The Fruit of the Spirit Is...Mediocrity?
Have you ever wondered if you're good enough?
I believe all the hands in the room would be up. Deep down I think we all wonder if we really measure up, if we're successful, if we're doing ok.
I love these alien cartoons by Nathan Pyle. I'm sure you've seen them, but this one is great:
Graduation is a time when authority figures publicly acknowledge our sufficiency. "My knowledge suffices!" We don't often get that in life outside of school or sports. Maybe your boss will let you know you're doing a good job. Maybe you'll get that promotion or a pay raise. But when we're out on our own, we don't have the same level of feedback and/or course correction like we get in school.
This is even true in regards to our faith. How do we know if we're on the right track? Are we faithful enough? Are we loving enough? Have we done enough good? Have we committed too many sins? It doesn't really help to have a preacher get up every Sunday and simply reaffirm us all the time - "I'm ok. You're ok. We're all ok. Everything is fine!"
What if we want better than fine and ok? What if "sufficient" isn't what we're after?
A good coach is not chasing after that .500 season. A good teacher isn't pleased with every student maintaining a C-average. And I don't think preachers, pastors, teachers, and church leaders should be content with mediocre Christians filling the pews every Sunday.
HOW TO KNOW THAT YOU'RE MORE THAN OK
I started thinking about all this as I read through the first part of Colossians. Paul begins nearly every letter with a prayer of thanks and a word of encouragement (except for Galatians - he'd had about enough of them). Check out his opening prayer for the church in Colossae:
We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people—the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel that has come to you. In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world—just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace. You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, and who also told us of your love in the Spirit.Paul had never been to Colossae, but he had heard all about them from a guy named Onesimus (who has a fascinating story of his own, but we don't have time right now). While imprisoned in Rome around AD 60-62, Paul wrote this letter to a church that was doing well but had some trouble on the horizon.
Interesting side note: Paul never felt threatened by other church planters, and he cared just as deeply for churches he had never been to (like Colossae or Rome) as he did for churches that he started himself (like Philippi). They were all on the same team with the same mission. Others might have felt in competition with Paul, but Paul never played their game. I think the church would have a much stronger witness in the world if Christians and churches would stop competing against each other and find a way to work together.
Paul thanks God for the Colossian church, specifically for 1) their FAITH in Christ, 2) their LOVE for all of God's people, and 3) their HOPE in heaven, which is the source of their faith and love. They heard the truth of the Gospel, and their lives reflect it.
In other words, "You're doing ok. You're on the right track. Keep it up."
A LITTLE FRUITY
But how can we know? Paul says that the gospel is "bearing fruit." This is a favorite metaphor of Jesus and the other New Testament writers. Jesus said that a good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and vice versa. In other words, if you want to know whether you're on the right track with faith, hope, and love, just take a look around.
We can tell that our study habits are good because of the "fruit" of good grades. We can see that our diet or exercise program is paying off because of the "fruit" of weight loss or stronger muscles. We can know that our hours of practice on the court are worth it when it comes game time. But we rarely think about the "fruit" of our faith in the gospel in these terms.
Whenever I ask the teenagers in the youth group what they think the church expects of them, the two most common answers are to show up and be good. I believe most adults would answer the same way. Fill a space on the pew most Sundays. Do your best to be good. That's about it. But where's the fruit in that? That's not the same as accepting the Good News. This is more like accepting the Good Advice. Good advice might change your Sunday morning routine. Good news changes your entire life. I think we need to ask ourselves some hard questions:
- Is my community a better place to live because of the role the church fills?
- Is my work/school a better place because of my presence?
- Does my family work through conflict more effectively and with empathy?
- Am I becoming more patient in traffic?
- Do the latest news headlines keep me anxious, afraid, or outraged?
Faith, Hope, and Love are the defining virtues of a Christian life. If people aren't aware of your faith, if others see you as pessimistic, and if you abandon relationships at the slightest sign of conflict, then guess what... "A bad tree cannot bear good fruit."
We do have a standard against which we can measure our lives - that standard is Christ. We don't live a fruitful life as a way of earning his grace and salvation. We have already been given his grace and salvation - a fruitful life is simply the evidence of the Spirit living within us!
HOW YOU DOIN'?
Paul begins this letter by reassuring these Christ followers that they are doing ok. They're good. In the things that matter most - faith, hope, and love - they are nailing it.
What about you? When you measure your church, your family, your personal life against the standard of faith, hope, and love, how are you doing? What area might you need to focus on a bit? Has your faith in Christ been wavering? Have you given up hope in certain areas? Have you been showing love to others and yourself?
Don't be too hard on yourself. None of us is perfect. We each fall short in many ways. But another fruit of the Gospel is that we get to be a part of a holy community, a family of brothers and sisters who are all on this journey together.
To God’s holy people in Colossae, the faithful brothers and sisters in Christ:
Grace and peace to you from God our Father.