Being Human – Fruits of the Spirit – Opposites
Sermon by Rev. Steven McClelland on Galatians 5: 16 – 23. Focus on how the fruits of love, kindness and the like come to us and why we battle not for them but against them.
As I said last week when we began our series on becoming human, Paul’s understanding of human life is that our lives are a battleground between two supra natural forces – The Flesh and The Spirit of God. And though Jesus has conquered sin and death, we have not and will not during our lifetimes. If we believe otherwise we deceive ourselves.
So in Galatians Paul speaks about a battle that is being waged within our very nature between these two opposite and competing forces – the forces of the flesh and the forces of the Spirit. And every day from the time we rise till we lay down we experience this tension between these two forces. In other words, we are never free from this conflict. This is core of the Christian struggle to be human, reflected in our moment-by-moment choices to live by our agendas or by God’s.
It’s actually easy to know if we are winning or losing this battle too. The acts of the sinful nature are obvious. Paul lists such things as “sexual immorality, impurity, debauchery, idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies and the like. People who live like that are losing the battle, Paul says.
Throughout this passage, Paul challenges us to cooperate with God in the process, because we can’t do this by ourselves. Most of us realize our participation is required, but in our efforts to achieve mastery over ourselves, we face two self-defeating tendencies. If we accept either of these two lies, we will miss the joy of living with and in the fruits of the Spirit that Paul speaks of.
The first lie is that we pretend to have conquered the flesh. No one can win this war by themselves. We do not achieve love, joy, peace, etc. They are gifts from God. So don’t ever pretend that you are not sinful. It is dangerous and self-defeating to pretend to have conquered something that no other human has conquered except Christ.
And the second lie is the temptation we all face to look at scripture and think its not talking about me. We tend to see our own experiences as unique – somehow they are different from those recorded in our Bibles. We think, “I like what it says here, but it must be describing something that others struggle with but not me or that it’s something that others can obtain but not me. Both are lies. Our text says if you live by the Spirit, you will not gratify the desires of the flesh, our sinful nature. No exceptions are noted.
For example, this past week I received a letter from a yard service reminding me its time to put down my pre-emergent weed killers, which if I don’t do means that I will soon have a yard full of crab grass and other interesting weeds. So daily, weekly vigilance is needed to pick out what is emerging that needs to be cut back and what needs to be allowed to grow. And when we fail and we will. That’s what repentance is for – time to go back to the direction that worked.
In the movie A Beautiful Mind, Russell Crowe plays John Nash, a brilliant Nobel Prize winning mathematician who also happens to be schizophrenic. In one scene, someone asks Professor Nash if his delusions are gone. “Maybe they never will be,” he responds, “but I’ve gotten used to ignoring them. I think that as a result they have given up on me.”
That’s a good analogy for how we win a spiritual battle. Temptations may continue repeatedly, but we can win the battle with them and here are some suggestions.
- Don’t feed your temptations. If your temptation is toward alcohol don’t hang with people who are drinking. Remove yourself from the temptation. If you struggle with lust don’t look at porn. If you lose your temper when you are driving amongst a pack of idiots, (a personal favorite of mine) know your warning signs and don’t compete. Learn when to retreat.
- Back to the movie – A Beautiful Mind. In it Professor Nash, asks his nemesis, a department chair at Princeton University, to find a place for him in that institution. He believes that participating in a community might help him and it does. “A certain level of attachment to familiar places and people might help me to elbow out these delusions that I have,” he says.
In Ecclesiastes it says, “Two are better than one… though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” (4:9, 12)
It’s absolutely true that there is strength in numbers. When you are surrounded by people who support you, and who share a commitment to living by the Spirit of God you will find that you win these battles far more than you lose them. Share your struggles with those who will lift you up in prayer and will be willing to listen to you share your struggles with them. Make yourself vulnerable and open up.
Is there risk in this? You betcha. There is great risk when you make yourself vulnerable to others, because they can hurt you, betray you. But with great risk also comes great reward. I don’t know of a single instance in my life where doing the thing like revealing my weakness and struggles with other Spirit-led people hasn’t made my life better over all. You quickly discover who is a friend and who is not. You quickly develop a deep trust and bond of friendship that can last a lifetime or you don’t. But speaking personally, way more often than not I do! To be honest there are only two people in my entire lifetime that I have met that I would not trust. Two. That’s it.
So in order to cultivate the fruits of the Spirit we must know what their opposites are. The opposite of love is not hate. For Paul it is infidelity to one’s purpose which is not found in having sex for the sake of having sex, but in loving someone so much that your expression of it is likened to loving God with your whole, heart, soul, mind and strength.
After all why would you ever cheat on someone if you truly loved them? Our job is to do battle with the flesh Paul says, and as we do battle with it Paul promises us that these gifts of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control will be the prize given to us by God. It becomes its own reward and one that doesn’t ever disappoint.
You can’t know about love until you have someone love you. You can’t know about joy without the discipline of doing battle and finding the power to overcome what you can’t overcome by yourself. So as we explore these gifts I want you to think about the issue of discipline. You can’t achieve any of these gifts without the discipline of doing battle with the Flesh every day and in time you will find that living in your own flesh is easier as a result. Amen.