In the Presbyterian tradition, as in many mainline Protestant religions through the ages, we have not referred to the Holy Spirit all that often. We tend to leave that to the Evangelicals and Charismatics. However, and of course, the Holy Spirit is the ever-present 3rd person of the Trinity (Father/Son/Holy Spirit, all three God in one) and certainly is vastly important to our good discipleship and stewardship, leading us to the best way to live as righteous Christians, as I always say- a righteousness not to be confused with self-righteousness, as we embody and witness to Godly holiness in our lives.
I surmise that it has been, more or less, in the past 2 or 3 decades that PC(USA) Presbyterians have paid more active attention to God’s Spirit who lives in the baptized as well as landing in the hearts of whomever God wills. The Spirit of God operates in our material world and even though the Spirit itself is outside of time, the Spirit works within time through believers. The Spirit causes happenings and biblical education and learning through one’s prayer life to lead us closer to the way God desires us to be. The Spirit causes change. Perhaps that is why we haven’t wanted to dwell on the Spirit so much- we don’t tend to like change, at least not too much change. The Spirit causes change within and without us.
We can’t help but be changed when we listen to God’s Spirit that dwells both in the world and within us. When the Spirit starts changing someone, that person grows more into the person of love God intended them to be. These changing human behaviors and characteristics generate a life full of the “fruits of the Spirit.”
What is the fruit of the Spirit? Mostly we turn to the New Testament and especially Paul’s epistles to find out that answer. However, our Old Testament lesson from the 2nd book of Kings tells us something about that too. Starting there, the prophet Elisha wants a double portion of the prophet Elijah’s spirit, as Elijah was filled with and faithful to God’s Spirit. Elijah simply can’t say if God will grant Elisha’s request or not. It was important in the ancient times in Israel that the line of God’s prophets be continuous. The in-between time was one that led to even more problems for the people. Elisha wants to be the continuing line to Elijah’s miracles, foreknowledge, and many blessings. But it isn’t Elijah who can grant that, although he hopes it will be true for Elisha’s work with the people of Israel, God’s people.
Elijah responds to Elisha’s request with: “You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not.” As it turns out Elisha does see Elijah as he is taken into the heavens and continues Elijah’s amazing prophetic ministry among the people.
We could say that Elisha did receive a double portion of love, God’s love, to continue on in his work for he was led by the Almighty and spoke the words of his Lord to the Israelis. The blessing given to Elisha is the fruit of the Spirit. It changes him and molds him into the person God wants him to be. And, so it is when we move to explaining the “fruit of the Spirit” in the New Testament.
The most famous explanation of the fruit that is from the Spirit is found in our Epistle lesson for this morning from Paul’s letter to the Galatians, chapter 5. He starts by highlighting the behaviors that aren’t righteous. A couple terms are very difficult, in that list, to interpret into English so various interpreters have used different words or words we don’t use much today to translate them. Yet, for our purposes this morning, we get the point. Very simply put: Don’t do those things which hurt others or one’s own self. Strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, drunkenness, factions, and envy, all often hurt others and negatively impact our lives.
Paul goes on from the non-fruits to say, “By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” There are other lists in the New Testament epistles too. In the letter to the Philippians, we find a list of sorts that also points out fruits or changing of behaviors that draw us closer to God. That list is that we are to be: true; noble (meaning worthy of high esteem); just; pure; lovely (as in acceptable or friendly toward others); of good report (as in speaking positively of any virtue or excellence that is in moral character); and worthy of praise (as in a person who is correctly commendable).
1 Corinthians 13 lists faith, hope and love as commendable behaviors. Love is to be offered in a way that is patient, kind and endures, and is not rude, envious, boastful, arrogant or resentful. It is very difficult to find that kind of loving in our world today as we watch the news or go on Facebook or Twitter. Even among Christians those behaviors aren’t always apparent but we are to strive for those behaviors and lay aside the old self to a new and sanctified life lived in the Spirit of Christ/God.
