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The Holy Spirit: Harvest of the Spirit

October 18, 2009

Sermon: The Holy Spirit: Harvest of the Spirit
Text: John 15:1-8

Today, we continue our series The Holy Spirit in Christian Life. We come to this brief, but important passage in Paul’s letter to the Galatians that describes the fruit of the Spirit. Notice that the word “fruit” is singular. The passage reads “fruit of the Spirit,” not “fruits of the Spirit.” Why is that important? You remember that when we talked about the gifts of the Spirit, we said that no one has all the gifts. In fact, in the category of the gifts called the charismata, each of us has just one. That category is the one that motivates us. These gifts are given to us by the church, those appointed to us by the church as special talents or abilities. We might have multiple gifts, but we do not have them all. When it comes to the fruit of the Spirit, the implication is that every single one of us is to have manifested in our lives all of these characteristics.

When I go home, I look forward to kicking off my shoes, taking off my tie, and greeting my wife. Clare usually has on our kitchen counter or the chopping block located at the center of our kitchen a large bowl of fruit. Almost always apples are there, as are bananas that are moving from this life to the next. Sometimes pears and seedless grapes are in that bowl. Soon we will add oranges and grapefruit. Knowing fruit will be in that bowl is very appealing to me. I really enjoy fruit. It is one of the foods I can have. It is like medicine, almost, because of how good it is for the body.

That bowl of fruit, as pleasing as it is to me, pales in comparison to the pleasure God must feel when He sees the fruit of the Spirit manifested in the lives of His people. In Matthew 7, which is the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said that it is evident who is a Christian and who is not by the fruit of the Spirit in their lives. I am not going to read the entire portion of Matthew 7, Verses 16-20, which is the Scripture that defines this. I do want point out to you one key part of this passage, the first and last sentences, which really make the same statement: “By their fruit you will know them…Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.” The characteristics evident in a Christian will indicate whether this person really does follow Christ.

I read about a missionary couple that wanted to grow a garden in Africa where they lived. They thought they had a really good place for a garden. When they came home on furlough, they bought some vegetable seeds and took them back to Africa. They tilled the soil and planted those seeds in the plot. The plants grew beautifully with many green leaves. Tomato plants grew tall and strong, and squash plants grew to be huge in size. The plants, however, never set blossoms. The plants never produced any fruit. Imagine a field of corn with the stalks growing tall but producing nothing.

Growing all plant and no fruit is a disappointment. It must be the same way in the kingdom of God. God sees people who are called into His kingdom. If they never bear fruit, it is as if His life has no impact in the way they live. I know enough from experiences I have had that if the soil is loaded with nitrogen, you will get a lot of green plant but not necessarily good fruit. God is looking for fruit. He desires a spiritual harvest, the harvest of the Holy Spirit as defined by nine words: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

John Stott, a Christian theologian, says that hearing that list ought to, in some sense, make our mouths water. That list is exactly what we are to produce as Christians. This list is to be the evidence that we really do have Christ living within us.

Paul made a very important statement in his letter to the Galatians: “I have been crucified with Christ so it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). The implication is that the very moment we accept Christ, the very moment we say that he comes into our heart or into our lives, we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. God’s Spirit dwells within us whether we call it “the living Christ,” “the invisible presence of God,” or “the Holy Spirit living within us.” Those expressions all have the same meaning. The point is that we have a systemic relationship with Christ. If he is living within us, we begin to show the evidence of this fruit in our lives, thus becoming more and more like him.

Let me be sure you understand that these characteristics – defined as the fruit of the Spirit – do not become clearly evident in our lives instantaneously. The truth is that we are all a work in progress. God continues to work in our lives. Not one of us is finished yet. Paul even writes in Philippians, “…he who began a good work in you will carry it through to completion…” (Philippians 1:6). I really prefer to think of the fruit as nine graces. They are gifts that come because Christ is dwelling in us. As we grow in Christ, these nine characteristics, these nine gifts, become evident in our lives. This process develops because of our community. I do not mean just the Morningside congregation. I mean the church of Jesus Christ because we are rooted and grounded in him. These characteristics become the evidence to the world. We sing “They will know we are Christians by our love.” They will know we are Christians also by our joy, our peace, and all others included in the list.

