Fruit of the Spirit

Today in this concluding sermon in the series that began by us looking at the gifts of the Spirit we now look together at the Fruit of the Spirit. If you remember we are told in the Bible to earnestly seek the gifts of the Spirit and how they are given for the edification of the church and the salvation of others. We all have gifts and talents, we all have a role to play in being part of that Body of Christ that is the church.

I believe that whenever the gifts of the Spirit are in use we will always see the Fruit of the Spirit – it is cause and effect. The cause is the gift of the Spirit – the effect is the Fruit of the Spirit. Those who live in God’s light will produce fruit of moral and ethical character – “for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth.” (Ephesians 5:9) I hope you will see today that the Fruit of the Spirit exceeds worldly experience or expectation – for example God’s love surpasses worldly love, God’s joy can be seen at times we would not necessarily expect it and so on.

So often, the fruit we may see in the sense of the world is not fruit that will last. God’s fruit, by comparison, endures and it is seminal – fruit begets fruit. There are also occasions when it takes some time for the fruit to become evident – for example the mission field. In ministry and mission we know that one plants, one waters – but God causes growth. It is easy for us to expect ‘overnight’ results, when in reality it may take time.

The Fruit of the Spirit then should form a foundation of our life in Jesus on which all things rest; when we see the Fruit of the Spirit we come close to having the mind of Christ. The Fruit of the Spirit in our lives affects everything we do and say, and the way we rationalize things; without it, everything is affected by sin. It has been said that for the shortest and most complete biography of Jesus, look at the Fruit of the Spirit. When people see the Fruit of the Spirit in our lives they should see Jesus. We should also remember that the Fruit does not come from efforts, simply by legalistically following the law but grows naturally out of trust, out of relationship, out of covenant and out of love. This is the essence of mission and captures the principle of practising what we preach. In Galatians 5: 23 we read that against the Fruit of the Spirit “there is no law”.

If we ever wanted a measure against which we could determine our ‘rightness’ with God and every aspect of relationship – whether with God or each other, then we should look to the Fruit of the Spirit. It is also worthwhile looking at what causes the opposite of each Fruit to be realised in our lives and bring that before the foot of the cross. Only when we identify barriers to each fruit and bring these before the Lord can we hope for the barriers to be overcome.

The Bible tells us about the Fruit of the Spirit in 5 books in the New Testament – Galatians 5, 2 Corinthians 6, Ephesians 4 & 5, Colossians 3 and of course 1 Corinthians 13. I think there are roughly 19 fruit listed and these are on the overhead. It certainly is an impressive list isn’t it? I don’t know about you but when I look at the Fruit of the Spirit I can’t help but think – desire even – that there is more of that in our lives. We should yearn to be clothed in the Fruit of the Spirit.

I thought it might be helpful to comment on a selection of some of the fruit.

Love

The kind of love we are talking about here is agape love – that unreserved, unconditional, generous and gracious love, that sincere affection and benevolence. It is a kind of love you cannot share or experience in isolation. It is the kind of love in which we go the extra mile with one another. It is the kind of love that allows us to love the unlovable – those who society puts down or has written off. It is the kind of love that we must show to one another as we knock rough edges off one another. It is the kind of love God has shown us and the kind of love we are called to show to God. It is the kind of love described in 1 Corinthians 13.

Joy

I think Biblically, joy has its roots in that sure and certain hope we have – that deep knowledge and security of our salvation and that we are God’s children. This kind of joy is a joy we can know even in and through adversity – and we see something of it in the Book of Job. We too may pray “The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21) We too may pray “I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth” (Job 19:25). It can be linked closely with faith and we get a sense of that in 1 Peter…

Though not having known Him, you love Him; and even though you do not see Him now you believe in Him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, [the] salvation of your souls.” (1 Peter 1: 8 – 9).

Peace

Philippians talks about a kind of peace that is elusive to many people…that peace that surpasses all understanding:

Stop being anxious about anything, but in every [thing] by prayer and by petition, with thanksgiving, be letting your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, the [peace] surpassing all understanding, will guard [or, protect] your hearts [fig., inner selves] and your thoughts in Christ Jesus”. (Philippians 4: 6- 7)

For people who struggle with adverse mental health including depression or anxiety, this kind of peace is particularly elusive. If you suffer from anxiety it isn’t easy to “stop being anxious about anything” because it isn’t as if you want to be anxious in the first place! But for me it highlights the importance of persistence in prayer.

Patience

We live in a consumer society where there is an expectation of “instant everything”. We tend to find it difficult because of that to be patient – patient with ourselves or patient with other people or perhaps the circumstances in which we find ourselves. I think it helps if we hold fast to the Lord’s Prayer to remind ourselves that we pray for God’s will to be done. That means God’s timing, and God’s way which isn’t necessarily when or how we might expect it. We must hold fast to the verse “The Lord’s patience means salvation” and pray that we too might be blessed with such patience.

The Lord is not slow concerning His promise, as some regard slowness, but He is waiting patiently towards us, not wanting any to be lost but [for] all to make room for repentance.”…“Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation.” (2 Peter 3: 9, 15a). See also Proverbs 14: 29, 15: 18, 19: 11, James 1: 19 – 20.

