Date: 07 Oct 2018
Text: Galatians 5:22-23
It’s Harvest and once again the generosity of those who attend this church never ceases to amaze me. There is a huge amount of food here and I’m sure that all those who eventually receive it will be very grateful.
It is of course the time of year when we give thanks to God for His generosity in providing so much food for us. Nothing that we eat is generated from nothing, it is all provided by God; it may be processed and packaged for modern life but it still has its origins in God’s provision.
Now I do realise that at Harvest we tend to think of songs such as “We Plough the Fields and Scatter” followed by “Bringing in the Sheaves”! However, this morning I want us to think about the “fruit of the Spirit” that Paul talks of in Galatians 5:22-23. I’m sure that you are all aware that soft fruit is abundant in this country as the countryside hedgerows bulge with blackberries, raspberries, blackcurrants and possibly even blueberries. Then there are the orchards full of apples, pears and plums, and of course we mustn’t forget the incredible number of fields that are full of strawberries. We also import plenty of other fruit as well as what we grow ourselves; fruit such as bananas, pineapples, mangoes, Kiwi fruit, oranges, lemons, grapefruit. I’m sure if we think hard enough we may be able to come up with even more. One of the problems with harvesting the soft fruit in this country as I understand it is the shortage of workers which is why so many come here every year from Eastern Europe; a source of supply that will reportedly dry up after Brexit leaving us with plenty of harvest but few workers. That thought echoes what Jesus had to say and which Luke recorded in Luke 10:2 where the Lord said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” However, that is a digression as I really want to focus this morning on ourselves as individual believers in Jesus Christ.
The object of growing and harvesting all this fruit is to produce an abundance of food that nourishes all of us and allows us to eat a healthy diet. Sadly of course not everyone does eat such a healthy diet even though there is plenty of food to go round; especially in this country. Just as there is an abundance of food and fruit, we too as believers in Jesus Christ should yield an abundant crop of fruit – the fruit of the Spirit that Paul talks about.
Just as fruit grows over a period of time and is nurtured by the rain and the sun, and in some cases by the cold, so we too should grow our own spiritual fruit as we are nurtured by the Holy Spirit and thereby grow in Christ. It is only as our faith grows that we can yield this wonderful spiritual fruit. However, just as fruit grown in the wild can be constrained and held back by weeds and killer bugs so too can our spiritual lives and faith. This spiritual fruit that Paul talks of is the opposite of the “works of the flesh” that he lists in Galatians 5:19-21, works that we should see as being the kind of weeds and bugs that can kill our spiritual growth. The only way that we can grow and display the fruit that we ought to is only achieved by abiding in Christ. It is important that we do grow in our faith and demonstrate the fruits of the Spirit so that others can see them and want to know why we are the way we are.
Paul lists these fruits as being: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Some of these may be obvious whilst others less so. Which is why, over the next few minutes I want to take a brief look at each one of them.
Whilst all of these fruits are important I believe that love is probably the most important. When making similar comments about the fruit of the Spirit in Colossians 3 Paul suggests that we should, “... over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” (Colossians 3:14). The love that Paul is talking about here is not of the erotic nature but a love of the heart and mind that chooses to love the undeserving and those who aren’t easy to love or perhaps aren’t even easy to like. We must never lose sight of the fact that God loved us when we were totally unlovable. He sent His Son to die for us even though we were total sinners and therefore unlovable in many people’s eyes.
I’ve said before that it never ceases to amaze me that so many Christians seem to walk around looking as if they’ve lost a million pounds and found a sixpence! I do realise that there is a lack of joy in the ever darker world in which we live but we as individual believers in Jesus Christ should be full of joy. This isn’t the silly or flippant kind of joy that many people exhibit when they have had a few too many drinks but a heart-deep feeling of joy knowing that our future will involve being with Christ in heaven. Paul of all people knew about suffering as a servant of Christ and yet he was able to say to those in the church in Philippi, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4) Thankfully none of us has suffered in the same way as Paul and so there should be nothing to prevent us from rejoicing in the Lord at all times. Whilst love is a wonderful fruit of the Spirit we should also remember that Jesus gave us a command to love one another. He said to His disciples, "A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34) Just imagine what changes there could be in society if Christians exhibited the joy that they feel as a result of knowing that they are loved by Jesus Christ. I’m sure that the world would be a better place, and who knows, more may want to come to faith in Jesus as a result.
There simply isn’t enough peace in the world today. Just look at around at the conflicts that are taking place in various parts of the world. Think about the political conflicts taking place between the UK and the EU. Think about the conflicts within families, some of which lead to violence and even murder. The growth in the numbers of people suffering with various forms of mental health problems, especially teenagers, indicates to me a great lack of personal peace. True peace comes from knowing that God is in control. By coming to faith in Jesus we can begin the process of receiving and developing peace within ourselves. It is a deep inner peace that grows and grows as we walk nearer to Christ each day. Once again it is Paul who makes a wonderful and helpful comment when he writes in Philippians 4:6-7, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Paul also wrote about peace when he said to the Colossians, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.” (Colossians 3:15) It is that kind of peace that so many need today and it the kind of peace that grows in our hearts as we draw ever nearer to Jesus. If we have that deep inner peace that our faith can bring then once again others will want to know why we seem so cool, calm and collected, which I hope we do as a result of having the peace of Christ within us.
