Call to worship
Come! Rejoice! For we are in the presence of the Holy One.
Be glad and find comfort in the Eternal One.
With open minds and hearts celebrate this day of Life.
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Your way, O God, is holy. What god is so great as You? You are the God who works wonders. You have displayed Your might among the peoples, whom You have redeemed with Your strong arm. We approach You as Your faithful people. Our ears are open to Your word. Our hearts are open to Your comfort, renewal and challenge. Pour out Your truth upon us as we worship You. For Your way, O God, is holy.
God of Elisha, Paul and everyone here today, You are present yesterday, today and forever. We often find ourselves in trouble, irritable and with no peace. Darkness seems to wrap itself around us like a mist. We say we want to find You, but, truthfully, sometimes we don’t, not really.
Forgive us for crying loudly when a quiet call would suffice. Forgive us for creating drama when a sincere plea would close the distance between You and us. Forgive our obsession with worldly gain and ambition that clouds the path to You. Bring us to our knees and redirect our thoughts from our earthly realm to Your realm. Please display Your might among us, restore us to wholeness. In forgiveness, fill us with Your light, & light our way through life. Lead us, Your people, Your flock. In Js’ name we pray, who taught us, when we pray together, to say…
OT reading: Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
HYMN: Breathe on me, breath of God
NT reading: Galatians 5:1-25
51For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery…
13For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. 14For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” 15If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another. 16Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. 18But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. 19Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, 20idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions,21envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. 24And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.
Last week we learnt that Pl was telling the Xans at Galatia that they were free; they were no longer held prisoner, as it were, by the Law, the Law which was a kind of childminder until such time as X. wld come; & X. wld come to set us free from the Law.
But it seems that some people had gone too far with this. Some people – & you can see that in v13 – had gone to the opposite extreme and were using that f/dom to do all sorts of stupid and bad things: do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence. We have a saying in Eng: “When the cat’s away, the mice will play.” If you have had teenage ch’en, you’ll know what I mean: you go out for the evening & when you come home, yr hse is upside-down, empty packets of biscuits everywhere, bottles of cola, dirty cups & glasses…
& the way the Xans in Galatia were using their f/dom was to attack ea other – not physically, but in petty, silly arg’ts, disputes & gossip. When he writes about “biting & devouring” there in v15 that’s what he means. ‘Cos when we criticise one another, that’s what it’s like: it’s like taking a bite out of the other person.
& we all do it; it’s just that some of us do it more than others; & some of us do it more secretively or subtly. It was clearly then – as it is now – a significant problem, damaging the f’sh’. People who are sure that they’re right… people who want to get their way… people who can’t negotiate…
& if you’re one of those people, immed’ly afterwards you may well say to yrslf: “Now, why on earth did I do that? Why did I get angry? Why did I say that?” In his letter to the Romans, Pl confesses to doing just that: I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do… I do what I do not want to do. So even the gt Apostle Pl fell into this trap. In fact, he fell into it so often, he had worked out what was going on inside of himself & he shares it w. these Xans at Galatia, so let’s look at that, v16.
Paul suggests that there are two opposing forces at work w/in us: flesh and spirit. That’s why he says in v16: ”Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh.” When we criticise & complain, lie or break the speed limit or get drunk, we’re giving in to the flesh, to the v. human me that’s inside here.
Whereas the Spirit, on the other hand, is saying to us: “Be kind, do good, love God…” – the whole time that the flesh is saying: “It doesn’t matter – have fun, no-one will know; have another drink; gossip is great!” the Spirit is saying: “It does matter; God sees you; be sober; watch yr tongue.”
Jesus explained it like this: “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” That’s at Luke 6:45. You can tell what s’one’s heart is like by seeing what comes out; what they do.
Now, be careful of this, ‘cos it’s easy to fall into what I call the “nicey- nicey Xan” mode, where you do good things while people are watching, but inside, you’re seething & angry & bitter… That’s not what it’s about.