In the letter to the Colossians, those who follow Christ are to “wear” these behavior, indicating to keep them as close as clothes are to our skin: tender mercies (meaning showing mercy as we have been shown mercy by our God); kindness; humility; a heart of compassion; gentleness; and patience. They are further taught to: bear with one another; forgive one another; love; let the peace of God rule in their hearts; be thankful for the many blessings received from God; have God’s Word live in them abundantly; teach one another as well as admonish one another when someone strays from these lists of Christian behavior. Those characteristics are the fruit of God’s Spirit. Living all these ways leads to furthering the purpose for which Jesus Christ came to live among us.
Fruits of the Spirit grow over time. The fruit is not magic. It doesn’t simply appear once we accept Jesus Christ as Savior and Head of our lives. We grow into God’s favor and the Lord’s aspirations for us. Like Elisha’s double portion, we too receive a double portion of God’s love and our own ability to love when we are faithful and seek daily, even when it is difficult—and I know about that difficulty!—to choose what God wills us to be through the fruit of the Spirit.
I noticed that several fruits were repeated in these lists. There are love, patience, kindness and gentleness. Think of what our world would be like if 2 billion Christians would live in the fruit of the Spirit. Even living in love, patience, kindness and gentleness alone, without all the other highly thought-of behaviors and characteristics would make for a much better world. If we left behind those behaviors Paul tells us are negative such as anger, malice, slander, greed, strife, jealousy, quarrels and dissensions, we would have a safer world simply as we set an example of how we ought to behave toward one another and how we are to humbly love ourselves. The undermining of others, easily believing ill of others, loose sexual behavior that foregoes love, intimacy and respect for the other, drunkenness, empty speech, quick temper, and the eagerness for money swallow up the fruit of the Spirit, as an article on the website of spirithome.com explains.
I know, I know- yes, there will always be those who are evil and commit evil acts or are unstable mentally or emotionally so the people of the world can’t ever live purely into what the world would be in the fruit of the Spirit but, if 2 billion Christian people could take those evil acts and turn them for the better or show love, compassion, patience and mercy through those heinous acts until there are fewer and fewer people who embrace living like that, then this world would definitely be a different, good and loving place. It is safe to say that most major religions embrace this type of living as well, if one studied other major religions. But it takes us all living with love, patience, kindness, compassion, gentleness, in mercy and truth, eager to forgive and move on, keeping God’s Word alive and well within and without us while not too literally or rigidly, and with the peace of God, the ultimate peacemaker, in our hearts that will change this hurting and dark world.
The quarreling and factions, the hating and anger expressed for others unlike ourselves, and the lack of compassion and forgiveness by too many Christians today does little to further Christ’s purpose in the world. If we would all, instead, work diligently to exist in the fruit of the Spirit, as the song goes, “what a beautiful world this would be.” We can — you know. We can live that way. The way to do that is to be reminded of how we are to live, who we are to be and whose we are. To read these passages with lists of the fruit of the Spirit periodically until they become an integral part of our lives. To remember to pray for strength and understanding of these double portions, these lists of good Christian behavior and characteristics. To learn to get along with those with whom we disagree, who are of differing ethnicities, or whose cultures are dissimilar. It is to embrace diversity as something beautiful and not to be feared. Even to gently, compassionately admonish one another when we are not behaving as if we have been given the fruit of the Spirit through God in Christ’s love. By doing these things, and others like them, we can live in the fruit of the Spirit while getting stronger and stronger in them our whole lives.
Friends, pray for a double portion of God’s love for your lives led in the fruit of the Spirit and you will find out that you have less to complain about, fewer people to slander or put down, a diminishing anger, hatred and fear for others, are less self-absorbed and more “other” focused, and are willing to forgive more readily. I believe this to be the way to a better world. We must carry on this revolution started by Jesus Christ and kept going through the work of Christ’s Spirit in our lives. Daily, may the Holy Spirit bless our application of the fruit of Christ’s Spirit. Surely, Jesus teaches that we must strive to be more perfect and, in the courage and strength of the Spirit, we will draw closer to Christ’s image within us each and every day. Alleluia! Amen.