We live in consumer-oriented world. Business to Business, Business to Consumer, Consumer to Consumer. All we need to do is look at the world to realize that everything is a commodity that can be bought or sold or traded. And that means that everyone is trying to create a desire in everyone else to buy his or her product. Whether it is eBay, or television, the circular ad or the Internet pop-up the world is “for sale”.
So what does the fruit of the Spirit say to a world intent on marketing anything and everything to us? It says, “The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Gal 5:22-23). This morning we are going to focus on the first three items in Paul’s list: Love, joy and peace. But before we get there let’s review a few points from the last two weeks. Two weeks ago, my sermon focused on the fact that as believers in Christ, we have been set free to love and serve each other. The contrast painted between the works of the flesh and the fruit of the spirit is one of love and service versus pride and selfishness. And last week looked at what we desire? Do we really want Christ formed in us for the Fruit of the Spirit are the character qualities of Jesus? Do these sermons bear upon a world intent on manufacturing markets and the desire for them? Absolutely, for today’s passage reminds us the Fruit of the spirit IS… Is means present, is relates to the present reality not the past or the future, but the present reality. The Fruit of the Spirit has bearing on life now in this world and under these situations.
What then does love say to manufactured markets and what does joy say to manufactured desire and what does peace say to manufactured tolerance?
In order to know what love, joy and peace say, we must first understand who and what love, joy and peace are. Love is the including, binding, fulfilling and fructifying quality that seeks another’s best. Love is the sash that holds all that is good, right and noble together. Addressing the Colossians, Paul writes, “And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity” (Col 3:14). He was speaking about the virtues of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, and forgiveness (Col 3:12). That is a list that is very similar to our list of the fruit. What I notice from this is that Love is the center of the target; love is the gluten in the bread, the glue in the paper maché, the spoke around which the wheel of Christian virtue revolves.
If this is true then “God is love” as 1Jn 4:8 says, for all the Christian life revolves around God, specifically God Incarnate, Christ Jesus who shows us what true love is. In fact, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). In fact, love is only known in our world, because God first loved us (1Jn 4:19) and we are able to love because he first loved us. Love centers on God, it can’t be known apart from God
Thus to know what Love says to a manufacturing world, we have to look at Christ. He didn’t come into our world in order to make an exchange that benefited him. He didn’t come into our world in order to take what we have and give us a flimsy, cheap piece of salvation memorabilia that will expire the first time we really play with it. Quite the contrary, he came into our world to give himself freely. He didn’t charge us for salvation; he gave it freely. Love says, I am here, let me serve you in the most self-sacrificing way that I can. Let me give myself to you. I am going to get nothing out of this; in fact, this act of love will cost me dearly. It will cost my very life. Isn’t that the picture of Love that Jesus paints in the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:37 where he says, “Go and do likewise.” Or of the woman forgiven much who finds that Jesus has born her sin away from her at no expense to herself, “For he who has been forgiven little loves little” (Luke 7:47).
Love is a response to great redemption and costly sacrifice centered on the life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Love is the act of God saving humanity from itself. So Love says to the materialistic culture, “not everything is a commodity that can be bought or sold or trade” for there are some things for which we simply offer ourselves up in sacrifice. Love says we should give of our very life in order to see God’s life given to and experienced in the world. Love says, my needs aren’t as important as your needs, “Let me serve you in your weakness.” Love says relationship is more important that return on investment. You as an individual are valuable not because of what you have to give me, but because of who you are, an inestimably valuable creation of God.
And that leads us to joy. What is joy? Is it happiness, or pleasure, or is it something else? Our world would like us to believe that joy is having our desires fulfilled and so the consumer world spends a great amount of time manufacturing desires within us that they are able to fulfill with their products. But is that joy? Absolutely not. Pleasure is a momentary feeling, it is fragmentary and sure it gives satisfaction to the person but only fleetingly. That is why those seeking pleasure need to constantly be in search of the next high, whether it is the adventurist needing to push the limits or the procurist needing to suage their appetite to have just a little more. Pleasure can never be satiated.