It’s not about denying who we are by behaving nicely; it’s not about doing good things in order to win God over onto our side. No, for Pl, it’s all about being the people we truly, deeply, are. ‘Cos ea one of you is – deep down, by the work of the HS – a good person. & it’s a fascinating idea – that when we do things like lie or cheat, when we’re lazy or indifferent to others – we’re not being ourslvs, whereas being the people we truly are means producing the fruit of the Spirit. So on the one hand, Pl is saying: “You can’t earn God’s approval by doing good things” & on the other he says “Do these good things… like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness & so on.” So what does he mean?
Well, I suspect that most of us were brought up in homes where we were taught what was right & what was wrong. We learnt that certain behaviours are unacceptable. Y’don’t do that. What that means is that other people wld notice & you’d be ashamed of what they wld say. & often it stays that way thru life. There have been lots of studies done of ordinary people where they ask them: “If you could get away with it, 100% for sure, no-one else wld know, wld you be willing to steal $50,000 – 10m rupees – cheat on yr wife or fiddle yr taxes – wld you do it?” & y’know s’th like 70 or 80% wld do s’th’ like that, which shows that what stops people misbehaving is actually fear of what others wld say; of other people’s opinion, or fear of being branded a liar, or cheat, or a thief. The fact that it’s morally wrong has v. little to do w. it for many, many people; it’s more about what other people wld say, or how awful prison is.
So we need to be guided by the HS, not by habits – even when those habits are good habits. ‘Cos deep w/in us, Pl’s saying, is this impulse to do bad things, to be selfish & critical – if we can get away w. it.
But Paul’s saying here there’s a different impulse & power in the Xan, ‘cos the Xan has the H.S. at work w/in him/her & that other impulse is the work of the HS. So he’s saying “Be who you are; now that you are a Xan, allow the God-given goodness w/in you to shine out of you; don’t pretend to be s’one else – even if that s’one else looks nice & decent & popular. Be your real self.” ‘Cos yr real self – now that you’re a Xan – is led by the Spirit, which means that you will start producing the fruit of the Spirit.
My wife, Tineke, recently led a small group at our Ch’ in AMS. & her opening Qn was a simple one: “How can you tell if s’one is spir’ly mature? Are you spir’ly mature?” & ev’one was flummoxed by that; no-one knew what to say. Is it about how often you go to Ch’? Well, I wld say that spir’ly mature people want to be in Ch’. Is it about attending Bible studies or prayer mtgs? Well, I think that spir’ly mature people want to do that too. Is it about giving generously in the offering? Well, yes, giving is one v. important way that we show that we are grateful to God. But none of these things is the heart of the matter.
The heart of the matter is there in v22: the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness gentleness, and self-control. When we become Xans; the HS wants to produce His fruit in our lives. Do we let Him? Do we allow Him to?
& the w/ful thing is this: we can always ask for more. Many yrs ago in a Youth Fellowship I was in, there was a young man called Geoff & he solemnly & seriously told me: “My fruit of the Spirit is self-control.” We had been away on a retreat – about 40 or so of us – & the theme had been “Fruit of the Spirit.” & young Geoff had gotten into his head the idea that ea of us kinda specialised in just one of them; & his was self-control.
& I said, well, “What about love & joy & peace & all the rest of them?” & he said, “Yeah well, love I guess that’s Jane. Joy? Well, Bob and Lauren do the joy thing. & peace, well that wld be Davey” Davey was the leader of the Youth Fellowship.
Geoff shld’ve noticed a v. simple grammar pt there in v22: it says, “The fruit of the Spirit IS. It doesn’t say, “The fruits of the Spirit ARE.” One Spirit, one fruit, nine different flavours!
So let me ask the Qn: Which of these nine do you need to ask God to grow more of in yr life? love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control? Why don’t you make it a prayer pt this week, ea day as you get up, or at lunchtime, or whenever, to pray for more fruit of the Spirit in yr life?
A closing thought: To be free really means to be liberated from the prison of “me, myself, and I”. To be truly free is to become the person whom God calls you to be – & that means producing His fruit.
Let us pray…
Gracious God, you are as close to us as breathing and yet as distant as the furthest star, we give you thanks for your many gifts to us; but, above all today, we give you thanks for the gift of the HS. By yr HS, Lord God, transform us, renew us, and grow more of the fruit of yr Spirit w/in us, so that we may become the people you want us to be; so that we become the f/sh’ you call us to be. We pray this in the name of Christ. Amen.