19 Now the works of the flesh are plain: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, 21 envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering (patience), gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 meekness, and self-control; against which there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. 26 Let us have no self-conceit, no provoking of one another, no envy of one another. Galatians 5:19-26
The 6th Essential is “the fruit of the Spirit” in the life of all believers. The term “fruit of the Spirit” is used only once in the Revised Standard Version of Scripture.
In Galatians chapter 5:19-26, St. Paul contrasts “the fruit of the Spirit” with “the works of the flesh.” He says that the works of the flesh are plain. That is, the works of the flesh are everywhere visible for everyone to see. Paul lists 15 “works of the flesh”—citing everything from the erotic, like fornication, to the exotic, like sorcery, to the everyday, like jealousy and selfishness, and party spirit. I do not believe that Paul means this list to be exclusive. In Romans chapter 1 verse 30 Paul talks about those who are “inventors of evil.” Paul is well aware that evil has a vivid imagination, and that human beings are always finding new ways to exploit one another, whether for pleasure, or for power, or for greed. Paul says that those who those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Against the backdrop of the works of the flesh, Paul speaks of “the fruit of the Spirit.” According to the King James Version, he says that “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, and self control; against which,” he says, “there is no law.”
There are several points to be made about the overall thrusts of these texts.
First, note that Paul speaks of the “works of the flesh” in the plural, and “the fruit of the Spirit” in the singular.
Sinners are often specialists. Some are fornicators, some are liars, some are mean and disagreeable and divisive, but not ever liar is also disagreeable and divisive. In other words, not every person who serves evil will commit every sin. Gang war over territory is nothing new. The kingdom of evil is in completion with itself, always competing for turf, always competing for us. Of course, sinners are just as often pluralists, majoring in many sins. The works of the flesh are many and varied.
In Contrast, The fruit of the Spirit is so basic and so elemental that every person who belongs to Jesus Christ and serves God will produce every fruit of the Spirit. Paul implies that we can’t have love, without having joy, and peace. We can’t have joy and peace without having patience and temperance.
Second, if I may use a metaphor, please note that it is easier to count the fruit on a tree, than the trees in the fruit, so to speak. We cannot put limits on what God can do through us once God has produced the fruit of the Spirit in us. In Romans 8, St. Paul writes:
In all things God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.
Not just the small things, and not just the tall things, but in all things, God works for good with those who love him.
In Ephesians 2:9 the apostle adds:
For we (followers of Christ) are (God’s) workmanship, created in Christ for good works, that God has created before hand that we might walk in them.
We human beings invent evil, but God has prepared the good for us to do in advance. We don’t invent good; we discover it!
I have no doubt that a missionary needs the fruit of the Spirit in abundance. I cannot imagine what it is like to go from country and from kindred to a strange culture where a drink of clean water is a luxury. It takes a lot of love for God, and a lot of love for humanity in order to make that kind of sacrifice. A soldier needs the fruit of the Spirit. Jesus said, “Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” That is a soldier’s text. He loves his country, and he loves his brothers and sisters in arms. In the case of a soldier who is a Christian, he loves even his enemies. As strange as it sounds, war has many examples of that. War brings out the worst in us, and also the best. Sgt. York killed to save lives. A dying German Soldier spared by grandfather in World War I. Soldiers in the U.S. are called upon to keep their moral compass even in the midst of war. For them all is not fair in love and war. A preacher needs the fruit of the Spirit. People want to know that he cares, before they care what he knows. A doctor needs the fruit of the Spirit. Her patients want her to be wise, and gentle. A scientist needs the fruit of the Spirit. Humility is kin to meekness. She must sit with humility at the feet of the facts. She must have patience, like Edison, who failed 1,000 times before he discovered a filament that would allow his electric light burn for a reasonable length of time. Once God has produced the fruit of the Spirit in us, God can produce some amazing things through us.
