How Do We Judge a Tree by Its Fruit with Marriage Advice?

by | Oct 18, 2022 | Theology of Marriage and Sex | 39 comments

What is the Good Fruit Test for Marriage Advice?
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How exactly do we judge something by its fruit?

One of the things we’re adamant about here at Bare Marriage is the concept of “evidence-based” and “healthy” advice–meaning that you can judge things by their fruit. If we’re going to figure out if a teaching is healthy or toxic, if it’s from God or if it’s a misinterpretation of what God wants, we need to look at the evidence and the fruit.

That’s why we wrote The Great Sex Rescue–we were actually measuring the effects of key marriage and sex teachings by looking at women’s marital and sexual satisfaction.

But it occurs to me, based on emails that I get, that there’s a big misunderstanding about what the “good fruit” test actually looks like.

This month, we’ve been looking at peer reviewed research and doing a research deep dive to see what new things we can learn. But how do we know that THIS is what good fruit is?

I recently received an email from a woman who was being told contradictory things by her family about good fruit.

She wrote:

I’m trying to figure out what “good fruit” actually means. 

I’ve had Christian friends say that it’s just about whether people are living according to the moral law laid out in the bible.

I want to believe that it’s about doing well and not suffering, because I come from an abusive environment and I’m so much better off and so much more at peace since I left. But I’ve had Christian leaders tell me I have no biblical basis to draw boundaries, because I’m not following Scripture.

My whole life people have told me that the point of life is to be holy, not happy, and we shouldn’t just be trying to minimize suffering. We should be looking towards heaven for our reward, not earth. 

Can you explain this to me?

(Letter has been edited to convey her question without her wording). 

I think this is an excellent question, and I want to spend today going over it in detail.

Is good fruit about following a moral law? 

That’s what this reader said she was told–that it’s not about how we’re flourishing, but it’s instead about whether or not we’re following the teachings of the Bible.

Here’s the logic that is usually used when people argue this: 

The “Logic” of the Moral Life = Good Fruit Argument

When people say that the goal of life is to live a moral life according to godly principles, it can sound good. But here’s what they generally mean by that:

  1. I believe that doing X and believing Y is what living a moral life looks like.
  2. I know I am right because I know this is from God.
  3. If evidence, or a line of reasoning, or a new teaching makes people question Y or stop doing X, then it is not of God.
  4. Therefore, it is not good fruit.

Now, here’s my big question about this line of reasoning:

Who is at the center of it? 

If I believe that I am right, and that what I believe is from God, and that if you disagree with me you’re disagreeing with God, then God is not at the center.

I am.

Here’s where we all too frequently go astray:

We equate our interpretation with Scripture with Scripture itself.

We don’t even realize we’re intrepreting Scripture with our own spin on it. We think we’re speaking with God’s authority and there’s nothing else to it. We equate what we think about the Bible with the mind of Christ Himself.

This is especially common among abusers, or in church circles that are very authoritarian and hierarchical. When the focus is on obeying those in authority, and not using your own judgment, then anytime someone disagrees with authority, it’s a sign that they’re disagreeing with God and going off the rails, and that’s bad fruit.

Passion 4 Dancing

Ironically, this argument is exactly what Jesus was demolishing in His teaching on judging by the fruit. 

When Jesus spoke about judging by fruit, He was addressing how to tell if a teaching is actually from God or not–in other words, how to tell if your interpretation of Scripture is correct. He was trying to deal with this phenomenon where religious leaders would equate their own opinions and interpretations with the mind of God Himself. 

Let’s take a look at the context: 

The Narrow and Wide Gates
13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

True and False Prophets
15 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.

True and False Disciples
21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

Matthew 7:13-23

Normally when we look at the “good fruit” passage we focus only on that middle part–verses 15-20. But I want to look at the parts that go before and the parts that go after as well.

Jesus opens the good fruit passage by warning us to look out for false prophets. 

The purpose of the “good fruit” test is to see if those who are claiming to speak for God are actually right.

