The fruit of the Spirit
This talk was given by Paul Wintle on as part of our worship service over the Internet.
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The reading today is from Galatians 5 and beginning at verse 13.
You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.
So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
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 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.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.
Galatians 5:13–26, (NIVUK)
I’ve recently begun reading a book called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. It’s really interesting if you like learning about how people’s characters and personalities work. Whilst I’ve only read a few pages so far, the writer has made a distinction between character and personality, drawing on the work of Dale Carnegie, who belatedly wrote the famous book entitled How to Make Friends and Influence People. It turns out that Carnegie began doing workshops with the YMCA in the 1920s about character building: developing the internal, integral bits that are you. As the workshops developed and the world progressed, character became less important preferring instead to focus on personality. It turns out that someone’s personality sells products more than someone’s character. I guess what the writer of this book is saying is that there’s a sneaky difference between the two. We might say that personality is the visible side of our character or perhaps the bit that we want to show to other people.
This week, the government in the UK eased some of the coronavirus lock-down restrictions. While some might say it’s too early to allow people to meet in small groups, others have gone too far and began meeting on the beach in large groups in the better weather, having parties and that thing, as if over 50,000 people didn’t die from this outbreak. It feels very confusing for many. I’m making these points because making friends and influencing people and deciding whether or not we are going out to meet lots of friends where we’re being told to stay on our guard are about the use and abuse of freedoms.
Similarly, in America, the UK, Australia, and other parts of the world, over these past few weeks, have had demonstrations about the brutal murder of George Floyd. The way in which political leaders have dealt with demonstrations is about the inequality and freedom that does or doesn’t exist in our world.
In light of what we’ve just heard from Galatians 5, it’s even more important than ever to discover how our character is transformed by walking by the Holy Spirit and not by our own views, or our own thoughts. Our personality might be how we want others to see how we live our lives but our character is a deeper, perhaps more spiritual aspects of our whole selves. When we walk by the Spirit, he helps us to be more like the people we were created to be. In this first verse that we read, Paul talks about freedom. In this context, he talks about it because Jewish followers of Jesus as Messiah were making the transition between being Jews and being what we now know as Christians. Many were finding it hard to break free from the traditions such as circumcisions and following all the rules and regulations. It is what they had been brought up with. We’re now being taught that there was another way, the law is at an end. Freedom was key, but only if they walked by the Spirit showing right living, but still not getting wrapped up in the ways of the pagans around them. Now, there’s freedom from religious laws. It doesn’t mean that there’s a license to do whatever you like, far from it. Paul points out that the fulfilment of the whole law is to love one’s neighbour. You only have to look at Leviticus 19:18 and the words of Jesus in Matthew 7. Freedom does not mean that as a police officer you can put your knee on someone’s neck so that they cannot breathe and so they die. Freedom does not mean that just because you can go out to the beach doesn’t mean that you can do it with 10 friends that you’ve not seen for the last three months, just because you can, it doesn’t mean you should. Freedom, in this case, freedom from the religious laws of the Old Testament is a new way of being and of seeing. It is being free for God to love one’s neighbour. It is not about being free to do carte blanche. The problem with that kind of living is that it leaves behind a trail of destruction such as immorality, impurity, foolish talk, and the like. It’s not the way of the Kingdom of God.
There is, says Paul, another, better way. Paul builds on Luke’s message at Pentecost in Acts, though he wrote it before Luke, where the followers of Jesus are united by the Holy Spirit’s coming upon them. “If,” he says, “we have the Holy Spirit of Jesus living in us, we are directed by Him, and therefore we keep in step with the Spirit.” Without the Spirit, the work of the flesh outlined in that list before the fruit of the Spirit take full rein. That is not the way because people can be, says Paul to the Galatians, and we can say the same for us today. If God’s Spirit gets to work, then his people are renewed. That is Pentecost life, a renewed covenant, a new heart, a new pouring out of God’s Spirit where the people of God are the temple. When the new work of the Holy Spirit affects His church, those who make up the church have a change in motivation, people will want to grow in that fruit of the Spirit, which reaps love and joy and peace and patience and kindness and goodness and faithfulness and gentleness and self-control.
