Sermon October 13

A Sermon Preached by Dr. Stan Henderson
Trinity Presbyterian Church
Oroville, California

October 13, 2013

“Gospel Character”

Galatians 5: 16-25

Paul has been urging his readers to walk by the Spirit of God and not by the flesh. When we live by the flesh, it is our own sinful human nature that controls us. When we choose to live under the influence of the Spirit, then God produces in our lives the fruit of the Spirit. First, Paul rattles off a list of behaviors that characterize the flesh. Then Paul lists the fruit of the Spirit. He says: “By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.”

Paul is saying that if we live by the Spirit, if we allow the Spirit of Christ to live through us, then this will be the result. The fruit of the Spirit is not something we are urged to do. It is not a task for us to accomplish. The word “fruit” indicates that it is not something which a person can do on their own. A fruit is not something which is made or done; it is something produced in us.

At the Last Supper, Jesus said to his disciples: “Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.”

You and I are meant to bear fruit. This is something which ought to be exhibited in every Christian’s life. This is not like the gifts of the Spirit, talents and abilities which are divided up among believers. But instead, all Christians should be marked by all of the fruit of the Spirit. And as we bear fruit, others will detect in us the likeness of Christ.

It’s no accident that when Paul talks about the qualities which the Holy Spirit produces in us, the first thing he lists is love. Love is the pre-eminent Christian grace. Paul lists nine things which comprise the fruit of the Spirit, but I think every quality mentioned, in some way, is built on the foundation of love. It has been suggested that the fruit of the Spirit is really a portrait of Jesus Christ. It is in Christ that we see the fruit of the Spirit ripened to perfection and that is especially true of love.

If the fruit of the Spirit is a portrait of Jesus Christ, then likewise, the definition of love is God himself. The book of I John says it best: “Beloved, let us love another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him.”

After love comes joy. The dictionary defines joy as an emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something good or satisfying. I would not necessarily equate joy with happiness. That makes it too frivolous, too shallow. Joy in the Bible is something greater and deeper than that.

If we are holding off the experience of joy until all is right with the world, then we will wait forever. Pain and hardship will always be present, but they cannot quench joy. Christian joy is not simply cheerfulness. It is not a phony, pasted on, cheerleader kind of exuberance. It does not ignore the painful circumstances of life. It does not gloss over sorrow.

The third thing that Paul calls a fruit of the Spirit is peace. As a definition of peace, the Hebrew word shalom is an all-inclusive word which goes much deeper than its English translation. In English, we think of peace as either inward, an inner tranquility, or outward, an absence of war. In Hebrew, peace is never only a negative idea as in the absence of conflict. Shalom refers to wholeness and completion. Shalom is used over 250 times in the Old Testament and the meanings range from wholeness to health to harmony.

Peace is a gift from God; it is the free promise of God. Peace, like faith, hope and love, derives its force and meaning from its source. We can see this clearly in the Upper Room discourse in John’s Gospel. Jesus says to his disciples: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” It is this kind of peace, the fruit of the Holy Spirit, which God desires to grow in our lives.

Many people break down the fruit of the Spirit into three parts. The first 3 are love, joy and peace. The first cluster of the fruit of the Spirit is one that defines how Christians are to live in relationship to God. The second cluster, patience, kindness and generosity, describes how our Christian faith is to be lived out in relationship with others. The third cluster of the fruit of the Spirit, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, focus our attention inward on the attitudes and actions of the inner self.

Patience is also one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit. We understand the value of patience. It’s a virtue because it’s something good and right. But we may also have ambiguous feelings about patience. Patience is a quality we admire in the driver behind us, but one we can’t stand in the driver in front of us. When love is put to the test, will we show patience? This is where the Christian faith is fleshed out in our everyday lives.

The Greek word Paul used for patience was makrothumia. Makro means long and thumos means temper. So we get the meaning – longsuffering. Sometimes this word for patience is translated as forbearance. Another word for patience, hupomone, is patience that had to do with events or circumstances. Makrothumia is patience which has to do with people. A longsuffering kind of patience is not irritable or resentful or vengeful. Instead it is a patience with people’s faults which is gracious, compassionate, understanding.

The fifth quality Paul tells us about is kindness. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said: “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” The light of Christ is seen in the good works we do. What people will notice about Christians is not that their faces glow with light, but rather the good works they do. And these good deeds will cause people to glorify God. I believe we can equate the good works Jesus speaks of with kindness. Kindness is love put into action.

Real kindness is not a sometimes feeling. It’s not a garment we put on when we feel like it. It is an everyday mode of living in which we attempt to look at the world through the eyes of Christ. And kindness is not weakness. It’s not being wishy-washy in the face of evil. A few verses before, Paul insisted that we take a strong stand against the works of the flesh. Being kind doesn’t mean we cannot disapprove of what others say and do. Love without regard for truth and justice ceases to be loving.

