Let’s turn in our Bibles to Galatians 5. I’d like us to begin a study of the Christlike qualities that the apostle Paul calls “the fruit of the Spirit.” This is Galatians 5:22-23 (in case you’re not familiar with it), “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” He calls these character traits “the fruit of the Spirit”, I think because we just don’t develop these all on our own. But rather the Spirit of Christ working in us and in our lives enables and helps us to develop these. Yet Paul doesn’t at all mean that we have no responsibility in it or that without any effort on our part the Spirit will just produce these qualities in us automatically. Paul commands in Galatians 5 that we walk by the Spirit, which I understand to mean that we honestly strive to follow the Lord, to do His will, to be like Him in our lives, and as we do so we have His Spirit helping us to be successful at it. He blesses our efforts to be like Christ. And if that’s the way we’re living, walking by the Spirit, following Christ with His help, then these nine character traits are what will be growing/developing in us.
Now, I want to first try to help us see…
How important this fruit of the Spirit stuff is
We need to see the big picture of what God is doing.
What God is up to right now.
Our awesome God who created us, this world, the heavens and all that is in them is in the process right now of creating a whole new creation. Our cooperation with His Spirit in the formation of the mind and character of Christ within us is choosing to be a part of the new creation that God is making. And that’s not just what I think He’s doing, that’s what the Scriptures say that He’s up to. There are many passages we could look at for this, but I just picked a couple in Galatians 6 and couple in II Peter to talk about.
Galatians 6:8, “For the one who sows to his flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.” The word “eternal” and usually wherever you see it in the NT (actually from what I’ve learned about it and reason), doesn’t really mean eternal. But don’t stone me for saying that, because I’m not denying that there is eternal life in store for those who “sow to the Spirit,” as Paul says. But what our English Bibles render as “eternal” in the original language is a word that literally means “of the age” or “pertaining to the age” or “belonging to the age.” The term is aionios. Aion means age. Aion-ios means pertaining to the age, of the age. The NT very often speaks of two ages. It’s speaks of this present age in which we are now living. And then it speaks of the age to come, the age that will be ushered in when Christ comes back and brings this world to an end and the dead are raised and judged and then God makes a new heavens and a new earth. For example, do you remember in the gospels when some Sadducees came up to Jesus and challenged Him with one of their arguments against the idea that there will be this day when the dead are raised? Their argument was God commanded in the Law of Moses a brother of a married but childless man to marry his widow and raise up children in his dead brother’s name. They said God wouldn’t have commanded that if He was planning on a resurrection, because you can imagine what a difficult, awkward, confusing situation that would be in the resurrection. Say you have this woman who has been married multiple times according to God’s command, in the resurrection, she and all her previous husbands are raised, whose wife is she going to be? What an awkward mess! So God’s obviously not planning on a resurrection, they’re saying to Jesus. Jesus’ response was, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and the resurrection of the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage. They can’t even die anymore, because they are like angels, and are sons of God…” (Luke 20:34-35). And then Jesus explained some other things to them. But notice how He speaks of, like He does in many other places, this age and then an age to come in which some will live, an age some will be considered worthy to attain. That’s what I’m seeing the Scriptures mean when they say in our English versions “eternal life.” The phrase “eternal life” means life of age, referring to the age to come. So the phrase doesn’t really mean living forever and ever and ever. Though that is part of life in the age to come; Jesus said we won’t die anymore in that age. But it’s more than just living forever and ever. It’s also a whole new quality of life, it’s life in a world that’s not messed up by sin like this one, it’s life without thorns and thistles and evil and hatred and crime and disease and death. So this walking by the Spirit, sowing to the Spirit, letting the Spirit of Christ run our lives and develop us into who He wants us to be, this has to do with becoming those who get life in the age to come that God is bringing. God’s not having anybody with ugly self-centered character in His new world, because they’d ruin it.
Look at Galatians 6:15, “For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, [he says that because the Galatian Christians he’s writing to had some people starting to convince them that they can’t be right with God unless they’re circumcised and become Jewish. So Paul has argued that being Jewish has nothing to do with having a relationship with God. What matters is] but a new creation.” In other words, what matters is you letting the Spirit of God make you a new creation, make you like Christ; full of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
You see, God has already started the process of making His new creation. But with this new creation He’s making things sort of in reverse order to the way He did it before. Remember Genesis tells us that when God made this creation He first created the heavens and the earth and all the stuff in the heavens and on the earth, and then He created human beings in His image, according to His likeness… which I think probably had to do with making us with a spiritual nature and with the ability to reason and think at levels way above the animals, that we’re not just creatures of instinct, but we have free will and the capacity to love. All that makes us superior to the animals I think is part of His image that He created us in. Well, now God is making a new creation but in reverse order. He’s now, first, in the process of making human beings in His image according to His likeness, but in an even more “like Him” way. And He’s not creating them from the dust of the ground this time. He’s taking human beings who have already been created in His image to a degree and He’s making them more into His likeness. He’s creating them to bear also the image of His character of love and righteousness. He’s doing that first right now, and later He’s going to make the new heavens and the new earth and give it to those that He’s made in His likeness. So He’s creating a whole new creation in reverse order from the way He did it before.