But a similar reality is true of happiness. Happiness, although more encompassing than pleasure, is just as disappointing. While happiness is more of a state of the whole person affecting many areas of their life and pleasure just affects one, happiness still is very dependant on circumstance. People aren’t happy in the midst of death, or sickness or pain, and that is because happiness is circumstantial. In fact I love this Arab proverb, “All sunshine makes a desert.” If our circumstances were perpetually happy, we would dry up and wither. Circumstances change, and rightly so in our world, but “ the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy…”
So even in the midst of changing circumstances, the present reality of the Spirit of God within us can be joy. Why because the fruit is present, and real for the here and now. IF Love is the center and Love is another word for God, then joy is attached to a focus on God. Joy is a result of the relationship we have with God, even when our situation and circumstance are bad.
Why? Because Joy springs from God’s love and activity in our world. Joy springs from knowing God. Joy springs from worshipping God. IN fact, Joy is not the absence of difficulty in our world, but the presence of God with us in our difficulty. In fact after speaking of remaining in Christ’s love, Jesus says, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete” (John 15:11). Joy exists from being in a loving relationship with God and sometimes that relationship walks us through persecutions and hardships, trials and testings, all of which seeks to perfect us in the faith.
That is why Paul and Barnabas could be filled with joy when thrown out of Pisidian Antioch for preaching Christ (Acts 13:52) or why the apostles could “rejoice because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name” (Acts 5:41). Joy comes from having the center of life in Focus. With God in the frame, properly focused then all the rest of the picture comes into its own, regardless of the situation. Joy is the gift of God. In fact that is what Peter says after focusing on Christ and the resurrection and the great salvation of God, he says, “ In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have to suffer grief in all kinds of trials…you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of you faith, the salvation of your souls” (1Peter 1:6, 9).
So to the world intent on manufacturing desire and selling you pleasure and happiness as a cheap substitute, The Spirit says, focus on Christ, worship him and him alone for in the words of the Westminster shorter catechism, “The chief end of man is to glorify god and enjoy him forever.” Joy springs from worship and worship springs from love and love springs from Christ. Let us not be fooled by our world, trying to trade Christ for what it has. He is the center; he is all in all in all. Amen!
The third and final quality that we want to examine this morning is the aspect of love, known as peace. The world proposes a definition of peace that is viewed from the negative, mainly the absence of strife and pain, the absence of war and conflict or even in a very rudimentary fashion, the absence of noise. All of these are termed peace. Furthermore, our world wants us to believe that peace and tolerance are the same thing, that peace and complete acceptance are synonymous, that to be an individual that is fully accepted is to be in a state of peace.
But did Jesus come to bring this kind of peace? Did he come to bring a peace that says any idea the marketplace offers up is acceptable? Anything that you as an individual believe sincerely must be okay and must be accepted without conflict. Any action you want to do must be met without strife or pain in our world. Everything is wonderful, as long as we respect each other’s opinions? The world wants us to believe that moral compromise like this brings peace, but is it really peace, or is it something masquerading as peace? Is that what the fruit of the Spirit known as peace is all about – accepting anything and everything?
The Scripture would say, “NO!” In Isaiah 48:22, the Lord says, “There is no peace for the wicked.” So right off, we know that certain actions cannot be tolerated, in this world or in the next because to grant peace to the wicked would be to disregard God’s decree that they have no peace. If we truly want peace, then we must recognize who brings peace, what makes peace and how peace is maintained. Let’s begin with the first question, “Who brings peace?”
Who brings peace?
