We Need (To) Produce
Topic: As A Body of Christ Scripture: Galatians 5:22–5:26
I’ve always been the kind of person that likes school. I really value any environment that is specifically oriented so that I might have the opportunity to learn and grow. But it wasn’t just that. It was really the whole landscape of school. I even got excited about things that I think most folks don’t find exciting at all. You can ask Caitlin about this, but, there were two things I absolutely loved about college and seminary: registering for classes and buying textbooks. Think and say what you will, but I got so excited when it was time to pick my classes for the next semester, or when a prof would finally post the book list. But as I think back, there’s one thing about school that I still miss a great deal: the grading system. If you didn’t roll your eyes about my love for buying textbooks, maybe you just did with that statement. But let me explain. When I was in college and in seminary, I was able to have a straight-forward, clear indicator of how I was doing as a student. Each of my classes entailed assignments and examinations that would culminate to a final course grade - that displayed to me, just how well or not I was doing in a certain subject.
Having that barometer for how I was doing is something I wish I could bring into other areas of my life. I’m guessing you’ve felt the same way, even if you’ve never thought about it in those terms. When we wonder how we’re doing as a spouse, or what kind of friend we are. Parenting is a great example. As parents, we want to do a good job raising our kids, and wouldn’t it be nice if someone could just give us a report card of how we’re doing and show us where we can improve? Relationships, career, parenting, even life in general. Things might be easier if we could know where we stand. And I think the same is true concerning our identity as followers of Christ.
I spent a good amount of time in high school and college wondering if I was a good Christian. If I’m honest with you, I still have those thoughts from time to time. Maybe you’ve had the same. It’s actually something Jesus spoke about. Darren read for us Christ’s words out of Luke 6 where Jesus talked about how trees are known by their fruit and how our hearts are known by what we speak. In Matthew 7 Jesus says something very similar about knowing the difference between false prophets and real prophets, between true disciples and fake disciples. Matthew 7:20 – “by their fruit you will recognize them.” And that’s where I want us to go next. To fruit. What fruit should be growing in our lives if our relationship with God is healthy and vibrant? Well, Paul gives us that answer in Galatians 5:22-26. Let’s take a look.
* Read Galatians 5:22-26 *
It’s a pretty decent bet that a lot of us have heard this verse before. It’s a Sunday school favorite and one of the most marketable parts of Scripture we have. It comes preloaded with visual imagery for us to use and the content itself is hard to argue. Folks might want to have theological throwdowns about atonement theories or predestination vs. free will or any other gaggle of potential debates. But no one will try to argue that gentleness is a bad quality. You’re not going to have a blustery voice of dissent against joy. There aren’t any books written against kindness. So between the readily available imagery of fruit – by the way, I always picture joy as a banana – and the really practical and accessible nature of the content, this chunk of Galatians 5 has always been something of a fan favorite.
And even more important, we’re given that which I described before: a measurement of the reach and quality of our devotion to and intimacy with God. Paul spends the entirety of Galatians 5 talking about the new life we receive from Christ and the journey we embark on to become more like Him. In verse 16, Paul tells his audience to walk by the Spirit and then he gives this long list of what that doesn’t look like, of things that are contrary or opposed to being close to Christ and walking in the Spirit. Things like jealousy and drunkenness and hatred. Sometimes, in his letters, Paul can bury the lead a little bit. He spends all of chapter 5 telling us how to grow closer to Christ and how to walk in the Spirit but he waits for the very end to tell us what that looks like. When he does, we get our produce list.
Much like when we consider a balanced and healthy diet, we need produce. The same is true in our desire and pursuit to become more like Jesus. It shouldn’t surprise us that if we stopped and considered what it would like for a person to have all of these qualities in their most perfect form that we would be looking at Jesus Himself. The entirety of the Christian experience is summed up as transformation, in becoming more and more like and intimate with our God. The fruit of the Spirit is one of the means by which we perceive how that transformation is going. Gordon Fee, one of the most eloquent and widely-respected theologians in North America, says this: “The growing of this fruit is the long way on the journey of Christian conversion, the “long obedience in the same direction,” and it is altogether the work of the Spirit in our lives.”
Jesus said that we will be known by our fruit, by the things that are produced in our life. These qualities are supposed to be a part of us and so that means we need to produce them in the story that our life tells to the rest of the world. So it might help if we had an idea of what this fruit looks like in our lives.
It should be no surprise that love tops the list. In every occasion and explanation and collection of virtues we’re given, the greatest is love. Love is the compelling urge to serve another. Love is the driving force behind any meaningful sacrifice. Love is the wellspring from which selflessness and humility originates and flows. Love is the natural inclination to consider the needs of another instead of merely our own desire. Love is the full and willing opening of ourselves.
