Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self-Control

This week we’ll conclude our five-part summer worship series, Life in the Spirit, with a closer look at three terms that seem fairly obvious in their meaning, but that also carry a special layer of understanding related to what Paul calls “The Fruit of the Spirit.”

When we think of Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self Control, it’s easy to assume that all of these equate to “being nice” or “being good.” While there’s some truth to that, these aspects of the Fruit of the Spirit mean so much more. Here’s what I mean.

Faithfulness is a translation of the Greek word, pistis. This translation points to remaining faithful in all our covenants with God and with others. The King James version of the Bible just translates it as “faith,” which points to our deep trust in God. It can — and probably does — mean both.

However, here’s what we often miss when we’re considering Faithfulness. The Greek word, pistis, in our Galatians 5:22 scripture reading is at its root more about “holding fast or steady.” In fact, pistis is considered here to be one of God’s strongest personal characteristics. God, the original covenant-maker, is, therefore, our model of Faithfulness, because God is always faithful to the Divine part of any covenant, even when we don’t stick to ours. Now, that is powerful faithfulness!

Gentleness is translated as “meekness” in the King James Version of the Bible, as in “blessed are the meek.” The Greek word connotes the opposite of roughness or hardness. In secular Greek, gentleness is equated to mildness or friendliness.

“Meekness” is one of those words that has taken on a mostly negative connotation. Meekness brings to mind being a “doormat” or “wishy-washy” or “Milquetoast.” That is not the meaning of the Greek word at all. Gentleness in this context is much more about being pliable, moldable, teachable, humble, and ready to be taught, than being a “doormat.”

This understanding of Gentleness that is neither shy nor retiring, but more about being curious, open, and willing to learn, is akin to self-awareness — and the parallel awareness that there is always more to learn.

Self-control is a term that can also take on a negative connotation. After all, we could describe someone as being too controlled. However, the opposite of that — a lack of self-control — can wreak utter disaster. Someone being “out of control” or a life that is “out of control” is never a good thing.

Looking a little more carefully at this aspect of the Fruit of the Spirit, we can see that Self-Control in this context is more like self-discipline. Or, as the Scottish scholar William Barclay wrote, “Self-control is the virtue which makes people so master of themselves that they are fit to be the servants of others.”

I think this understanding of self-control is really the gamechanger — rather than only being a comment on morality it becomes so much bigger than that. It’s what fits us to serve others, and to lead others well. In fact, Danish philosopher, theologian, poet, social critic, and religious author Søren Kierkegaard was well known for saying of this final aspect of the Fruit of the Spirit, “It is more difficult to rule oneself than it is to rule a city. And unless one rules oneself, one rules nothing else well.”

Are you bearing fruit?

When you are open to the Holy Spirit working in your life, these nine qualities — love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control are the character traits that arise and become evident in you and in your life. Rather than being qualities we deliberately can try to cultivate, the Fruit of the Spirit is more like evidence of the work of the Holy Spirit in your life.

Tending the growth of your own Fruit of the Spirit is, in fact, the opposite of self-help; rather, it requires a more of a constant self-assessment — a measurement of the evidence of the Spirit working in you.

As we conclude our Life in the Spirit worship series this Sunday, I invite you to continue this exploration and commitment to the practice of regularly taking a good hard look at yourself and seeing what kind of fruit your life is bearing. In fact, if you’d like to review this series you can watch the Life in the Spirit playlist on our YouTube Channel, or listen or download the podcast of this sermon series on SoundCloud.

Meanwhile, this week, I encourage you to consider the following questions: How open are you to God in your life? How intentionally are you walking with God and inviting the work of the Holy Spirit into your life every day in all your decisions, challenges, accomplishments, and struggles? How well are you embracing Discipleship as a way of opening yourself more fully to this work?

I look forward to exploring all of these questions with you this Sunday in the Sanctuary.

Grace and Peace,

Dr. Tim Bruster
Senior Pastor


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