Date: 02 Oct 2016
Text: Galatians 5:22-23
It’s that time of year again when we quite rightly celebrate Harvest; the amazing abundance of God’s gifts in providing us with so much food. Year by year God provides the food that we need to sustain ourselves physically; it’s good that we do celebrate this time of year and it’s also good that we thank God for His generosity in ensuring that we in the first world have more than enough to eat. However, we do need to think of those in the third world who are less fortunate and it is equally important that we think about our own personal harvest.
Throughout the country we see a great variety of food growing; wheat, barley, oats, rapeseed, apples, pears, soft fruits of many different varieties. Thanks to modern farming techniques farmers are now able to obtain a great yield from the earth. As we drive around the countryside we also see animals grazing and growing as they are fattened up to provide meat; and we see cows and goats providing milk to drink and to be used in the production of butter, cheese and yoghurt. We are very fortunate here in the UK and in the EU to have so much great farmland and farmers who can produce so much. You may remember that in the past so much was produced that there used to be butter mountains and wine lakes across Europe although I’m not sure that happens anymore. We should also remember that whilst farmers use new and better techniques and may be farming in more efficient ways, at the end of the day these are all useless without God’s help. God provides the rain and sun to help with the growth and nurturing of the crops. He provides the frost and snow that has a cleansing effect on the soil that prepares it for the new season and of course it is the good soil that He provides that allows cattle and sheep to safely graze and grow accordingly.
Sadly the third world is not so fortunate. Many parts of Africa in particular have poor soil, a lack of agricultural skills and a lack of resources in terms of equipment, seed and irrigation methods. They also have to contend with regular drought and there are some parts of Africa that don’t see rain from one year to the next. And as if that isn’t bad enough, they also have the problem of industry polluting the air and the earth with the resulting detrimental effect on crop yields.
We can’t change the amount of rain that falls on the drier parts of the world just as we can’t organise more sun when we may need it for our own crops. We can, though, share the bounteous amounts of food that we produce with those who are less fortunate. This applies to sharing with those in the third world as well as with those in this country who frequently need to use food banks.
At this time of year it is quite right that we think of the wonderful harvest that has been given to us. God has once again provided wonderfully for our physical needs and we should give thanks to Him for that. However, what about our spiritual needs? What about our own spiritual harvest? Do we ever think about that; do we ever give thanks to God when He provides for our spiritual needs?
We know from the parable of the sower in Matthew 13 that we reap what we sow. When we sow the seeds not all of them fall on good ground, some fall on ground that is not welcoming to the seed. So it is in our spiritual lives, we only reap what we sow. It is no good moaning that God doesn’t answer our prayers or never seems to be there for us if we never come before Him with contrite hearts to worship Him. We need to think about the type of seeds that we sow and if we are sowing seeds of anger or frustration or apathy then I don’t think we can really expect to reap an abundant harvest. We also need to think about the effects our poor sowing may have on others. Do we talk badly about God or His people who belong to His church? Do we deny Him in various ways? If we do then those actions may well have a ripple effect that disturbs others who have little or no faith. Just as ripples on a lake do, those ripples may also come back and upset our spiritual equilibrium as well.
In Galatians 5:22-23 Paul is talking of the fruits of the Spirit that grow within us as a result of the work of the Holy Spirit. If we sow the right spiritual seeds then God through His Holy Spirit will nurture those seeds and our lives will yield any or all of these nine fruits that Paul lists. The Holy Spirit gives every one of those who come to faith in Jesus as Lord and Saviour a gift of some sort, and it is a gift that is to be used in God’s service. It is how we use that gift or those gifts if we have been given more than one, that determines how we grow spiritually and how much fruit we yield. If we use those gifts correctly we will grow spiritually and we will yield these fruits of the Spirit. The important thing is that we need to demonstrate that those fruits are in our lives.
In John 15:5b Jesus said, “If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit”. Here in Galatians 5 Paul lists those fruits to which Jesus is referring and they show a Christian’s attitude towards God, towards other people and towards themselves. If we live in the right way and nurture the spiritual seeds within us then these fruits will grow and be demonstrable in our lives.