Let me tell you about one teacher and the impact she had on one student. I read about her in a book given to me by one of my dearest friends. The book is entitled The “C” in the YMCA. This teacher was stand-off-ish to a little boy in her class by the name of Isaiah. She did kept her distance from him because he was always shabbily dressed, he smelled bad, and he rarely completed an assignment. Then at Christmas she was shocked. Isaiah gave her several pieces of costume jewelry. It was good quality, but each piece was missing several stones. He gave it to her saying, “I thought that it would look as good on you as it did on my mom.” The teacher was intrigued. She began to investigate. She found out that two years before the boy was a fine student—he just needed extra help and his mother had always given it to him. Then, the year before, his mother got sick, and Isaiah’s work worsened. Then, earlier that year, before he came to her, Isaiah’s mother had died, and his father did not care, and Isaiah’s work worsened still more. Isaiah was going down a dark road, but this teacher decided to change that. She told Isaiah that she wanted to tutor him after school. She did—all through his elementary years, then in junior high, and in high school. Over the years she received four invitations from Isaiah. Isaiah invited her to his high school graduation. His college graduation, and his graduation from Medical School. One day she got a fourth invitation in the mail. It was a wedding invitation. Isaiah invited her to his wedding, and he asked her to sit where his mother would have sat. It is a true story. It is the kind of story that happens every single day.
God works in us, and then we work in the world, and we work in a variety of ways. Martin Luther told his barber it was possible to cut hair for the glory of God, and the late William Barclay, author of The Daily Study Bible, wrote of a carpenter who “built his Christianity into his houses.” There are literally thousands of ways that we can serve God if we will only allow the fruit of the Spirit to bloom in our own lives.
Let me mention just a few things that make up the fruit of the Spirit. I will allow the reader to supply observations for other components of the fruit of the Spirit.
It is not surprising that St. Paul begins the list of the fruit of the Spirit with “love.” The author of 1st John writes, “God is love.” In Romans 5, St. Paul says that, “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.”
In Galatians 5, St. Paul says that:
22 the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering ( patience), gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 meekness, self-control; against which there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23
In 1st Corinthians 13, St. Paul says that:
4 Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; 5 it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7
It is obvious to me that those two texts flow from the same source, and that source is love. God is love.
I would also mention, joy and peace. E. Stanley Jones once wrote that joy is peace with its hat in the air, and peace joy with its arms folded in serenity.
Joy is an emotional response to the sense of having gained something. A mother experiences joy when she brings a new baby into the world. A man experiences joy when he gets a promotion, or in this economy, a job, and is able to better provide for his family, An eleven-year old boy experience joy when his grandmother sends him a scout knife or a fishing reel for Christmas. A seventeen-year old girl experiences joy when the boy she has had a crush on for the last year asks her to the senior prom. Robert Frost said that what joy lacks in length, it makes up in height!
Peace is a broader, deeper emotion. It does not leap so high as joy, but it lingers longer, and spreads out through all of life. Peace is a sense of well being that cannot be shaken. The late Bishop Herbert Spaugh once told of a contest in which people were to submit photographs of a peaceful scene. Most submitted photographs of mountains, and meadows. One picture featured a mother discretely nursing her child in a rocking chair on a shady porch. The winning photograph was one of a kind. It pictured a thunderous waterfall. In front of the fall was a single tree branch. In the branch there was a nest. In the nest a mother bird was calmly feeding her young. Across the bottom of the photograph, the photographer had written, “Peace!” The kind of peace that you and I crave is the kind that will not crumble though the mountains quake and the sea roar. We want the kind of peace the Psalmist had when he wrote:
6 Let every one who is godly offer prayer to you; at a time of distress, in the rush of great waters, they shall not reach him. 7 You are a hiding place for me, You preserve me from trouble; You encompass me with deliverance. Selah Psalm 32:6-7
My grandmother once called me after riding out a hurricane in the Oak Island Community Center. She told me those verses from Psalm 32 had been her watchword throughout the storm. The Holy Spirit gives us love, peace, and joy.
I would also mention the term “faithfulness.” Faithfulness means sticking with someone even when that someone does not stick with you. Perhaps you remember Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. Jean Valjean spends 19 years in prison for stealing a loaf of bred. He gets out of prison, but he thinks the world owes him something. He is invited to stay in the house of bishop. He eats off of silver plates. In the middle of the night, Jean Valjean rises, steals the plates, and leaves. When the bishop discovers his loss, he tells his housekeeper that he should have given the sliver to the poor. Later, Jean Val Jean is picked up by the police. They know he has just gotten out of jail, and they immediately assume that he has stolen the plates, and they recognize them as belonging to the bishop. Jean Valjean says that the bishop gave him the plates. The police take him to the bishop’s house. The bishop sees the problem. Immediately he goes to his mantle and takes down silver candlesticks that match the plates. He gives them to Jean Valjean, and says, “You forgot to take these when you left.” Then he whispers, “Use this to build a new life; for this, I bind you to Jesus Christ.” Eventually, Jean Valjean becomes a new man. He rises to prominence, and helps many. He never forgets the faithfulness of the bishop, or the faithfulness of Christ.
