January 27, 2019
Norwalk First United Methodist Church
Fruits of the Spirit
3rd Sunday after Epiphany
Galatians 5:16-25; 1 Corinthians 13:4-13
Today, we begin a message series rooted in Paul’s letter to the Galatians, Chapter 5, the Fruits of the Spirit. These nine fruits, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control grow out of our relationship with God born of our faith in Jesus Christ. It is my wish throughout this series to give you a good understanding, based on each week’s scripture verses, about how important each of these fruits is to the followers of Jesus Christ.
The term “fruit” for these graces which God has given us through the Holy Spirit is a good one. Fruit, after all, is something organic, something living that is brought forth by the entire plant. If the whole plant is healthy, the fruit will be healthy, too. “If we live by the Spirit,” says Paul, “let us also be guided by the Spirit.” When we truly believe in Jesus Christ and invite the Holy Spirit to dwell in us, then surely the Spirit’s presence is bound to make a difference in our lives. It is through the work of the Holy Spirit that we are able to bear fruit for God’s kingdom.
However, the Holy Spirit in us is always in conflict with the sinful desires of our humanness. Paul says that when we belong to Jesus Christ, it will become easier for us to control our sinful nature with all of its passions and desires and live more fully in Christ and in the Holy Spirit.
If we look more closely at the nine Fruits of the Spirit, we can cluster them into three sets of three. The first three, love, joy, and peace, reflect the Christian believer’s attitude toward God. Love for God, joy in God, and peace with God are aspects of the God-centered life. And so we ask the question, can other people see in our lives unconditional love, unbelievable joy, and unruffled peace?
The next three fruits, patience, kindness, and goodness, reflect the believer’s attitude to other people. In our social lives with other people do we have the perseverance and endurance to work with people, do we show the kindness to people of being a servant to their needs, and do we display the kind of love for others that is born out in generosity and hospitality. In other words, do we truly show the face of Jesus Christ to our fellow men, women, and children?
And lastly, the final three fruits of faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, reflect the Christian believer’s attitude with him or herself. In our personal lives will we manifest the fruit of faithfulness in dependability and in accountability in our service to God and people? Will we manifest the gentleness in Christlike behavior in every situation of life? And will we manifest the fruit of self-control in the God-given ability to harness natural passions for the purposes of salvation?
Paul was adamant that the world’s Christ followers yield and submit to the control of the Holy Spirit in dependence and obedience. To those who obey God, God has given us the Holy Spirit and there is no substitute for total obedience to the Word of God and to the fruits of the Spirit that obedience will yield. And so today’s message begins with the first of those fruits of the Holy Spirit, love. Would you pray with me?
I want to make a bold statement. We owe our eternal lives to God’s love. First John 4:16 makes this declaration, “God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” God’s love for us saved us. God is the ultimate form of love. In fact, love looks like God. The very essence of God is love. But just what, exactly, is the love that Paul is talking about in his letters.
The Greek language has so many more colorful and descriptive words than the English language. In fact, there are quite a few Greek words for our one English word “love,” depending on the type of love the speaker wishes to convey. For example, there is “eros”, which is a sensual and passionate type of love. The actor and director Woody Allen once talked about this kind of love. He said, “I was nauseous and tingly all over. I was either in love or I had smallpox.” The Greek word “eros” for love is never used in the Bible.
Then there is “phileo.” This is the warm, fuzzy, feeling of love we have for those nearest and dearest to us. This is a friendship type of love. It is the kind of love used in the word “Philadelphia” which means “city of brotherly love.” The word for this type of love was used in the exchange between Peter and Jesus in the Gospel of John when they met once again in Galilee after Jesus’ Resurrection. Jesus asked Peter if he truly loved him.
But the Greek word for love that Paul often uses is “agape.” This type of love is more a feeling of the mind than of the heart. It is as much an act of the will as an act of the emotions. It is a conscious action of love, something that you and I decide to do and something that we cannot do without the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
When we say, “God is love,” then God’s love is a conscious action. When God sent his Son Jesus into the world, that was a conscious action of love. God’s love saved us. The love a husband and wife have for each other should be “agape” love, a conscious action of love that puts our spouse above all others; a love that serves another without concern for our own well-being.
I am surely dating myself now, but an excellent example of “agape” love, a love above all others and all things, was the comedian Jack Benny’s love for his wife Mary. Now those of you who don’t know who Jack Benny is, ask your grandparents or maybe even your parents. You see Jack Benny was rather shy when he was young. One day at work he saw a young lady that greatly attracted his attention, but he was too shy to speak to her. So he went to the florist and ordered one red rose to be sent to her without any card enclosed and every day he repeated that order.
Well, after four days of receiving one red rose each day, the young lady went to the florist and asked who was sending them. The florist told her that it was some guy who worked where she did by the name of Jack Benny. “Yeah,” she said, “I think I know who he is.”
So she searched Jack out and asked him why he was sending her those roses. He told her that he wanted to ask her out, and she accepted his invitation. And other dates followed that first one. But still, every day, she continued to receive one red rose.
Sometime later, Jack and Mary Livingston got engaged and Mary figured that the red roses would stop. But still they came. Finally, they were married and even on the honeymoon she continued to receive one red rose each day. But once the honeymoon was over, she figured that the roses would stop.