Just because you claim to speak for God does not mean that you ARE speaking for God. So when people say, “good fruit means living the way I think you should live” (Or, more likely, they say “good fruit means living a moral life”, and they assume that their definition of moral life is from God), they are actually speaking for God. And Jesus tells us to watch out and judge the fruit!

Jesus goes on to tell us that many who think they are speaking for God are not.

The very next thing Jesus talks about is those who, at the last days, will be so confused and shocked that Jesus says He never knew them. He says that many people will be teaching and prophesying in Jesus’ name, and what they are teaching and prophesying is not from Jesus at all. They are actually evildoers.

This is big, folks. This is harsh. Do we realize what He is saying? This whole passage is about critiquing religious leaders who claim to speak for God.

All of this gives us a different context for the narrow/wide road that Jesus talks about first.

If you ONLY read the passage on the narrow and wide road, it’s easy to think that what Jesus is saying is that the whole world is going to hell in a handbasket, and it’s only a very few who will believe and call on the name of Christ and be saved.

So “believers” are the ones in the narrow way, and “unbelievers” are the ones in the wide way. This is certainly one way to read the passage–but it is not the only way. (Many Scriptures have multiple meanings).

And, in context, it may not even be the most important way. If you look at who Jesus is actually warning about in the next passages, it’s clear that many who think they are believers and who are speaking for God are actually on the wide road, not the narrow road.

This is exactly the situation my reader was writing about. 

Jesus tells us that we need to be wary of religious leaders who claim to speak for Him, and we need to judge by the fruit. 

So how exactly do we judge by the fruit?

What is the criteria that we should use to tell if what someone says is from God or not? Let’s look at a few scriptural principles.

Fruit is about results.

It is not just about someone believing the right thing (as James wrote, even the demons believe, and shudder). It is about something GOOD happening in their lives.

Fruit is about godly characteristics that are in abundance in your life.

Let’s look at Paul’s teaching on fruit. 

Paul defines the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” We know that people who have the Spirit and who follow Jesus should display these things.

Paul also defines the things that are evidence of bad fruit in verses 20-21: “The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

Galatians 5:20-23

Let’s just take an example close to home that we talk about at Bare Marriage quite a lot: Lust and porn use. Jesus said that we can judge a tree by its fruit, and Paul says that the fruit of the flesh, rather than the fruit of the Spirit, is impurity, debauchery, sexual immorality, and orgies. Paul tells us that a fruit of the Spirit is self-control.

Telling people that all men lust, or that porn use isn’t that bad because most guys do it, and what really tells us whether you’re a Christian or not is if you believe that Jesus died for your sins, and as long as you believe that, everything else is hunky dorey–well, that’s not actually what the Bible says.

When pastors dismiss lust and porn use, and blame it instead on women dressing immodestly, they are not demonstrating the fruits of the Spirit. They are demonstrating the acts of the flesh. We need to pay attention.

Fruit is about unity and love.

Jesus also said that people will recognize His followers by their love for one another (John 13:35), and He prayed over His followers that we may have unity.

The fruits of the Christian life is a community marked by love and unity, yet we often define the marks of a Christian community by BELIEFS–especially beliefs about hierarchy and control.

I am not saying that beliefs don’t matter or that doctrine doesn’t matter. But IF we have the right beliefs, THEN the fruits of unity and love will follow. If our community is marked instead by fear, abuse, and control–or, as Paul wrote in Galatians, jealousy, dissensions, and fits of rage–then it’s quite likely the root beliefs are wrong.

Today, much of the evangelical church is defining itself by making sure that the “right” people stay in power, and the right people stay in submission. Men must rule; women must submit. It’s fair to ask: Is this yielding good fruit? And if it’s not, what does that say about the underlying belief system?

Fruit is about flourishing.

This is one we often forget: Jesus came to give us life, and to give it to us abundantly. He wants us to flourish. Yes, He wants us to demonstrate righteousness and justice in our lives. But that doesn’t mean that He doesn’t care about our flourishing.

