Galatians 5:1-15, 22-26
August 16, 2009
We read today from Galatians. Now, we’ve read about a lot of cities lately, but Galatia was not a city. It was a Roman province. And it comprised the central part of Asia Minor – that region we now call Turkey. Paul traveled through Galatia on his first two missionary journeys. And from our earlier readings, we might recall the names of some of the cities he visited there. They were cities with names like Derbe, Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch.
Now while you’re thinking about that, you might also remember one of the big issues Paul was dealing with at that time. We read about it a few weeks ago. It had to do with the Gentiles who were coming to Christ, and whether or not they first had to become Jews. As we read a few weeks ago, they held a council in Jerusalem to answer that very question. In the meantime, though, the controversy went on, especially in the new churches Paul founded in this region called Galatia. It turns out that after Paul passed through these cities, so did the “Judaizers.” – those who taught that new believers first had to become Jews.
Well, this letter called Galatians was written to those churches to address that very concern. Do you see how this all fits together? Here in Galatians we find some of the most important words Paul ever wrote about justification by faith alone, not by works or practice or religious association. He goes through several chapters of explanation, concluding at the end of chapter 3 that “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, but all are one in Christ Jesus.” That’s the major theme of this letter.
With that in mind, he proclaims at the beginning of this fifth chapter, “For freedom Christ has set us free.” “The Law” that is, the law of Moses, “is not the source of our freedom or our salvation.” That comes through faith in Jesus Christ. Then, in verse 13, he gets into some of the practical aspects of living with that understanding. “For you were called to freedom. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love be servants of one another.” The way they lived was important! But how did they know how to live? What is this law of “love” he was talking about?
Think about it. Since the people did not have to become Jews first, and therefore they didn’t have to follow the Mosaic law, what was their “guide for living?” For that was one of the functions of the Law, you know! But “if not ‘the Law,’ then what?” You might answer, “Ok, if not the Law – the Old Testament – then maybe the New Testament?” But of course that’s not the case, because the New Testament wasn’t written yet! So what did they have to follow?
Paul told them in verse 16. He said they were to “walk by the spirit.” In other words, they were to live their lives guided by God. And how would they do that? How would they know they were walking by the spirit? Well, Paul went on in verses 22 and 23 to tell them about the “Fruit of the Spirit.” And he was taking his cue from Jesus, who said “we know things by the fruits they produce.”
We’re stepping away from our journey through Acts at this time, but not really. Because we’re dealing with some of its themes and its stories. But I’ve felt a real calling lately to take some time and have us think about these fruits of the spirit. If the Ten Commandments – “the Law” – was the people’s guide for living under the old covenant, and this law of Love is our “guide” under the new, how will we know we are following that law? Again, we’ll know it by the fruits! And I think that leaves us no alternative than to ask, “do we have those fruits in our lives?” That’s what I want us to think about.
By the way, I love this metaphor! We’re familiar with this image of “fruits,” aren’t we? And that doesn’t mean we all work in an orchard! In modern parlance, we tend to think of fruit in terms of “profits,” as in, “the fruit of our labor.” But in this example, Paul is referring to fruits in terms of the “outward appearance” or the “results” of walking in the Spirit. And that’s what I want us to think about this week. And I’m only going to make this an introduction today. I want us to spend the next several weeks talking about these fruits, and more specifically, how they were evident in our lives.
Paul says, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control, against such there is no law.” With those “fruits” in the back of our minds, I’d like to “flesh out” this comparison a little, and to consider a few of the parallels between actual fruit and the way spiritual fruits are seen in us.
First of all, fruit identifies the tree. If you see an apple hanging on a branch what kind of tree do you think it is? (“Now let’s not always see the same hands!”) When I was a kid, my great grandfather used to like to graft fruits from one tree to another. So sometimes he would have pears growing in apple trees! But that’s the exception, not the rule. For the most part, the fruit identifies the tree. And some people need that! Some people aren’t “nature people,” and without seeing the fruit, they wouldn’t know an apple tree from a maple! (They both have leaves, and they’re both made of wood!) Fruit is a dead give-away!
