Call to Worship: A member at the congregation where I served previously was employed as a customer service representative at WalMart. Do you know when she said the worst time to work the customer service counter was? Sunday afternoons when the church-going people would come with their complaints! I was surprised by her observation. I would think that would be the best time of the week, after God’s people have been refreshed, renewed and reminded of the life they receive from God and the life they get to live for God. She was convinced it was because people thought their sin tanks were empty so they had room to fill up them up again. As we talk about the Fruit of the Spirit today, God makes it clear he desires that the Spirit’s fruit would abundantly flavor how we live, not just at church but wherever we go and whatever we’re doing.
Christ the King, Palm Coast, FL ~ Pastor Jay Zahn ~ Galatians 5:22-26 ~ Sunday, August 25, 2019
A man was sitting at a stop light one morning. The lady in front of him was going through papers on the seat of her car, and when the light changed, she ignored the fact that it had turned green. She sat there until the light turned red again. So, the man behind her began screaming foul language and beating on his steering wheel. His expressions of disgust were interrupted by a policeman, gun drawn, tapping on his window. Against the driver’s protests of, “You can’t arrest me for hollering in my car,” the officer ordered him into the back seat of his police car. After about two hours in a holding cell, the arresting officer advised him he was free to go. He said, “I knew you couldn’t arrest me for what I was yelling in my own car. You haven’t heard the last of this.” The officer replied, “I didn’t arrest you for shouting in your car. I was directly behind you at the light. I saw you screaming and beating your steering wheel, and I said to myself, “What a jerk. But there is nothing I can do to him for throwing a fit in his own car.” Then I noticed the cross hanging from your rearview mirror, the Christian fish symbol on your rear window, and the “Jesus Is Coming Soon” bumper sticker, and I thought you must have stolen the car.”
Nothing seems to turn people away from Christianity more than inconsistency - observing people who say one thing yet do another. But the reverse is also true. Christians who live out love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control in their interactions with people provide an attractive witness of the power of the Christian faith. For example, a Hindu professor, identifying one of his students as a Christian, once said, “If you Christians lived like Jesus, India would be at your feet tomorrow.”
All summer we’ve been studying these powerful, positive qualities that the Apostle Paul calls the “fruit of the Spirit” in Galatians 5. The Holy Spirit sows in us the seeds of love and joy and peace with his Word. He breathes endurance into our lives and produces in our spirits a spirit of compassion for those who need our help. He calls forth the qualities of generosity, integrity, humility, and self-discipline from us by breathing these characteristics into our hearts through the Scriptures. And He continuously works to nurture and nourish these qualities in us so that these qualities not only are growing in our hearts but they’re blooming and blossoming in our words, our actions, our relationships!
The Holy Spirit is so excited about these qualities he’s working in us that he led the Apostle Paul to write: “Against such things there is no law” (v. 23) … which, seems like an odd sort of thing to say. Are you thinking: “Well, of course! You don’t pass laws against kindness! There are no laws prohibiting loving our neighbor, experiencing joy and peace!” Another way to translate the word that our Bible translates as “against” (the Greek word kata) could also be translated “concerning,” or “in relation to.” In other words, what Paul is saying is something like this: “In relation to these things, there is no law.” That is, these qualities are character virtues; you can’t force people to behave this way. People will do these things because of who they are, not because there are laws that compel them to.
That’s why even though there are nine items on this list, they are treated as a single thing. These aren’t separate rules to keep but qualities that cluster together as a single fruit. Perhaps we should think of them like the segments of an orange, rather than like a bunch of grapes. It is not the FRUITS of the Spirit but the FRUIT of the Spirit.
That also means these nine qualities are not a menu from which you can select a few and ignore the others. That means you can’t excuse when you’re a hothead, saying, “Well, I admit that I lose my temper a bit—but hey, I’ve got plenty of joy!” or, “Okay, I know I spread gossip around about other people, but I’m really dependable when I promise to do something.” Pointing out how loving you are doesn’t make it okay to go on living without self-control!
No, the fruit of the Spirit is a single character package. The kind of attitudes and behaviors that Paul lists come not from the rules you keep, but from the person you are.
