Sunday, November 29, 2015

Some food for thought on the Fruit of the Spirit

Topic: Bearing active spiritual fruit
Target passage: Galatians 5:16-25
Date: Nov. 29, 2015

You've probably heard the venerable litany many times before. You might even have the Fruit of the Spirit memorized: "Love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance." They might seem less like fruits and more like old chestnuts as many times as we've heard them! But they deserve a fresh look.

They're good virtues for anyone to have. But to simply have (or have had) these virtues is not enough. Fruit was made by God to nourish others -- not stay on the tree and wither. They're designed to be picked, or to fall to the ground and be harvested, with the end-result of consumption and nutrition.

We took the list of these nine famous fruits and put them in the "passive" category. Next to this category, we drew an "active" category to show ways we can act on these distinguishing marks of Spirit-led Christians. (This is the result of a group discussion, so this is just food for thought!)

Love      Demonstrate/express love
Joy      Get excited!
Peace      Be a peacemaker/reconcile
Longsuffering      Discipline yourself to be patient
Gentleness      Show mercy, relieve others' suffering
Goodness      Flee bad behavior, do good works
Faith      "Walk on water," exercise trust in God
Meekness      Practice humility, be content
Temperance      Yank the chain! Discipline yourself

A key phrase is often overlooked at the end of the list: "against such there is no law." In other words, if you live this way, then there is no Old Testament Law (or continuing standard that God expects us to live by under Grace) that can be used against us. Exhibit these fruits in your daily living and you're well-within God's boundaries.

They are exhibited via God's power, as noted by the word "temperance" (also translated "self control"). The Greek word originally used by Paul means "the virtue of one who masters his desires and passions, especially his sensual appetites." In other words, a spiritual person who has his flesh on a leash, tugs gently at the sight of sin, and yanks it back at the first sign of rebellion.

(It's also last on the list, and probably because it is the most difficult to obtain. Notice that this power only comes after "meekness," or humility, gentleness, etc. -- we can only tap into this divine power once we've realized our place in God's universe. He's God, we are not.)

This theme of power is subtly referenced in Paul's second letter to Timothy, where he warns about how people will carry themselves in the end times:
"... men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent [without self-control], fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away" (II Timothy 3:1-5).
The old word "incontinent" now has connotations of being unable to control one's ... umm ... lower digestive system. But that's a perfect metaphor. In the original language Paul wrote in, it is an antonym of "temperance:" a lack of being able to control oneself.

Another familiar verse follows: "having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof." Ouch! Is this to say that when we claim to be living righteously, but still live according to our fleshly passions and the whims of popular culture, we're denying the source of that righteousness? That we have a form of Christian religion, but are, as Peter and Jude said, "clouds without water."

It would seem from Paul's writings in Galatians 5 and II Timothy 3 that we have two choices as Christ-followers: live under God's power to deliver us from evil desires, or maintain a mere "form of godliness."

Another question pertained to why Paul said "from such turn away." Perhaps that's because any form of Christianity that doesn't actively produce and distribute these fruits is not a church under God's power. It would be a drain on your time and resources. It's not that we shouldn't approach those people who have "a form of godliness," but that we shouldn't expect a fruit-bearing tree to exist in their ministry.

It was later mentioned that this "form of godliness" can take two forms on two extremes of error: either in lawlessness and uncontrolled passion, or in a hollow religiosity where man-made rules are carried out strictly but not by God's power.

A third word from Paul in Titus 3:5-8 seals this teaching. Compare verse 5 with verse 8:
"... Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. This is a faithful saying, and these things I want you to affirm constantly, that those who have believed in God should be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable to men."
We don't earn our salvation, but on the other hand God expects us to do good works -- if not for our own nourishment, to the nourishment of others. And isn't that what fruit is for?

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