Becoming What You Were Meant to Be
Today we begin a 3-part series of sermons in which we’re going to be focusing on the fruit of the Spirit. But we’re really asking this question, “What do you want to be like when you grow up? When you’re 50, 60 (when you’re in your 20’s 50 seems ancient if you are 50 that doesn’t seem very old) . But if you’re 60, 70, 80, God willing 90, what do you want to be like?
And my sense is that the things that we do today are determining what we are going to be like in the years to come. I think the person that Randy Duncan is when people are bringing meals on wheels to me in 25 or 30 years is largely going to be shaped by the person I’m seeking to become now. The same is true with you. So what do you want to be like when you grow up?
Now the apostle Paul describes this picture of what we might be like when we grow up, he calls it the fruit of the Spirit. And it’s found in Galatians 5:22-23. I’d like to read that once more to you. In fact I’d like to invite you to read it with me. We read these words:
“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”
Now that what we want to be like. Paul’s saying, “That’s what you should be striving for. Have in your mind this goal that by the time you’re 90 you’ve actually become this. And then let’s work on it between now and then.”
Now Paul calls these the fruit of the Spirit which means that the Holy Spirit is the one who actually produces these things in us, but we do play some role in becoming what we were meant to be. God intended that we be like this: love, joy, peace, patience…but we play a role in it; the Holy Spirit plays a role.
Let me just give you a metaphor for that. So here’s a piece of fruit, an orange grown in Florida. Now the orange grower doesn’t produce oranges, right? I mean human beings can’t make oranges. What we can do is we take the seeds which have inherent in them the potential to become an orange tree. And then we till the ground and we place the seed in the ground and then we water it and we fertilize it and we watch it come up. We tend the plant. We cultivate. We prune and then we wait for the harvest. And then we protect the fruit if necessary as its beginning to develop. We do this year after year after year. And we find ourselves reaping a bountiful harvest if we’re doing our part God will do His part.
The Holy Spirit bears these fruit inside of us but we play a role in tending, cultivating, planting the seeds, watering and fertilizing. And so each week in this sermon series we’re going to be identifying and focusing on the fruit that God calls us to produce and then our role and the Spirit’s role in becoming the people we were meant to be.
The last thing I’d say by way of introduction is that if you get this, if you really understand the fruit of the Spirit and you begin living into this it changes everything in your life. It changes every relationship. If you start living with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness…what’s that going to do in your marriage? If you’re married it’s going to change your marriage. What does it do in your relationship with your parents or your children or the people who are your coworkers or your employees or your employer? How does it change what you set as the priorities in your life if you get the fruit of the Spirit? If you get, it changes everything!
Now Jesus called us to be His people and He called us to bear fruit and His hope was that today the 2 billion Christians around the world would bear fruit and the world would be changed because of this. We are living out the fruit of the Spirit is the hope for the world. It’s what Christ invited us to do to be His agents in ministry in the world bearing this kind of fruit.
Now we’re going to focus today on the first three fruit: love, joy, and peace. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy and peace.
Let’s talk about love.
Now in Galatians what we find Paul saying is that love is really not just one fruit of the Spirit. In some sense all of the fruit of the Spirit could be encompassed by this one word, love. When we understand the meaning of love everything else flows out of it, is produced by it, and it’s encompassed in it. So the apostle Paul says this in Galatians 5:13-14:
“Through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
This summarizes everything. You remember Jesus said the same thing. The apostle Paul James said the same thing. James calls it the Royal Law of Love. Jesus says this, “There are two things you need to remember: Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. And love your neighbor as you love yourself.”
And in the words from John we heard earlier: “Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.” (1 John 4:11)
But what does this love look like?
Well first we’d remember that the Greek word here is agape. There are 4 different Greek words for love. You’ve probably, some of you have heard this in the past. One refers to an intimate physical love. One refers to an affection. One refers to a familial relationships or brotherly love. But agape encompasses those and more.
Agape is not about feelings, it’s about actions. It’s doing the loving thing regardless of what you feel. Agape appears 116 times in the New Testament. And every time that it appears it points to a definition like this. And this is the definition that I have come up with. It’s not necessarily a dictionary definition. But as I see agape this is what I see. “It is a dogged determination to act lovingly or to show kindness even when it’s undeserved.” Even when it comes at a cost. It’s a dogged determination show love, to act with love. It’s not about your feelings.
So you love people. Jesus calls you to love your enemies. The Greek word there is agape. Agape your enemies. It’s not about whether you feel close to them; you want them to be your best friend. It’s about how you treat them. It’s what you do regardless of how they’ve treated you. Regardless of whether they deserve it or not.
And Jesus says, “This is what changes the world when you love in this way; agape love, this dogged determination to act lovingly or show kindness even when it is undeserved.”
In the Hebrew Bible, in the Old Testament the Hebrew word is hesed. And hesed appears in the Hebrew Bible 245 times. And it’s translated typically into English as loving-kindness or steadfast love. This is the primary virtue of the Christian faith. This is the most important fruit of the Spirit. We’re called to be people of love. It changes everything.
