The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.
Let us have no self-conceit, no provoking of one another, no envy of one another.
The next four reflections will discuss our relationships with our neighbors, as related to the Fruit of the Spirit, with a fifth and concluding reflection at the end of the week.
There is no separating love for God and love for neighbor. We cannot love God and hate our neighbor. God is love and our neighbor (and us) is created in the image and likeness of God, our neighbor is created through the love of God and carries God’s love within him or her.
So, if we are growing in the Fruit of the Spirit, pursuing our own sense of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, we can’t develop these things in ourselves without having regard for our neighbor.
Today’s Scripture verse points to three specific things that we are supposed to bear in mind as we grow our Fruit. First, we should not be conceited, meaning proud or boastful about our Fruit. Second, we are reminded that if we are proud or boastful, that will provoke us against our neighbor, or provoke our neighbor against us. And third, we are reminded not to envy one another.
We are to eagerly grow spiritual fruit but do it in a way that is humble rather than boastful. God knows the intentions of each heart. In Matthew, Chapter 6, we are reminded three times that “Your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (6:4, 6, and 18) We are reminded not to boast about giving alms, praying or fasting, that God sees the things we do and will reward us accordingly.
Many people are obsessed with getting credit for things – this is why in many of our churches, people want their names painted on the icons they have donated, or the pews in which they sit. I’ve never understood this actually. How could I dare put my name on an icon of a saint, or the Virgin Mary, or Christ Himself? I am accounted as nothing compared to them. And the pews in which we worship Him, how could I put my name on one of those? It’s His church, the pews, the icons, and everything else in it. The only credit we need is for God to remember us in His Kingdom. In fact we pray that at the Great Entrance, for the Lord our God to remember us in His Kingdom.
Boasting provokes competition, and where there is competition, there are winners and losers. The goal is for everyone to “win” salvation. Yes, there can only be one winner when two teams square off in an athletic competition, but everyone can win when it comes to salvation. In fact, one goal of the Christian life is to encourage our neighbors and help them “win,” just as they help us.
Finally, envy doesn’t get us far, not with God and not with one another. Each of us has been given a different path to salvation and different gifts by which to follow that path. My path is being a priest. I am not a scientist, not very good at drawing, can’t stand the sight of blood so I was never going to be a doctor. He gave me specific gifts and a specific calling in which to use them on a specific path to a common goal. Each of us has a specific calling, a specific set of gifts (and challenges), a specific path, which potentially leads to a common destination, heaven. In regard to our neighbors, we should encourage one another to do the best with what we’ve been given, to celebrate our unique gifts, to support one another in our unique challenges, to encourage one another on our unique paths, and to help one another toward that common destination.
The opposite of envy is to be content, to celebrate and use what we have, rather than bemoaning what we don’t have and being envious of our neighbor who has something we wish we had.
Lord, thank You for the unique and special gifts You have given to me (list some of them). Please be with me in the unique challenges that I face (list some of them). Help me to be humble and to use my gifts in a way that honors You and helps others. Help me to be an encourager and unifier, rather than provoking others. And help me to be content with what I have, rather than wishing for what I don’t have. Help me to use my gifts that You have given me to the best of my ability, so that I may honor You in all things today and help my neighbor as well. Amen.
Be humble, be content, and be helpful today!
Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015. The Prayer Team now has its own dedicated website!
Fr. Stavros has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany”: “https://amzn.to/2t1rXwh and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.” https://amzn.to/2WAcfG0
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