Passive or Pursuing?

I’ve read Daily Light on the Daily Path nearly every day for about 30 years now. But I saw something in the reading for September 1 that I don’t remember noticing before.

The topic for September 1 morning reading was meekness. The first verse portion came from Galatians 5:22, which lists meekness as a fruit of the Holy Spirit.

Years ago I read of a mother teaching her children that because the fruit of the Spirit was something that He grew in us, they could sit back and relax since there was nothing they could do to produce this fruit.

While I agreed that only the Holy Spirit could produce His fruit in us, something bothered me about a totally passive response.

Then on this first September morning, another phrase stood out to me from the day’s reading in 1 Timothy 6:11: “Follow after meekness.” Other versions say “pursue” instead of “follow after” and translate “meekness” as “gentleness.”

Here was a verse telling us to pursue, to follow after, something that’s part of the fruit of the Spirit. Pursuing doesn’t indicate a passive approach.

In context in 1 Timothy 6, Paul has warned Timothy about wrong doctrine and false teachers. The motivation for some of these false teachers was monetary gain. Paul encourages contentment and warns that the pursuit of money brings a snare. He warns “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs” (verse 10).

Then the word “but” provides a pivot: “But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.”

Some of these characteristics are also part of the fruit of the Spirit (“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control,” Galatians 5:22-23). They are given to us, yet we’re also told to pursue them.

I’m not generally good with plants. But I know only God can make something grow. Farming has been an act of faith for hundreds of years. Farmers till the ground, sow seed, water, fertilize, and weed. But they have no control over whether drought or storms or disease or insects affect their crops beyond their ability to care for them.

Many of us have had the experience of planting a new flower or vegetable according to instructions, eagerly awaiting the first green shoots, only to be disappointed when nothing happened.

But, though only God can make something grow, He doesn’t usually produce a bumper crop without requiring human input. He doesn’t need our input, but He requires it. Even in the garden of Eden, before sin brought weeds and thorns, man’s job was to “work it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15). Sure, God places lovely wildflowers in overlooked corners and lush growth in uninhabited rain forests. But many things that seem to grow without effort are the wrong sorts of things–weeds and vines that choke out other growth.

We’re saved by grace through faith plus nothing (Ephesians 2:8-9). And our sanctification is from God as well.

But He wants our cooperation, our obedience.

Warren Wiersbe, in his commentary on Timothy, Be Faithful, sheds some light. A little later in 1 Timothy 6, verse 19, Paul says, “Laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life” (KJV). Wiersbe comments, “‘That they may lay hold on eternal life’ (1 Tim. 6: 19) does not suggest that these people are not saved. ‘That they may lay hold on the life that is real’ would express it perfectly.” The ESV translates it closer to that meaning: “thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.”

So that’s probably similar to what we’re dealing with concerning the fruit of the Spirit. God gives it: we don’t work it up in our own efforts. But in love and obedience, we lay hold of and pursue and cooperate with the Spirit’s working in our lives.

How do we pursue the qualities God wants us to have?

Intentionality. We don’t drift into holiness. “Pursue” indicates planning and purpose.

Turn away from wrong things. The command to pursue certain things followed the command to flee other things.

Pray. We can’t be or do what God wants us to in our own strength. We need to ask Him to fill us with His Spirit.

Read God’s Word. God speaks to us through His Word, giving us wisdom and knowledge. If we’re having trouble in a particular area, maybe we need to study and memorize verses in that area.

Behold Him. 2 Corinthians 3:18 says we’re changed to be more like our Savior when we behold Him. The Bible is not just a self-help book or a manual for overcoming our faults. The Word of God is the means by which we behold Him: we need to seek Him, not just formulas.

Yield to Him. John 14:26 says that the Holy Spirit will remind us of what God has taught us. When we’re angry and about to give way to our temper, and the Holy Spirit brings to mind a verse warning about the dangers of anger, we need to yield to Him. When we’re about to indulge in a third dessert, and God brings to mind verses about gluttony and self-control, we need to yield to Him. “Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God” (Romans 6:13).