But month after month, then year after year, all their married life, every day without fail she received a red rose. Finally, Jack Benny died in 1974 at the age of 80. But the very next day, another red rose arrived. Thinking that maybe the florist somehow hadn’t heard, she called to tell him of Jack’s death and that he could now stop sending the roses.
The florist answered, “But you don’t understand. Before he died, Jack made all the arrangements. You’ll receive one red rose every day for the rest of your life.” And she did, for the next nine years.
That, to me, is “agape” love. It is the kind of never-ending love that God has for us not only until we die physically, but for all our spiritual eternity. The world has poured a sensual meaning into the word “love” that centers on sex and the sex act. But Paul’s presentation of love is without sentimentality, devoid of sensuality, and free from sexuality. The agape love that God has for us is divine in origin and transcends any earthly meanings and there is no way that our minds can fully grasp the depth of God’s divine love for us and for his son Jesus Christ. God is the very essence of love as we read in 1 Corinthians 13.
Paul certainly gives us a wonderful love letter without equal in the 1 Corinthians 13 passage. Paul wants Christ-followers to live in God’s divine love and to demonstrate that love to others. He wants us to know that God is love. But more importantly, Paul wants us to know the character of God through his written description of love. To know God’s character is to also know what our character should be since we are created in the image of God. We are or should be a reflection of the very essence of God.
In this Corinthians passage, we come to know love not only by what it is, patient and kind, but by what it is not. Paul says love is not jealous or envious. Jealousy has a disastrous effect on personal relationships. Cain envied Abel and killed him. Jacob’s sons were jealous of Joseph and sold him into slavery. In Acts 5, the high priest and his associates were jealous of the apostles and jailed them. Jealousy is a vice that is the exact opposite of love. Paul continues his description.
Love does not brag and is not arrogant. These go hand in glove. Love has no room for us to exhibit pride in ourselves or our accomplishments. At the same time, arrogance is just inflated selfishness; believing that we are better than others and completely devoid of humility. You see, love is alive when it is secure, dying when it starts doubting, and dead when it stops trusting. Jealousy, bragging, and arrogance exhibit our insecurity. But love is giving and selfless. Love is humble, putting the needs of others above ourselves. And still, Paul continues to describe the essence of God.
Love does not act indecently or unbecomingly. A person who demonstrates love always strives for proper decorum in relation to others. Love should be evident in our conduct around others and in the image we want to present so that it will glorify God. The royal law to “love your neighbor as yourself” demands that we conduct ourselves in a becoming manner with others. Love demands decent behavior in our words, our attitude, our dress, and our appearance. After all, we are the living image of a holy God.
Paul continues his love letter. Love does not seek its own or is not self-seeking. In other words, love does not insist on its own way or wants to take advantage of others or a situation. We could say, “Love is not selfish.” Love flourishes in an atmosphere where two people or a family trust each other and know that they will promote the welfare of the other person. Selfless love builds up other people. Paul continues…
Love does not become easily irritated or provoked. But in some ways righteous anger is permissible and in certain instances even necessary. Out of my love for my children, I have sometimes become angered when they have messed up or needlessly put themselves in harm’s way. Even Jesus expressed anger at the money changers in the temple area of Jerusalem.
But in this letter to the Corinthians, Paul was letting the people of Corinth know that they had to overlook some of the things that were happening in the city. You see, the emphasis is on the word “easily.” The Christians in Corinth were dealing with idolatry, immorality, lawsuits, and disputes about marriage. Paul is telling them, “You can’t become so easily irritated by these things so that they become all too consuming for you. You have to continue to speak the truth that comes only from God and continue to love each other as God loves you.”
And then Paul hits us over our heads with a spiritual 2 x 4. Husbands and wives especially, listen closely; love does not keep a record of wrongs. Paul gives us a picture right here of a bookkeeper who flips the pages of his ledger to reveal what has been received and spent. He is able to give an exact account and provide an itemized list. Some of us do that very same thing with the people we love the most. The list comes out every time we get into an argument or whenever we feel we have been wronged. But Paul says no, true love, agape love, is extremely forgetful when it comes to remembering injury and injustice. When wrongs have been forgiven, they should not be mentioned again or brought up to demean the other. How hard is that one?
And finally, Paul writes, love does not rejoice or delight in evil, but rejoices in the truth. As love characterizes God, so evil describes the devil. Love has to take notice of the evil in this world but it should never gloat over it. Instead, love should grieve over the sins that human beings commit against one another. I’m sure God does.
Love should constantly attempt to discover good and praiseworthy words, thoughts, and deeds in another person. Love should search out the truth and rejoice when that truth is triumphing over wrong. It is love and truth that reside as inseparable partners in God himself. It is those things that God shares with us and should be constantly renewed through the Holy Spirit.
Love is that virtue, that fruit of the Holy Spirit, which allows us to overlook so many of the human flaws in others, and to once again see in them the true image of God wanting to be made whole and glorified through our Savior, Jesus Christ. “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.”
Folks, God is love and he never fails us. His love is imprinted in our souls. It fills our hearts and should be expressed in our very being. God’s love is endless and it never loses its validity. Love is eternal because it is the very essence of God. John wrote this in his letter, 1 John 4:8: The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. Everything else in God’s creation can come to an end, but God’s love will always continue to be an active and lasting influence for all eternity.
For Paul, love is basic and foundational to all the other fruits of the Spirit because of God’s eternal love for his Son and through his Son, for all of us. For God so loved the world…. God is love and we should reflect that love. God is love. We owe our eternal lives to that love.