Kindness

There are several passages that speak about kindness:

It is “God’s kindness that is leading us to repentance.” (Romans 2: 4) “So we urged Titus to finish this work of kindness among you in the same way that he had started it. Indeed, the more your faith, speech, knowledge, enthusiasm, and love for us increase, the more we want you to be rich in this work of kindness.” (2 Corinthians 8: 6 – 9)

Do you see how the Fruit of the Spirit is seminal – it can itself go on to bear more fruit. So the kindness of God can lead us to repentance.

Goodness

In the Bible, the “goodness” of God often refers to His gracious generosity in providing abundantly for our needs and benefits (Psalm 23:6; 65:11). It can also refer to God’s generous mercy and patience that allow more time for sinners to repent (Romans 2:4).

But God’s goodness is much more than those things. It is the very essence of God’s nature – His righteousness and holiness. In Ephesians 5:9, we see that His goodness is closely associated with righteousness and truth.

To the extent that we have God’s goodness, we have godliness or God-likeness. We are made in God’s image AND likeness.

Faithfulness

Great Faith is a Gift of the Spirit. The context of faith in the Fruit of the Spirit is that of faithfulness…there is a sense of constancy, consistency, reliability and covenant. The Psalms, and indeed the whole of Scripture, contain numerous examples of God’s faithfulness to His people – it is that covenant love. With the Spirit indwelling in us, we too should reflect God’s faithfulness in our encounters.

Gentleness

You have given me the shield of your salvation, and your right hand supported me, and your gentleness made me great.” (Psalm 18: 35) It is wonderful that the Lord’s gentleness can make us great. “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4: 1 – 3)

When you encounter people who are gentle, who almost shine with gentleness and humility – these are people who are “God touched” and God blessed.

Self-Control

The Bible tells us that “A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.” (Proverbs 25: 28) And we are called to do all that we can to nurture and encourage the gifts that we have for the Fruit to be in evidence. “For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” (2 Timothy 1: 6 – 7) In that self-control we see gracious restraint often seen in Godly speaking.

Purity

Holiness and purity often go hand in hand…the Bible tells us “He who loves purity of heart, and whose speech is gracious, will have the king as his friend.” (Proverbs 22: 11) “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (Matthew 5: 8)

Understanding

The Fruit of Understanding is like having those lightbulb moments about the things of God. It tends to result in a deepening of our faith.

Truthful Speech

It is a challenge today that society’s view is that there is no such thing as absolute truth and that there are many “truths”. I struggle with that view because Jesus said “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) He didn’t say “a way, a truth and a life”. For me God’s truth is absolute truth…“Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.” (Psalm 51: 6) “Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name.” (Psalm 86: 11)

Reliance on the Power of God

2 verses perhaps capture this fruit:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” (Romans 1: 16)   “For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but in dealing with you we will live with him by the power of God.” (2 Corinthians 13: 4)

Humility

Philippians 2 gives us that model of humility shown by Christ.

Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2: 3 – 4)

Tolerance

Tolerance is a sense of long suffering and great forbearance; it is also commitment to one another. It is being prepared to journey with one another warts and all! Tolerance is a hallmark of covenant – and we see God’s tolerance – his mercy that triumphs over judgement, and of course his grace – again and again and again.

Righteousness

There are three verses that capture righteousness:

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” (Matthew 5: 6) “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5: 10) “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6: 33) With that last verse especially we tend to omit the “and his righteousness”.

Discerning what pleases the Lord

The primary reason for our existence is to worship God and be in relationship with him. Not surprising then that one of the Fruit is to discern what pleases the Lord. “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” (Hebrews 11: 6) “So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.” (2 Corinthians 5: 9)

Heart of compassion

We love because God first loved us. We show compassion because God shows us compassion – we are hard wired to be compassionate – it is an integral part of our humanity.

For the Lord will not cast off forever, but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not willingly afflict or grieve the children of men.” (Lamentations 3: 31 – 33)

Forgiveness

All of the fruit would be worthy of their own sermon – but there really is a HUGE amount that could be said about forgiveness.

Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.”” (Matthew 18: 21 – 35) It is hugely important to forgive, to bear with one another, not to hold a grudge.

Conclusion

So there we have some insights into the Fruit of the Spirit. As I said earlier, I certainly want to see more of those in our lives. We must exercise discernment though because not all ‘fruitfulness’ is good; it is possible to bear bad fruit too. Fruit is something that comes from within and is expressed outwardly through our speech and actions. Someone who is evil will do evil deeds, and someone who is good will do good deeds. This is covered in Luke’s gospel:

For a good tree does not produce rotten fruit, nor does a rotten tree produce good fruit. For each tree is known by its own fruit. For they do not gather figs from thorn plants, nor do they pick a grape cluster from a thorn bush. The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces the good [thing], and the evil person out of the evil treasure of his heart produces the evil [thing]. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” (Luke 6: 43 – 45)

I have encountered people who have a bitter root in their heart or a critical spirit who quite simply can’t say anything good, positive, encouraging or affirming about anything or anybody; there is an absence of the Fruit in their life and it is heart-breaking. These are the kind of people who indulge in gossip or slander and yet the Bible is clear on this point…“If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

Don’t get me wrong, there are times when we need to speak the truth in love but we are to “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the LORD forgave you.” It can be good to engage in a spiritual health check and reflect on conversations we might have had and ask ourselves “in what ways was the Fruit of Spirit in evidence?” If you have an issue with someone, or if you have engaged in gossip or slander then make your peace with God and make your peace with that person.

Jesus tells us that He has chosen us and appointed us: “to go and produce fruit that will last, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, He will give it to you.” (John 15: 16) We need to claim that truth today.