So is the fruit of the Spirit something we passively receive?

Yes.

But if we’re not in God’s Word, growing in grace and knowledge of Him, yielding to Him as He convicts us in our daily walk, that fruit is not going to ripen and mature. We can’t do even those things without His enabling and help. But He wants us to actively pursue His will.

At least, that’s how I understand it after this study. What do you think?

(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)

19 thoughts on “Passive or Pursuing?

  1. Enjoyed very much Ms. Barbara. Some great insights here ma’am. I especially enjoyed your thoughts about the importance of our active participation in growing. In the same way the soil conditions have to be right to allow for nutrient uptake (the way the plant uses N-P-K in the soil), we too must till and prepare the soil of our soul to maximize growth. Loved this post ma’am. You stirred this old farmer to deep thought this morning.

  2. “But many things that seem to grow without effort are the wrong sorts of things–weeds and vines that choke out other growth.” So true! We can get entangled into a web if we do not keep moving toward God. Yes, we receive from God, but faith without pursuit–is that faith at all? I think over and over the bible teaches us to pray, and obey, the latter being acting out His image into the world. And through our experiences, we draw closer, learn more of who He is, and then increasingly share His love into the world.

    • I like that thought of it being a cyclical thing–He enables us, and as we respond in obedience and faith and love, we know Him better, which grows our love for Him, resulting in doing His will even more.

  3. So I assume Daily Light is a book, not a devotional put out each month/season? It is new to me. This is an interesting topic and you have covered it well. It’s a fine line, but yes, I think God does the growing etc, but we have to cooperate/do our part in order for habits, character qualities, etc. to take root. We’re told not to quench the Spirit, and I think we can definitely quench what God is trying to do when we fight against Him.

    • I’m sorry, I should have defined what Daily Light was. I had a few lines about it but then deleted them. It’s a 366-day devotional book compiled by Jonathan Bagster in 1875 for his family’s devotional time. It was published by his son later on. I first became aware of it in reading missionary biographies and was delighted to find a used 1906 copy for $2 once. 🙂 Each day’s reading is made up only of Bible verses, no commentary. The day’s reading will either follow a certain theme (like meekness on the day I mentioned above) or will follow a progression of thought.

      My husband and I read it together for a while, but he didn’t like reading verses out of context. He preferred to read a whole passage rather than a collection of verses.

      But, though I prefer to read in context, too, this book has been a tremendous blessing to me over the years. I like to start my devotional time in it to get my thoughts geared the right direction, and then go on to the Bible passage I’m reading for the day. Some days, like Sundays or days we’re traveling or I have an early medical appointment, reading DL will be all I do.

      Though DL started as a book with KJV verses, now it can be found in other translations and with evening readings, too. And Crossway publishes it online (https://www.crosswalk.com/devotionals/dailylightdailypath/).

      Now I’m thinking maybe I’ll write a post about it some time. Thanks for the inspiration. 🙂

  4. I think your gardening and farming analogy is perfect for this topic. God gives the growth but it is our responsibility to prepare the soil and the conditions to cultivate the growth as well.

    • Thanks, Kym. So many think of anything we do as a “work”–but responding to God in love and obedience isn’t a work. I guess it would be if we were trusting in our own efforts or trying to earn favor with God. But we obey out of love for Him.

  5. I definitely think that active participation is a very important part of our growth in the Lord and how we respond to Him. For something to grow there has to be tending. God helps us cultivate the fruit of the Spirit with our participation with HIm.

  6. Pingback: Daily Light on the Daily Path | Stray Thoughts

  7. Barbara, your explanation on the Fruit of the Spirit is one I have held for some time. Yes, we receive it passively, but No, it will not grow well without our active and intentional participation.
    The choices we make affect the outcome of our spiritual fruit crop! Thank you for the great practical tips for successful spiritual gardening!

  8. Barbara, I love your thoughts and insights here. It is so important to know that we are given out Spiritual fruits but that we need to pursue them. A beautiful way to demonstrate this through gardening – thank you❤

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