I find it extremely interesting, and I think you will, too, that the list can be divided into three separate segments of three each. The first three characteristics are graces derived from our devotion to God and our relationship to Him: love, joy and peace. The second three are graces that become evident in our lives through our servant heart, our desire to be meaningful in the lives of others, our desire to serve others: patience, kindness, and goodness. We develop the last three traits out of our own personal sense of integrity. They define the way that we live as Christians within our own skin: faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. I would like us to briefly look at these nine graces, each in turn.

The first characteristic we find as a fruit of the Spirit is love, agape, which the Apostle Paul says is poured into our hearts when we accept Christ. It is the love God has given to us, fully expressed in Jesus; but it is also the love God expects from us. Jesus is asked, “Which commandment is the most important?” He turns to two commandments that are both about love: “The first is to ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is like unto it: ‘Love other people as you love yourselves.’” We are to walk in love. We are to understand that the love of Christ binds us together as a family. We are to put this gift on as a garment, Paul says. Love becomes the universal motive for what we do in the Christian life.

The second fruit is joy. Dave Sayers, who just sang “I’ll go on singing,” is expressing that joy. Clare and I, as well as some of you, have learned that joy does not depend on external circumstances. People can suffer in a variety of ways and still have joy. This gift is not superficial. It is not a little yellow smiley face sticker. That might be happiness, but it is not joy. Real joy is a deep, abiding experience in the Christian life. It comes from somewhere deep inside, very often simultaneously with our grief.

Clare has told me that she finds that sometimes tears come unbidden from deep within her. She says that place is also the source of joy, joy that comes right along with those tears. If you have been a Christian for any length of time at all and have been through any difficult experience, you have experienced that. You know that joy is part and parcel of even the most difficult times in life.

This joy – chara is the word – does not depend on what happens to us. It depends on what happens within us. When we are led by the Spirit, we have this kind of joy. It is a constant presence in our lives. It is contagious. Other people see it and are drawn to it. They want to be a part of this joy.

The fruit of the Spirit is peace. Eireine is the Greek word. This kind of peace is not the absence of conflict. In fact, peace comes to us even in circumstances that might seem quite conflictual. It does not mean that all is right with the world. This kind of peace comes to us again from deep within. It is a part of God’s kingdom. Peace is a companion with faith and hope.

Perhaps one of the best examples of this kind of peace is found in a letter Paul wrote to the Philippians while in a Roman prison. In fact, it would not be too much of a stretch to say that he was on death row. He writes, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which is beyond human understanding, will keep your heart and mind in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).

How could Paul make such a statement when he was facing a death sentence? He knew that the peace of God does not depend on the absence of conflict with the Roman Empire. It does not depend on the absence of conflict with other people. It depends on being at peace with Christ, knowing that in Christ you are united with God. This internal experience leads to both peace of heart and peace of mind. Paul expresses what this sense of peace means further when he writes in Philippians 4:12, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether I am in plenty or in want.” The Hebrew word Shalom and the Greek word Eireine describe exactly this deep inner peace that comes from our relationship with Christ.

The fruit of the Spirit is patience. The King James Version uses the word “long-suffering,” a word that is easily misunderstood. Maybe I can help you understand it if you think of long-tempered instead of short-tempered. People who are short-tempered have a short fuse. They are quick to blow their stack. Responding to this other person in anger, blowing our stack, does not help. A person who is long-tempered can hang on for a while.

Patience certainly applies in our relationship to other people, those who irritate us, those who cause us all kinds of difficulty. Proverbs 15:1 says, “A soft answer turneth away wrath.” One way we develop this sense of patience in those relationships is to understand the great patience with which God has treated us. God loves us. He loves us unconditionally.

Patience is sometimes hard to come by. My dad was in the hospital recently, as many of you know. After having had a necessary procedure, he was feeling much better. He began chomping at the bit to go home. I said, “Dad, let me tell you something. There is a very good reason why they call the people in these hospital beds patients.” You can learn two virtues in the hospital: patience and humility. All you have to do is put on that hospital gown, and you learn humility right away. You can learn something in every circumstance.

The fruit of the Spirit is kindness. It is empathy. It is mercy. Kindness is trying to see a situation from another person’s perspective. If you can see it in that way, you can certainly be kind. It is a way of responding to other people that lets them know you understand. Perhaps a better way of saying this might be that you are “being good, being a good person.” It is not good as in the sense of Little Jack Horner who sat in the corner saying, “What a good boy am I!” It is good in the sense of treating other people according to the Golden Rule, treating them the way you would like to be treated.

