A Pastor’s Example and the Fruit of the Spirit

Pastors, of all people, should lead by example. As the author of the letter to the Hebrews urges his readers, “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith” (Heb. 13:7). Pastors should live their lives before their congregation in such a way that church members can “imitate their faith” and follow their example. Too often, as pastors we are preoccupied with preaching our sermons on Sunday morning. But what about preaching with our lives, our character, and in the way we relate to others? Of course, this is what the lists of qualifications for church leaders in Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus is concerned about (1 Tim. 3:1–13; Titus 1:6–9). Indeed, these are important passages of Scripture that set an appropriate standard for a leader’s character and conduct.

The Fruit of the Spirit and the Person and Work of the Spirit

Yet there is another New Testament passage that is highly instructive with regard to a pastor’s character yet that is mined less seldom, Paul’s list of the “fruit of the Spirit” in his letter to the Galatians, where he writes, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal. 5:22–23). Paul’s words come on the heels of his encouragement for believers to “walk by the Spirit” and be “led by the Spirit” (Gal. 5:16, 18) and is followed by Paul’s exhortation, “If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit” (Gal. 5:25). When reading Paul’s list, it’s easy to focus on the different fruits of the Spirit, but the proper starting point is clearly the one who produces those fruits in the first place—the Spirit himself.

There are nine fruits but only one Spirit—the Spirit who regenerates, indwells, and sanctifies us. Jesus fulfilled Jeremiah’s prophecy that “this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jer. 31:33). As Ezekiel echoed, “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean . . . . And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God” (Ezek. 36:25–28).

The Fruit of the Spirit and the Pastor’s Life and Example

As believers, and especially as pastors, we need to understand that it is the Spirit who is at work in us to cause us to walk in God’s statues and to obey God’s rules. It is the Spirit who administers to us the blessings of the new covenant by writing God’s law on our hearts. It is also God’s Spirit who produces the ninefold fruits in our lives that Paul lists in his letter to the Galatians. In the coming months, we will have the opportunity to reflect more deeply on each one of these fruits, starting with the preeminent Christian virtue of love. As we grow in these virtues, we will increasingly be able to lead by example and to glorify Christ, not only by what we do but by who we are. “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom. 8:29), the one who perfectly displayed all of the fruit of the Spirit.

Note: This post was originally published on the Focused Pastor website.

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