Let me invite you to close your eyes now as I read some verses from Colossians.

12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the LORD forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. 15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.

Gifts of the Spirit 2

We recently began looking at the gifts of the Spirit together, focussing specifically on those gifts given for practical service and gifts given for leadership and administration. If you remember we also spoke about some of the barriers that we face that hold us back from using the gifts and talents we have been blessed with for the glory of God.

This week, in this concluding sermon on the gifts of the Spirit we will be looking together at what some people refer to as the gifts of utterance, of which there are perhaps 10 listed in the Bible:

  1. Apostle

Our first gift of utterance is an apostle who is literally ‘one sent forth’ for a specific purpose; an envoy, or a missionary. Someone who is an ambassador of the Gospel. Apostles are frequently engaged in the proclamation of the gospel to an unbelieving world (Galatians 2:7 – 9)

The first apostles were the disciples of Jesus. But other people subsequently became apostles:

  • Mary Magdalene was a follower of Jesus and is often referred to by the early church fathers as being the apostle to the apostles. You may remember in John’s Gospel how Jesus’ first resurrection appearance was to Mary Magdalene and she proclaimed the good news to the disciples before they too saw Jesus for themselves.
  • Someone else who we know as being an apostle was St Paul and if you consider his missionary journey’s and ministry in the early church we begin to get an idea of what an apostle is like.

In my own experience I knew someone who was gifted in this way. He was particularly good at church planting and building up churches – even if he was hopeless at sustaining the church once it had been established. But he recognised this and invested time and energy in building up a strong leadership team who could take the church forward.

  1. Word of wisdom

The second gift of utterance is a word of wisdom. People with this gift frequently express profound spiritual insights through the Spirit at a given moment, disclosing the mind, purpose, and way of God as applied to a specific situation. I would dare to say that I sometimes see this gift at work in the team here in this church. Do you perhaps know of people who have an incredible ability to get you to look at things in a different way and are perhaps able to encourage you to step out in faith?

   3.  Word of knowledge

The third gift of utterance is a word of knowledge. People with this gift are often given a revelation of knowledge from the Holy Spirit about something / someone, given for a specific purpose, usually having to do with an immediate need.

Have you encountered people who at times have insights about you, insights that bless you and lead you to life?

  1. Teaching

The fourth gift of utterance is teaching. People blessed with this gift have a great ability to expound and instruct people in established Christian doctrine so that people might be built up and equipped. It is worthwhile pointing out that being blessed with the gifts of the Spirit also carries with it responsibility. In James 3: 1 for example we are told… “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers and sisters, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.

In my walk of faith I have been blessed to meet a handful of people who are really gifted teachers and when they are exercising their ministry you simply feel engaged, excited, alert and in a place where you really listen. It is incredible to consider that perhaps the disciple Peter was blessed with this gift…if you want to see how then take a look at some point at the early chapters of Acts and see how when empowered by the Holy Spirit a simple fisherman who was rash and impulsive was used in an incredible way by God.

  1. Prophecy

The fifth gift of utterance is prophecy. This typically involves the proclamation of a message of edification, exhortation, consolation and / or rebuke. I know I have preached about prophecy at St Margaret’s before but I truly believe that the gift of prophecy is vital for the growth and direction of any church – no wonder we are told to “Keep on pursuing love, yet be seeking earnestly the spiritual gifts, especially the ability to prophesy.” (1 Corinthians 14: 1) I know of at least one person who is connected to church here who I would consider to be blessed with this gift. I think is it really important to say that I believe that this gift is linked intrinsically with discernment.

   6.  Discernment

The sixth gift of utterance is discernment or literally “distinguishing between spirits.” I believe that this gift is complementary to prophecy, and distinguishing the genuine prophet from the false. It is certainly an important gift to have in times of false teaching or when the teaching in parts of the church veers off towards the heretical.

Discernment is also critical when engaging in intercession and spiritual warfare. If you read Paul’s letter to the Ephesians where he talks about the armour of God and the spiritual struggle that we engage in, this is a gift that really helps.

  1. Speaking different kinds of languages 

The seventh gift of utterance is speaking in different kinds of tongues or languages. This sadly has tended to be a gift which has caused much controversy in the church and so bear with me if I spend a little bit of time explaining it:

  •  We see reference to this gift in several places in the New Testament. In Acts 10:44-46:

o   “While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.”

  • Not ALL Christians speak in tongues
  • Speaking in tongues is not necessarily the ONLY sign of being filled with the Spirit
  • There are no first or second-class Christians. If you don’t speak in tongues you are not a lesser Christian!!!!
  • Speaking in tongues is not the most important gift
  • Speaking in tongues is a human or angelic language (1 Corinthians 13:1)
  • It is a form of prayer (1 Corinthians 14:2) for private or corporate use…but there are some caveats when it is used in corporate worship!
  • It builds up an individual and brings glory to God
  • It transcends language barrier (1 Corinthians 14:14)
  • The speaker is in full control
  • Tongues are a sign for unbelievers (1 Corinthians 14:22)

   8.  Interpretation of languages

The eighth gift of utterance is the interpretation of tongues or languages. If you get time take a look at 1 Corinthians 14 which goes into some length about the interpretation of tongues and why it is important, especially in a context of corporate worship.

