By Michael E. Brooks
“He answered and said to them, ‘When it is evening you say, “It will be fair weather, for the sky is red;” and in the morning, “It will be foul weather today, for the sky is red and threatening.” Hypocrites! You know how to discern the face of the sky, but you cannot discern the signs of the times'” (Matthew 16:2-3).
Today, it has rained all day here in Bangladesh. That is not uncommon in the summer monsoon season, but it is now late fall. Earlier today I wrote friends and told them, “Our monsoon season is over”, then later in the same letter I mentioned that it was raining and had been for several hours.
That sounds contradictory but never-the-less is true. This rain is the result of a low pressure system in the Bay of Bengal, a totally different phenomenon from the summer monsoons. The results are similar but the cause is different.
Spiritual signs may be just as difficult to understand and interpret as the physical indicators of weather. Jesus rebuked the religious leaders of his day for their inability to “discern the signs of the times.” They specialized in nature but neglected, or studied erroneously, that which was spiritual.
The same misunderstandings occur often today. Someone is impressed by the zeal and enthusiasm of a particular group’s worship. “They are so spiritual” it is said. “God is so present among them.” Are zeal, volume, and emotional excitement truly signs of the presence of God and his Spirit? Or may they merely be signs of the passion of a crowd for primarily physical reasons?
Yelling fans at a football game are rarely considered spiritual, yet their enthusiasm may be very similar to some so called worship settings. Remember reading of the Great Revival of the early 1800’s in frontier America? People would dance, go into hysterics, and even faint from excitement. Was that a sign of their spirituality? Most today would say no, but rather of their being caught up in an emotional environment.
The New Testament gives us true signs of spirituality in Galatians 5:22-23, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.”
Note that Paul says that self-control is a fruit (i.e., sign) of the Spirit’s presence in our life. It is not excitement, enthusiasm or entertaining expressions of one’s emotions which reveal our possession of God’s Spirit. Rather it is such lasting values as joy, peace, kindness and love.
One is spiritual who is devoted to the things of God (Romans 8:1-11; Colossians 3:1-2). It is Christ’s Spirit dwelling in us which identifies us as Children of God (Romans 8:10-11, 16). Though the Holy Spirit as a member of the Godhead is undoubtedly a gift which all Christians receive (Acts 2:38, 5:32), Paul’s description in Romans 8 clearly describes the possession of Jesus’ nature as a necessary sign of the “spiritual mind” which alone is pleasing to God. That is to say that being spiritual involves having a Christ-like character. It has little or nothing to do with emotion or excitement. It has everything to do with faith, love and kindness.
By Michael E. Brooks