Now, you might ask, “Where can I get the strength to be that sort of person?” The answer is found in verse 24: “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” A Christian is someone who crucifies the sinful nature and keeps in step with the Holy Spirit. Do you know understand what that means? Do you know what that looks like?
This way of living flows from the person you are becoming as you become more and more like Christ. Or, to be more specific still, such behavior flows from the Person who dwells within you, as Christ is formed in you and the Spirit of Christ bears his fruit in your life. That new person shows out in the desire and willingness to go to God, and confess yours sins to your God. As one bible scholar said in his comment on these verses, “The death of the flesh is the life of the Spirit” (John Calvin). Yes, this is where real change always begins! Every time you confess your sins and receive God’s forgiveness, you are crucifying your sinful nature and keeping in step with the Spirit.
In this kind of heart all different pieces of the one fruit of the Spirit work together and strengthen each other. Maybe think of it like salsa. The taste of salsa is a mixture of tomato, salt, onion, cilantro, green peppers, and jalapeño peppers. Each of the ingredients can be discerned by the tongue, but the combination morphs them into a taste of its own. “The fruit of the Spirit” is a combination of at least nine characteristics of God that have combined into its own taste, its own fruit. Because the Spirit comes to dwell in each believer, it means He is flavoring your life and mine with his unique taste. The point is that all of these “flavors” remind us of our Savior’s love for us. The Spirit’s work ties us to Jesus and fills us with positive motivation for setting our minds on spiritual things, crucifying our sinful flesh and its desires.
And what does that life look like? We can spend a lifetime discovering all that this means. Truthfully, each day God gives us here is another day to learn and practice and grow in living out what this means and what this looks like for our lives individually and for our life together.
The Apostle does offer us one specific application. He concludes this section with this exhortation: “Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other” (v. 26). The fruit that we are bearing in Christ is not a competition or a reason for pride. There is not to be a “holier than you” attitude. Recognize the damage that pride causes! We will provoke one another and envy one another rather than enjoying the fruit of walking by the Spirit. We are not in competition with each other in Christ. We are working together in Christ. Let us help and encourage one another to walk by the Spirit.
It’s why God doesn’t take us right to heaven the moment we come to faith. The most important purpose for producing fruit is that you reproduce – others are drawn to Christ because of what they hear and see of Christ from you.
What qualifies someone for such an extraordinary task? There is a story of the testing of a candidate for missions work: One snowy morning at 5:00 a.m., a missionary candidate rang the bell at a missionary examiner’s home. Ushered into the office, he sat three hours past his appointment time waiting for his interview. At 8:00 A.M. a retired missionary appeared and began his questioning. “Can you spell?” Rather mystified, the candidate answered, “Yes, sir.” All right, spell “baker.” “B-A-K-E-R.” “Fine. Now, do you know anything about numbers?” the examiner continued. “Yes, sir, something.” “Please add two plus two.” “Four,” replied the candidate. “That’s fine,” said the examiner. “I believe you have passed. I’ll tell the board tomorrow.” At the board meeting, the examiner reported on the interview. “He has all the qualifications for a fine missionary. First, I tested him on self-denial, making him arrive at my home at five in the morning. He left a warm bed on a snowy morning without any complaint. Second, I tested him on promptness. He arrived on time. Third, I examined him on patience. I made him wait three hours to see me. Fourth, I tested him on temper. He failed to show any anger or aggravation. Fifth, I tried his humility by asking him questions that a seven-year-old child could answer, and he showed no indignation. So you see, I believe the candidate meets the requirements. He will make the fine missionary we need.” Spirit-given abilities are needed, but Spirit-produced fruit is more significant. (Green, Michael P.: Illustrations for Biblical Preaching : Over 1500 Sermon Illustrations Arranged by Topic and Indexed Exhaustively. Revised edition of: The expositor's illustration file. Grand Rapids : Baker Book House, 1989)
The Spirit is working diligently to bring forth an abundant harvest of the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control through you too! What happens when you do that? Your fruit is doing its work on that person. You are planting seeds in that person’s heart. Through those planted seeds the Spirit is working on that other person’s heart now too. This is the most powerful, positive difference you can make in another person’s life, and you get to do it as the Spirit grows you into the very best version of yourself: the you who is a reflection of Jesus, loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, gentle, faithful, self-controlled! Amen.