St Andrew, Glencairn

Glencairn Methodist Church

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April 2009


Rules, Rights and the Fruit of the Spirit


For many centuries, human communities and societies have used "rules" to help order themselves in a peaceful and fruitful way. The Jewish and Christian faith communities have used the Ten Commandments (see Exodus 20: 1-17) as the basis of their sets of rules, and several of these commandments - do no murder, do not steal, do no tell fibs - are to be found in the rules that govern most national societies. A rule based society works when most people either accept that they should obey the rules or are afraid not to obey them for risk of punishment. Quite often bad people break the rules and get away with it. Rules do not make bad people good, but they help to keep their worst extremes of behaviour in check.


In recent years there has also been an emphasis on "rights". This is an attempt to enshrine in law the idea that people have certain human rights and that these should be protected. For example the UK Human Rights Act of 1998 orders, among other things that citizens have the right to life, the right to a fair trial and the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion and expression. One of the problems with a "rights" ordered society is that one person's rights often conflict with those of another. In recent months we have seen several examples of the rights of Christians to express their theology freely curtailed lest this offend the sensibilities of others or incite hatred and thus lead to violence. Furthermore one is encouraged to concentrate on MY rights to the exclusion of those of others. As I stated last month (see March 2009) this putting of oneself first is tantamount to self idolatry and thus infringes the first commandment to "put God first".


Is there a better way to try to order society? Yes there is.  Clair Disbrey in an article in the Church Times (27 Feb 2009) on Virtue Ethics, writes, "This system of ethics, which predates the modern era, focuses not on how to decide which categories of behaviour are not permissible, which actions are right or wrong in a particular situation, or what someone's rights may be, but, as so much of the New Testament does, on what a good person is like."  "Freedom, justice and tolerance can remain on the list of virtues to be promoted in our common life, but to this can be added honesty, gentleness, kindness, generosity, patience, faithfulness, humility, responsibility and care." St Paul spoke of such things in his letter to the Galatians, "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control." (Galatians 5: 22-23)


Jesus is the exemplar par excellence of a good person. To promote Virtue Ethics in society, good people of all faiths and none should demonstrate openly and boldly the fruit of the Spirit in their own lives and encourages their families to do the same. Christians can go one step further by pointing all those they meet to Jesus. April is a particularly good time to do this, as Good Friday and Easter Day fall in April this year. Good Friday when God the Son died on a cross to redeem humanity from their sin, and Easter Day when he rose again from the dead.




3 April 2009


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