We don’t spend enough time thinking about the fruit of the Spirit, about how our lives can reflect Jesus’ love (I know I don’t anyway…). Thinking about the fruit of the Spirit seemed like a good way to finish our sermon series on discipleship.
I found the book A permanent becoming by Alan Mann, which explores all the fruit of the Spirit, an inspiring read. It was the basis for this sermon. I’ve also done a sermon series on the Fruit of the Spirit, again based on Alan Mann’s book.
Over the last couple of months we’ve been thinking about discipleship, about the adventure of following Jesus, of the difference that makes to every aspect of our lives. And this is the last sermon in the sermon series on discipleship. It’s about the fruit of the Spirit.
One problem is that the fruit of the Spirit can seem, frankly, a bit dull – faithfulness? Isn’t that what your dog is? kindness? Isn’t that what you are towards your dog?
This probably says more about us and about the value we put on things though, than on the characteristics themselves. Because, we’d rather like to see those qualities in other people wouldn’t we? We’d certainly like people to be kind and good and faithful towards us. We’d like people to be patient, gentle and full of self-control, particularly when we’re failing to be kind, peaceful, or loving towards them. And people who are joyful, who can light up a room, tend to be valued as well.
Because these qualities: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. These qualities are about what God is calling us to be. God is calling us to become fully human. The Bible sees us human beings as made in the image of God, as made to reflect God’s glory to creation. But, the Bible also sees human beings as flawed, as marred and distorted by sin. We are called and enabled by God to become fully human, to fully reflect God’s image. Maybe not completely, this side of Christ’s return, but the important thing is our journey towards being fully human.
As I’m sure you know, a prism splits white light into the different colours it’s made up of, it shows us what light is made of. In the same way, Jesus is the prism through which we can see what being human really means, as Jesus was fully human, as well as truly God. So, we see these qualities reflected in Jesus’ life.
We see someone who was loving, who cared for people. We see in Jesus someone who was joyful, who enjoyed spending time with people, who partied so much that he was accused of being a drunk and a glutton. We see someone who brought peace into situations, who restored relationships, who gave others his peace. We see someone in Jesus who was patient with his followers, when they failed, yet again, to get the point. We see someone who was kind to those in need, who had compassion on those who didn’t have enough, or anything. We see in Jesus someone who transformed things, who brought goodness into people’s lives, who brought fresh goodness into the world. We see someone who was faithful, who kept his promises and who stuck at things through thick and thin. We see in Jesus someone who was gentle with those around him, who did not bring all his power and might to bear, and had the self-control to stick to that, even when tempted and provoked. So, we these qualities reflected in Jesus’ life, in a life that was fully human.
This is where it could get guilt inducing: go away and by an effort of will try and be more like that. Show more love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control in your own life. Just try a bit harder. I’m fully aware of the dangers of that approach. As the father of a three year old my reserves of patience and self-control are rather over-drawn, and to be quite honest, they weren’t that large to begin with.
No, the ‘just try a bit harder’ approach is to miss the point! We’re called into a relationship, a loving relationship with Jesus, through God’s Spirit. That’s the point of the reading that we heard from John. Jesus wasn’t leaving us with a book of rules, a set of instructions, a self-help manual. Jesus has left us with his Spirit, with the person of God, with whom we can have a personal, loving relationship. With whom we can spend the rest of our eternity, on the adventure that is our life with him.
The more time you spend with someone, the deeper your relationship with that person, the more like them you become. I’m sure you can think of examples of people who can finish each other’s sentences, who seem to know what the other is thinking.
In the same way, we’re called to spend time with Jesus, to develop a loving relationship with him, so that we then produce the same fruitful life as Jesus. We’re called to have a good enough quality of relationship with God, so that how he is rubs off on us. We’re called to have the Spirit dwell within us so deeply that what he wants for us and what we want for ourselves are the same thing.
And all that’s both intentional and unintentional. In our closest relationships we quite often pick up what our friends or family members or partners are like and like doing without it ever having been made explicit. We can often know how someone close to us will react in a certain situation, what they will say, what they will choose. But, also, sometime we know we need to put the effort in to finding out more about even those closest to us.
Over the last few weeks we’ve thought about how we need to consciously look to God in all aspects of our lives, to connect to him through prayer, to think about what it means for God to be our boss at work and in the home, to set out on that journey with him, or to take another step or two on that journey. We’ve thought about our response to God’s generosity and love, about using all that we have been given in response to God’s love for us.
So, our encouragement to live like Jesus lives is about grasping how much Jesus actually loves us. Love is the prism through which we can see all the other fruit of the Spirit: joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Note that Paul writes “the fruit is” not “the fruits are”. We don’t get to pick and choose. We don’t get to say, well, I’ll have a bit of joy, but I’m not sure about the gentleness. Why? because love encompasses all the other fruit, because they’re all interlinked, and they’re all part of becoming fully, truly, human.
That’s one why that the fruit of the Spirit are unlike the spiritual gifts that God also give us – no-one has all the gifts, of prophecy, interpretation, discernment, healing, administration, teaching, so that we’re encouraged to work together as the body of Christ. But, we’re all called to grow all the fruits, so that we can most effectively work together as the body of Christ!
But, we can and should ask God to help us to grow these fruit within us, and that might involve focusing on one or two. In the same way as, when you’re gardening, you need to focus on parts to get the whole to fully grow.
So what do some of these qualities look like then? Well, love is practical – love is about doing, not simply about feeling. It’s about the little things, as well as the important actions, it’s about Jesus welcoming the little children to him, giving time to the least, as well as dying on a cross for us.
Joy is about looking forward to the hope we are promised, not focusing on the here-and-now. Peace is about bringing order out of chaos, about, together God’s order into the world. Faithfulness is about staying true, about staying true to God and to each other. Because all these fruit grow best in community, grow best within the community of faith. Not least because it’s then that you realise that you need patience, self-control and the rest!
One of the best books I have read on the fruit of the Spirit is by someone called Alan Mann. And his book is called “A Permanent Becoming”. Because this isn’t something that just happens and then we can sit back and tick off the checklist: got patience now, just kindness left to collect! No, we are all on a journey of discipleship, we are all being called to play our own active part as the body of Christ, we are all being called to grow, with the Spirit’s help, the fruit of the Spirit in our own lives. Amen.