Sunday, January 9, 2011

Fruit of The Holy Spirit ( a Series): introduction.

Galatians 5:13-26
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. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 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. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 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.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other

This year I’ve been invited to preach once a month at a church in Auckland so I thought I would do a series looking the fruit of the Holy Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23, So I'm using  the metaphor of trees and fruit to make some introductory comments, and  put Paul’s list of Christian virtues into the wider context of his letter to the Galatians do a little bit of ground work on who is the Holy Spirit and how the Spirit works in our lives. and if that’s not enough to give us a frame work for looking at these nine fruit individually.

Now I’d like to say that while I’m not an expert on horticulture and fruit growing I have had some hands on experience. In various summer and holiday jobs I’ve been a horticultural labourer, I’ve weeded and weeded and weeded at a nursery growing tamarillo and kiwi fruit plants. I’ve picked various berries, had my fingers full of minute black thorns from boysenberries, had my back throbbing and aching from picking strawberries, picked and winter and summer pruned Kiwifruit, grown melons in a hot house where the temperature was up to 40degrees and the humidity at 100%. In the same hot houses I strung about ten thousand tomato plants as I was the only worker who was tall enough to reach the top wire. Tomatoes are a fruit by the way. So from that limited experience as a horticultural labourer here are some strikingly profound observations I have gleaned.

Fruit grows when it is connected to the vine or the tree, if they are not then they don’t grow. right!

Jesus in John 15 said the same thing using the metaphor of him being the vine he said. ‘Remain in me as I also 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.”

You see just like grapes or any other fruit grows because of its relationship with the tree or vine that its growing on so it is with us. We grow Christ-like fruit in our lives because of the relationship we have with God.

Paul had written to the church at Galatia to remind them of this very point. He was writing to correct some false teaching that they had received from a group within the early church that historians call the judaisers. They were a group that taught that while we were forgiven through faith in Jesus Christ, that the way to live out our Christian life was to adhere to the customs and laws of Judaism. To become a follower of Jesus Christ you had to become a Jew and follow the law. It had its very concrete outworking in making gentiles get circumcised and live by the letter of the law of Moses. It impacted on the worship life of the church, in Galatians 4:10 Paul says I see you’ve even begun observing special days and months and seasons and years!. They had started to even celebrate the Jewish religious calendar and festivals. Instead of being about a living relationship with Jesus Christ, they were settling for a religion, trying to appease God through keeping rules and regulations, rituals and rites.

Paul’s response is to tell them that it’s not regulations and rituals that are at the centre of the Christian faith, its relationship. It’s not traditions and tight codes of behaviour its relationship. That by grace and faith in Jesus Christ that we are bought into a new relationship a new covenant with God and we have been set free from the law. It does not mean that the Law is done away with, but that there is a better way. Law showed that we were sinners, it was there to limit evil and wrongdoing, rather he says that the law is to be fulfilled in the commandments ‘ To Love God and love your neighbour as yourself’. It’s not about the regulations it’s about the relationship.

The fruit comes through the presence and influence of God’s Holy Spirit dwelling in and with us. The Holy Spirit is the third person of the trinity. The Holy Spirit is God, the Holy Spirit was eternal before creation, as God was active in creation. Is the agent of God’s providence working in history, The Holy Spirit is active in our salvation, active in our being sanctified, that is being made more like Jesus Christ and in bringing all God’s plans and purposes to fruition. The Spirit is our comforter and guide, The Spirit leads us into all truth, and convicts us of our need for God. God dwells within us by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit enables and empowers us to witness to Christ and love one another and the world round us.

I use this diagram to try and get my head round the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the follower of Jesus and we see that at the centre of that work is communion, is that relationship with God. Paul says it’s that relationship when we walk and are led by the Holy Spirit that we grow in our knowing and being known by God and through that that these fruit develop.

The way that central relationship is shown to each other and to the world is through our calling to be witnesses to Jesus Christ and our capabilities, the gifts of the Holy Spirit gives for us to serve and minister to each other and the world round us. But foundational to that is the way being in relationship with God transforms our character. This is where the fruit comes in. Our witness to Jesus is shown as Jesus says by our love for one another. The end result of a fruit tree is not just the fruit it produces but it produces fruit to reproduce itself. The right context for using the Gifts of the Holy Spirit is also Love: Love that is characterised by Paul in 1 Corinthians 13 by a list of virtues that mirrors the list of the fruit of the spirit in Galatians. All this springs from that relationship with God.

The second thing I have observed about fruit is that you can judge what sort of fruit tree you have by the fruit it produces.

In Rotorua we had a cherry tree in our front yard. I could tell it was a cherry tree because of the beautiful red cherry like fruit it produced. Now our family love cherries. At Christmas time the favourite pastime is sitting round talking and devouring heaps of cherries. One of our favourite holiday memories is going up to central Otago to pick our own cherries and then eating them on the way home and spitting the stones up out of the sun roof and moon roof of our van. The real funny thing about that is that some people in our family who will remain nameless have no sense of direction and you ended up having to avoid miss-directed stones ricocheting round the van. So I was looking forward to the cherries on the tree in Rotorua. Of course one taste of the cherry and I knew exactly what sort of cherry tree it was, it was an ornamental cherry tree, and the fruit were sour and bitter. You can tell a tree from its fruit.