When we realize what God is doing we realize that not only does neither circumcision nor uncircumcision matter, but neither does all the other stuff that we think matters; like how much we make, how high up we are in the company, how in shape we are, how good we are at whatever hobby or craft or sport or thing we like to do, what degrees and awards we’ve achieved… because you see that’s all just limited to this world that’s passing away. Our God is in the process of making a new creation and the short time we have on this earth is so we can choose to be a part of that new creation by letting God make us more into His likeness. That cooperation with God is infinitely more important than anything that has to do with this world. If we are not being made more into His likeness while we’re on this earth, then we are only a part of this temporary creation.
Now, let’s listen to Peter a bit on the subject. II Peter 1 has a similar list of virtues to Paul’s fruit of the Spirit. But before the list of virtues II Peter 1:3 says that God has “called us to His own glory and excellence.” God has called us to share His glory and excellence. The next verse speaks of how God has attracted and motivated us with His precious and magnificent promises, that we might “become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.” God is wanting people who share His nature, His character. Then II Peter 1:5 instructs us to “apply all diligence (or other versions have ‘make every effort’) to add to your faith moral excellence, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness and love.” By making every effort to become who God wants us to be, to develop these qualities, we plug into or are connected with the power of God’s Spirit, to make us who He wants us to be. We don’t just believe some things about Jesus and wait for the Spirit to change our character. It’s a joint effort with God. We make every effort and He provides the rest of the help we need.
Toward the end of II Peter in 3:3ff, Peter explains that in this last age of time there are going to be people who mock at the idea that there is coming this day of judgment and new creation. They’re going say, “It’s been too long since this day was promised. Surely if it was really going to happen it would have happened by now. And you look at all of world history and never has something like that ever happened.” It’s like the argument people use to deny that Jesus rose from the dead. They say, “When have you ever seen a person rise from the dead? You never see that, so it didn’t happen.” So people are going to say according to Peter, “It’s been too long since the promise was made and that kind of thing has never happened.” But Peter says they overlook the fact that by the word of God the heavens and the earth came into existence. And they overlook the fact that God did one time do something like it. He hit the restart button on the world back in the days of Noah. He sent the world back to just a watery mass like it was in the beginning before he brought forth the dry land. God said He would destroy the world with water back then and He did. And now by the word of the same God, this present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire on the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly people. And we must realize, Peter says, that God doesn’t see time like we do. A day and a thousand years aren’t much different to God. So a lengthy amount of time transpiring since God said He would do something is no reason to doubt that He will do what He said. And God has good reason to be delaying this day. He’s full of love for people, not wishing for any to perish, and so He doesn’t want to come when there are still people on earth who would come to repentance if just given a little more time. He doesn’t want to come until all those who will come to repentance on earth have done so. Then at 3:10 Peter writes, “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief [unexpectedly], in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. 11 Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, 12 looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! 13 But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.” A day is impending by the word of God when this creation and those who are ungodly and unrighteous will be destroyed. But right now God is preparing a people to dwell in the new heavens and earth. He’s making people in His image of righteousness and holiness, developing in them the fruit of the Spirit; because that’s the kind of people He wants in His new creation. So do you see why having and growing in the fruit of the Spirit is the most important thing in the world?
Another reason I think it’s good for us to study these qualities of the fruit of the Spirit is that…
Many of these words in the list mean different things to different people.
Sometimes people take them in ways that are really not at all the Biblical idea. Like, first in the list are love, joy, and peace. A lot of people hear “love, joy, peace” and what comes to mind are hippies and Woodstock and everybody just being mellow and doing whatever feels good and nobody getting on anybody’s case, and “make love not war,” and all that stuff. Of course that’s about the furthest thing from Paul’s mind when he says “love, joy, and peace.” So it’s good to study these so we don’t misunderstand what God is wanting in us, and so that we see clearly what we’re trying to develop with the help of God’s Spirit.