St Paul said “I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. But in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue.” (1 Corinthians 14:18-19)

  1. Evangelist

The ninth gift of utterance is an evangelist, which literally means “to announce good news (evangelize), especially the gospel” or to declare or bring and show good tidings and preach the gospel.

 Have you ever been in situations where someone you know simply can’t help but “gossip about God”? It is almost as if they are exploding with excitement about the things of God, the love of Christ and his good news.

I know some people who are blessed with this gift and it is a joy to minister alongside them. They are passionate, fearless yet deeply compassionate and loving individuals who see people as God sees them and desire with all of their heart that they might come to faith in Christ and be blessed and saved.

  10.  Pastor – teacher

The tenth or final gift of utterance is the pastor – teacher. I think this gift is exemplified by the illustration of a shepherd. Someone who looks after the flock, someone who guides and instructs the flock. I think Peter was blessed with this gift and in my mind Jesus’ instruction to him to “feed my sheep” captures the heart of it.

Every Christian has the Holy Spirit (we are “in the Spirit” (Romans 8:9)) but not every Christian is filled with the Spirit. In Ephesians we are told to “Be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18-20) and there is a sense that we need to continually be filled with the Spirit. Someone once said that the problem we have is that we leak! Jesus knew times of filling and times of being emptied. Jesus spent time in prayer with his heavenly Father to recharge his spiritual batteries. We need to do the same! Jesus invites us to drink deeply from the spring of the water of life that we might never thirst. (Revelation 22:17)

In all of this I hope you recognise that even if we are by very nature of our parentage and ancestry blessed with specific abilities at birth which come to fruition as we find ourselves in life, the gifts of the Spirit are if you like extra-ordinary gifts or talents given to the people of God to bring glory to him and to build up his church. It might be that God takes a talent we already possess and deeply blesses it – making the secular sacred – and in the power of the Holy Spirit making it bear much fruit OR it might be that in a given situation we are blessed with a gift of the Spirit for a specific time and purpose.

As I said last time, remember at all times that in Christ ALL of you have a calling, a value and a purpose. May you seek earnestly the gifts of the Spirit. May your prayer be “Come Holy Spirit, Come.”

Gifts of the Spirit 1

I do recognise when the Holy Spirit is the subject of sermons that some people in church may feel quite uncomfortable. In many churches, 2 of the 3 persons of the Trinity – God the Father and God the Son – tend to get much air time; but sadly the Holy Spirit is often neglected. I think there may be several reasons for that:

  • It can be hard for people to grapple and identify with the Holy Spirit;
  • When we use the word “charismatic” it conjures up so many different and unhelpful images. I am sure that you have heard the expression about charismatics “swinging from the chandeliers”, charismatics “waving their hands around in the air a lot” or charismatics “babbling with some kind of gobbledegook”.

In thinking specifically about the gifts of the Spirit, there are other reasons too why people may feel uncomfortable in making use of the God-given gifts they are blessed with. These can include:

  • Feeling inferior or inadequate
  • Not wanting to come across as being full of pride
  • A lack of confidence; feeling shy
  • Not being given an opportunity
  • Not being invited to share
  • Not knowing there is a need
  • A lack of understanding and training about the gifts of the Spirit and what it is to “be church”
  • Insufficient resources
  • Not knowing where our gifts and talents may best be used
  • Insecurity and fear of failure
  • Feeling intimidated by people around us who ‘seem’ more talented and more gifted than we are
  • Not realising that there opportunities to get involved and have a go
  • Lack of time due to other pressures
  • Bad experiences in the past

If we look at the parable of the sower in Mark 4: 1- 20, we can see how Satan can all too easily prevent a seed that has been sown from growing and yielding fruit. Our prayer should be that we will be as the ‘good soil’ so that when we ‘hear the word and receive it’, we will ‘keep yielding fruit – thirty, sixty or even a hundred times what was sown.’ It is so easy to forget that we are all too human, and we make mistakes. It also takes effort on our part to be as the ‘good soil’.

What we don’t understand we tend to be fearful of. And I think that the standard and frequency of teaching in the church on this subject leaves a lot to be desired. I believe we are called to express our faith and our prayers in a Trinitarian way; we shouldn’t neglect the Holy Spirit! At the most simple and perhaps also the most profound level, we pray to God the Father through Jesus Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, it seems appropriate on Pentecost Sunday in which we commemorate the coming of the promised Holy Spirit to the church that we should begin this sermon series on the Gifts of the Spirit and the Fruit of the Spirit. We are also told in the Bible “Keep on pursuing love, yet be seeking earnestly the spiritual gifts, especially the ability to prophesy.” (1 Corinthians 14: 1) It is astonishing to me that we spend so little time and effort in that seeking!!

My heartfelt desire – and one that fuels my prayers – is that you might be released to be all that you are created to be in Christ, and that you might know the transforming power of the Holy Spirit in your lives – His anointing and his equipping. In sharing my heart with the leadership team and engaging in some process of discernment we believe that this is important and the right time for us as a church to explore this together. There is both a need and an opportunity for us together to be the body of Christ in all its fullness.

So over the course of the next few sermons, I will be taking you through a series on the Gifts of the Spirit and the Fruit of the Spirit. The first two sermons will focus on the Gifts of the Spirit, beginning with us looking at an introduction and gifts for practical service and in the second sermon moving on to look at gifts of utterance. In the third and final sermon in this series, we will explore together the Fruit of the Spirit.

