…Acting Destructively & Living Productively
I think the picture above is one of the most disturbing scenes in ‘A Christmas Carol’. Ebenezer Scrooge is taken by the final spirit and he is shown a charwoman selling bedsheets to a pawn broker. The conversation reveals that the bedsheets, curtains and shirt have all been stolen from a dead mans bedroom. She justifies her heartless actions because of the heartless way the deceased man had behaved in life. Scrooge, it seems, fails to recognise the full significance of the scene – but the reader is left in no doubt that these vultures are picking over the bones of his life. Most people are hopeful that their lives will have counted for something, to leave some kind of legacy in this world. In Dickens story, Scrooge is confronted with his truly impoverished state, having spent his life in the pursuit of material wealth at any cost.
On Sunday I preached from Galatians 5:13-26. In the passage Paul lays out two contrasting ways to live – life in the flesh and life by the Spirit. He makes it clear that one of these patterns is entirely destructive, and the other is eternally productive. I want focus on the the eternal productivity that living by the Spirit brings, but before we do that let’s just remind ourselves of the destructive patterns of life that the Holy Spirit sets us free from.
Paul gives us a representative list of what ‘fleshly living’ looks like in Gal 5:19-21.
(Note his comment at the end of the list – this isn’t exhaustive!)
In the sermon I broke the list down into four subsets:
- Mistaken Intimacy – “…sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality…”
- Misplaced Worship – “…idolatry, sorcery…”
- Misfired Emotions – “…enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy…”
- Mishandled Gifts – “…drunkenness, orgies…”
These acts have at least two things in common – they’re they are self-centred actions and they are destructive patterns of behaviour. The two things are inseparable – they are destructive because they are self-centred! The moment we put ourselves and our desires at the centre of our world we find that everything starts to unravel and decay around us. We too should heed the visiting spirits warning to Scrooge!
In Galatians 5:22-23 we find a list of virtues that show the life-giving work of the Holy Spirit in every Christian. According to the Apostle Paul, the life of a Spirit-led believer should be a bountifully productive counterpoint to the destructive acts of the flesh. Let’s explore what that actually means for us.
…not without effort.
The image of fruit is significant. Any gardener will tell you that it takes a lot of time, effort and care to successfully cultivate fruit. Abandoned orchards, vineyards and fruit bushes can quickly become overgrown, diseased and unfruitful. In John 15:1-2 Jesus tells us that God is the vinedresser and he prunes us to increase our fruitfulness – Be encouraged, God won’t abandon his vineyard!
As those planted in the vineyard we also need to remember 2 Peter 1:5-8. There is an expectation that we will work in partnership with God, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to grow and demonstrate these qualities.
…a bunch of grapes.
When thinking about the Fruit of the Spirit an overflowing fruit bowl, though visually appealing, is biblically unhelpful – a more helpful image would be a bunch of grapes.
In his book ‘Charity and It’s Fruits’, Jonathan Edwards says;
“[in the Fruit of the Spirit] there is a concatenation of the graces of Christianity”.
‘Concatenation’ – ‘a series of interconnected things’ – (I had to look it up!)
The implication of this is that a healthy Christian should be increasingly fruitful in all areas.
When reading this list, you aren’t a child being presented with a spiritual ‘Pick’n’Mix’ i.e. “I’ll have a scoop full of joy and leave the self-control for someone else please!”…
You are like a potentially prize winning plant being compared to the judge’s criteria i.e. “I can see that there is a lot of gentleness here but I’d like to see more patience develop”.
Have you ever walked through an orchard in late summer? The fruit ladden branches invite you to grab an apple and take a bite. Fruitful Christians should have a similar effect.
Matthew Henry makes this observation:
“…[the] works of the flesh, not only hurtful to men themselves, but tending to make them so to one another, …the fruits of the Spirit, which tend to make Christians agreeable one to another, as well as to make them happy.”
The fruit of the Spirit in our lives is God’s invitation to those we meet to ‘taste & see that the Lord is good!’ (Psalm 34:8)
Questions for Connect Groups/Personal study:
- What are the fruit of the Spirit?
– Galatians 5:22-23
- Can you think of anyone who exhibits the Fruit of the Spirit?
– Have you ever told them? (You really should!)
- Our development of the Fruit of the Spirit is in partnership with the Holy Spirit.
– Where has God been pruning you in this season?
– How have you been responding?
- Are you growing in all the Fruit?
– Where might you be out of balance?
- How might the Fruit of the Spirit in your life be a blessing…
– to other believers?
– to your family, friends & colleagues?
– to our community?
6th February 2021
3rd February 2021
23rd January 2021