The first three fruits that Paul lists are love, joy and peace and are Christian virtues that are concerned with our attitude towards God Himself. If we truly do have faith in Jesus Christ then our first love should be our love for God. Similarly our chief joy should be in God. How many times have you seen Christians with faces longer than a wet weekend in Wigan? If we have this joy that Paul describes as a fruit of the Spirit then surely we should be able to demonstrate that joy in our demeanour and behaviour. That is not to say that we should adopt a flippant attitude to life but that we should always have in view the glories that are to come when we will see Jesus face to face. Thirdly, the deepest peace that we can ever have is our peace with God. I mentioned that peace last week when we looked at 2 Peter 3 and it is a peace that we only receive when we are reconciled to God. At the same time we also receive that amazing peace in our hearts that Paul describes as a peace “which transcends all understanding” (Philippians 4:7).
The second set of three fruits relates to social matters, how we behave and interact with others. Whereas the first three fruits are aimed at God these next three are aimed at our fellow man. The translation of the NIV that we use has the word “forbearance” whereas earlier NIV versions and other translations use the word “patience”. The good old King James Version uses the word “longsuffering”. We always need to be patient when dealing with people even if we find them difficult to deal with. It may not be easy but God is always there to help us and give us the patience we need when we need it. The next fruit is kindness which we can demonstrate in a variety of ways. Simple things like holding a door open for someone, helping to do their shopping, calling someone when they are ill are all acts of kindness that cost nothing and most certainly do demonstrate God at work in our lives. The third fruit in this trilogy is goodness, something that may seem a bit difficult to define. I suspect though that we can demonstrate goodness in how we speak to people and how we work with them. We can demonstrate goodness in the books, magazines and newspapers that we read and in the television programmes that we watch. We can demonstrate goodness in how we speak by using kind and loving words rather than foul language. All three of these fruits can be visible to those around us as well as to God and they should all be demonstrated almost automatically as a result of our having faith in Jesus Christ.
The third trilogy of these fruits deal with the attitudes we display as Christians. As we grow in faith and draw nearer to Christ we should demonstrate faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. In many ways these fruits reflect Christ at work in our lives. We should always remain faithful to God and work to build up our faith. It should be a faith that is strong and can withstand the bumps and bruises of living in a world that only ever seems to display hostility towards God. Do you remember the old song that many of us may have sung at Sunday School; Gentle Jesus, Meek and Mild? Throughout His ministry Jesus was always gentle and meek with and towards people. The Text of the Month that I have quoted for the October 2016 Church Magazine comes from Matthew 11:28-30 and includes the words of Jesus when He says, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:29). We can do worse than to follow Jesus’ example and be “gentle and humble” in our hearts. The third and final fruit in this trio is self-control something that indicates that we have control and mastery of our own behaviour and all that we do. The King James Version uses the word “temperance” here instead of self-control and it suggests being in control of what we drink!
That is quite a list but shows the natural produce that appears in Christians who live Spirit-filled lives. If we do live our lives filled with the Holy Spirit and walking beside Jesus Christ each day, then, as Paul adds at the end of 5:23, “against such things there is no law”. The law is there to curb or to restrain or deter us from doing things but that is not the case if we are filled with and led by the Holy Spirit.
In the world of arable farming farmers prepare the ground, sow the seeds and then nurture and feed them to allow them to germinate and grow. God provides the rain and the sun that are essential to that process and those small seeds soon grow and produce the amazing harvest that we celebrate today.
Our faith is just the same. It starts out as the size of a mustard seed, probably the smallest seed that there is, and then grows such that, as Jesus told His disciples, the seed grows and “becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade” (Mark 4:32b). If a properly nurtured mustard seed can produce such huge growth then just think of how much our faith can grow if that is also properly attended to. We also need to nurture the seeds of our faith that have been planted in our hearts so that we too can grow and produce an abundant yield; these wonderful and personal fruits of the Spirit.
In John 15:7-8 Jesus said, “If you remain in me and my words remain within you ... This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” If we do remain in Christ and heed His word, then we will indeed yield a wonderful harvest of the fruits of the Spirit.