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Even though official beginning of summer is still two weeks away, the summer season has already begun. Summer is the time for lots of things, vacations, summer camps, Vacation Bible School. Summer is also the time for gardening. It's when things grow. The grass grows; the seeds you plant in your garden grow and produce their fruit. Come fall, we'll enjoy them. Or the rabbits and deer will.
It's so appropriate that the Church's season of Pentecost coincides with nature's season of summer. The color of the season is green, which represents growth. Through the festival half of the Church year with Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent and Easter, the seeds of new life in and through Jesus Christ are planted in our hearts through the preaching of Christ's birth, death, resurrection and ascension. Now, through this season of Pentecost, the theme is on the growth of what has been planted and the fruit that it is to produce. Once again, all of that happens through the preaching of the Word even as it is watered and fertilized with Holy Baptism and the Lord's Supper.
Throughout the Old Testament, the prophets talked about God as though He were a farmer who plants, not flowers and vegetables but people. The people of God are His "planting." Isaiah puts it like this, "For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are his pleasant planting." And as strange as this may sound, God doesn't always get the kind of fruit that He expects or enjoys. "He looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, an outcry!" (Isaiah 5:7)
Being the Old Testament prophet that he was, John the Baptist told those who were coming to him to be baptized that they needed to "bear fruit." And not just any fruit, but the fruit that is "in keeping with repentance." (Matthew 3:8)
Being the prophet par excellence that He is, Jesus taught His disciples about the work of God as a sower who sowed seed. Some produced no fruit at all, "and some grew and yielded a hundredfold." (Luke 8:8) God expects His people to bear fruit that He planted them to produce. The parable about the man who finds no figs on his fig tree is the story of what the Father looks for from His people. When the fig tree is found to be barren, He demands that it be cut down and thrown into the fire. The vinedresser prays for time, but in the end, it needs to bear fruit.
So just what is the fruit that God expects His planting to produce? Through this summer season, we're going to take a close look at the "Fruit of the Spirit" as St. Paul details them in his letter to the Galatians, chapter 5. Paul specifies nine fruit of the Spirit. We'll spend nine consecutive Sundays considering them one at a time.
To begin then, I'd invite you to take your bible and turn to Galatians chapter 5 beginning at the 19th verse. That's page 975 in your pew bible.
It's interesting that when we start a new congregation, we say that we're PLANTING a congregation. We expect it to GROW, not just numerically, but also spiritually. Paul PLANTED a congregation in the region of Galatia. It did fine while he was there but shortly after he moved away, someone "bewitched them" with a bunch of false doctrine. And the false doctrine produced bad fruit.
Follow along with me as I read vss.19-21. "Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God."
Jesus once told a parable about a field full of weeds where good seed had been planted. Here they are. These are the weeds that spring up from the seeds that the enemy has sown. If you do any gardening at all, you know that you don't have to plant weeds in order for them to grow. You don't get tomatoes or cucumbers or zucchini unless you plant tomatoes, cucumbers and zucchini. But weeks grow up all by themselves as though they were a part of the ground itself.
Paul calls these weeds, "works of the flesh." These are the things that we, according to our sinful nature produce naturally. Leave us alone and this is what you get and all that you get.
Now verses 22-23. "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law."
These are the things that God desires to see in our life. These things don't happen automatically or naturally. As strange as it sounds, for sinful men and women like you and me, these things are unnatural. The only way you get these things is if they're planted. And they have to be carefully nurtured and cultivated and protected. The weeds chock them pretty easily. Paul calls this the "the fruit of the Spirit."
The Holy Spirit not only plants these things in us, He is these things in us.
The first of these nine fruit of the Spirit is LOVE.
There are several different kinds of LOVE that the bible refers to.
There's what's called, 'family love.' The love of a parent for a child and vice-versa The Greek word is "storegay." The bible is all for this kind of love. It teaches us a lot about the meaning and value of family love. It says that this is the kind of love that God has for you. He calls you His children and wants you to call Him your Father.
"Philos" refers to a brotherly love, sometimes called 'friend love.' (And there's nothing homosexual about it.) The bible is all for this kind of love too. Jesus came into the world and entered into our human situation to be our friend through it all. He says, "I call you my friends." Like a best friend, He's with us in everything, participating in all of our joys and struggles, victories and defeats, standing up for us as His friends before the devil himself.
