The fruits of the spirit are one of the most oft-quoted groupings of spiritual values in the whole of Christianity. The fact that they’re described as fruits indicates that they grow with time, and eventually provide nourishment. The fact that they’re of the Spirit means that we can’t produce them on our own. After reading over them a few times, it occurred to me that taking a closer look at how the fruits of the Spirit relate to the realm of environmental stewardship can be a very fruitful (sorry) exercise. Let me start with Paul’s exhortation to the Galatians, reminding them of how their lives should flow:
“…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”
Love. Caring for creation shows that we have love for the rest of humanity. Jesus said that this is how Christians would be known. If science turns on its heels and it becomes clear that climate change is not a significant issue, that won’t deprive the creation care movement of its relevance. I remember my initial shock when I discovered that we can be held accountable not only for the things we’ve done, but also the things we’ve failed to do (so-called sins of omission). The significance of this particular endeavor is that it shows that we cared enough, or loved enough, to act on what we knew.
“By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Joy. Being joyful is different from being happy. Here’s how: joy lasts. If you’re in an attitude slump, getting involved in something long-standing and meaningful is a great way to try to get back on track. With the global awakening to “green” practices, the creation care movement is certain to be a long-standing activity. And speaking of significance, there’s a little section above on the topic of love.
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!”
Peace. I honestly can’t say that working in the realm of environmental stewardship gives me a greater sense of peace, and I can’t promise that it will for you. But hypothetically, what if you lived on an island that was 12 inches above sea level, and the water was rising? What if you had a family member with severe asthma (and it is rapidly increasing)? What if your livelihood depended upon seasonal rains that aren’t coming anymore (and climate science implies humans as the cause), as is the case in sub-Saharan Africa? You would take a great deal of joy knowing that someone was trying to bring your life a little more piece, even if in the smallest way possible.
“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”
Patience. Actively practicing environmental stewardship increases patience. Changing your incandescent bulbs to CFLs or LEDs won’t reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere when you wake up in the morning. Neither will putting that stack of paper in the recycling bin instead of the dumpster provide life’s necessities for a family on the Indian subcontinent. I can promise you, however, that it is a step in the right direction. Your effort won’t go unacknowledged.
“…Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything…”
Kindness and Goodness. Kindness is the verb to goodness’ noun. It’s been said by some scholars of the Greek that kindness is goodness in action. When we’re younger, we divide everything into two categories: good (the ice cream) and bad (the broccoli). No one really wants to be bad. If you’re a good person, and I like to think most people are, the way you show that is by acts of kindness: giving change to that stranger, opening the door for the elderly couple. Jesus seemed to sum up worship as a state of being ready to unleash kindness. When we consider the financial resources that could be saved by driving less, being more watchful of the running water and so on, it’s easy to see an emerging opportunity for kindness.
“…by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ”
Faithfulness. This one is “easy.” Our first command as creatures created in God’s image was to take care of the rest of creation (at the time, to tend the Garden). We can faithfully answer this call by implementing simple practices that help reduce our environmental footprint (the impact we have on Earth).
“…From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”
Gentleness. This is a word that encounters a lot of barriers in our fast-paced, high-octane world of passing the next man and being the first to the top. It doesn’t imply getting stepped on a daily basis, but it is dripping with the insinuation that being capable of power doesn’t always mean acting on it. Think of the possibilities if instead of exhausting the world’s non-renewable resources, we invested more time and energy into implementing renewable sources of energy. Perhaps the excess in conventional sources could be used to lift up the impoverished places of the world.
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”
Self-control. I suspect most people reading this will be from a Western, and likely American background. America is a wonderful country, but we have a consumption problem, and I confess to being a part of that problem. There are many ways to try to reduce consumption of various products, and there’s a good chance you’ve seen numerous lists. Ultimately, it depends on self-control, and our ability as a community to not feel obligated to grab everything in sight. By following that line of thought, we can reduce our dependence on far-away sources of commodities, which has been shown over and over again to stimulate local economies. This in turn, has been shown to lead to more environmentally conscious localities.
“Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed.”
-1 Peter 1:13
Hopefully that was an encouragement to you, or a spur in your side, or both. It was both for me. I mentioned in the opening that because these gifts originated from the Spirit of God, we couldn’t produce them on our own. There’s a sunnier side to that statement as well. Because these things are of God, I believe that if we put the effort in, the chances of a bad harvest are slim to none.