I came across the following little poem recently, which I found quite challenging.
Within my earthly temple there’s a crowd,
There’s one that’s humble, one that’s proud.
One that’s penitent for sin,
One that isn’t, but simply grins.
One loves his neighbour as himself,
One just cares for fame and wealth.
Please teach me, Lord, to look to Thee,
And help me to become more free.
That little poem illustrates the inner conflict and struggle which we all face and recognize in our lives. Paul wrote personally about his awareness of this conflict in his letter to the Romans. He said ” I do not do what I want but I do the very thing I hate. I delight in the law of God in my inmost self but I see in myself another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in me.( Rom.7;21-24)
He also wrote about this in our epistle for today, Galatians 5: 13-25.where he draws a strong contrast between the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit., Here are two alternative lifestyles, he says, one basically non-Christian, the other Christian.
The first way of life he describes as the works or desires of the flesh. (Gal 5: 16.) Now the word ” works,” or a life lived according to the flesh, suggests a lifestyle which is motivated and directed mainly by sinful, selfish and self-centred desires and aspirations. Paul contrasts these with the fruit of the Spirit. If a tree is to yield good fruit it must have good roots and must go on living and growing in the life that has been given to it. As Christians we need spiritual sunshine, the light, love and warmth of God’s Presence, helped by our worship, our devotional life , our fellowship within the church. and in other ways. We also need rain, the rivers of living water which Jesus referred to when teaching us about the Holy Spirit , as He speaks to us and helps us to understand the Bible; both when we read it in our own devotions or study it in a small group and also when it is read and taught in Church . He also helps us in our prayers and worship, in guidance, and in other ways. ..
The fruit of the Spirit, which I will come to in a few moments, is contrasted by Paul with the grisly list of the works of the flesh. Fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. ” I am warning you as I warned you before “, says Paul “. that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God,” v 21.
Paul is quite clear here. Such behaviour, unless it is followed by true repentance and faith in Jesus as our living Saviour and Lord, has serious consequences both here and hereafter.
That is all very well, we may say. We are all human. We all have flaws in our character and behaviour. We aren’t perfect, and never will be in this life. That is true, but there is another way, a better way. If we have already put our faith and trust in our Lord Jesus Christ as our living Saviour and |Lord, then we are encouraged to ask the Holy Spirit to come more fully into our lives and begin to produce His lovely fruit in our hearts, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. There is no law against such things, he says. (v 23) And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires, he says.
Jesus told us that if we are to follow Him we too must take up our Cross daily. Paul said elsewhere that he has been crucified with Christ. As Christians we probably won’t experience the terrible agony of physical crucifixion, but the new testament speaks about God disciplining us, chastening us and pruning us, as it were, so that we may bear more fruit spiritually.
The Bible says that he whom God loves He reproves and disciplines (Rev. 3;19) so that we may gradually become more holy and be more fruitful spiritually. Just as a wise and loving parent gently disciplines a misbehaving child when necessary, so God gently disciplines us when necessary. This is not pleasant but it is for our good and the writer to the Hebrews adds that later on this discipline yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Heb. 12/11).
No doubt you have sometimes experienced, as I have, the loving discipline of our heavenly Father from time to time in our lives. Perhaps there is an increasing awareness that we have been going in the wrong direction in some way, perhaps. Or there is some wrong relationship, attitude, behaviour, conduct, activity, or whatever that needs to change.. If we respond in faith and obedience then this divine chastening process can help us to grow stronger as Christians and gradually become more fruitful spiritually, even if, as the writer to the Hebrews says, this may not become evident till later on. ( Heb. 12;11).
Of course, if we are being crucified with Christ then we have to be willing to remain in that position! When Jesus was actually on the Cross some people taunted Him. ” If you are the Son of God, come down from the Cross. (Matt.27.40). Save Yourself and us.” 12 Legions of angels could have come to His aid. (Matthew 26;53) if He had requested them. But He hung on there, in agony and humiliation so that the wages of our sin could be paid and our salvation secured.
As we continue to take up our cross daily, as the scripture tells us, and put our spiritual roots down deeply, laying good foundations, then the Holy Spirit can help us to say ‘no’ to the works of the flesh and ‘yes ‘to going deeper with God, allowing Him to go on producing more spiritual fruit in our lives as we co-operate with Him. And when we fall, as we all do from time to time, it is good to remember some wise words spoken some time ago. ” When you fall, fall on you knees.”
I heard of a missionary candidate some time ago who had a challenging experience. He was asked to attend for interview at 5 a.m. He was ushered into the office, and waited for more than 3 hours when a retired missionary appeared and asked him some questions:-
” Can you spell?”
Mystified, the candidate answered, ” Yes, sir.”
” All right, spell, ‘baker.’
” Fine. Now, do you know anything about numbers?”
” Yes sir, something.”.
” Please add two plus two.”
“Four.” replied the candidate.
“That’s fine,” said the examiner.” I believe you have passed. I’ll tell the board tomorrow.”
At the board meeting, the examiner reported on the interview.” He has all the qualifications for a fine missionary.” he said. “First, I tested him on self- denial, making him arrive at 5 am at my home in the morning. He left a warm bed on a snowy morning without any complaint. Second, I tested him on promptness. He arrived on time. Third, I examined him on patience. I made him wait 3 hours to see me. Fourth, I tested him on temper. He failed to show any anger or aggravation. Fifth, I tested his humility by asking him simple questions that a seven year old could answer and he showed no indignation. So, you see, I believe this candidate meets the requirements. He will make the fine missionary we need! ” End of report. I am sure I would have failed that test myself!
Spirit-given abilities are needed, said someone, but Spirit- produced fruit is more significant. In other words a good character reference is needed as well as proven ability., and that of course does not only apply to leadership in the Church.
So in conclusion, here is some vital teaching from Paul about the conflict between the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit. And it is ‘fruit’ in the singular, not ‘ fruits’, because Paul wants all these qualities to grow in our lives, not just some of them! As we go deeper with God in our worship, in our own devotional life, in our fellowship, study and prayer with our fellow-Christians, in faith and obedience, and in our service and witness for the Lord, then by His grace we can gradually grow in holiness and in spiritual fruitfulness. Amen