And what does flourishing mean? I think it means wholeness and health. It doesn’t mean our circumstances are perfect. But He came to set the captives free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour (Luke 4:18-19). When people say that all God cares about is your holiness, they’re missing the point. Holiness means following God, and following God should bring us freedom, not bondage.

When we follow God, our emotional health and our relationships should improve, not be made worse.

And that’s why we measured marital and sexual satisfaction for The Great Sex Rescue. Those who are following Jesus should flourish, not flounder. If following teachings means your relationships are worse–those teachings are likely not of God.

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The problem with the church is that we elevate belief over evidence.

We think believing the right things is more important than actually living the kind of life God wants you to–then actually seeing God’s will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. And that’s largely because we’ve defined God’s will as being about everyone believing what we believe, rather than Jesus’ own words about why He came in Luke 4.

Religious leaders have always done this. 

It was a problem in Jesus’ day, too, which is why He gave us the good fruit test. Religious leaders will always stress the right “beliefs” over love, because it allows them to have more control over people, and it provides a simple way to tell whether someone is “in” or “out.”

But the Bible is messier than that. The Bible tells us that if your beliefs don’t lead to good fruit, then your beliefs are off. You don’t actually know Christ.

So let’s start judging by the fruit.

That’s what Jesus told us to do. And let’s stop assuming that we speak for God, and instead, in humility, take a long, hard look at the fruits of our beliefs.

And a great way to do that is with our rubric–so sign up below to get access to it!

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What is the Good Fruit Test for Marriage Advice?

What do you think? Have you been in church settings where the “fruit” has been defined as people believing all the right things? Let’s talk in the comments!

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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39 Comments

  1. CMT

    Spot on! I love how you take this back to the broader context of Jesus’ words about good and bad fruit.

    Understanding that while we are meant to live moral lives, we also are meant to grow and flourish, is so freeing. I think the mindset I grew up with assumed that just following the rules regardless of what you were experiencing would lead to flourishing… eventually. Of course it didn’t, really, but since you were conditioned to think you were always the problem, when you didn’t get the joy you were promised, well that must mean you did it wrong, or deep down in your heart you don’t really love Jesus enough. Yuk.

    I can really empathize with the letter writer feeling pulled to this way of thinking, though. It takes a long time to deprogram yourself and really believe that God loves you and you are secure with him whether you get it all right or not.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Exactly! So many people teach that the only thing God cares about is that more and more people believe the right things and act with their rules. And when this doesn’t result in flourishing, we get told, like Emerson Eggerichs does, that billions of angels celebrate in heaven even if we’re miserable.

      Reply
      • Stefanie

        Because your treasure is in heaven.

        “Light and momentary troubles are not worth comparing to the eternal glory”

        “Consider it pure joy whenever you face trials”

        Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Yes! Those verses are true. But they are about persecution for the faith; it is not about enduring toxic churches or toxic relationships. They are so misused!

          They can be a great comfort when you go through things over which you have no control. But they should never be used to manipulate people to put up with toxicity.

          Reply
    • Stefanie

      CMT, you nailed it. “Assumed that following the rules…would lead to flourishing.”

      In my conservative church, good fruit was who was the holiest. So I produced very good fruit because I was a virgin when I got married. So whoever was the most legalistic was the most fruitful, so listen to those people.

      But also, that passage in Matthew was used to scare us into obedience.

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Yes, exactly. Good fruit = virginity to so many. While there are many positive things about saving sex for marriage, it is not the sum total at all of what Jesus was talking about. And many who are virgins do not have the fruit of the Spirit at all!

        Reply
  2. Cynthia

    Love the focus on evidence and results, and not just belief!

    What I also see in the letter is a basic division in how people see God and religion. Simply put: is God ABOVE those in power, or BEHIND the power structure?

    If we see God as being ABOVE, we look at things like fairness and compassion, and realize that everyone is required to treat others well, that nobody is above the law and that God cares for even the most vulnerable.

    If we see God as being BEHIND, then maintaining authority becomes the most important thing, and people who are in power essentially become God.

