These are hard words. They're easy to say, and easy to ask for, but much harder to give—at least sometimes. I'm convinced that, much of the time, I'm just about the most easy-going person in the world. At least, I feel like the most easy-going person I know. But other times...
...in different circumstances, I feel like I don't have an ounce of patience or a glimmer of mercy. It's as if I've run out that day, and I just don't feel like having any more of those wonderful emotions for anyone—no matter how unsuspecting and how undeserving my next victim may be.
But maybe that's the problem. If our patience, mercy, longsuffering and forgiveness are only human emotions, coming from our human spiritual resources, we will surely run out. Human patience falls short. Godly patience does not. Human mercy fails. God's does not. It's not as if we don't ever have mercy, patience, or other admirable traits. It's just that ours tend to run thin at times.
Interestingly, every one of the fruits of God's spirit, listed in Galatians 5:22–23 would also be considered an admirable personality trait in a man—a "good fruit" of the spirit in man.
"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control" ( v. 22–23).
If a person could somehow make a "humanity's best moments" DVD, and we sat down on the couch with a big bowl of popcorn watching the panorama of history, we'd watch a timeline of moments when love, peace and kindness guided the actions of real-life heroes of the ages. We'd marvel at the self-control of Gandhi. We'd watch in grateful appreciation the longsuffering of our forefathers as they endured the painful winter of 1777 in Valley Forge. And we'd be moved by the kindness and faithfulness of Anne Sullivan toward the deaf and blind Helen Keller, dedicating much of her life to give Helen a door to the dark and silent world around her.
All of us aspire to be like that—to love like that—to have a constant, endless supply of joy. And to have self-control at all times—not just when we feel strong, but even when we feel weak. But we always come to human limits.
Sometimes we feel like being good, kind and gentle. But sometimes we don't. And therein lies the difference between us and God, between the human spirit and God's Spirit.
Earlier in Paul's letter to the Galatians, he wrote, "I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish" (Galatians 5:16–17). The word "lust" here is not limited to sexual craving. It embodies the range of human wants, feelings, and priorities … human desire. In Paul's letters to Timothy, he warned against the desire to be rich (1 Timothy 6:9), youthful desires (2 Timothy 2:22) and desire for new doctrine (2 Timothy 4:3). In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul warned against "deceitful lusts" (Ephesians 4:22).
In other words, he was dealing with our human proclivity to take on godly characteristics "part-time." Paul acknowledged that he fell prey to that same human problem and had to battle to overcome his flesh (Romans 7:14–25). Christ warned us that we face the same battle, saying, "Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak" (Matthew 26:41).
Is the goodness of our human spirit "good enough"? Are our "good days" good enough for God? Is our "occasional joy" okay with God? Does God "understand" that we sometimes just don't feel very kind or gentle? Are we content with occasional lapses of self-control, as long as we're usually pretty good—better than the average guy anyway.
Or are we, in fact, only as godly as our least merciful moment?
It doesn't have to be that way. Paul told the church at Philippi, "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 2:5). Let this mind—this whole, complete, constant way of thinking as God thinks—be in you. Please send for our free booklet, What Is a True Christian?
Let's never have a "least merciful moment."