It is an old joke but true nevertheless; many of us pray for patience and we want it NOW! We do live in an impatient world; everything is instant, or at least, has to be to keep us satisfied. Have you noticed how many people live off take-away food and convenience meals? That is because they haven’t the time or patience to prepare and cook what I would call a proper meal. Too many of us lose patience in traffic jams or if the train is late or if the bus is late. Am I right? We need patience not just as a fruit of the Spirit but perhaps as a gift of the Spirit. However, if we allow the Holy Spirit fully into our lives and listen to His bidding then patience will come. I’m not convinced that it will be instant but it will develop. Many of the things that I’ve just mentioned probably irritate us greatly and yet as the Holy Spirit works in us we grow in our ability to endure such things; we develop the patience that we so desperately need. Remember that God is patient with us when He really has every good reason not to be. Peter writes that God “is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9). If God can be patient with us as undeserving sinners then surely we can learn to be patient with one another and those things that really annoy us?
There are many people who aren’t Christians who show kindness towards people, and such kindness is to be applauded. However, many Christians display kindness by going the extra mile to help those who truly need help. Just think of all those volunteers helping with Christian charities both here and overseas. Christian kindness can involve acting charitably and benevolently towards others, especially those who are desperately in need. We can also display kindness by taking the initiative to carry out a kind act by not waiting to be asked. God displayed His loving kindness towards us by sending Jesus to be with us and then to die for us. The least we can do is develop and display kindness to reflect God’s kindness.
This fruit may seem very similar to kindness which it may well be even though it isn’t quite the same. We can certainly demonstrate this fruit by reaching out to help others who may not at first sight deserve the help we offer. We can also exhibit this fruit by ignoring the barbs and insults that may come our way and simply carrying on being good to people.
Faithfulness isn’t just something that should exist in a marriage but also in life. We should be honest, trustworthy and reliable. There are many instances of those who have come to faith in Christ from a dishonest or even criminal background. When they come to faith in Christ and the Holy Spirit starts to work in their lives they can totally change in the way they behave. Not everyone of course may be willing to accept these changed characters on the basis that “a leopard doesn’t change its spots”! However, as Christians each and every one of us should be honest and trustworthy in everything we do and thereby show that the Holy Spirit is working in our lives.
This too may seem to be very close to kindness which it is although not completely! There is a lot of aggression in the world today and many people take a belligerent stance when doing things. As we grow in Christ and the Holy Spirit works more and more in our lives we should take a more gentle approach in how we deal with the world and how we help people. There are those who in the world who may have had problems in their lives and a gentle word or act can make all the difference to them. Many are used to being treated badly and so when someone does show gentleness towards them they remember it and that person stands out to them. Such a gentle approach can make all the difference and can demonstrate a fruit of the Spirit that we may never truly think about.
The final fruit of self control is really talking about self discipline as well as self control. The Weymouth translation of this verse uses the words “self restraint” whilst the KJV talks of “temperance”. They are both good ways of looking at this fruit since someone who is exercising self control will also exhibit self restraint and temperance in all that they do. Most of us have probably had problems with self control at one time or another but the Holy Spirit working in us can help us to develop that control, a control that would be impossible in our own strength. With the help of the Holy Spirit we can all learn to control ourselves in our daily lives and those awkward or potentially sinful situations can be avoided or dealt with far more easily. For instance, those who in the past may have had a short temper may develop much needed self control because of the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives. Consequently people will see this fruit working in someone and may well wonder where it has come from.
When we travel out into the countryside, especially during the summer, we are almost sure to see fruit growing in the hedgerows, orchards full of apples and pears, and fields full of strawberries. All of these fruits are visible and growing in the open for us to see and to savour. When these fruits are harvested we can see them in shops and supermarkets and buy them for our own enjoyment and nutrition.
Similarly if the Holy Spirit is working in our lives the fruits that Paul has listed in Galatians 5:22-23, will also be visible and on show to the world. They too will provide us with enjoyment and spiritual nutrition. As we grow in Christ and allow the Holy Spirit more and more into our lives then the more these fruits will grow.
Writing to the Thessalonians, Paul told them, “Do not quench the Holy Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 5:19 NKJV). I take that to mean that we shouldn’t prevent the Holy Spirit from going about His work in our lives. It is through the Holy Spirit and all that He does in us and with us that we grow the fruits of the Spirit that we all so desperately need. Let the Holy Spirit work in your life and see the difference that He will make as you yield a great personal spiritual harvest.