I’ll just say a few things here about the first quality in the list.
The fruit of the Spirit is first of all love. We’ve studied before that the word love in English has a very broad range of possible meanings. There’s romantic love and making love, kind of love and then there’s the natural affection that you have for your mom or your kids, and then there’s the friendship kind of love. And we might even use love to refer to the way we feel about Mexican food. “I love Mexican food.” In the language that the NT was originally written in, they had some different words for those different kinds of emotions and feelings. But this word in Galatians 5 translated “love,” agape, is not as much a feeling or emotion (though it’s not necessarily devoid of feelings and emotions either, but it’s not dependent on them). This love, it seems, is really more of a decision. Because it’s love you can have for people that you don’t find attractive and who are not related to you and who you don’t have anything in common with and who don’t have anything to offer you and who you don’t even like to be around. Luke 6:27 Jesus said, “Love (agape) your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” So clearly it’s not warm fuzzies, because you can’t have those for your enemies who hate you and curse you and mistreat you. But it’s a decision to see that person as a person like you in that body, a person with feelings and concerns and needs just like you have, a person equally created by God and just as important, to see value in that person and to decide that you want what’s good for them, that you are going to care and act for their welfare and joy and growth. And the more you agape someone, the greater your willingness to give of yourself for their good.
And understandably this heads the list of the fruit of the Spirit, because love is the inner disposition, the inner way of thinking and deciding toward others, out of which all of the other qualities flow. Love results in joyfulness and peace and manifests itself in patience and kindness and goodness and all the rest. When an expert in the Law of Moses asked Jesus about which was the greatest commandment in the Law, Jesus said, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:34-40). So every other command of God is included in these two commands. All the others are like sub points under these. The other commands elaborate on these two. And these two greatest commands on which everything hangs can be reduced to one word: love. Love God and your neighbor.
Paul believed that without love we are nothing, but full of love we are everything God desires and will have everything. I Corinthians 13 he talks about, If you’re a really gifted Christian, if you can speak tongues, you can speak not only in human languages but even in the language of the angels, but you don’t have love, you’re just a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If you have the gift of prophecy and this gift of faith where you can move mountains, and you’ve got the whole Bible memorized, unbelievable knowledge but you don’t have love, you’re nothing. If you were to do the greatest sacrificial deeds imaginable, if you were to give all your possessions to feed the poor and if you were to surrender your body to be burned, but it wasn’t love motivating you to do that, if you had some other motive, then it would profit you nothing. That’s kind of staggering, isn’t it? Then in I Corinthians 13:4 Paul takes love and personifies it, he puts flesh and blood on it, and he talks about what that person of love does. All the words in the list are verbs in the Greek text. This is what love does: Love suffers long before blowing up in anger or reacting negatively, love shows kindness and does not envy other people, love does not brag or act arrogantly, does not act unbecoming or indecently; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth… And then I’ve found the last part interesting, “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” I don’t think that’s “all things” that people may say or do. We have lots of warnings in the Bible telling us not to believe everything people say. And there’s some things people may do that we’re not to put up with, like cruel treatment of another person, we don’t just stand by and endure that. But I think he means all things that God calls us to bear and believe and hope and endure. Did you know love determines whether you will believe everything that God says in His word or not? A lot of things in God’s word are against being selfish, so if you’re really a selfish person and you really don’t want to change your selfish ways for kind ways, then you’re not going to like some of the things God says and you’re going to want to explain them away and not believe them. And God will let you come up with reasons not to believe if you don’t want to. So believing and love go together. Paul understands that if a person is full of this agape love, then that person will be everything that God wants to make us into.
Love heads the list understandably so, because God is wanting to make us in His likeness and love is the dominate characteristic of God. I John 4:8, “God is love.” That doesn’t mean that God’s not a living being, that He’s just this abstract virtue of love. But I think John is basically saying that if you were to choose one word to define the character of God it’d be the word love.
The Nature of Love
Now, let’s look at some helpful observations from I John about the nature of this love that God has and that he calls us to.
First, the nature of this love, it doesn’t wait for worthiness in a person to love them and give to them and serve them. The love of God that He calls us to have is an initiative taking love. I John 4:10-11, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” God didn’t wait for us to love Him. He didn’t wait for us to be thankful to Him for making us and giving us everything. He didn’t wait for us to apologize for our ingratitude and sins. Yet we aren’t always that way; we sometimes wait for something in return before we love. It’s not uncommon for us to say, “Well I’m prepared to forgive, and willing to help her with this problem, provided she comes to me and apologizes.” We want apologies first, we want gratitude. Sometimes we look for some worthiness in people before we decide to serve them. We want people to be those who would do the same for us, and then we’ll do it for them. If they’re the kind of person who would help us out, then we will help them. But we wouldn’t have gone to a cross for God, yet He did that anyways for us. Genuine love always takes the initiative. Love is sacrificial, unselfish. It arises not because of a need in yourself, but because of a need in someone else. It’s not for reward.