Now what does that actually look like in practice? I find that when it comes to the fruit of the Spirit I can understand the Greek and the Hebrew, but what I really need to see is what does it look like lived out.
And you know this is a perfect day to talk about agape love – Veteran’s Day.
Because the very act of serving our country, this idea of honoring our veterans, is because in most cases they represent what agape love looks like. These persons we honor and remember today many of them are men and women who left their homes and families to serve our country. They sacrificed. Many put themselves in harm’s way, and still others literally laid down their lives for you and me, to serve and protect this country and the freedom we hold so dear. They serve so that we may enjoy the life that we have here. They don’t even know you and yes there are many who may not deserve it, and yet they were willing to serve, to sacrifice, and even die so that we may have freedom and life. What price do you put on that? We catch a glimpse of agape through them. That’s what it looks like. And this is what I hope to be like when I grow up.
I want to be that person who has the boldness and the courage and the faith to risk everything in order to love, in order to share love, in order to see love permeate our world. This is what it looks like.
Now how do we become these people of love? That’s a really great question. We have to focus on it. We say, “I understand this is what love looks like,” and we begin to practice it. We begin to live it. We ask this question, whenever we’re in any situation we say, “What is the most loving thing to do here?” We decide every day when we wake up and we say, “Lord, please, help me to be a person of love. Help me to become this. Help me to grow up to be this. Lord, fix my heart on this. This is my mission.”
When you wake up in the morning, your mission, if you’re a follower of Jesus Christ is to live this life of love. Put it on a sticky note and stick it to your mirror where you brush your teeth. Or on your desk. Or on the dash board of your car. “That’s my mission, to live agape towards people!” This dogged determination to express love and kindness to people even if they don’t deserve it.
Let me just remind you of what love looks like when we remember the words of Paul. He sort of expounds on this in 1 Corinthians 13. I’d like to invite you to read these words with me. They’re often read at weddings, but there not just about weddings, they’re about life. This is what love looks like. Would you join me in reading these words?
“If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
“Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends…And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-8, 13)
This is the prime virtue of the Christian faith. This is the primary fruit of the Spirit. This is what we’re meant to desire to be when we grow up.
Now that leads to the second fruit of the Spirit. And the second fruit of the Spirit is joy. And the Greek word for that is chara. This word is not just a sort of temporary or fleeting happiness. It goes much deeper than that. It’s much more profound. Of course we feel joy when we’re happy; when things are going well. But real joy, the fruit of the Spirit kind of joy is a way of seeing the world that gives a sense of constancy and hope even when things are not going well. It’s an attitude that comes from being grateful in every circumstance. It says, “I choose to focus,” on those things that you’re grateful for not those things that you’re disappointed in.
You know we all have a choice in how we face life; all the time, every day. We face life and we chose either to see all of the things that are wrong. “I hate this and I wish my life wasn’t like that. And this frustrates me about my spouse. And my children. And my job.”
Or we wake up and we say, “God I’m so grateful the sun’s shining again today. I’m grateful for the blessings you’ve poured into my life. I’m grateful for this person and that person and these things about my spouse.” And when you find yourself focusing on the things that you’re grateful for you find joy even in the face of adversity. This is a fruit of the Spirit to have this sense of joy regardless of your circumstances.
This reminds me of the apostles in Acts 5 which we have just studied in our Wednesday morning Bible study we find this great story where the apostles are called in before the Jewish Sanhedrin who had sentenced Jesus to death. They were called in after the resurrection and they were told, “Stop preaching in the name of Jesus Christ. We don’t want you to hear you preaching about Jesus being the Christ anymore.”
And they said, “How can we not speak in His name? How can we not bear witness to what we know is true?”
And the Sanhedrin had them beaten and then released. And this is their response to being beaten and released. The scripture says, “They left that place. They rejoiced that they were considered worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name of Christ.”
You see they had joy even though they were in adverse circumstances. Many of us would be beaten for the sake of Christ and then we’d leave and say, “Well God why didn’t you save me? Why didn’t you help me? How come? Why did this happen to me?” That’s not what the apostles did. They said, “God, thank you that we had the privilege to endure suffering for the name of Jesus Christ.”
Now in our own lives we see this. We have to look at, the perspective we choose to have on the adversity that we face in life. And the apostle James suggested this to us. He says, “My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4)
This is chara. This is joy. It’s that capacity that the Holy Spirit gives you, and that you cultivate and nurture, to give thanks in all circumstances; to look for the things to be grateful for and to trust that God is able to take even the adversity in your life and to use it for some good, to change you personally or to change the world around you.
When I think of joy in the face of adversity I think of …. Bob Cummins
Bob put his trust in Christ and that changed his perspective on the things he was going through.
He had joy in the face of adversity. This was a deep down perspective on life that caused him or led him to give thanks in all circumstances.
