Imagine the exasperation of a young piano student who has memorized his piece, he has hit every note with complete accuracy, but his teacher says “you don’t have it right yet.” What’s wrong? His fingers have it right, but his heart isn’t in it. Our boy’s hearts were never in it, so even though they could play the notes, it wasn’t working. You can play all the notes perfect and have it come off boring and lifeless and fruitless. Jesus said this was the problem with the scribes and Pharisees.
I have three Sunday’s left in our summer before we turn our attention to the fall. Since we have been focusing on fruit this summer I have decided, Lord willing, to devote these three remaining summer sermons to three more fruits. The fruit of repentance. The fruit of righteousness. The fruit of our labors. Fruit is a wonderful thing, how does it fit with repentance. Can repentance be fruitful and if so how does it produce fruit? What is the fruit that grows out of repentance and how do we bear fruit that is worthy of our repentance?
We have spent nine weeks talking about the fruit of the Spirit and how to cultivate this fruit, so we can reap spiritual fruitfulness, which is another way of saying godly Christian character. In Galatians 5 Paul says the evidences of the Holy Spirit in a Christian’s life are nine things. Galatians 5:22-23 The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control. We are in the middle of fruit season and fruit harvest here in Whatcom County. We more than most people appreciate fruit and the gift fruit is to us from God. And we understand fruit takes time. Bearing fruit takes time and something else.
This morning we come to the final of the nine fruit of the Spirit, self-control. In Proverbs, we read: Proverbs 25:28 A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls. In ancient times the walls of a city were its primary defense. Without walls, it was prey to enemy invaders. This is a picture of utter vulnerability. Proverbs uses this same image to describe our souls. Self-control is the wall to our hearts and souls, the means of waging war against the sinful desires that attack us from all sides. Without self-control, every temptation becomes an opportunity for sin.
The Fruit of the Holy Spirit is about cultivating Christian character out of which flows God-glorifying conduct. Faithfulness is another essential characteristic of a Holy Spirit filled Christian. Character of Faithfulness. Faith and faithfulness go hand in hand. What we believe translates into action. Faithfulness is the outward visible sign of the inward reality of faith. Faithfulness is easy to define. There is a veritable cornucopia of synonyms we can use. Trustworthy, steadfast, reliable, dependable, constancy, fidelity, integrity, loyalty, devoted, honest, responsible, conscientious, principle-driven, true to one’s word. Furthermore, being faithful means all those things over the long haul. Hebrews 11 is a long list of saints who showed faithfulness over the long haul. They practiced a long obedience in the same direction. We just finished a study of Daniel. When his enemies tried to find some grounds for charges against him “they could find no ground for complaint or any fault, because he was faithful, and no error or fault was found in him” (Daniel 6:4).
Some of you may have noticed I have skipped over faithfulness as we take up the fruit of the Spirit of gentleness this morning. When I read I Timothy 6 and how it combining man of God and gentleness it seemed like a good fruit to talk about on Father’s Day. Of course doing this has caused me a bigger challenge because gentleness is not often thought of as a masculine trait. Gentleness in men is often equated with being wimpy or weak. Gentleness and tenderness are associated more with women. These are false distinctions, hurdles we have to get over if we are going to understand how gentleness is a fruit of the spirit all of us are to cultivate. So let’s start with the character of gentleness.
Graduations are good time of life, a time when we celebrate our student’s good accomplishments and achievements and recognize their success. We can talk about what’s good in so many ways. Some students are good at sports or math. Some took certain classes because it was good for them. Some of them are going to good colleges hoping get a good job or find a good spouse and some are hoping just to have a good time. And then there is the good person with a good heart. So many ways we use good and goodness, what does it mean? The Fruit of the Holy Spirit is about cultivating Christian character out of which flows God glorifying conduct. We don’t want to just send out our students with good grades and accomplishments, we want them to be good people. So we are talking about being and doing. Goodness as a fruit of the spirit refers to an internal quality of Christian character, an excellent virtue of integrity and righteousness; and an external quality of conduct that expresses the internal quality. Externally goodness is good works of mercy, service, giving, helping, meeting a need. Good works can be expressed in actions (works), words, attitudes, and even thoughts (thinking well of someone). Anything that is pleasing to God. Goodness is doing the right thing. It may not always be the popular thing or politically correct thing. It may earn you no praise. It may take boldness and courage. But doing good is fundamentally doing the right thing. Good people do what is right no matter what the cost.
Character of kindness. I generally make it a practice not to use Greek or Hebrew words in my sermons but there is a word in Hebrew that is so rich in meaning it’s hard to translate into English and so a variety of words are used to try to capture the depth of this one word. The Hebrew word is hesed. It’s the word in Micah 6:8, to do justice and love hesed and walk humbly with your God. It’s the word in Psalm 23, surely goodness and hesed shall follow me all the days of my life. In Psalm 136 it says 26 times the steadfast hesed of the Lord endures forever. Kindness, mercy, love, compassion. But it’s deeper. It’s covenant kindness, covenant love, the steadfast, unchangeable, unconditional loving kindness of God. God’s love and kindness and mercy and goodness blend together in the hesed of God. We are recipients of it even when life is hard, especially when life is hard.
Galatians 5:22-23 The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control. On this weekend our nation remembers those who gave their lives fighting for peace. Peace is a universal human desire. Evident no doubt by the billions of dollars spent each year in search of peace. World leaders, diplomats and the UN fly around the world trying to secure peace. Our court system is filled with cases dealing with the breakdown in relationships. People go to counselors seeking inner peace or relational reconciliation. The human heart is by nature unstable, like the wind and waves, easily set to churning. I am sympathetic with those who experience anxiety or panic attacks, who worry and fear for the future. I know what it is to lay awake for hours and not be able to sleep, or wake up at 4 in the morning and not go back to sleep because of concerns weighing heavy on my mind. We are flesh and frail, life is filled with trials and troubles. We live in a broken sinful world that desperately wants peace. If peace is such a universal desire and if so many people are pursuing it, why is it so elusive? Because they seek it in all the wrong places.
Some of you may be wondering what happened to the fruit of peace. I have taken the liberty of switching the order of the Fruit of the Spirit so we could do peace next Sunday on Memorial Day weekend. I trust this doesn’t try your patience too much. The first fruit is love and the rest flow from it. So one of the aspects of love is patience. The first thing Paul says about love in I Corinthians 13 is love is patient. We can all testify it’s pretty hard to be loving and impatient. Patience is one of the aspects of godly or Christ-like behavior. We are all to have it and we all have a hard time maintaining it, so we need help. If you think a sermon on patience might be tough to hear, you should try preaching it.