This kindness issues into another part of the fruit of the Spirit. Kindness is an attitude, a disposition. Random acts of kindness could be called goodness, goodness produced by the Spirit. Goodness is kindness with feet. It is active. It is expressing a merciful attitude. It is being an encourager by doing simple things for people, helping them know that you do care about them. Kindness energizes goodness. Two great examples from the Bible are Barnabas and Dorcas. They were noted as encouragers, noted for their service to others.

The fruit of the Spirit is faithfulness. Think about God and His faithfulness. God never breaks covenant with His people. God makes a promise and keeps it forever. Our response is to do the same. To be faithful means to be reliable. William Barkley says having this trait means that the person is really dependable. I like to think of this as a person who says what they do and do what they say. They keep their promises.

I have told you before that a song Clare and I really appreciate so much, one that reminds us of our responsibility to our children and grandchildren and to many other people as well, is by Steve Green. Listen to these words. “May all who come behind us find us faithful. May the fire of our devotion light their way. May the footprints that we leave lead them to believe, and the lives we live inspire them to obey.” This quality of faithfulness is so important.

The fruit of the Spirit is gentleness. If you think that you are the perfect exhibit of a person who has the fruit of the Spirit, you probably do not have gentleness. Gentleness can be called meekness. Think humility. It is the ability to understand that self-promotion has no place in the kingdom of God. We all struggle with our sense of pride.

God gives all of us the ability to see ourselves in proper perspective. There is nothing like standing on the top of a mountain or walking on the beach and looking out at the vastness of the land or ocean to put ourselves in proper perspective. We will realize just how small we are. The truth is that our part is small; nevertheless, it is an important part. We can all make a difference. We all have something to contribute to making this world a better place.

Any of these eight fruits would make a wonderful Christmas card. “May the Lord grant you peace at Christmas.” “May you receive the gift of joy at Christmas.” “May this Christmas be one of love.” All of these gifts sound so good until we get to the last one, self-control. You will have trouble if you try to make a Christmas card out of this fruit of the Spirit. “May God grant you self-control at Christmastime”? Self-control is so important. It might be what we need most of all. The ringer is right here at the end.

What does this gift mean? Self-control means having the strength to resist temptation. Think of Jesus in the wilderness. The book of Hebrews says that our Lord was tempted in all ways as we are tempted, yet he was without sin. Imagine! Imagine the ways you are tempted. Jesus was tempted in those ways, yet he was without sin? That is what the Bible states. Temptation is not wrong; yielding to temptation is wrong. Self-control is the strength to resist temptation, all kinds. God wants us to learn this part of the fruit of the Spirit. Like all of the gifts, it, too, comes slowly. The longer we live, the more we practice, and the more we see this trait in Jesus, self-control becomes a part of us.

How can we possibly demonstrate these traits in our lives as Christians? Look briefly at John, Chapter 15. I will not read this long passage, but I do want to make reference to one verse that answers this question. Verse 5: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, you will bear much fruit; but apart from me, you can do nothing.” Think about a grapevine’s branches that spread out on a trellis. Think about those luscious bunches of grapes growing from those branches. What happens if the branch is severed from the vine? Scripture says it dries and withers. It is thrown away because it bears no fruit.

How is it that we can be fruit-bearing Christians? Our life becomes grafted into Christ. His life becomes the sustaining force of our life. In Galatians 2:20, Paul says, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I that lives but Christ that lives in me.” He is talking about this indwelling of the Holy Spirit. He is talking about our being grafted into the vine. Our ability to bear fruit is not our own doing. It is the life of Christ flowing through us. That is why I say that this fruit-bearing business is systemic. God is the fruit inspector. He checks it and makes the decision about whether it is good fruit or bad fruit.

Some weeks ago, Clare and I went to a retreat center. I walked into a beautiful room and saw a bowl of fruit on a large table. I commented that I thought I would eat several grapes; but when I walked over to the table and pulled at a grape, it would not come off the stem. Every piece of fruit in that bowl was wax, not real.

You cannot fake this relationship. It only comes because we abide in Christ and because he lives in us. If that is true, then this fruit of the Spirit will become a part of our lives.

Do you have a relationship with Christ? When you acknowledge him as Savior and Lord, your life becomes grafted into his. You will begin to feel the life energy flowing through you. The relationship becomes so important that you will want to live your life as Christ wants you to live. If you have never accepted Jesus as your Savior, I invite you to make that decision.

Kirk H. Neely
© October 2009

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