Then there's "Eros" which is usually referred to as 'romantic love.' It's the passionate, physical, sensual side of love. This might surprise you, but the bible is all for 'eros' too. The bible talks about the love of the lover for his beloved referring to God's love for His holy bride, the Church. If you think the bible couldn't possibly be 'steamy,' you ought to read 'Song of Songs' sometime together with your spouse – after the kids are in bed. In the bible, this kind of love is almost always described within the context of husband and wife.
Then there is "agape" love or 'unconditional love.' It's the word that's used here for the that's the Fruit of the Spirit. The Bible is all over this one. It's the love that Jesus defined so clearly when He said, "Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13). The emphasis here is on "laying down your life," not on, "his friends." Jesus also says that we are to "love our enemies," with this same 'unconditional love.'
It think it tells you something that when you search for these four words for 'love' in 1st century Greek literature of the philosophers and historians of the time, you can find lots of uses of 'storge,' and 'philos', and 'eros,' but the word 'agape' is very rare. But in the New Testament, 'Agape' is the most frequent of the four. Like we said, some things just don't happen naturally and 'self denying love that has no conditions attached to it, is one of them. In other words, this is a love that the world doesn't understand and has a hard time relating to but which the Christian understands and strives for because we know that this is the love that God has for us as demonstrated in our Lord, Jesus Christ. St. John writes, "By this we know love, that He laid down His life for us." And because He has done this and because God has planted us in Christ through Holy Baptism, we too love with His love. John says, "Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought to love one another." (1 John 4:11).
When St. Paul writes to the Corinthian congregations, he describes this fruit of the Spirit in such a beautiful way. First, he lists a lot of things that this love is not. "Love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing,.
And He lists the things that this love is. "Love is patient and kind; Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. [It] rejoices with the truth. Love never ends." (1 Cor. 13:4-8).
What the Scriptures show us is that this unconditional, selfless love connects to all the other loves and makes them good and right and salutary. Family love, brotherly love, even romantic love are all taken to a higher level, to a truer more genuine quality when they are blended together with 'agape' love. The opposite of that is also true. Family love, brotherly love and certainly romantic love can become terribly selfish and unloving apart from 'agape' love.
So, it's the unconditional love of Jesus Christ that is to shape our family love and our brotherly love and our romantic love. It's all the fruit of the Spirit.
So, the question we want to know is, 'how does love grow?' We want to grow in the love of Christ for our family, our friends, our lovers, even our enemies. How does it work? How does it happen?
First of all understand that this is not natural. It doesn't grow in us unless it is planted in us. Works of the flesh grow naturally. The fruit of the Spirit grows supernaturally. Jesus says, "I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in Him, he it is who bears much fruit, apart from me you can do nothing." (John 15:5) This is the work of Jesus Christ in you by the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit works through His Word and Sacraments and it is by being in the Word and receiving the Lord's Supper that we abide in Christ and He abides in us.
Second, I do find it interesting that as Paul lists the "works of the flesh," sexual immorality, impurity, idolatry, etc., etc., he does not say, 'stop doing these things.' He does not say, 'before you can grow the love in you, you've got to get rid of all those weeds.' You need to work at cleaning up your life so that the Holy Spirit can do something with you.'
No, he says, "walk by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh." "Walk by the Spirit." In other words, Paul doesn't point us inward to ourselves, he points us outward to the Spirit. "Walk by the Spirit" means, concentrate, be intentional about doing the things of the Spirit. And since love is the first on the list, it's the place to begin. As we 'walk by the Spirit,' that is, as we concentrate and devote ourselves to imitate the Christ love that He has given us, we begin to loose our interest in the works of the flesh and the Holy Spirit overcomes our sin and produces in us the fruit of Christ's love.
This is what real repentance is all about. It's not just a turning away from the works of the flesh. Repentance is a turning away from sin AND a simultaneous and positive turning to the Holy Spirit and the fruit that He wants to produce in us. As we turn to the Holy Spirit and "walk by the Spirit," our life becomes an abundant harvest the fruit of the Spirit, to the point where it crowds out and overcomes the "works of the flesh."
Even now, through the blood of Jesus Christ shed for the world on the cross, God the Father in heaven sees an orchard of fruitful trees, a field full of ripe fruit, an abundant harvest which He calls His "Holy Christian Church." Jesus has taken all of our 'works of the flesh' onto Himself and He is the 'fruit of the Spirit' with whom the Father is well pleased. For His sake, all of the weeds weeded out and burned. All of the "plantings of the Lord" brought into the barn for Him to enjoy.
But for now, its summertime. Time for us to grow.