Secondly, this love cannot ignore the needs of somebody. I John 3:16-18, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 17 But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.”
But we’ve got good reason to ignore whoever it is that we ignore, don’t we? But then I think of that story Jesus told when He was illustrating what it was to love your neighbor as yourself: The priest and the Levite saw this poor guy lying in the road bleeding, obviously just been robbed, but the guy may have had it coming, he may have wronged some people, brought this on himself. And perhaps they’re thinking, “I just did my service for God at the temple, I’ve already given quite a bit of time and money. The wife is expecting me home soon. And I’m putting myself in danger, the longer I hang around. I’m sure somebody else will come along.” The Samaritan in that story that felt compassion and did everything to take care of the man, I think that guy had more reason to ignore him than the priest and the Levite did. Jesus says in the story that the Samaritan was on a journey, he had places to go, things to do, he had a schedule to keep. And he’s a Samaritan in the land of Judea, surrounded by Jews who hate him. This guy lying in the road, probably a Jew, would not have helped him if he were lying in the road. But the Samaritan didn’t think about himself, he thought about that man and that body, and how that person was like him and had feelings and a family. He could see himself in that man’s situation, and so he decided to act. And Jesus said that’s what it is to love your neighbor as yourself.
That’s a high calling. And we’re not there yet, completely. Fruit doesn’t just pop up automatically fully grown, it needs time to grow. And we are to grow to this point where we love the Lord our God with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our mind and we love our neighbor as ourselves.
A Story About Love
True story, a man named Tom Anderson wrote this years ago. He was awakened to the fact that he was not a very loving man. And he wanted to walk by the Spirit, He wanted to be the man God wanted him to be. He wrote this…
“I made a vow to myself on the drive down to the vacation beach, the beach cottage. For two weeks I would try to be a loving husband and father. Totally loving–no “ifs, ands, or buts.” The idea had come to me as I listened to a commentator [in my car]. He was quoting a biblical passage, about husbands being thoughtful of their wives. Then he went on to say, “Love is an act of the will; a person can choose to love.” To myself, I had to admit that I had been a selfish husband, that our love had been dulled by my own insensitivity, in petty ways. Really chiding Evelyn for her tardiness, insisting on the TV channel I wanted to watch. Throwing out day-old newspapers before Evelyn had a chance to read them. But for two weeks, all that would change, and it did. Right from the moment I kissed Evelyn at the door and said, “That yellow sweater looks great on you.” “Oh Tom, you noticed,” she said, surprised and pleased and maybe a little shocked. After the long drive, I wanted to sit and read. Evelyn suggested a walk on the beach. I started to refuse, but then I thought, Evelyn’s been alone with all the kids for weeks, now she wants to be alone with me. We walked on the beach, while the children flew their kites. So it went. Two weeks of not calling the Wall Street investment firm, where I am a director; a visit to the shell museum, though I usually hate museums; holding my tongue while Evelyn’s getting ready, made us late for dinner. Relaxed and happy… that’s how the whole vacation passed. I made a vow to keep on remembering to choose love. There was one thing that went wrong with my experiment, however. On our last night at our cottage, preparing for bed, Evelyn stared at me with the saddest expression. “What’s the matter?” I asked her. “Tom,” she said in a voice filled with distress, “do you know something I don’t know?” “Well… what do ya’ mean?” “Well, that check-up I had several weeks ago. Our doctor… did he tell you something about me? Tom, you’ve been so good to me. Am I dying?” It took a moment for it all to sink in. Then I burst out laughing. “No, honey, no! You’re not dying. I’m just starting to live.”
Let’s try something like that this week. Let’s try this week to just be totally loving in our homes, at our work place, wherever we are this week… For this week, let’s try to think more about the people around us than we do about ourselves, and live this week for God and for others. I think the spirit of God will help us in that if that’s what we want to do and we try. Let’s try that, let’s see what happens and what a difference that makes in our homes and our workplace. Let’s see if that’s really living. Let’s try to experience this week what it’s like to be made more in God’s likeness. Let’s get more of a taste of what it’s like to be a part of God’s new creation that He’s making.