Sermon

Models of the Church

The Bible tells us about what are often referred to as gifts and graces (charismata and charis). Although the root Greek word ‘charis’ is the same, the meaning of the two words is fundamentally different. Although both gifts and graces are freely given to us from God, grace is given for the salvation of those who have it; gifts are bestowed for the edification and building up of God’s church and salvation of others.

I think that when we begin to consider this material it is important to begin by spending some time outlining some thoughts about ecclesiology – what it is to be church. We all know that church is not the building in which we worship in – beautiful so that may be; church is always the people of God gathered. There are many models of the church in the Bible. The church is the “bride of Christ”, and the church is the body of Christ (Colossians 1:15)

I want to focus today on that latter model – the church as the body of Christ. I wonder how many of you feel like you are part of a greater body? There are implications and consequences of being part of one body, being part of the same body:

  • When one of us is hurting, we all feel it
  • We all, without exception, have a role to play
  • No one role is more important than any other
  • We need to work together to keep healthy; we need to be united and work to and for a common vision and purpose in Christ
  • Our very lifeblood and spiritual DNA has to be founded in self-sacrificial love

To use that illustration of the body, it is difficult when people are members of a church and may not realise what their giftings are. If that is the case we have failed; if we fellowship together, on Sunday morning, in House Groups and at church social events and church weekend aways, then as we get to know one another we begin to realise particular gifts and talents that individuals may have. I am sure if you consider people you know in church you can quite easily think how “’Fred’ is really good at this or ‘Edna’ is really good at that”, whoever Fred or Edna might be in our context.

With that in mind, it can be helpful when a church begins to look at the gifts of the Spirit together. My hope is that in providing some teaching on the gifts that it might encourage is to prayerfully consider what our own individual giftings are and how we might use them for the glory of God. And if you already have some understanding and insight into your giftings and you already use them hopefully it might refresh and encourage you in your ministry. We also have an opportunity to prayerfully reflect on what other people’s giftings may be who may well need encouragement.

We also need to consider what defines us as people? Do we allow ourselves to be defined by this broken world in which we live in? We are in the world but not of the world. What defines us is our Heavenly Father; we are children of God, we are esteemed by God, we are a royal priesthood, and we are ambassadors of Christ.

An introduction to the Gifts of the Spirit

So what are the Gifts of the Spirit? Well to begin with let us consider the following:

  1. There is no such thing as a ‘complete list’ of the Gifts of the Spirit in the Bible
  2. Everyone has a gift (1 Peter 4: 10)
  3. Specific gifts are reserved for individuals, i.e. not everyone will have the same gift (1 Corinthians 12: 30)
  4. Many people may have more than one gift (1 Corinthians 14: 26)
  5. Spiritual gifts are apportioned by God (1 Corinthians 12: 6 – 11, 28 – 29)
  6. We may keep on desiring more gifts (1 Corinthians 12: 31)
  7. We should ‘devote ourselves’ to using the gifts we are given (Romans 12: 7 – 8)
  8. People with gifts are themselves gifts from Christ (Ephesians 4: 7 – 13)
  9. The hallmarks of the Gifts of the Spirit include:
    1. Bringing glory to God rather than man – the man who had been born lame praised God not Peter (Acts 3: 9);
    2. Upbuilding or edifying individuals (1 Corinthians 14: 26);
    3. Upbuilding or edifying the church – the body of Christ (Ephesians 4: 12)
    4. An escalation into the Fruit of the Spirit – a consequence of the sanctifying work of the Spirit within us (Ephesians 5: 8 – 9)

“If you are led by God’s Spirit, you will say that Jesus is Lord, and you will never curse Jesus.” (1 Corinthians 12:3)

In very general terms, the Gifts of the Spirit can be split into three main categories:

  1. Gifts of utterance
  2. Gifts for practical service
  3. Gifts of administration

This week I want to focus on the last 2, namely gifts for practical service and gifts of administration – recognising that we don’t necessarily have ALL of the gifts ALL of the time – we may be blessed with a specific gift for a specific purpose – for a time and a season. Gifts for practical service can be split further into two categories:

  1. Gifts of power. These include:
    1. Great faith

I believe that as Christians we all have some measure of faith. However, I also believe that there are times when God might call a community or an individual into an even greater expression of faith which in itself is a result of a gift of the Spirit. Some years ago I had an encounter with a woman who was very damaged who described herself in our initial discussions as being a ‘child of the devil’. When she realised I was a Christian, she said with great vehemence and malice “I suppose you are going to share your testimony with me.” She was quite astonished by my reply. I said “why should I waste my time sharing my testimony with you? If I ever do share my testimony with you, it will be because I feel prompted to do so by God.” Our discussions continued and I was well aware of a real spiritual struggle going on. One day in the middle of winter I felt prompted to say something really odd which required me to step out in great faith because it was so unusual and totally unexpected – and certainly not what I would typically do! I believe God prompted me to say a simple and short sentence…“That you might believe, in seven days you will see a butterfly.” What an odd thing to say!

  1. Power to heal the sick

I have had the privilege of witnessing some miraculous healings but I want to be clear here about two specific things. Firstly, we should not limit sickness to physical sickness. Healing of the sick can include healing of people who suffer in mind, body or spirit – and that would include people struggling with mental health issues, people who are physically unwell or people who are suffering spiritually. If you think about the prayer ministry that takes place here, that is an opportunity for people with this kind of gift to make use of it. The second point is that we must never lose sight of the fact that ultimate healing is being with God.