Ezek. 37:26 “I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant. I will establish them and increase their numbers, and I will put my sanctuary among them forever.” In this passage, God declares that he makes a “covenant of peace.” He originates it, he starts it. He is the initiator. And covenants are relational, so how is this relational peace established? By Jesus, for Jesus also says, John 14:27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” Jesus gives peace, not only peace in general, but peace in particular, God’s peace. If you recall, Jesus said, “I and the father are one.” (John 10:30) so his peace is God’s peace. Jesus brings it, Jesus bestows it, Jesus owns it.
So if the world offers up a peace without Jesus, they are not offering up true peace but a cheap facsimile.
What makes peace?
If God brings peace and Christ is the messenger of God’s peace, then we must ask, “Specifically, what makes peace?” Col. 1:19-20 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. The blood of Christ makes peace, restoring humanity with God. Jesus reiterated this when he appeared to his disciples after the crucifixion saying, John 20:19 … ““Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.”
By his wounds, his hands, his feet, the crown of thorns on his head, the stripes from the lashings, his shed blood, by it and it alone does peace come and is peace established. They bring peace, and joy, they make love possible. They reconcile people, one to another, they restore relationships. His wounds save.
How is peace maintained?
This brings us to the final section of todays message. In a world that specializes in making divisions and calling peace “tolerance,” in a world that says peace accepts anything and everything, “How can true peace be maintained in the Christian life?” If, Christ brings peace and brings it by his shed blood on the cross, then maintaining a focus on Christ and Christ alone is the first step any person, believer or not can take to entering into peace or maintaining their peace. Paul says, (Phil. 4:8-9) “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. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me — put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”
The first step to maintaining peace is thinking of Christ. Isn’t he the one who is true, and noble, and right, and pure and lovely and admirable and excellent and praiseworthy? Peace comes first in the mind from what we dwell upon, and second, the passage says, peace comes from obedience “put it into practice” he says. That is what Christ did, he obeyed the father, John 5:19 Jesus gave them this answer: “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.
Focus the mind and obey the Father. It is these two reasons that preclude tolerance of sin as an acceptable Christian view of peace in the world. We can’t tolerate it, we can’t accept it. Enough said, “What practically can we do in each of these 2 areas?”
To focus the mind we can memorize the word of God, learn those passages of Scripture, which are Christocentric. Memorize those passages which remind us of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Read the word. Sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs which are focused on Christ. Read books that direct us to Jesus. Train our minds to ask the question of each and every passage, “Where is Jesus in this story?” Those are some practical ways to focus on Christ and so reap the harvest of peace.
How about obedience? How can we practically obey God. Reflect on your life and the sin within it. Confess those sins to God and be placed in a right relationship with the Lord. 1John 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. Confession brings purification, and purity brings peace, confession restores the relationship that is broken and the discord present when sin abounds. Remember, “There is no peace for the wicked” but when we confess our wickedness, it is removed and so peace can be restored once again. Sin vexes a person, unsettling them in every manner.
[story of how sin makes life unpeaceful]
The next thing we can do is to pray, that is part of confession but Philippians 4:6-7 tell us, Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
We can pray about the good, the bad, the troublesome, that which we are thankful, and that which we are concerned; for prayer, by its very nature, being focused on God, places us within the one relationship in the cosmos through which peace can be mediated. A life of prayer, constant prayer brings peace. From these 2 places, confession and prayer, God himself will lead us into other realms of obedience and as we follow in his path, we will find more peace than ever before.
People of God we have covered 3 big topics: Love, joy and peace. We have seen that the world offers up cheap imitations through marketplace transactions, manufactured desire and tolerance, but each of these is a far cry from the fruit of the spirit and the joy of being made into the likeness of Christ. Love never makes a trade or exchange, it gives itself freely, joy is never situational but springs from a deep inner reservoir of trust in God and peace is the fruit of being focused on Christ and accepting what he accepts and rejecting what he rejects. So I urge you this morning, seek Christ and his righteousness and all these things – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control – will be yours as well. They are his fruit, the fruit of His Holy Spirit at work in our lives. Amen.