    FWIW, I find this division occurs across religions and belief systems. Once you get past the different terms used, people from the BEHIND group from different religions can sound remarkably alike and have very similar arguments, and people from the ABOVE group can also have a lot in common. I’m not Christian, but sometimes found people from my own religion pushing stuff that I wasn’t comfortable with while portraying themselves as more faithful to the religion and people who were uncomfortable as less religious and more assimilated. It was a bit of an “aha!” moment to realize that stressing authority and patriarchy weren’t about being faithful to our religion at all, but that it was something found in other authoritarian movements as well.

    Reply
  3. Nessie

    At a previous church, the preacher was incredibly gifted at redirection/DARVO if you questioned him. “I as preacher am held to higher accountability, so I am more aware of and aligned with the Holy Spirit and how God’s Word is understood. If you disagree with me, you really need to search your heart to find out what sin is blocking you from understanding truth.” If you disagreed vocally/publicly after that (lots of flying monkeys reported to him), he was equally gifted at turning people against you, with the focus being on how grieved his heart was. He ruined many lives actually. That’s some really rotten fruit right there.

    He would find out embarrassing details of people’s lives and pull a gossipy “Bless her heart.”. If you agreed with him on everything, you were ok to feel full “freedom” in God’s forgiveness; if you disagreed with him even in little matters, those old sins were brought up as, “You haven’t fully given this over to God yet, so I’m pulling you from leading/being on this team of people until you get yourself spiritually healthy (read-agree perfectly with me).” Sounded good and biblical. Was pure manipulation.

    “I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.” I noticed it says LIVE like this. I used to feel if I ever did a single thing on that list, I was not saved. For all of us who still struggle in various sins, it’s about if we are trying to change these behaviors. I know there are readers who struggle with porn, etc., and want to encourage them it is about the big picture, not our slip-ups.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes! That’s a great point. Many struggle with sin but they are honestly fighting and it isn’t a hallmark of their lives. Great encouragement ,thank you!

      Reply
    • Tim

      That’s so messed up! But what’s DARVO sorry?

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        DARVO is the term that is used for abuse, it’s a strategy employed when you are accused of being abusive: Deny, Attack, Reverse Victim and Offender. So eventually the one accusing someone else of being abusive ends up being painted as the abuser themselves.

        Reply
        • Tim

          Thanks for clarifying.

          Reply
  4. Nathan

    > > while we are meant to live moral lives, we also are meant to grow and flourish

    This is a huge key. Yes, we have rules and moral guidelines, and we should follow them, but God doesn’t make rules just for their own sake. These rules exist so that we can flourish and grow. If that’s not happening, then either you (or somebody else) isn’t following them as they should.

    It’s very similar to how some people will claim to be good Christians because of their strict rule adherence. They don’t drink, smoke, swear, or watch porn. They go to church every Sunday. They sing loudly, pray hard, and constantly wave their bibles around telling people how much they love Jesus. They can recite dozens of bible verses from memory. But if they aren’t doing good things, then that’s all just a hollow shell.

    Rules aren’t much good if people suffer under them.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      It really is like what Paul wrote in Philippians 3–he did all those good things, and he now considers them rubbish because he didn’t know Christ at the time.

      Reply
  5. Laura

    Galatians 5:22-23: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”

    As I look at the fruit of the Spirit, none of these line up with the hierarchy doctrine in marriage. When a relationship is based on who’s in charge, where is the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and SELF-control? I capitalized self in self-control to illustrate that the individual has control over his/her own self, not someone else.

    And here are the acts of flesh that result from the hierarchy in marriage doctrine: “HATRED, DISCORD, JEALOUSY, FITS OF RAGE, SELFISH AMBITION, DISSENSIONS… I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

    Hmmm, it sounds to me the hierarchy in marriage doctrine is the result of the flesh. So it’s important to not only look at the fruit of the Spirit, but also read the verses after what we always love to quote the most and put on coffee mugs and t-shirts (Thank you Industrial Evangelical Complex).

