Gal. 5:22-23 Part I: What do you want?
In his book Fruit of the Spirit, Stephen Winward reminds his readers of a question Jesus once asked a blind man: What do you want me to do for you? (Mk 10:51). This question is a powerful question to reflect on so I thought all of us would be wise to contemplate this morning. Please take your bulletin and with a pen or pencil scratch your answers down to my version: “What 3 things do you want more than anything else in the world?”
[Time for reflection]
Now look at your three chief desires. And answer this next question: Do you want to have, to do or to be? Do your answers refer to possessions, achievements or character?
This morning we sang the song, “I want to be a Christian in my heart.” Do our 3 things line up with the character of Christ, or do they reveal a heart longing for the world? Let me ask another question, “What does it mean to be a Christian in our heart?” Is it not wanting to be like Christ? And isn’t being like Christ pictured in the fruit of the Spirit? Is not a person who is loving, joyful, peaceable, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled, a replica of Jesus Christ?
I believe the Scriptures answer that in the affirmative. Paul’s argument is that we are to be Christ-like people and then he goes on to list off these character qualities. The purpose of the Holy Spirit bearing fruit in our lives is to make the Disciples of Christ like Christ. In fact, the Scriptures tell us (Rom. 8:29) For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those who are in Christ (Col. 3:10) have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. And one more for good measure, (2Cor. 3:18) And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
The fruit of the Spirit that are listed in this passage are who we, as Christians, are supposed to be. Not because they are good things, and they are – who would argue with love, goodness, patience as virtuous qualities. Not because they will make the world a better place, and they will, for a world with joy, peace, kindness, gentleness, etc. is our longing. And not because self-control is needed in a world of hedonism, and it is. No, we are called to be people with these qualities for one reason only, because we are to be like Jesus and Jesus was all of these things! That is why we are called to bear the fruit of the Spirit.
But fruit doesn’t come on overnight; it takes time. First the tree must grow and its root must be healthy. Then it must bud and flower. And finally with enough light and nourishment, the fruit ripens and nourishes others. So it is with the fruit of the Spirit. First there must be a solid root to which we are attached. That root is Christ. He is the one to whom we are to abide in. Jesus said, (John 15:4-5) Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. But he also is the one who provides the food based on his example and his words, (John 4:34) “My food, is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.” His food was obedience to the Father, and our nourishment comes from obedience to the instructions of Christ. And then over time, that nourishment will bear fruit by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Being shaped into the image of Christ will take time and effort. Michelangelo worked for 2 years chipping away at the marble in slab. And finally his masterpiece, David, was completed. Obedience is hard work and it will take the Holy Spirit chipping away at all the hardness in our hearts for a lifetime before we will be complete, and just as the stone feels every chip of the sculptor’s hammer, so our lives will feel the pressure as the Spirit shapes us into the image of Jesus. And we will struggle to obey and do the work of God in a world hostile to him, but the benefit is amazing. Ultimately, as fruit bearing obedient disciples, we will be even more beautiful than we could ever imagine.
As we talk about fruit, we are tempted to think that each of the items in Paul’s list is different and unconnected to the others, like saying a basket contains apples, oranges, bananas and pineapple. But that is a poor way of looking at the fruit of the Spirit. Rather, we should say the basket contains, delicious, savory, juicy, beautiful food. Do you see the distinction? One describes types/kinds, the other qualities. The fruit of the Spirit are qualities which are expressed about the kinds of things we do, and say and think. The things we do and say and think flow from who we are and who we are is determined by the character growing within us.
Stephen Winward writes,
“The fruit which a person bears, whether good or bad, is of three main kinds – [words, deeds and character. Buty I would say they are of 2 kinds: words and deeds and that character determines both of them.] Jesus said that the words of a man are the fruit of what that person is. (Matthew 12:33-35) “Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. 34 You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. 35 The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.” What character qualities are stored up in words?
“Jesus also taught that deeds are fruit. (Matthew 7:15-16) “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them…” [page 16] What character is being expressed by our actions or inaction?