The next quality is generosity. In our previous Bible translation, the Revised Standard Version, the word was goodness. That’s the way I learned it. The word in Greek is agathosune which is most often translated as goodness or integrity. But apparently goodness does not capture the full meaning. Agathosune combines the idea of being good with doing good. It rolls up its sleeves and does something good in the lives of others. And so the English word in the New Revised Standard Version was changed to generosity.

As Paul traveled spreading the gospel he also collected funds from the churches he started to help the impoverished mother church in Jerusalem, which was suffering persecution. In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul holds up to them the grace-filled example of the Macedonian churches. Paul wrote: “During a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity.”

Paul was saying that generosity is a test of our love. All of the fruit of the Spirit have their foundation in love. When we recognize that God is the source of all the goodness we enjoy, it causes us to be grateful people, generous people. A generous person is one who has experienced the grace of God firsthand and is determined to show it by the way they live.

The third cluster of fruit focuses on inward qualities and it starts with faithfulness. Faithfulness describes not the belief of a Christian, but rather how that faith is lived out in a person’s life. Whereas faith may be used to indicate a set of doctrinal beliefs, faithfulness describes how well we have lived up to what we say we believe. Faithfulness is an inward quality. It is a matter of the heart. It’s an inward trust and dependence on God that determines how we live.

Faithfulness displays consistency rather than a fair-weather commitment. It is a day by day experience. Faithfulness is getting out of bed every morning determined to let God rule in our lives. Faithfulness is thinking and believing and acting as if the kingdom of God has already come in all its fullness. It is not easy to be faithful. When we are committed to Jesus Christ we will often find ourselves at odds with the world.
Some of the attributes we’ve examined are universally acclaimed. Love, joy, peace, patience – who wouldn’t want to possess those qualities in their lives? Those are the kinds of things worth striving for. When we come to a subject like gentleness we can expect a different reaction from the world. We are not going to get a unanimous longing for this one. Gentleness is a quality that sounds like it has “doormat” written all over it.

The real meaning of gentleness is one that contradicts society’s stereotypes. The Greek word for gentleness used in the New Testament is extremely difficult to translate into English. Aristotle defined gentleness as the midpoint between excessive anger and excessive angerlessness. It is a word which exemplifies strength and humility.

The best way to define gentleness is to look at the example of Jesus. Jesus said: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Jesus had no need to impress anyone, no need to force his ideas on anyone else. Jesus knew exactly who he was and was secure in that knowledge. And in that quiet, gentle strength he could do anything.

The last of the fruit of the Spirit is self-control. I am grateful as I think of this quality, to remember that it is a fruit of God’s Spirit, it is a gift of God’s grace working in me. If this self-control is something which I have to manufacture all on my own, then I’m in trouble. Especially with this one, I need to hear that word of grace. What I must do is to stay connected to Christ, to the vine. It is God’s responsibility to develop in me the spiritual quality of self-control.

When I think of self-control, I often think of Sasha Makovkin, who was a potter and also a Presbyterian minister. The communion bread plate, chalice and pitcher we used last Sunday were made by Sasha. A number of years ago, my family and I visited Sasha’s home and studio in Mendicino and we bought some of his pottery. One thing I thought about buying, but didn’t, was a set of very attractive bowls and each one had a design on it with the name of one of the fruit of the Spirit. Obviously, that made it a nine bowl set, because that’s how many there are of the fruit of the Spirit.

I asked him about this odd numbered set. I said most people buy a set of eight bowls or glasses. How does that work with a set of nine? And he said most people do just order eight of the bowls. Do you know which one they most often leave out of the set? That’s right – self-control. It’s hard to imagine sitting down to a big bowl some rich dessert and right there on the side of the bowl it says – self-control.

In the Greek text, the word Paul uses for self-control means inner strength or self-mastery. It is often translated as temperance. It is the inner strength or ability to control one’s thoughts and actions. Paul uses this term in I Corinthians in regard to controlling sexual desire and also of an athlete’s discipline over his body in training for a contest.

The way we control our lives is not by willpower, but by the power of God’s Spirit. When we go against our selfish desires in order to follow Christ, then we discover the real person God created us to be. Jesus Christ is the one who enables us to make sense out of our lives. But we need to be attached to the vine. We need to connect ourselves to the source of life. This like the image in Psalm 1 of a tree planted by streams of water. C.S. Lewis said: “When we are wholly his, we are more ourselves than ever before.”

The fruit of the Spirit are the greatest, most meaningful, most desired qualities of life which God wants to produce in the lives of every one of us. These things are the fruit or result of a life lived in relationship with Jesus Christ. The kind of persons God wants us to be can never be produced through human effort. But when we accept Christ as Savior, acknowledging our sinfulness and neediness, and when we submit ourselves to Christ as Lord, then the Holy Spirit will produce his wonderful results in our lives. And we will see the evidence of God at work within us – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control

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