    Reply
    • exwifeofasexaddict

      This is the conclusion I drew when I was coming out of fundamentalism, too. The fundies around me did pretty much all the deeds of the flesh list, and not much of the fruit of the Spirit list. So fundy belief can’t be from God.

      Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Well said.

      Reply
  6. exwifeofasexaddict

    To the letter writer: the verse you need for your abuser is 1 Cor. 5:11. ” But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother or sister who is sexually immoral or greedy or an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler. Do not even eat with such a one.” Reviler=abuser. But this won’t be good enough for them. Abuse is about control, so no bible verse will ever be a good enough reason for them for you to pull away from people who hurt you. So best to just not answer. But I wanted you to know that such a verse does exist, and you are justified in going no contact with abusive family.

    Reply
    • Mara R

      I always thought the Proverbs were full of verses about staying away from angry, immoral, and foolish people.
      But, again, those who believe in gender hierarchy will squirm any way they can to say that those verses in Proverbs don’t apply to marriages and/or women.

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Yes, I think the definition of “fool” in Proverbs often resembles an abusive person. We should take that to heart!

        Reply
        • exwifeofasexaddict

          Nabal, and all….

          Reply
      • exwifeofasexaddict

        Like, “answer not a fool according to his folly”….

        Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Excellent!

      Reply
  7. Mara R

    Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
    I think this has been referred to here before. Look at Jesus and how He walked the earth as our example.

    Another verse for me that talks about the kind of fruit we should see when we Live the Truth by walking the Way that Jesus showed us to walk was this one:

    Mt 11:28 “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.
    29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
    30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

    Living under an abusive hierarchy is not easy or light. Leadership that is not gentle and humble in heart does not, in any way, represent Jesus. When I came across this verse while living with narcissistic abuse, it was Living Water to my soul and another tool to helped me to re-evaluate what was going on.

    Side note: John Piper uses the word “flourishing”. He told women that if they did gender hierarchy the way he preached, then they would flourish as a result. But he is definitely coming at it from his own interpretation. Anyway. Just be aware the the word “flourish” has Piper’s thumbprints all over it and therefore might be a trigger word for some.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, yes, people take words and twist them! It’s really sad. And I love that reference to Matthew 11:28-30! Those verses are great. Rebecca talks about them a lot too.

      Reply
  8. Jane Eyre

    Let’s flip this around: being around abusive people obviously produces bad fruit, right? They are abusive! You’re miserable! So stay away, because that tree produces bad fruit.

    When we talk about suffering, all suffering is not for equally important ends. If you lose your foot to diabetes, that is an unfortunate part of life and part of living in a broken world. If your abuser shoots your foot off, that is a grave injustice that was done to you. If you lose your foot when you run into a burning building to save a child, that is a tremendous sacrifice for the good of another, and Jesus said that there is no greater love than to lay down ones life for friends.

    In all cases, you don’t have a foot. But you aren’t somehow sanctified by staying with your abuser who may one day shoot your foot off because you then get to suffer the way someone did who saved a child’s life.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Well said!

      Reply
  9. Nathan

    Very good point, Jane. There’s a huge difference between suffering because you’re doing good for others versus suffering because another person is deliberately hurting you. And there’s no honor in forcing yourself to stay in an abusive relationship.

    Reply
  10. JoB

    So many questions… I might put my thoughts in two comments because I’m all over the place…

    First, some of the discussions on this blog over the years have prompted me to start questioning things I never thought I would question. I do realize that sincere Christians don’t all think alike on these issues, but I always thought most Christians fell on one side of some of these issues. If human flourishing is an indication of good fruit, how can I ask or counsel others (or mandate via the political process) to continue an unwanted pregnancy? Since the Dobbs ruling, the media has been awash with stories that cite evidence demonstrating that women who choose abortion, rather than parenting or adoption, are better off in all aspects of life-emotional health as well as financially, etc. The story I link next made a very stark contrast: one sister chose abortion, the other gave birth and parented. I realize it’s just an anecdote, but it made me think that it certainly seems like the one who chose abortion flourished more:
    https://www.npr.org/2022/06/18/1106045659/a-secret-abortion-shaped-the-rest-of-these-two-sisters-lives

    What about struggling to choose celibacy if you’re same-sex attracted?