The most important thing we can know about joy is that it is not another word for happiness. Happiness is dependent upon our circumstances and our perceptions. Joy is something else altogether. Joy is having ourselves fixed firmly to the knowledge of what Chris has done for us. Joy is holding tightly to the unwavering, unchanging, unstoppable love of our Creator. Joy is the reason we can see light amidst the darkness. Joy is more than blind optimism. It is the echo of faith that the Lord is here with us and that God’s work isn’t finished yet. But don’t get me wrong: Joy can also be the influence that causes us to smile more than frown.
Peace. Peace is a special one. Because we perceive it as something we chase or attain as opposed to something we cultivate. Just as joy is more than happiness, so too, is peace more than simply not worrying. Peace can be an assurance in the presence of God. Peace is also a stillness. If life were a body of water, then a life without peace is one rocked by waves and choppy waters. Peace is an intention of contentment. Peace is what compels us to listen instead of argue, to foster collaboration rather than combat. Both with others and within our own heart and mind.
The next one is interesting, in that it gets called two different things. Some say patience and some say forbearance. The Greek word is μακροθυμία (macrothumia). Now when we typically talk about this word in this verse we say patience. And patience is definitely a solid translation. It speaks to the ability for someone to withhold their own personal desire for a greater good. But this word goes a step further as well. This word points to an endurance and a perseverance. To an ability to hold back an angry response. Patience or forbearance is that quality that whispers to us to not lose our cool, to get through, to keep trying. It’s what stops us from screaming out our car window when we get cut off on Veterans and it’s the voice that tells us to forgive a friend who has wronged us.
Kindness and goodness go hand-in-hand with one another, almost like two sides of the same coin. A way that I look at is goodness is more like the nature or disposition of a person and kindness is the way in which that goodness is lived out and acted upon others. Goodness is that which allows us to see the value and beauty of a person and kindness is the way we interact with and show love to them. I think it’d be hard to truly have one without the other. Kindness without goodness is merely an obligation. Likewise, goodness without kindness is akin to a magnificent singer being robbed of their voice.
Faithfulness is best described as the motion of faith. As with any worthwhile discipline, our faith requires consistency and dedication. Being a follower of Jesus has never been a passive venture. The very first disciples were very much literal followers of Christ in that they walked in his footsteps and journeyed with Him. Faithfulness is the practice of staying close to Jesus. Through joining in a Christian community, opening ourselves to the Word of God, sharing our time and resources in service, and many other ways.
Gentleness can be a tough one to wrap our heads around. For Paul, this means more than being careful. Remember, these qualities are the result of us walking in the Spirit and living like Jesus. The way the word is used in other places by Paul makes me think of how I tell Isaac to be gentle with Levi. When I say that to Isaac I’m trying to encourage him to think about Levi and then measure his actions in a way that doesn’t cause any harm to Levi. Paul’s understanding of gentleness is grounded in humility, in not thinking of ourselves more highly than another, and treating others in a way that considers their needs and circumstances before our own.
And the last one is self-control. We all know what self-control is, both because we remember the times where we possessed it as well as when we didn’t have as much as we’d like. One unique aspect of this virtue is that it is the only one on the list that we don’t do in community. It’s a personal, individual discipline.
All of these – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control – make up the fruit of the Spirit. Paul says there is no law against these things. There can be no objection to these qualities when they are practiced and perfected. And Jesus said it Himself, we will be known by our fruit.
We need the fruit of the Spirit, no doubt. But that means we need to produce them in our lives somehow. There is absolutely a subtle, spiritual aspect of that process. The Spirit works in our heart and our mind and cultivates the soil for these qualities to grow. But we have a role in this too. As is the custom of God, He gives us a place of participation in becoming who we were made to be. I love the way it’s described in the movie, Evan Almighty.
It’s a fun flick about a man named Evan, played by Steve Carrell, who meets God, played by Morgan Freeman. God tells Evan to build an ark, just like Noah. It’s a hilarious sequence of events that also puts some pressure on Evan’s family. In one scene, Evan’s wife has a conversation with God who is disguised as a waiter at a restaurant. This is what God tells her: “Let me ask you something. If someone prays for patience, you think God gives them patience? Or does he give them the opportunity to be patient? If he prayed for courage, does God give him courage, or does he give him opportunities to be courageous? If someone prayed for the family to be closer, do you think God zaps them with warm fuzzy feelings, or does he give them opportunities to love each other?”
Walking in the Spirit, following Christ, producing the fruit described in our text…these are joint ventures between us and God, embodiments and reflexes of a relationship. One thing is for sure: The world would be a much better and brighter place if people lived out the fruit of the Spirit. As a human race, we need them. That means we need to draw close to the One who cultivates them. It means we need to take advantage of every opportunity – public and private – to live them out. In short, it means we need to produce.