Which is exactly what the apostle Paul tells us is the key to this. In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 he says, listen, “Rejoice always, (have joy always).” How do you do that? “Pray without ceasing; give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
“Lord I thank you for my life today even though things are tough I thank you. Lord I thank you for the way you will sustain me. I trust that you will. Lord I pray that you’ll take this and use it for good in the community and in my life. I thank you for these things.”
And somehow it’s not that the adversity goes away, but your perspective on it gives way to joy.
Now that leads to one last of the fruit of the Spirit that we’re focusing on today, and that’s peace.
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace. Now the Greek word is eirene. And eirene is a word that means not just peace, it’s not just the absence of conflict but it’s more like the Hebrew word shalom. It’s like wholeness. It’s like everything is fitting together. It’s like a state in which things feel like that they are, they are more than ok. It’s the elimination of worry and fear and conflict. All of that.
And again this is not something that we instantly have. It’s something that we change the focus of our lives and that begins to change our hearts by the Holy Spirit and we begin to find that peace; that perfect peace that passes all understanding.
And so in our lives we are either people who are constantly worrying – and some of us are sort of wired that way, to worry more than others. But the fruit of the Spirit helps fight against that worrying, it’s helps to change our worries and gives us a confidence and a hope in the face of them.
I was looking in one commentary this week and discovered that our English word for worry comes from the German word wurgen which means to choke or to strangle. And this is in essence what worry does to us is it chokes or strangles out the life that God intends us to have. He doesn’t intend us to live with fear and worry and be choked out all the time.
Jesus spoke about this in the parable of the sower where He says, “There was some seed that falls in soil and it’s surrounded by weeds and thistles. And that seed begins to grow up but then the weeds and thistles choke it out like the cares of this world choke out God’s people’s faith.
Now when it comes to worry many of our worries are unrealistic and unfounded. Some of them are more legitimate. And we have to figure out how we deal with worry and fear.
I have a friend who used to do a lot of flying for his job. He hates flying. He has this sense of worry and dread every time he gets on an airplane. But it is a necessary part of his work. Every time that he goes off on a trip he leaves a note on the kitchen counter for his wife saying, “Hey honey I just want you to know that I love you.” So the last thing she has from him is a note that says he loves her.
So how many people die in plane crashes every year? 300 people die in an average year in plane crashes every year. How many people die in car accidents every year? 30,000. And you know the funny thing is? I’m sure my friend never left a note on the kitchen counter before he got in his car to drive to work. “Honey, I’m getting in the car right now. I just want you to know I love you. It’s all going to be ok if I die in a car crash on the way to work.” But you know the likelihood of that is far greater dying in a plane crash.
You see how this works? We find a million things to be worried about and yet in the end God says, “Why don’t you just trust me? Even if something bad happens it’s still ok. I am with you and I will never leave you or forsake you.
The apostle Paul says this about finding peace. He says, “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)
I saw a beautiful picture of that this week …. Mame Ward.
What made it possible for him to walk through this after being diagnosed …? And having peace was the fact that she not only believed it she was counting on it.
So there it is. There’s love and joy and peace.
Now my aim in this sermon series is to help you understand these things and then to inspire you to want to be like this. And the longer we’re Christians the more we’re supposed to look more like that. So when we’re 80 we’re supposed to look more loving, more peace filled, and more joyful than when we were 40. And I want that. But I don’t think it just happens by accident. I think we fix our minds on this. We pray every day, “Lord help me to be more loving. Help me to experience your joy. Help me trust in you and have your peace.” As we say, “That’s what I want to be like when I grow up. And we pray about it and we invite the Holy Spirit to work in our lives we begin to find that happens.
This week I was reading a book on the fruit of the Spirit and they included a quote from a story that I had forgotten from Margery William book The Velveteen Rabbit. If you read the Rapp Sheet you will remember I shared it with you. But this is a story – it was sort of like Toy Story but written in 1922.
And as the story goes there’s a velveteen rabbit who is loved by its owner, by a little boy. And that love begins to make the rabbit real. He’s real first to the little boy and then the rabbit begins to have a sense of consciousness; so do the other toys. And at one point there’s a conversation that takes place between the velveteen rabbit and the skin horse.
And the velveteen rabbit asks the skin horse this question. “Do you become real all at once, or bit by bit.” And this of course is a metaphor, becoming real, truly real, alive, fully alive, uniquely human, what you were created to be – “Does it happen all at once or bit by bit.”
And the horse replies, "It doesn't happen all at once. You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally by the time you are real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly except to people who don't understand.” (p. 16-17 of The Velveteen Rabbit)
This lifelong journey is called sanctification in the Christian faith. And the older you get the more you’re meant to look like this. And the decisions that you make today are determining if you will ever reach that point. And the Holy Spirit wants to produce these fruit if only you’ll allow the Spirit to produce them.
What do you want to be like when your hair is worn off, and your eyes are dropped off, and you’re shabby and loose in the joints? I hope you want to look like this…love, joy, and peace. This is what I want to be like when I grow up. How about you?