MAY THE WORDS OF MY MOUTH AND THE MEDITATION OF MY HEART BE ALWAYS ACCEPTABLE IN THY SIGHT OH LORD MY STRENGH AND MY REDEEMER.
Fruit of The Spirit
"I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.” Galatians v. 16.
Ancient Galatia was an area in the highlands of what is central Turkey today. The Galatians were immigrant Gauls who settled in the area and became its ruling caste in the 3rd century, sometime after 279 BC. In the Epistles, for the last two Sundays, St. Paul has been pointing out to the Galatians that the Law was powerless to make man righteous. Obedience to the Law could prevent mankind from committing the grosser sins, however it could not produce in and of itself the interior fruits of the Spirit.
In the two verses that precede today’s Epistle St. Paul changes his emphasis. Up to that point in his Epistle to the Galatians the emphasis has been theological and now it becomes intensely ethical. St. Paul’s theology always ran one danger. When he declared that the end of the reign of law had come and that the reign of grace had arrived, some people would say ‘That, then means that I can do what I like; all the restraints are lifted and I can follow my inclinations wherever they lead me. The Law is gone, and grace ensures forgiveness anyway’. But for St. Paul there were always two obligations. One is the obligation to God. If God loves us then the love of Christ puts us under constraint. We cannot bring discredit to a life which God paid for with the life of his son. The other is the obligation to our neighbours. We are free, but our freedom loves its neighbour as itself.
Democracy means government of the people, by the people, for the people. Christianity is the only true democracy, because in a Christian state all citizens would think as much of their neighbours as they do of themselves. The founding fathers of this great country knew and understood this fundamental principle. Today the ‘I want’ or ‘I don’t want’ mentality of special interest groups and the perceived need to be ‘politically correct’ have caused this country to lose sight of this founding principle. Last week activists with the Black Lives Matter movement chanted “Pigs in a blanket, fry ’em like bacon,” while marching behind a group of police officers just hours after a Harris County, Tex. sheriff’s deputy was ambushed and executed at a Houston-area gas station.
For St. Paul, it was essential that Christian freedom should not mean freedom to indulge the lower side of human nature, but freedom to walk in the life of the spirit. He gives us a catalogue of evil things. “Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envying, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like:”. Let’s explore the root meaning of a few of these words. Fornication – Christianity came into a world where sexual immorality was not only condoned, but was regarded as an essential part of everyday life. Christianity brought into the world one completely new virtue, chastity. Lasciviousness which can also be thought of as Wantonness has been defined as ‘readiness for any pleasure’. Those who practice it have been said to know no restraint, but to do whatever whim or wanton lack of respect may suggest. Emulations which means the desire to have what someone else has or the wrong desire for what is not ours. Heresies – the root of this word means to choose and it is commonly used to describe a group of people who hold a different view. There have been many heresies within the church in centuries past stemming from one person’s or a group of people’s interpretation of scripture. Scripture interpretation is very complex and is best left up to the theologians who dedicate their life to it.
St. Paul also describes the fruit of the Spirit as “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance:” We need to take a moment to look at some of these fruits of the spirit as well. Peace in the New Testament usually means freedom from trouble, everything that makes for a person’s higher good and that tranquility of heart which derives from the all-pervading consciousness that our time on earth are in the hands of God. Longsuffering – in the fourth century John Chrysostom said that it is the grace of those who could revenge themselves and do not, people who are slow to anger. God has the patience to put up with our sins and not reject us. In our dealings with one another, we must reproduce this loving, forbearing, forgiving, patient attitude of God. Gentleness has three meanings in the New Testament; being submissive to the will of God, being teachable – not too proud to learn and being considerate. The word Gentleness speaks of that self-control which Christ alone can give. Faith – Articles XI, XII and XII of the thirty nine articles of religion found in your prayer book deal with the issue of defining faith. Faith involves supremely personal trust and confidence in the atoning work of Christ generally described as justification by faith alone and denying merit to works done before justification. The articles guard against ascribing virtue to human effort apart from divine grace and assert, nevertheless, that works which are the fruit of faith are pleasing to God. Perhaps a simple way of thinking about this complex theological concept is – if you do something thinking this will be pleasing to God you are not doing it based on faith alone because you have introduce reasoning into the action you are taking.
The fruit of the Spirit is therefore the spontaneous work of the Holy Spirit in us. The Spirit produces the characteristic traits that are found in the nature of Christ. We can’t obtain them by trying to get them without his help. If we want the fruit of the Spirit to grow in us we must know him, love him, remember him and imitate him. By doing so we will fulfill the intended purpose of the law – to love God with all our heart, all our soul and all our mind and our neighbours as ourself. Because the God who sent the law also sent the Spirit, the by-products of a Spirit filled life are in perfect harmony with the intent of God’s law.
It was St. Paul’s belief and experience that Christians died with Christ and rose again to a life, new and clean, in which the evil things of the old self were gone and the lovely things of the Spirit had come to fruition. Only the Spirit of Christ can cope with the inward affections of the heart and mind. The fruit of the Spirit has been given to you. You have been given the free will to do with it what you choose.
And now unto God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost be ascribed all might, majesty, power and dominion as is most justly due this day; world without end. AMEN