  1. Power to work mighty miracles

In Western society, we don’t often witness “mighty miracles”. I don’t think that is because God isn’t capable; I think it is tied up with cultural inhibition. There are places in Africa where mighty miracles take place in the church frequently; consider the ministry of that great evangelist Rheinhard Bonnke with Christ for All Nations. If you get chance, look up the organisation and see what miracles are taking place daily.

  1. Gifts of sympathy. These include:
    1. Acts of helping / servanthood

Think for a moment about the many acts of helping and servanthood that take place here already. There are people who volunteer for the over 50’s lunch club, PATCH, the Homework Club, Family Café, Kingdom Kids, Refreshments, setting up the church for Messy Church and helping with it…the list goes on!

  1. Encouraging

A classic example of the gift of encouragement can be seen in Barnabas in the Bible. We learn of Barnabas in Acts 4:36-37 “Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.

  1. Contributing to the needs of others

When I first moved in to the Vicarage, a group of people from church were really kind in bringing meals round for me for the first few days. There was a need and it was responded to very generously and very graciously. I know of others in church who at one time or another have had real needs which have often been met by the generosity and love of others in the church.

  1. Works of mercy

I think showing mercy has at its heart a deep outworking of the grace of God. It is an outworking of Kingdom values like love, forgiveness, compassion – and can include loving people who are on the fringe of society or the church because either society or the individual has distanced them. People who have a gift of works of mercy love people to life – literally!

  1. Ministering

In a 21st century context this might include things like ministering to the bereaved, those in care homes, people of other faiths, ministering to the elderly, the widow, the orphan, people struggling with the challenges of life. It is a gift that those with a servant heart have. Those in the early church who had such a gift were called deacons of the church.

In addition to these there are also gifts of administration and leadership which include forms of oversight and organisation.

It is clear that in order to have these gifts you don’t need to have some formal position in the church, although you would hope that people who do have a formal position in the church have been recognised as having some of the gifts.

If you find that you see these gifts in your life or the life of others then do prayerfully consider sharing that – in the case of giftings you may have, share with me, the Church Wardens or any member of the team. And in the case of giftings you may recognise in someone else, why not have a word with them and encourage them?

Remember at all times that in Christ you have a calling, a value and a purpose and seek earnestly the gifts of the Spirit. May your prayer be “Come Holy Spirit, Come.”

Conditional Faith

What would you say is the time when our faith is perhaps challenged the most? Is it when we are going through very very hard and trying times, or is it when everything is going well?

There is much to be said in either case. It makes us question what faith actually is. We cannot go through life with a conditional faith, where either consciously or subconsciously we say to God “I will believe if…” We cannot go through life where our faith is like a barometer of our experiences, i.e. we are strong in the faith when things are going well, but begin to wobble at the first sign of difficulty.

But neither can we go through life where we think we only need faith in the bad times and we can set our faith to one side when everything is going as we would like it. We can be very fickle about these things…I know I have been at times.

God is present and with us through the good times and the bad times. We so need to practice an awareness of his presence. That can be hard in the times we are hard pressed on every side. As we approach the cross, I invite you to read 2 Corinthians 4:8-12. May we have the grace and wisdom to allow it to speak into our prayers and that is Jesus is revealed more fully to us, our faith may be constant and true.

Love, actually

ableshepherd:

They say that a picture paints a thousand words. But you know what? Even one word can set people free. Dare to be a dreamer for God’s Kingdom, and dare to release the poet inside.

Originally posted on Nick Baines's Blog:

This is the text of this morning’s Pause for Thought on the Chris Evans Show on BBC Radio 2 in the presence of actors Emma Thompson, Celia Imrie, Paul McGann, Sean Pertwee and musician Billy Ocean.

I’ve just been on holiday for a week of culture-free sitting in the sun and reading. It was brilliant. I packed a pile of novels, but in the end spent several days reading a history book called ‘Sleepwalkers’ – about the origins of the First World War.

Now, I can’t read this sort of stuff without being haunted in my imagination by the words of the World War One poets such as Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon as they shaped horror with sounds of beauty. Someone once sang, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going,” but in the trenches it seems that when the going got tough, the tough wrote poetry.

It…

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Lord, unveil my eyes

Perhaps more so than any of the other gospels, John’s gospel weaves together the record and interpretation of Jesus’ miracles which are ‘signs’ revealing who Jesus was and what He had come into the world to do.   Whilst each of the signs leads to a genuine response of faith, John is actually critical of a faith based solely on miracles…The real significance of the miracles of Jesus is that they point forward to Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension, to the transformation brought by the new age of the Spirit, and thus lead to a faith in Jesus the (crucified) Christ, the (risen) Son of God.  The signs then give us an insight into Jesus; his humanity and his deity.  It is often said if you want to know Jesus – God the Son, read the Gospels…if you want to know God the Father, get to know Jesus and do this in the power of the Holy Spirit.

