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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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)
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.
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)
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 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.
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)
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.
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.