But even more fundamental to understanding fruit is realizing that who we are is determined by where we live. You don’t grow blueberries in the deserts. Geography matters and so it is in the Christian life. Are we living in this world or in God’s kingdom? Our home will affect what is grown in the soil of our hearts.
“In the book The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame describes the meeting between Mole and Rat, whose little home is on the banks of a river. Mole, who has never seen a river before, is lost in wonder. He says to Rat, ‘You must think me very rude; but all this is so new to me. So – this – is- a – River!’ ‘The River,’ corrected the Rat. ‘And you really live by the river? What a jolly life!’ ‘By it and with it and on it and in it’, said the Rat. ‘It’s my world, and I don’t want any other.’ Living with Christ, depending on Christ is not sufficient. If we are to enjoy life to the full, and if we re to bear much fruit, then we must live in Christ. That is the open secret of fruit-bearing.” (Winward, 19)
If the soil is fundamental, how can we live in Christ? How can we abide with Christ and so cooperate with the Spirit inside us so that Fruit is born? I believe there are 4 ways we can cooperate (Winward 21-23).
- Attention – by paying attention to God and directing our eyes upon Christ at all times, or returning our gaze to him when our eyes have wandered, we participate in the process. Rom. 8:5 tells us that where our minds are set affects the kind of life we live. Listen, “Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.” Col. 3:1-2 reiterates this line of thinking but in these words, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” This goes back to the first question I asked, those three things you long for more than anything else. Our longings, our attention will affect the fruit we bear. Heb. 12:2 reminds us why the focusing of our attention is so important, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus,” for he is, “the author and perfecter of our faith.” Other idols we look at can only destroy our faith and plague our ability to bear fruit. These last 2 are my favorites, (Rom. 12:2 Phil. 4:8) Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.
- Devotion – praying, reading the word and worshipping. These activities place us into the Lord’s presence and set us in places to learn more about the Christ we are called to become like.
- Restraint – refusing and denying those impulses and desires, which are not in accordance with God’s word. When we exercise restraint, we are hindering the process of weeds being planted. We are refusing to plant seed that will reap destruction. Col. 3:9-10 gives us one specific injunction about lying, but the principle can be carried to other areas of our life. “Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.” Do not practice anything which will lead you away from Christ.
- Practice – Not only can we restrain ourselves, but also we can practice doing those things, which are in accordance with God’s word. “Bad men don’t become good men by performing virtuous acts. On the other hand, if a man is a new creation, has been born again, then his virtues will develop and grow by practice…there is no virtue, received as a gift, which is not increased by practice.”(Winward 23) Give, Serve, Forgive, Repent, Evangelize, Practice hospitality, pray, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick…all of these and countless other things the Word of God instructs us to do.
People of God, holiness is both a gift and a task. The word says we were saved by grace (Eph 2:5), but it also says, “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12). It is a gift, but it also requires our action and participation. And the first and greatest way we can participate is by keeping our eyes set on Christ. As we look at the fruit of the spirit, it would be amiss if we were to focus on becoming more patient, or kind. That is to miss the forest for the tree, to strain out a gnat in order to swallow a camel. The proper focus to bearing fruit is not to focus on the fruit per se, but on the person to whom the fruit characterize. By responding to Jesus and his life and death and resurrection each and every day, by obeying him and copying him and believing him and learning about him and being with him and, and, and – we will bear fruit for
“It is in the context of a continuing and ever-deepening response to the love of God in Christ that all the virtues develop, indirectly, naturally, spontaneously. Within those who abide in Christ the Spirit produces the fruit, the love which includes all the virtues.” [Winward, 27]
So in the coming weeks, as we look at these words, let us remain focused on Christ, directing all our attention to Jesus, practicing habits of devotion to Jesus in order to learn more about him and from him, restraining our wills from actions contrary to his character and practicing those things in accordance with his will. This is all we can do, by the aid of his Spirit. He will bear the fruit [of the Spirit is] of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Gal 5:22-23)
What do we want? Let us earnestly desire Christ and him formed in us! Amen. And that is why we come to communion today for it is here that Christ promises to feed us on his flesh as we remember his life, death and resurrection…