Learning to apply the work of the Spirit

One of the most helpful analogies I ever heard regarding the fruit of the Spirit was to think of the fruit of the Spirit as toolbox. Inside were tools for every situation. You wouldn’t send a hammer to do the job of screwdriver, nor would you attempt to saw a board with a wrench. Likewise, when you enter into challenging relationships you should choose the part of the fruit that is most effective for that difficulty. To do so you will need to learn the fruit, and practice it. Only then will you become proficient in its application. I have included my working definitions of each part of the fruit of the Spirit. You can use these or develop your own through reflection and Bible study.

The point is this: until you know them, you will not be able to apply them. Certainly we can depend upon the Holy Spirit to do his part. How are we applying the work he has done on our behalf?

  • Love is a sacrificial choice (1 Jn. 3:16), of words accompanied by actions (1 Jn. 3:18), regardless of attraction or response (Rom. 5:8), generated by God not by oneself (Jn. 21:15-18)
  • Joy is a pre-determined attitude (Phil. 4:4), of praise for God’s goodness (Psa. 5:11), by maintaining an eternal focus (Psa. 16:11), in the midst of difficulty (Heb. 12:2). 
  • Peace is a settled confidence of mind (Phil. 4:7), from a right relationship with God (Phil. 4:9), unaffected by circumstantial change (4:11). 
  • Patience is a learned attitude (Col. 1:11), revealed through a joyful willingness (Jam. 1:2), to remain under difficulty (Jam. 1:3-4), in order to learn God’s lessons (Jam. 5:11).
  • Kindness is a tender spirit purposefully expressed (Rom 2:4), sacrificially given (Eph 2:7), especially to the undeserving (Titus 3:4). 
  • Goodness is focused resolve (2 Thes. 1:11), that drives us to become actively involved, in the life of another (2 Chron. 24:16), consistently expressed through generosity (Neh. 9:25).
  • Faithfulness is a promise (Rom. 3:3; Lam. 3:23), to keep one’s word, and do one’s best (1 Th. 1:3), with a servant–attitude focused on the Master’s approval (Matt 25:21).  
  • Gentleness is an attitude of humility (Jam. 1:21), stirred by grateful spirit (Num. 12:3; Ps. 90:15), revealed in a tenderness to others (Eph. 4:2), sustained by a growing trust in God (Matt. 5:5). 
  • Self-control is the growing realization that one’s desire to please self was crucified with Christ, and replaced with a desire to glorify God (Gal. 2:20).

Working with the given definitions, make a list of the various relationships you encounter and prayerfully consider which tool best suits the challenge in that relationship. For example, perhaps you need patience with your kids, mercy with your spouse, and love with your fellow employee. Keep those ideas in the forefront of your mind as you engage in that particular relational challenge. If your children are disrespectful, ask yourself, “How can I best demonstrate patience in this context?” Now depend upon the Holy Spirit’s leading to enable you to do so.

The difference between a peace-maker and peace-keeper…

Peace-making is rarely confused with peace-breaking, but it is often confused with peace-keeping. When I first traveled to Bosnia in 2001 on a humanitarian aid effort I got a good look at peace-keeping. The United Nations had divided up the land between the Bosnians and Serbians. Without a doubt there were heinous crimes committed during their civil war. There had not been an attempt at repentance, forgiveness or restoration.

The UN’s answer to the conflict was to significantly limit the interaction between the conflicting parties. They drew strict boundaries in the villages. Serbians lived within their territories, as did the Bosnians. For those of us who are conflict avoiders this might seem like a good option. But to avoid the conflict does not resolve the conflict.  

The following chart from the junior edition of Ken Sande’s Peacemaker is helpful in distinguishing the difference. Peace-keepers tend to fall in the escape mode. Peace-breakers easily move to the attack mode. Only the peace-makers are the ones who will make the personal sacrifices to work it out.

You have three options in the work it out category:

(1) Overlook. Perhaps the point of offense is only a preference on your part, or you don’t see the sin done against you as intentional or characteristic of the other individual. The apostle Peter encouraged us,

Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8).

(2) Talk it Out. Perhaps you are unable to overlook the sin. You were hurt deeply. Maybe you are beginning to see a pattern of this type of sinful behavior on your friend’s part. Then it’s best to talk to them. Critical in winning your brother is that you initially do this between the two of you without a third-party. Jesus reminded us,

If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother (Matthew 18:15)

(3) Get Help. It could be that your attempt at contact is rejected. There may be a refusal to acknowledge sin or you sense the conflict is only getting worse. Don’t be afraid to seek help. Jesus went on to say,

But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses (Matthew 18:16).

Be careful. It’s a slippery slope. Always attempt to stay within the work-it-out  boundaries. No wonder Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the sons of God” (Mat. 5:9).