    Or wrestling with whether you should embrace a transgender identity?

    To me, they all kind of fall into the same moral dilemma: I hear secular voices saying, choose what gives you peace as long as it doesn’t cause undue suffering to others. I imagine the tension that would be the case to be a Christian struggling personally with such a dilemma, and the relief I would feel if someone told me, “go ahead, it’s not wrong.” Similar to what some women have said about realizing they could divorce an emotionally abusive spouse – a feeling of immense relief to know they could choose what they had always been told was unchristian and not be in sin.

    So, I just really don’t know what to think about embracing flourishing and emotional healing as the proof. I would like to accept it, but…I just don’t know!

    Reply
    • Tim

      These are great questions. My initial thought is that there are very good reasons why a marriage that bears good fruit will result in joy for both in a way that, for example a business or ministry wouldn’t necessarily (in those examples you may be called to chip away at a giant problem where any victory is bittersweet).

      But that’s a partial answer at best. Interested in what others think.

      Reply
    • Jane Eyre

      You can’t look at things only through the lens od one person. An abuser may be happy to continue to br married to a victim; the abuser, however,is not growing in faith and learning to love him wife as himself. His wife is suffering. Likewise, a woman who aborts may be financially better off, but that is not spiritual fruit and her kid is dead, not fllourishing.

      Societally, we NEED to do better by women in crisis pregnancy. Also recall that the entire concept of crisis pregnancy arises from premarital sex or rape, and you can easily back up a step and say, obviously premarital sex bears bad fruit because it results in a woman choosing between abortion and her financial and psychological security.

      Reply
    • Lisa Johns

      Off the top of my head, I would say that continuing with an unwanted pregnancy falls in the category of doing good for another (the small human in the womb). And I don’t know how this will be taken, but I think that NPR is probably not the most truthful when it comes to portrayals of choices like that. I’d say I’d like to see studies done on that kind of claim, but to be really honest, I doubt we can trust ANYBODY to be entirely truthful in that area…
      I think our “counsel” in any of these situations might best be confined to sitting with individuals and helping them be honest with themselves as they wrestle out their own choices.

      Reply
  11. JoB

    The other thought I keep pondering: I remember a Bible study leader saying that difficult people function in our lives like sandpaper- their unpleasantness is used by God to slowly work away the selfishness that is ingrained in us and that we can’t even see in ourselves. I have understood “fruit” to mean an inward state that looks more like Jesus, more selfless, more patient and more loving. And that God brings this about through discipline, refinement and chastening- difficult, unpleasant circumstances and relationships that bring about transformation over a long period of time.

    I’m not really sure what I think about that, either.

    Reply
    • CMT

      “difficult people function in our lives like sandpaper- their unpleasantness is used by God to slowly work away the selfishness that is ingrained in us”

      Yeah I’ve heard that sort of thing too. Once I thought it sounded very spiritual.

      Now, it reminds me of when Sheila had Wendy Snyder on the podcast a few months ago. She talked about how parents can think they have to make their kids feel worse to get them to behave better (and how that doesnt work).

      Personally, I think the pattern Scripture gives us is that we grow by working out our calling, listening to the Spirit and being in loving communities with other believers. Not by allowing people to habitually mistreat us.

      Sure, there are times when we cant avoid unpleasant people. But saying God wants us to let them grind away our selfishness seems designed to gaslight people into thinking that having healthy boundaries is wrong.

      Reply
      • Jane Eyre

        The sandpaper thing makes sense in specific circumstances. My parents did not really let me have emotional needs or demands on their time and attention. The way I am wired, they were able to get away with that, but I sometimes wonder if a more unpleasant or less cooperative personality would have actually made them better people – the “everyone else sucks it up so their lives can be easy” plan would not work.

        For me, I sometimes have people rub me the wrong way, and I try to really drill down into why. Are they genuinely bad people and I should avoid them? Done. Are they merely socially awkward? Just so different from me that I have a hard time seeing where they are coming from? Exhausting? Well, I’m not entitled to a world full of perfect people, and God made this person that way, so… let it roll off my back and figure out how to have a working relationship with them.