Jesus said the same thing talking about recognising false prophets in the sermon on the mount.

‘By their fruit you will recognise them, a good tree cannot produce bad fruit and a bad tree cannot produce good fruit. Thus by their fruit will you recognise them’

Paul in writing to the Galatians does the same thing. He had talked about the fact that because of grace in Christ we are free from the law but has to say that that freedom is not a licence for indulging our flesh, our own human desires. Rather again that Christians were to exercise that freedom by allowing the Spirit to lead us and walking in the spirit. It freed us for a relationship with God.He then gives us two lists. One is the results of allowing our fallen human nature and appetites to be what guides us in our freedom. In Galatians 5:19-21, Gordon fee sees the list breaking down to four categories, fulfilling desires for illicit sex, it’s amazing how the purveyors of all kinds of pornography defend it as a legitimate use of freedom of speech. Illicit worship, where worship becomes about fulfilling my needs rather than a search for truth, the breakdown of relationships, all ways wanting it my way and the fourth category is excesses. These are the outworking that we can all see when we throw off restraint and simply let our natural desires be our guide. Contra to that says Paul when we allow the spirit to lead and guide us in our freedom the fruit of that relationship are those that allow us to show love to others and bring a real abundance of life. In fact they are the things says Paul you don’t have to legislate against. You don’t have to limit them. The more the better

I read a blog entry on the sojourners website where an astute economist was reflecting on some of the roots the roots and causes of the economic down turn we find ourselves in. You’ve got to be amazed when a company can go bankrupt and own at least four times as much as the whole economy of our nation, and another company has to be bailed for even more than that. The article looked at all the factors involved in the so called credit crunch, and yes they may have over simplified it but they came to the conclusion that a lot of the speculating on the markets and the loaning money to people beyond their ability to repay and loaning money secured by property that was already mortgaged gambling that property prices were always going to go up, was ‘putting short term personal profit in front of the long term good of the economy, it was putting their personal gain above the common good. Like Paul here in Galatians that was put in the context of the debate over regulating the markets, those who sought freedom of market forces saw the market as only good and didn’t realise that behind that stood the ethics or lack of ethics of those in the market. We are having to live with the consequences of that now.

For Paul we were free in Christ from having to live by regulations, but that freedom wasn’t to be about indulging our human desire because as he points out in his list, human nature isn’t all good it is fallen and this is what it can lead to, But our freedom needs to be lead and guided by a relationship with God whose nature is ethical and loving.

Fruit takes a long time to develop.

It doesn’t grow over night. The Corinthians has gifts and fruit mixed up as indicators of growing maturity in Christ. They thought that certain manifestations of the spirit were signs of their Christian maturity but Paul says no they are not. He could tell they were not because of the way they were treating each other. Rather Christian maturity comes as the gifts of the spirit are used in Love. But that character takes time to develop.

We live in a society that values talent and giftedness, just look at how much we pay athletes and some have got giftedness mixed up with character. They are surprised and let down with the off field antics of some of our best rugby and league players. We marvel at their ability on the field and shake our head at their immaturity off it. WE forget that developing character takes time. That’s why Paul says in Galatians that they will develop and grow as we allow the Spirit to lead us and we walk with the Spirit. Its only in that journey together that we continue to develop and grow fruit.

While all fruit doesn’t grow in bunches the fruit of the spirit does. It’s not only as we grow in our relationship with God through the spirit its as we grow in our love for each other and wrestle with all that’s involved in being the body of Christ together that that Christ-like character grows.It is as we wrestle with loving one another in the midst of the foibles and fractions, suffering and sharing, missioning and misery, working through misunderstandings and the messiness  of life together and even in the midst of Jesus commands like love your enemies that the fruit grow and ripen. It ripens in bunches. That is why Christianity is a team sport why it's important to be part of a church, even if it anything but perfect, and if you find the perfect church don't join it you will ruin it). It’s one of the reasons that being in a small group, a life group or a home group helps people grow in their faith is they have to grow in their love for each other.

When we come to know Jesus Christ the Holy Spirit comes and dwells within. AS we develop and grow that relationship with the Holy Spirit then we are changed and transformed and begin to reflect the one who has saved us by grace. Now Paul’s not great here on details on how we do that he just says that we are to allow the spirit to guide us and walk in the spirit, That means allowing the spirit to give us the right food and water and environment and soil conditions and the spirit will grow Christ like fruit in our lives: Love, joy, peace, patience, Kindness or compassion, , goodness or generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. As we look at these individually over the year we will see that they are all reflections of the character of God, they are best understood and used in relationship with each other and they produce more fruit bearing trees (think disciples) as they are allowed to grow, develop and ripen in our lives.

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