as my model. Jesus had the most important gift of all to give to the world, but would not force it on anyone. He came in gentleness to offer, to persuade, and to encourage; but not to manipulate, abuse, or force his way or his will. If Jesus can so respect the freedom and dignity of others, I can choose such gentleness.
Choose SELF-CONTROL. There is a battle within us to choose to do what is right and not what is wrong. Sometimes it is difficult to know what is the right thing to do, but usually not. Usually we know what we ought to do and the battle is to just do it. The self, our own sinful self, needs to be controlled if we are to live lives obedient to God. Paul concludes his list with Self-control, the virtue that is the key to living by all the other virtues.
Lord, give me the help and guidance I need to practice these virtues in all my actions in today. For those ways I succeed in doing these things, I will give you thanks. For those many times I fail, I will seek your grace. When the day is done, I will rest in your peace, and tomorrow morning I will recommit myself to the same choices.
–Max Lucado (adapted)