I remember sermons I preached years ago admonishing the congregation to “love each other more” and “be joyful,” and I also remember the puzzled looks on their faces as I could almost hear them asking in their heads “OK, how do I do that?!”
Too many times we so quickly “tell” our friends what they have to do to be happy or successful or to have a good relationship, and they usually just as quickly agree with us. But as they walk away they wonder “How do I get there from where I am?”
The truth is most of us who are so quick to give advice wonder the same thing about our life path. In fact, most people know what they need to do in their lives. The alcoholic knows he should stop drinking. The gossip knows she shouldn’t talk so much. The lazy man knows he should exercise more, and the workaholic knows he should spend more time with his wife and children. Usually we know what we need to do. Where we fall down is the knowledge and the will to do what we know we should do.
But don’t be too hard on yourself about this. It turns out this has been the case since Adam and Eve tried to take a short cut to being like God without taking the path God laid out for them. We are tormented by what we know and still don’t
But there’s hope. The Epistle Lesson today offers us a chance to see beyond the perpetual Catch 22 of knowing and not doing by offering us insight into just where the disconnect really is in our lives.
St. Paul offers us the familiar passage in Galatians 5:22-26; 6:1-2. He writes “Brethren, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us have no self-conceit, no provoking of one another, no envy of one another. Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Look to yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”
You mean I can actually fulfill the law of Christ? By the way, that “law” he speaks of is “love God with all your heart, and love your neighbor as yourself.” Those two laws fulfill all the laws ever passed!
And, YES, you can fulfill the law of Christ.
OK, you have my attention. Tell me more.
Notice the natural break in the passage this morning between “fruit” and “behavior.” And notice the phrase that is the border between the two: “And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”
First, please know that fruit is a result not a goal. An apple tree produces apples. It’s just in its nature to do so. The tree isn’t thinking to itself “Man, I better push out these apples or I’m firewood.” It has no anxiety at all about what it is. It is an apple tree and apple trees make apples. That’s just what they do. And so it is with the fruit of the Spirit. When the spirit is present in a person’s life, this is the kind of fruit that person produces. Tell ing someone to “love” more is like telling an apple tree to grow apples. It’s the absence of love that is a symptom, not the disease. The lack of fruit isn’t solved by demanding fruit. It’s solved by discovering what is hindering the fruit in the first place.
Next, the behaviors mentioned are also a result of that border phrase. These actions display the presence of the Spirit’s life working in a willing person to produce such behaviors. Telling someone to “do” better will never get them over the threshold of their weakness. Both the fruit of the Spirit and the behaviors that show the Spirit is present in a person’s life hinge on that border phrase.
Crucifying the “flesh” with its passions and desires is the missing ingredient that moves us from what we know we should do to focusing on the real problem in my live: my own blindness to my insistence on being in charge!
What Paul means by crucifying the flesh isn’t some masochistic physical nailing of my hand to a piece of wood as much as it is saying make sure your physical desires don’t master your choices and your priorities. Put the bridle in the mouth of that unruly animal of your hungers and turn this taskmaster of your desires into the servant it is meant to be for your soul!
Today, the fruit of the Spirit and the actions that show the Spirit is present in your life are not meant to beat you up by saying to you that you’re so naughty and ungood! (I meant to say that) To the wise man or woman this laundry list of virtues is another gracious diagnostic tool lovingly offer to us by God to draw us to the real problem in our lives; our stubborn refusal to tame our passions and desires and our tendency to focus first and always on ourselves and not on that liberating vision of Christ and His life.
Today, quit beating yourself up for not being good and start understanding that you won’t get the fruit of God’s Spirit being active in your life until you lovingly turn your focus and your devotion and love on Him. He will be the best “tree surgeon” you’ve ever had if you will finally release your pride and actually practice the disciplines of the faith that tame the passions. Today, be what you were made to be and watch as the fruit you know is possible in your life starts growing in your life.