1. This morning I begin a new sermon series. You would think that since on average I’ve preached 2 sermons each week, and typically taught one class each week for the last 20 years that I would have dealt with the section of scripture I am going to begin sharing with you this morning, but I haven’t and I am not sure why I haven’t. Even this sermon series is a bit of a mystery to me. I had planned to share a series of messages this year on the "gifts of the Spirit." It was meant to encourage us all to use our spiritual gifts to glorify God. When I was doing my sermon planning last November, I had the thought, that perhaps I should combine the gifts of the Spirit, with the fruits of the Spirit. The more I thought about it, the most I decided that the two would be very complimentary. Both involved the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Both have very practical implications for the Christian life.
2. It hasn’t happened the way I intended. It’s not often that I completely drop a Sunday morning series I have planned, but there were a number of things that combined which has forced me to drop the series on the Spiritual gifts for this year. I now intend to share that series of messages with you sometime during the early part of 2005.
3. I said all of that to say that I believe God led me to the series I’m beginning this morning sort of through the back door. However, as I’ve studied for this first sermon in the series, I hope you’re going to be as convinced as I am that this is a series whose time has come for our church.
4. Please open your Bibles to book of Galatians the 5th chapter this morning? Before I get into the meat of the sermon, I want to read the passage that deals with the fruits of the Spirit. However, I want to read a the larger passage in order to lay out a foundation for what we are going to find here.
5. It’s a passage that lays out the importance of living a life that is controlled by the Spirit. However, that’s only half of what the passage is about. It’s also a passage that focuses on not fulfilling the "deeds of the flesh." In other words, it’s a passage that is directed in two separate, but equally important directions. It has both a negative focus, "don’t do this," and a positive focus, "do this." When you put the entire passage together you will discover a balance that escapes us when we don’t focus a little bit both directions. Let’s read the passage together and I believe you will discover what I’m talking about.
16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.
17 For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.
18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.
19 Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality,
20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions,
21 envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
24 Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.
26 Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another. (NASB updated)
6. The passage contains the command that there are some things which we are not to allow into our lives: immorality, impurity, sensuality, and 12 more that He says are not to be a part of the life of the Christian. When these things are in our lives, it’s a pretty good indication that our flesh, or human side is in control, instead of the Holy Spirit who lives inside each believer.
7. I want to make an important point as we begin this morning, that I probably won’t focus on a lot during the rest of the series, but it needs to be stated right up front. The only way for us to overcome our ungodly tendencies is to rely upon the power of the God who is alive and well inside of us. Because we have God living inside of us, we are not helpless in keeping our spiritual priorities where they should be.
8. Far too many Christians are living defeated lives. They don’t think they are capable of overcoming the temptations that regularly overwhelm them. According to the passage we will study in the next weeks, nothing could be farther from the truth. Christians have a power that many believers don’t recognize. I don’t mean to be overly simplistic, but with God’s help there is no excuse for not living a godly life.
9. Let me use the animal world to illustrate what I’m talking about. A pen with 3 foot thick concrete walls would restrain a full grown elephant, but it’s expensive & not portable. The solution handlers came up with is surprisingly simple. When an elephant is small, weighing less than 200 pounds, they tie him to a tree with a heavy rope, & give him about 6 feet of slack. All day the small elephant tugs at the rope, whines, squeals, spins in circles & attempts to chew the heavy rope. Eventually, he accepts the fact that he cannot get away, lies down on the ground exhausted & the fight is over. He has accepted the fact that he cannot get free from his tether. However, a full grown elephant has the power of a bulldozer. It’s not that the elephant can’t break loose, but he doesn’t think he can, so he doesn’t try. (E-mail from Jerry)
10. Many Christians are at the same place the full grown elephant is. They have been overcome by sin so often, that they think they are powerless to escape it’s grip. The result is that they live powerless Christian lives when God has so much more to offer them.
11. With that said, let’s begin our study this morning with the first of the fruits of the Spirit. I want you to notice where the Apostle Paul begins... He begins with love and that is no accident because. . .
