I wonder what comes to mind when one meditates on the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23). Does the thought of gender even come into the picture?
Yet it seems that the ideal the church has placed on masculinity is often at odds with the fruit of the Spirit. We live in an age where the church is obsessed with “men being men” and “women being women.” This is evident in the plethora of Christian books on the issues of manhood, womanhood, dating, and marriage that emphasize a man’s wild heart and hunter/warrior spirit. But is this really how a man is supposed to be? Is this overly macho, blue-faced Mel Gibson from Braveheart (who, if you recall, did the whole movie in a skirt…I mean kilt) the only idea of maleness?
As a male preschool teacher who loves to sing, knit, and hug people, I am a bit disturbed at the concept that God created me with a wild heart and warrior instinct. For if this is the case, then as a sensitive, emotional, nurturing man, I am obviously defective. As a young teen in junior high, I learned quickly that my personality didn’t fit the mold. Because I was a softer male type, the other students constantly harassed me. However I was determined to be who I was in spite of the opposition because there was just something inside of me that said that I was fine the way I was.
My personal church congregation was wonderful and let me be who I was, loving and supporting me through this difficult time in my life. But I wonder what the majority of the church would think of me. Based on their assumptions about what it means to be a man, many Christians might even tell me that I’m out of God’s will.
In her book My Brother’s Keeper, Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen discusses an experiment with a group of college students to see how the fruits of the Spirit were perceived. A list of random traits, which included synonyms for the fruits of the Spirit, was given to the students and they were asked to label each trait as masculine, feminine, or neutral. Overall, most of the fruits of the Spirit were labeled neutral, yet many of the guys in the class labeled them as feminine traits. This is unfortunate, as God tells us all to exhibit these qualities—that these traits are Christian and not specific to one gender.
Here are the nine fruits of the Spirit, their Greek word, and their meaning:
- Love (agape): brotherly and sisterly love, affection, benevolence (males are to be affectionate!)
- Joy (chara): gladness (men: don’t get mad—or aggressive, macho, or rough—get glad!)
- Peace (eirene): a state of national tranquility, exemption from the rage and havoc of war (so much for the mighty warrior looking for a battle to fight!)
- Longsuffering (makrothumia): patience, forbearance, slowness in avenging wrongs (help me with this one, Lord!)
- Kindness (chrestotes): "the good," as being morally honorable, pleasing to God, and therefore beneficial (is it honorable and pleasing to God to rule over your spouse and demand submission?)
- Goodness (agathosune): uprightness of heart and life, goodness, kindness (I once heard a preacher say men weren’t suppose to be nice guys. Well, whose report will we believe? We shall believe the report of the Lord!)
- Faith (pistis): conviction of truth, belief; in the New Testament, of a conviction or belief respecting our relationship to God and divine things, generally included with the idea of trust and holy fervor (do you struggle with the mountain of gender stereotyping? With faith the size of a mustard seed, how about we tell that mountain to jump into the sea!)
- Meekness (prautes): gentleness, mildness (God’s definition of a gentleman!)
- Self-control (egkrateia): the virtue of one who masters desires and passions, especially sensual appetites (he can’t help it he’s just a visual creature built for sex, right? Wrong!)
I’ll leave you with this encouragement: God created us the way we are for a reason. We do not answer to culture. We answer to God, and he tells us how to be and to live. So it is my hope that we will all become secure in who God has made us to be. May God bless you all to overflow with the fruit of the Spirit!