The seven signs or miracles featured in John’s gospel are:

  1. The wedding feast at Cana (John 2:1-11)

  2. Jesus Heals an Official’s Son (John 4:46-54)

  3. Jesus Heals on the Sabbath (John 5:1-18)

  4. Feeding the Five Thousand (John 6:1-15)

  5. Jesus Walks on the Water (John 6:15-21)

  6. A Man Born Blind Receives Sight (John 9:1-41)

  7. The Death and Raising of Lazarus (John 11:1-44)

In our Gospel reading today we are presented with the sixth sign in which a man born blind receives sight.  We must view this sign in the context of how we learn in the previous chapter where Jesus had revealed himself as the Light of the World, and now brings both physical and spiritual sight to a blind man whereas in stark contrast the Pharisees remain blind.  The Light of the World can do two things:

  1. It can bring salvation to those who are blind

  2. It can bring the shadow of judgement to those who will not step into the light

It is a hard truth that we too can sometimes be like the Pharisees.  We can become more concerned with the letter of the law rather than the spirit of the law, we can be the first to pick up stones to stone other people we pronounce judgement on because of sin rather than facing up to the sin in our own lives, and at times we can be so blind in our lack of faith and understanding.  It is perhaps surprising that the disciples fell into that pattern of behaviours too… when seeing the blind man, the very first thing they ask of Jesus is “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus reply is a gentle rebuke and challenge “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.” 

and I want to shout from the rooftops that yes, in this broken world there are times that innocent people suffer and it is not God’s fault.  We live with the consequences of the fall, the consequences of our actions, and we live with the reality of “The god of this age [who] has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:4)  The devil rejoices every time all that is good, all that is holy, is twisted, corrupted and perverted.  “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.” (John 3:19)

But “Jesus answered and said, “This voice has not come for My sake, but for your sakes.” “Now judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out.” “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.” (John 12:30-31)  We must remember that “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.”  (1 John 3:8)  And here Jesus does just that and reveals God’s work in the blind man.  In doing so he infringes Sabbath tradition on three occasions:

  1. He heals on the Sabbath

  2. In making the mud to apply to the man’s eyes he kneaded on the Sabbath

  3. He anointed the man’s eyes, also prohibited on the Sabbath

The thing is, Jesus steps into the brokenness of this world.  He steps into our own darkness, our own brokenness, our own blindness.  And in this time of Lent we are invited to journey with him through the wilderness to come to that place of understanding and belief, to the place where perhaps we come the closest to plumbing the mystery – the foot of the cross…and beyond.

The blind man went on such a journey too.  Yes, he received physical sight.  But in his journey into faith he also received spiritual sight. When asked who Jesus was, on each occasion his answer changed – ‘the man called Jesus’ (v11), ‘He is a prophet’ (v17), ‘the Son of Man’ – and finally ‘Lord I believe’ (v35-38).  Do we know Jesus as a man, a prophet, the Son of Man or are we in that place of faith – “Lord, I believe.”

The Pharisees were invited on that journey, and yet they chose not to see even when confronted with the Light of the World, the Light of Christ.  Their hearts were hardened and their position was that anyone who confessed that Jesus was the Messiah would be “put out of the synagogue.”

As Milne so aptly states “Whenever we find ourselves valuing the letter of God’s law above its spirit; whenever we find ourselves unable to rejoice in the saving and renewing of lives simply because the instrument used was not someone who dots all the i’s and crosses all the t’s of our theological group; whenever we lose the daily, hourly sense of joy in the grace of God by which alone we know him and live before him, then we need to beware. ‘Lord, is it I?’ The only security against Pharisaism is grace, which is perhaps the reason the Lord may from time to time permit us to stumble in our Christian walk so that we may have opportunity to rediscover it.” (Milne, B. (1993). The message of John: here is your king!: with study guide (p. 142). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.)

And so my dear friends, one of my favourite choruses is called the “Power of your Love”.  One of the verses says:

Lord unveil my eyes

Let me see You face to face

The knowledge of Your love

As You live in me

And Lord renew my mind

As Your will unfolds in my life

In living every day

By the power of Your love

 

Isn’t that a great prayer?  Lord, unveil my eyes.  Let me see you face to face.

May that be our prayer as we continue our journey through Lent and may we capture the truth that “the reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.”  (1 John 3:8)

Amen

Journeying through the wilderness

I don’t know about you but when I picture the wilderness it brings to mind a place that is dry, barren, desolate, and hot – a place in which little if anything can survive, a place of isolation and solitude, and perhaps even a place of despair. Certainly when I have journeyed through the Holy Land some of the places I travelled through did nothing to change that picture – the reality if you like matched my imagination.
And of course in our life and faith there are times when in some way we go through wilderness experiences. We might feel far off and distant to God, we might feel deserted and isolated, we might feel dry, tired and weary, and yes we might even know despair.

It is interesting and in light of this actually quite incredible to consider that many of God’s people found themselves in the wilderness.

We know of Elijah who at first showed such incredible faith and boldness in God on Mount Carmel who subsequently in fear of his life had an absolute crisis of faith and fled into the wilderness in despair. Here he came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, LORD,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” (1 Kings 19:4) It was in the wilderness that God said to Elijah “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:9) It was in the wilderness that Elijah encountered transformation, renewal of faith and when everything was stripped away had that encounter with God – one of those ‘have I got your attention now’ moments – not in the wind, not in the earthquake, not in the fire, but in the gentle whisper. “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:13)

We know of Moses who spent 40 years in the Midianite wilderness before being called by God, Moses who it is said spent 40 years learning how to be a somebody, 40 years learning how to be a nobody and 40 years learning what God could do with somebody who knew he was a nobody. We know of how God’s people were subsequently led by Moses through the wilderness for 40 years before the Promised Land. For Moses and for God’s people, it was a place of transformation, a place of learning about God, a place of decluttering from all of the baggage that they had brought with them from Egypt, a place of renewal and restoration and a place of purpose and intention.