I. Love is the Foundation
1. Why do you think Paul begins his list of the fruits of the Spirit with love? Could it be that love is the most important? I believe it is and I want to show you why I believe that. Turn to Mark 12:28-34.
2. In this passage Jesus is asked a very important question. It’s a question that you might say cuts to the chase. A scribe comes to Him with a good, no make that great question. It’s the kind of question that I can imagine one of us asking Him. It’s a question about priorities. He asks what’s the most important thing. Let’s read the passage together.
16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.
28 One of the scribes came and heard them arguing, and recognizing that He had answered them well, asked Him, "What commandment is the foremost of all?"
29 Jesus answered, "The foremost is, ’Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord;
30 and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’
31 "The second is this, ’You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these."
32 The scribe said to Him, "Right, Teacher; You have truly stated that He is One, and there is no one else besides Him;
33 and to love Him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as himself, is much more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices."
3. Jesus said that the greatest, most important commandment that God had ever given was to love Him. That’s quite a statement for Jesus to make.
1) Think about all the other commandments that Jesus didn’t deal with. He didn’t deal with "bearing false witness" "not committing adultery," or even the commandment that we are to have, "no other gods before Him."
2) So, Why this commandment about love? What’s so special about love? Let me explain why I believe this is given as the greatest commandment. It’s because if we love God as we should, then it will mean that we are going to seek to please God with everything we do. If you love God as you should you will want to please Him. At that point the other commandments fall into place.
3) That’s the reason I believe Paul said, "love is the foundation," not only here but in other places as well. Places like the 13th chapter of 1 Corinthians. A few years ago someone sent me a copy of how someone imagined this great passage might sound if Paul were writing it today. I think you will better understand the significance of love when you hear it.
If I speak with the confidence of Rush Limbaugh and sing with the ease of Celine Dion but don’t have love, my words are like scraping fingernails on a frozen windshield. If I can program NASA’s mainframe computer and outsmart my chemistry professor, if I can memorize the Psalms and read Leviticus without dozing, or if I can even predict the future but have not love, my value is equal to a pitcher of warm spit. If I give my designer clothes to Goodwill and let my little sister rummage through my closet, if I go to the stake and fry as a martyr, or if I donate a gallon of blood every hour but don’t have love, my offerings are useless. Love is Patient-- even if it means skipping a trip to 31 Flavors in order to tutor an immigrant. Love is Kind-- it doesn’t stoop to ethnic jokes. Love does not envy the basketball team captain, the National Merit finalist, the class president, or even the blonde who sports the most even tan. Love doesn’t get a swelled head over straight As or a scholarship to Yale. Love isn’t snooty about a new car or a season pass to the world’s premiere ski resort. Love never jeers at the fat kid who hangs out of his T-shirt in PE. Love smiles when getting cut off on the interstate. Love submits an honest tax return. Love doesn’t whine about the referee’s bad call. Love believes that God always ultimately provides the best. Love hangs on to hope when the family is coming apart. Love does not change like hemlines and hairdos. Love is like the Energizer bunny. It keeps going & going & going. In the end only three things will remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love. 6
II. God’s Kind of Love
1. Most of you know that the Greeks, had several different words for what we mean when we use our word, "love." Our word can mean a series of very different things.
1) When we use the word "love" it can speak of the affection a person feels for a good friend. The Greeks had a word for this kind of love, they called it Phileo. It was the love between friends who cared deeply about one another.
2) They had another word for love, that spoke of sexual love, it was the word Eros.
3) Then there was the love a family had for one another. It was a deep rich full love that went back and forth in the family.
4) In the New Testament, God introduced a new kind of love that had not been known before. It’s the love that is most often spoken of in the New Testament. It’s Agape, love. Many have simply described it as, "godly love." It’s the kind of love that God demonstrated when He went to the cross to die for us. In fact, the root of the word is used in that famous passage in John 3:16. "For God so Agape the world . . ." This is the, unselfish love that God demonstrated for us best.