Of course, it’s not true that the Holy Spirit will just do this independently of us. It is not a case of letting go and letting God, but rather it is an act of our will and our intention to have that fruit grow. As Tom Wright says, when the fruit does appear, it will become part of us. Just as where my tomato plant on the patio begins to flower, it will in time produce fruit. I need to intentionally water it and feed it with the right nutrients to get the best. By ignoring it, it will shrivel and die, just like the parable that Jesus told about the seeds growing in different types of soil. If we have an intention in living the right way of the Spirit, we’ll become more in step with the Spirit and any rivalry in the church, for this is Paul’s concern as he writes to the Galatians, must be set aside as they grow in developing spiritual fruit. I once heard it said that our God really wants spiritual fruit and not religious nuts. F F Bruce says in his commentary on Galatians, “Loving behaviour fulfils the law.”
I’m a little bit unsure that Paul wanted his listeners to concentrate purely on just the nine elements here in the fruit of the Spirit, but yet they are pretty important nonetheless. They’re a good place to start if we want to intentionally have our lives transformed. Generosity and forgiveness, for example, don’t make it into this block of nine intentions, but the words of Jesus and the New Testament is full of instructions about how to use money wisely, and the importance of forgiveness. Perhaps the fruit of the Spirit, as we now know them, are examples of that fruit that transforms us. It’s a good starting point.
I would also want to say that perhaps we shouldn’t beat ourselves up over whether or not we have increased our capacity for being more loving or more faithful or better self-controlled. My score report on metalwork when I was about 12 said, “Paul always tries hard.” Which I think is code for, He’s pretty rubbish at my subject. That’s how sometimes maybe we treat ourselves. We compare ourselves to someone else to help badly we are doing, which makes us feel bad ourselves, but that’s not the point of the fruit of the Spirit. It’s not a competition. Beating ourselves up won’t make us better at being more faithful or gentle. When we come to learn that fruit takes time to grow, just like any other fruit, and it can’t be rushed, perhaps then we’ll take a less tough line for ourselves, maybe even then to forgive ourselves, because we are created as only humans, a little lower than the angels. We’re not perfect, but it doesn’t mean we have to stay that way. There’s always room for improvement. As we were reminded a few weeks ago, nobody has tried being you before. It takes a lifetime.
When we think about the process of becoming our best selves, maybe we start to take the pressure off us being perfect now, and then we become less judgmental towards one another. When we know that we are on an intentional journey together to fall in step with the Spirit, we can encourage one another. As I tried to become the best version of me, will you help me? As you try to become the best version of who you are created to be too, will you allow me to journey with you? Because, then, transformation is the name of the game. Our characters are changed to see and be more like Jesus. This character renewal is part of the whole New Testament process. In 2 Corinthians 5:17, we are told that when we have the Spirit, the old has gone, the new has come, we are new creations. In Revelation following the vision of the new heaven and the new earth, the one seated on the throne. It says, “Behold, I’m making all things new.” It seems that the work of the Holy Spirit, Jesus living in us, renews us and makes us new. That’s why we’re reminded in Ephesians 5:18, to be being filled with the Holy Spirit. It’s a continuous present tense so that the Holy Spirit is always able to keep filling us with the presence of Jesus. As we continue to look at the fruit of the Spirit in our lives, let us remember that nobody has tried being you before and that this whole human being thing is a process. This whole being human thing is a process. It’s why we learn and learn and relearn.
May we remember that fruit requires tending, and it doesn’t pop out of the ground fully ready, neither does our character. May we continue to look to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith as the best example for life and for living. May we do this together in partnership with one another as a fellowship, as we go through this journey of life together.
Bruce, F. F., The Epistle to the Galatians: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1982), 242.
Cain, Susan, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (London: Penguin, 2012).
Wright, Tom, Paul for Everyone: Galatians and Thessalonians (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2004), 73.
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Scripture quotations marked NIVUK on this page and in the audio are from the Holy Bible, New International Version® Anglicized, NIV® Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.