We live at a time when we need more and better examples to follow. Pure, resolute, focused, and fervent men and women who serve God with sincerity and self-denial are hard to come by. Paul was such an example. Those who knew him attested to such a life. God Himself also affirmed Paul’s example. 1 Thessalonians 2.1-12 is filled with phrases like you yourselves know and God is witness.
The passage culminates with these three verses: “You are witnesses, and God also, how devoutly and justly and blamelessly we behaved ourselves among you who believe; as you know how we exhorted, and comforted, and charged every one of you, as a father does his own children, that you would walk worthy of God who calls you into His kingdom and glory” (1 Thessalonians 2.10-12).
Both believers in the church and God Himself could attest to Paul’s devotion for God’s people even in trying times. These three verses capture the character, conduct, and catalyst of a good Christian example.
The Character of the Christian
Character is formed by God the Holy Spirit. We cannot build character in others or in ourselves for that matter. If we believe that we can, we step over the boundary and rob God of the glory which belongs only to Him. Our part is to die, to be crucified with Christ and live by faith in the Son of God, who loved us and gave Himself for us (Galatians 2.20). If Christ lives in us, we are devout, just, blameless, and sacrificial.
A Worthy Walk is Devout
Devout is a relational term. A worthy walk is a devout and holy walk. Our time spent in prayer and listening to God through His Word yields the fruit of the Spirit. We are holy because He is holy. This holiness translates into moral qualities or virtues which resemble Christ. If these are missing, then we are not walking by the Spirit or rightly related to God. Paul lists nine such virtues in Galatians 5.22-23. The list is not exhaustive but representative. A worthy walk is devout.
- Devout people love sacrificially. The love of God is poured out in our hearts and is never lacking. We always have love to give because God always supplies it through His Holy Spirit. Some people are impossible to love from a human perspective, but all things are possible with the love of God working in and through us.
- Devout people are joy-filled people. True joy is based upon our experience with the grace of God. Tribulation or testing will not cause true joy to fade. We cannot shoe-horn our preconceptions of human happiness upon the deep and satisfying spring of joy welling up within us.
- Devout people are peace-filled people. First, we realize that our hearts are unfettered by anxiety and worry. There is a blessed quietness within. Truly, the work of Christ’s righteousness is quietness and assurance forever (see Isaiah 32.16-17). Second, we realize that we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Peace takes the form of reconciliation with our Creator. Therefore, as much as lies within us, we are at peace with all men (see Romans 12.18).
- Devout people are long-suffering people. When we are provoked, we stay patient with believer and unbeliever alike. We don’t complain or show signs of irritation with one another. A long-suffering person doesn’t simply put up with people, he is willing to suffer for a long time at their hands as he waits for them to repent. This nuance is incredibly important and humanly impossible.
- Devout people are kind people. Genuine kindness is fueled by genuine humility. You have nothing to give people so you depend upon the Giver to give through you. That’s kindness! We rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. “Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion” (Romans 12.15-16).
- Devout people are good people. Our disposition is for the good of others. Our walk is devout in the sense that it is filled with an overwhelming desire to benefit others. It is a generous, giving spirit. Silver and gold I may not have to give; however, what I do have to give I freely give.
- Devout people are faithful people. Dependability and trustworthiness are virtues cultivated by the Holy Spirit within believers. We are people who are reliable. You can count on us.
- Devout people are gentle people. Gentle people are cognizant of human frailties. But knowing we are weak, we find strength. Therefore, most gladly we boast in our weaknesses so that the power of Christ may rest upon us (2 Corinthians 12.9). Jesus said, “Come to Me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart” (Matthew 11.28-29). Gentle people rest in the power of God because they know that either God fights for you or against you. Let it be the former and not the latter.
- Devout people are self-controlled people. This self-control is produced by the Holy Spirit. It seems contradictory to say that the Spirit-controlled life is a self-controlled life. But it is not. God gives us the tools, we must use them. God doesn’t stop us from eating another piece of cake. He certainly doesn’t make us go to the gym. He enables us to stop eating and go work out. If we cannot control our passions, then we are fueled by the flesh and not the Holy Spirit.
All nine of these virtues are referred to as the singular fruit of the Spirit. That means that all nine characteristics will be manifested in every Spirit-filled believer. Paul states that against such things as these virtues, there is no law. That means there is more than the nine virtues in the Spirit-filled life. So much more!
Paul wrote that we fulfill the Law in one word, namely by loving others as we love ourselves (see Galatians 5.14). He adds that if we walk by the Spirit, we shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh (Galatians 5.16). We fulfill the Law and don’t fulfill the flesh. The fact is that if we are led by the Spirit, we are not under any law (Galatians 5.18). The Holy Spirit alone produces devout Christians. The Holy Spirit alone produces a worthy walk. We are led by the Holy Spirit; therefore we go beyond the letter of the Law. These virtues and all the others in the Scriptures are not new Laws for us to keep. We cannot, but God can and does. Instead of looking to a list, look to God. Against such there is no Law!