When David fled from Saul he stayed in the wilderness strongholds, and in the hills of the Desert of Ziph. When David fled from his son Prince Absalom, he sought refuge in the wilderness of Judah. For David, the wilderness was a place of growth and learning. It was a place of solitude and quietness, free from distraction, in which he could come before God. It was a place of tremendous creativity in which David composed many of the Psalms. It was a place of character building where David developed skills and abilities as a leader and a shepherd of God’s people:

“You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water. I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory. Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands.” (Psalm 63:1-4)

And when we come to our Gospel reading, and perhaps read it a little more slowly to give it chance to sink in…it is interesting to see that even though we pray in the Lord’s Prayer “lead us not into temptation” in the gospel reading we learn how Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. We must remember that when Jesus was led into the wilderness, he was full of the Holy Spirit. And when Jesus came out of the wilderness to begin his earthly ministry he was also full of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus HAD to go into the wilderness so that his sovereignty might even be made known there. Only Jesus could resist temptation and conquer it. Only Jesus could conquer sin and death. Only Jesus could show us the way. He does the same by stepping in to our brokenness and bringing about transformation and he does that by sending the Holy Spirit. I think that how we respond to temptation is something that can reveal our true nature or character, and the extent of our reliance on God.

So let’s consider how Jesus responded to temptation:
Tell these stones to become bread.
The first temptation was the temptation of hunger – physical temptation. Jesus had nothing to eat, and quite naturally he hungered. Surely it is the right of God’s Son to have the provision of all his needs; he needs food, he has the power to make it—let him do so (4:3). There is a temptation here not to rely on the provision of his Father in heaven, not to trust, to be filled with pride.

Jesus’ response is that physical needs must be met in God’s way, not our own selfish, short-cut way. We’re tempted, of course, in so many ways to provide a quick fix for our hungers. We live in a society of instant gratification…instant on. I like making soup sometimes because it reminds me of the value of God’s provision. As I prepare all the ingredients it takes time and presents me with an opportunity to prayerfully thank God for that because he has supplied my needs.

They will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone
The second temptation was the temptation of instant acclaim by putting God to the test. Surely as the Son of God it is his right to claim protection against all dangers; and his Father has actually promised it, so let him put that promise to the test (4:5–7). I think that at the heart of this was the devil’s desire to get Jesus to seek to manipulate his Father and to do what the devil himself wanted to do – to become more important even than God.
Jesus teaching to his disciples is: answer temptation with God’s Word, just as I have. We need to know Scripture well enough to answer our doubts and fears and temptations with it. The sword of the Spirit is the Word of God (Ephesians 6:17), and as we learn to apply the Word to every circumstance of our lives, we are equipped to persevere

All this I will give you
The final temptation was the temptation of power and wealth. Surely it is Jesus’ right as the Son of God to receive power over all nations, and to become King of kings. The devil offers to give this to Jesus if Jesus is prepared to acknowledge him as his lord (4:8–10).

The thing is what the devil was offering was not his to offer in the first place! The world and everything in it are God’s and God’s alone.

Jesus knew that power was important to his mission as Messiah. But it had to be power bestowed by his Father in due time. Jesus laid aside his majesty and was utterly reliant on his Father. His was the hard way to glory…through the cross, the grave, and resurrection. But in due time the Father exalted him to the highest place, the place that he deserved as God’s equal (Philippians 2:6), and to the position in which he is publicly proclaimed before heaven and earth (Philippians 2:9-11).

Even though the wilderness can be a place of testing, a place of trial, and yes perhaps for us at first a place of failure as it was at times for Elijah, David and Moses – it is also a place of forgiveness, a place of transformation, and a place of hope. It is a place where God gets our attention. Sometimes in life we must journey through our wildernesses to get to the Promised Land. Sometimes in life we have to journey through our wildernesses to have those rough edges knocked off us. Sometimes in life we have to journey through the wilderness to become aware of our sin and brokenness.

But I have had encounters with so many people in life who get lost in the wilderness, people who never come to that place of forgiveness. I have been there myself too. We can struggle with forgiveness at so many different levels. If you did something wrong to me, I may well forgive you but unless you journey with me and accept that forgiveness it means nothing. And sometimes we may struggle to forgive ourselves. We become paralysed. But we must not forget that God is present in the wilderness too. Jesus journeyed there before us. He understands.

It is only through reconciliation and true forgiveness that the guilt is felt, faced and followed to mutual recognition that repentance is genuine and right relationships – with justice and reciprocity – are now achieved. We must acknowledge our sin and brokenness.

The psalmist said “Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD.” And you forgave the guilt of my sin.”
“Blessed are those whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed are those whose sin the LORD does not count against them and in whose spirit is no deceit. For the Lord will not reject forever.”
Forgiveness involves a creative work: “Create in me a pure heart.” This is not a creative work in the sense of creation-out-of-nothing, but a creative work in the sense of bringing order and peace where chaos and hopeless turbulence were before. It involves coming through the wilderness.

As we enter in to this season of Lent, as we are invited to journey through the wilderness with Christ, may we discover a place of transformation and find ourselves at the end at that place of forgiveness – at the foot of the cross. May we journey to Easter full of that hope of new life, full of resurrection hope and filled with the Holy Spirit. May you have the courage to forgive yourself and know the peace, mercy and forgiveness of Christ. Amen