So then, think about the parallel. If someone is going to identify you as a follower of Christ, how will they do it? This is how. Having these fruits, these characteristics, is more important than wearing a cross, or a Christian bumper sticker! These are what will show you are a follower of Jesus Christ. And so I would ask you, “Is there enough of that fruit evident in your life?”
The second thing I’d like you to think about fruit is that it’s the fruit that multiplies the tree. The fruit contains the seed. It contains the potential for making new trees! And the next question then becomes, “Do we multiply the faith?” Do we have that potential? Does the way we exhibit the fruit of the spirit compel others to want to be a follower, too? And how would we live our lives differently if we took that question seriously?
The third parallel I want you to think about fruit is that fruit is good! Having these fruits, walking by the Spirit, makes life good! Neither this list, nor the Law before it, was intended to make life miserable, constrained, or full of restrictions. Remember, Paul said, “For freedom Christ has set us free.” Both the law and the list of the fruits of the spirit were given to make life good!
Think about it. We give boundaries to our children, not because we want to be overbearing, dominating people who take delight in controlling or saying “no.” We’re not out to make their lives miserable – as much as they might think we are when they’re teenagers! We do those things because we want the very best for our children!! When they grow up, and finally understand that, (though sometimes it takes a while!) they appreciate it. And if they really get it, they want to do the same for their children!
Those are good parallels. Fruit identifies. Fruit multiplies. Fruit is good. Now in closing, I simply want you to think of the practical side of this. And this is something we’re going to talk about a lot in the next few weeks. The practical thing is that, in order to grow properly, fruit takes work! Fruit trees need pruning. The ground needs cultivating. They need watering and weeding. Orchards are a lot of work! And if someone’s not working at it, fruit can fail to develop. And fruit can go bad! And it’s the same with our faith! If we don’t work on it, it can fail to develop, and it can go bad. Yet how often do we work at it?
This is an introduction this week. I want to look more closely at these various fruits in this list over the next few weeks. And when we do, I want you to think in a practical and honest way about yourself. I want you to think about what these fruits look like in you. Paul says, “The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” I want you to see if you are those things! Because too many Christians, I’m sad to say, are not.
As we go through these weeks, I’m going to ask you some practical questions about yourself and about your lives. And I’m going to offer some practical suggestions as to how you might grow in the way you exhibit these fruits of the spirit in your life. I hope you will be open to that. And remember, these are not the “gifts of the spirit.” That’s something different. The gifts of the spirit are things that not all believers have. They’re individual gifts God gives us. The fruits of the spirit are for all of us to have. They are the evidence that we are striving for the practical living of our lives guided by God as we “walk in the spirit.” They are our version of the Ten Commandments.
That’s important. And I even think that, just maybe, Paul may even have been going for ten here! After all, this list is set in opposition to the old covenant! So at the very end, when he says, “against such things there is no law,” he may well have been saying “things against which there is no law.” In other words, “lawful things” (taking out the double negative!). In that vain, he may have ended his list, “…goodness, faithfulness, self-control, and lawful things.” That makes ten!
So then, is what he’s talking about here so important that it’s akin to the giving of the Ten Commandments? I think it is! This is our version of the practical ways we should conduct our faith. They are evidence that we are “walking in the Spirit.” And it is my hope in the coming weeks that we can all grow in that walk. And as we do, may we know, more and more, the abundant life Jesus calls us into! This is the way to know that abundant life!
Eternal God, we know that you call us to be your people, conformed to the image of Christ our Lord. We also know that you want for us a life of abundance and joy. Help us, Lord, to walk by the guidance of your spirit. Help us to know you are leading us, that we may be people in whom the fruits of the Spirit are evident – to your great glory. For this we pray in your name, Amen.