        Reply
  12. Tim

    I’d never noticed this before, but the fruit of the spirit passage is also in the wider context of confronting false (specifically pro-circumcision) teaching.

    So, is it likely that Paul’s use of fruit as a metaphor is a direct reference to that statement in Mat 7?

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I would think so!

      Reply
  13. Tricia

    All very good questions, Job. And I think that we still have to look at what God’s word says. Living a moral life doesn’t go out the window. In Galatians Paul is clear that we don’t use our freedom in Christ to indulge the flesh, we use our freedom to serve one another in love. By the world’s definition of flourishing, yeah a young woman who chooses not to have a baby might have a better chance at a career. Her life would be less complicated. And I think the abortion issue is so much more nuanced than people paint it. There is grace for women who are scared, lonely, victims of abuse, can’t see another way forward. We should wrap her in love, not condemn her.

    I think our definition of flourish still has to line up with God’s. Right like we can’t just say well to me flourishing is sleeping around and getting drunk and doing all those things listed in the fruit of the flesh. That’s bad fruit, even though it may feel good to us at the time. Flourishing looks like bearing with one another in love. Serving one another.

    We have to look at God’s truth and His heart for His people. And when we look at scripture, we see very clearly that God doesn’t want His people to be abused. All of the verses about divorce protect the more vulnerable person – which historically has been women.

    There is clear Biblical evidence that divorce in cases of abuse are okay.

    I’m not sure if the same can be said for other things that the world is calling good right now. And I feel deeply for people who are wrestling with those things. (Though I do think telling pre pubescent children that it’s okay to surgically change their gender and sterilize their bodies is 100% pure evil but that’s another topic altogether)

    And I think there’s a difference between an unpleasant or difficult person, and a toxic and abusive one. My MIL is difficult. But God uses that sandpaper to give me more grace and look for ways to bless instead of focusing on how it’s challenging for me. A toxic person requires boundaries. We can love them well and not allow them to cause us harm.

    Just like in a marriage, there are times where iron sharpening iron is painful. Sometimes we want to be selfish. Sometimes the fruit of the spirit is produced through hard lessons. Oftentimes as a consequence to our choosing the flesh. A man will reap what he sows.

    I’ve been taught similar things my whole life. Follow the rules for the sake of following the rules. Life is going to be hard because it’s hardship and trials and suffering that make you holy. But it’s both and. Yes sometimes we suffer. Yes sometimes we go through trials. Yes sometimes we have to bear with others in their unpleasantness. But God also gives us life abundant. God also wants us to experience his joy. His good gifts.

    Reply
  14. Lucy

    Most of the comments here sound supportive of the letter writer’s situation, but there are a couple of comments that imply that it should be obvious to a victim that they need to get away from their abuser, and/or that they don’t need the abuser’s permission to do so. Due to the impacts of Betrayal Trauma [see Jennifer Freyd’s work, the researcher who coined DARVO (Deny, Attack, Reverse Victim and Offender)], victims often don’t even know that their abuser is their “abuser” (they may not have conscious awareness of it due to the impacts of dissocation, for survival reasons). They don’t know that what they are experiencing is abuse. They may have been so conditioned (by a number of very effective/insidious tactics used by abusers to keep victims trapped), especially if they were abused as children and depended on those abusers for their survival, to defer to their abusers for any major decision making, including decisions around their own boundaries with their abusers. It’s important to understand that sometimes victims are only able to identify their perpetrators of abuse once they are in a place of safety, and have gotten away. Let’s remember that it’s easy to look from the outside at someone else’s situation and say “it’s obvious!”, but that is 1) taking their own power away from them; and 2) assuming that if we were in the same situation we would make a different decision/handle it differently. For these reasons, articles like this are really important, because they uncover the insidious misuse of scripture by abusers and their enablers and help make a way to freedom for those entrapped by false teaching.

    Reply

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