2. Come back with me to Galatians 5 again, to the first fruit of the Spirit. When Paul writes that "Love" is the first fruit of the Spirit, He uses the word "Agape." That shouldn’t be a surprise for us, God’s love is the kind of love the Spirit is going to promote in our hearts if we will allow Him to. The kind of love that the Spirit wants to produce in our lives is the highest form of love, God’s love, & not just for God, but also for others. Which brings us to the final point of the sermon.
III. Love in the Real World
1. Sometimes we Christians are good at talking about love, but not very good at showing it. That’s not at all what God had in mind when He said that love is the first fruit of the Spirit. I know that because of what scripture has to say. Turn with me in your Bibles to John 13, where we will look at what the great apostles writes in the 34th verse. Read it along with me.
34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.
35 By this all men will know that you are my disciples if you have love one for another. But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.
2. Do you see what I meant before. Jesus never intended for us to view His command as theoretical. He intended that we take His command to be our defining characteristic as Christians. He tells us that we must love one another.
3. But I want you to notice that He goes a step beyond that. He says that the way others will be able to tell if we are His disciples is by the way we love one another. It’s quite a statement because it means that if we don’t love one another. If we don’t genuinely care for each other then it’s safe to say that we are not His disciples. Perhaps you think I’m overstating His point here, but I can prove to you that I’m not.
4. Turn in your Bibles to 1 John 4. This time it’s the Apostle John who’s making the point. But I believe you will see that if anything John states it even more emphatically than Jesus did when He was talking to His disciples. I believe it’s quite possible that John was thinking of Jesus original words when He penned these words himself. Let’s read verses 20-21.
1 John 4:20-21
20 If someone says he loves God and hates his brother he is a liar; for one who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.
21 And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also.
5. Look at how strongly John says it. If you claim to love God, but you can’t stand your Christian family then God has one word for you, "Liar." Please don’t get offended at me for saying it, I’m just telling you what God says.
6. If you really love God then you are commanded to love others as well. Notice verse 21 doesn’t say "We have this suggestion from God." No, it’s a command. This is important stuff. He wants us to understand that love is a priority, not an afterthought. Our love must be demonstrated in the real world or it doesn’t count. A love for others that is talked about but never lived out, isn’t real love at all.
1. When it comes to the fruit of the Spirit, it’s not accident that Paul begins with love. If you don’t have love, then you can’t have the rest of the fruits of the Spirit because love is the foundational fruit of the Spirit. I believe that all the other fruits of the Spirit flow from this first one.
2. But I want to go a step farther. One of the statistics reported at the convention this year was that 80% of our Southern Baptist Churches are either plateaued or declining. The question of why immediately comes to mind, "Why?"
3. I know the answer to that question is probably very complex & widely varied. However, this morning I want to give you one of the reasons. It is this, those who are outside the church aren’t seeing the kind of love that Jesus spoke about when He said, that those outside the Christian family would know we were His disciples because of our love for one another. Far too often we are better known for our fights with one another than we are for our love for one another. When we don’t love one another, the world looks at what we have and says to itself, "Why would I want that?"
4. Don’t fall prey to that cop out which says, "I can’t love someone like. . . insert the name of any Christian brother or sister. It’s not true. If you are allowing the Holy Spirit to control you, as Paul makes clear He wants to, it is not only possible to love God and those around you, it’s required. The early church was not perfect, but they were famous for loving one another. We cannot expect God to bless us as He wants to when we don’t keep the two most basic commands of all. . . to love Him and One another. Let’s pray.
1) Adam Clarke, Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the New Testament, (Cedar Rapids, IA: Parsons Technology) 1999.
2) Albert Barnes, Barne’s Notes on the New Testament, (Cedar Rapids, IA: Parsons Technology) 1999.
3) Bruce Barton, Linda Taylor, David Veerman & Neil Wilson, Life Application Bible Commentary: Galatians, (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers) 1994.
4) John MacArthur, MacArthur’s New Testament Commentary: Galatians, (Chicago, IL: Moody Press) 1987.
5) Frank Gaebelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Galatians, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House) 1998.
6) Jerry Richards, (E-mail from my brother) date unknown.