The author of 2nd Timothy considers our relationship with Jesus Christ. He says, “12 If we deny him; he also will deny us.” That sounds harsh, but the author quickly adds, “13 if we are faithless, he remains faithful — for he cannot deny himself.” Because he cannot deny himself, Jesus Christ welcomes us even after we have failed him. He always holds out his hand to us, in welcome and in assistance. According to the gospel record, on the night when he was betrayed, Peter denied Jesus three times. According to John 21, the Risen Christ allowed Peter to affirm his love for him, three times. “Peter,” he said, “Do you love me more than these… then feed my sheep.” The fruit of the Spirit produces the kind of faithfulness that we see in Jesus Christ.
Finally, I would mention the term “meekness.” Meekness has a bad reputation in our society. To us a meek person is one who is overly sensitive, timid, indecisive, or cowardly. That is not the Biblical meaning of the term. In the Bible meekness means having just enough oomph to get the job done, just enough leverage, just enough power, and not so much that we are guilty of heavy handedness. Accoding to Number chapter 12, Moses was very meek, “meeker than all the men on the face of the earth.” Are we are talking about the same Moses who faced down Pharoah and led the Children of Israel out of Egypt? Yes! Most of the time Moses used just enough oomph to get the job done, with one exception. In Numbers 20, God told Moses to command the Rock at Meribah, that it might produce water for Israel to drink. Moses disobeyed. He took his staff and struck the rock twice. He produced water, but he disobeyed God. but because struck the rock when God said to commanded it, God only allowed Moses to look into the Promised Land, but not go in. The problem with many of us is that we, like Moses, are eager to strike when we ought to speak. We use a sledge hammer when a finish hammer would do. When we ought to say a little, we say too much. The reason that we uses so much “overkill,” is because we are insecure in ourselves, and not yet fully secure in God. When we get secure in God, our own insecurity will go quickly, and quietly away.
I want to close this sermon on the fruit of the Spirit with a pair of questions:
1) Why doesn’t every Christian have love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, meekness and temperance all the time? One may even ask, as I sometime ask, “Why is it that I have the fruit of the Spirit when I have time to plan my actions, but lack it in my reactions?”
I suspect that the answer to that question has to do with freedom. God showed Israel the way to the Promised Land, and said, “Walk in it!”, but God gave them the choice, and allowed them to wander in the wilderness. According to Revelation chapter 3, the Risen Christ Jesus stands at the door of our lives and knocks. He wants to come in to eat with us and bless us, but he will not enter unless we open the door. The Holy Spirit plants the God’s fruit in us, but unless we tend it and water it, it will not grow. That is a shame. I believe that God wants us to be as fruitful as the tree that is in the midst of the Heavenly City, that bears 12 kinds of fruit, one for each month of the year. (Revelation 22:1-2)
2) That gives rise to a second question: How long will God allow us to go fruitless?
That is a harder question. Some would find the answer to it here, in Galatians 5. Many have looked for it in John 15. I like to think that as long as there is life there is hope, and that the Spirit of God strives live to produce in us the fruit of the Spirit as long as we live. Yet, Scripture everywhere cautions that life is uncertain, and that we ought to work, and produce fruit, while it is day, because night comes. Even Shakespeare wrote of a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood, leads on to greater things, but, ommitted, all the voyage of life is bound to shallows and miseries. Do you remember the story of Jesus and the fig tree in Matthew chapter 11? Jesus saw the tree in the distance, and he wanted fruit. The tree was flowring, but when he approached the tree he found it fruitless. He said to the tree, “May no one every eat fruit from you again.” The disciples heard what Jesus said, and the very next day, they found that the tree had withered. Scholars believe that this strange episode makes sense only as an acted parable. It is told of those people who rejected Christ, and did not bear the fruit that God requires of his people. Horror or horrors, it might be also be a parable about us. Of coruse, I like to believe better about you, and I hope you believe better about me. I pray that the 6th Essential may be a reality in each of our lives, for the fruit of the Holy Spirit is: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, meekness, and temperance, against which there is no law.