The Most Important Fruit Of The Spirit
22. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,
23. Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.
Of the nine listed fruits, which one do you think is the most important? Is it love? I mean, it is listed first, perhaps being inspired by the Spirit that way for a purpose. And after all, when it comes to faith, hope, and love, Paul wrote that the greatest of these is love (1 Corinthians 13:13).
Maybe it’s faith, since, without faith, it’s impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6)?
Could it be meekness, since the meek will inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5)?
Well, in many ways, and at different junctures, we might make a valid case for any of the above to be the most important. But I want to make the case that, of the nine, temperance or self-control, is the most important. Here’s why:
Of all of them, self-control is the most black and white, and cannot be faked, nor corrupted. Here’s what I mean.
Love? Love can be faked (2 Corinthians 6:6 and 1 Peter 1:22). Additionally (and sadly), love can be corrupted. One can allow themselves to feel such an emotive level of love (called phileo), that they neglect the greater love called agape. Agape is God’s kind of love. It is a love of principle and righteousness. It loves truth and holiness and isn’t blinded by what the Bible calls “inordinate affection” (Colossians 3:5).
We, however, sometimes are so blinded, and miss out on performing God’s agape in favor of man’s phileo.
In terms of joy, well, joy can be experienced through the flesh as giddiness. We can experience certain euphoric or ecstatic events in life set squarely in the realm of human emotion, even if it’s caused by drugs or hysteria.
Peace can easily be confused with a false sense of security. Humans often deceive themselves in this area. Just because everything appears, on the surface, to be okay, it doesn’t mean things actually are secure. Peace is not true peace until tested by the raging storms of life’s seas.
Longsuffering can be used by people with martyrs syndrome. You know the type. They act like they are being patient and suffering nobly for a cause, purpose, or reason, but in reality, it’s only a show, an act of pride for others to see just how “patient”, “caring”, and “longsuffering” they really are. But it’s all a sham. Such carnal displays are for attention only. They are not inspired by the Holy Spirit.
Gentleness, or moral kindness, like longsuffering, can have a deceitful appearance. Supposed acts of kindness can really amount to nothing more than attempts at manipulation. Some only act moral and decent because they know it can get them special favor, i.e. favorable returns on their actions. They don’t do anything out of the goodness of the heart; rather it’s a scratch my back kind of kindness. Definitely not of the Spirit.
Goodness, or uprightness of character is sometimes a stumblingblock to self. We can think so highly of our own uprightness of heart, or have others puff us up, that we fail to see just how lowly we actually are. Integrity can often be a cover for ambition and pride. Someone who, through supposed good character, might only be sticking to their righteous guns, as it were, for an ulterior motive, like selfishness, even if, in the long run they end up hurting someone or doing more damage than good. Some people just don’t know how to temper their iron resolve to be good with the love and patience that others, who are not morally good or upright, need and crave from those who are.
Faith, like love, can be faked (1 Timothy 1:5 and 2 Timothy 1:5). Faith, or trust in God, is one of those areas where you have a lot of talkers, fewer walkers. Many people, especially ministers, often tell others how they need to have faith, but, sadly, have precious little of their own. This lends itself to hypocrisy. Faith is easily preached, not easily lived.
Many people make great strides and go to great lengths to appear meek. In reality, they are simply dour-faced actors putting on a pretense. The woe is me crowd often appear meek to the untrained eye. So, in the final analysis, self-pity is the bastard cousin of meekness. All too often, we confuse the two.
So, what is it about self-control that’s different?
Well, as mentioned, self-control cannot be faked. It is easily and immediately provable as a fruit. When one is tested, or put into a difficult situation, one will either control themselves, or act out. There’s no faking it. No masks are available behind which one can hide. Either the mind and soul maintain control over self, or not. There’s no middle ground. In every circumstance, in every way, one either demonstrates temperance or not.
Additionally, self-control or temperance is the fruit that governs all the others. Temperance is what keeps a person in agape when their flesh rather act out in phileo.
Temperance doesn’t let a person fall into giddy, unrestrained euphoria, either. This fruit recognizes true Spirit-given joy from mere carnal ecstasy.
Self-control, as an act of will, maintains true peace. It doesn’t settle for a false sense of security. One who can control themselves, with the help of God, controls the circumstances surrounding their life, making sure things are in right, peaceful order as ordained by the Lord.
People who are truly self-controlled by the Spirit actually can be longsuffering, even in the most trying of trials. They don’t allow themselves to become a “martyr” for the sake of pride and arrogance.
When one is in control of self, they don’t manipulate others with feigned acts of kindness. If they aren’t capable of being kind in such and such a moment, they at least control themselves sufficiently to not act fake. Self-controlled people don’t flatter others.
In regards to moral uprightness of character, a highly esteemed, necessary fruit, goodness is easily tempered by self-control. Such uprightness never becomes a stumblingblock, and is never used unwisely to the hurt or destruction of others. No matter how morally right someone is, they don’t abuse that fact.
Temperance doesn’t allow for hypocrisy. Someone who is in complete possession of their faculties, knows to truly walk by faith, and not just fake it. Such a controlled person, if faith is waning, will recognize their personal decrease in trust toward God and do something about it.
Finally, in regards to meekness, it might simply be said that one cannot be meek if they don’t know how to control themselves. Meekness, after all, is the humility required in order to be teachable. One who cannot control themselves will never be teachable, if for no other reason than they can’t sit still long enough to listen to someone else attempt to instruct them.
As you can see, self-control, while last on the list, is certainly not the least. In fact, it just might be the most important. As another little test to prove this, ask yourself: Of the nine fruits of the Spirit, which one do you find is the hardest to maintain?
I thought so.
Peace and God bless.