Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Fruits of the Spirit - introduction

The following was an introductory paper given to the St. Paul's Lutheran School teachers as we began the 2011-12 school year. The theme verse is Galatians 5:22-23, "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law." This was meant to help the teachers get a grasp on these verses. Each month we will select a student of the month that exhibits the fruit of that month. I will also begin to post those monthly papers about each fruit as they become available through out the year.

Fruit of the Spirit

Galatians 5:22-23


 “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (ESV)

 The theme verse for the 2011-2012 academic school year at St. Paul’s is a familiar verse for many of us. We have heard often of the “Fruit of the Spirit.” These “fruit” will be what is used to find our “Student of the Month.” Each month we will be looking at one of the “fruit” and will be considering the student that best fits that “fruit.” In order for us to be prepared to make this decision, it would be good for us to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest these words for ourselves.

 For us to have a good understanding of the fruit of the Spirit, we need to look beyond just these two verses to see the context of what Paul writes. We will be looking at Galatians 5:16-26. Listen as we read these verses:

Through out this section, we see the contrast between life in the Spirit and life in the flesh. It begins with: “But I say, walk by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.”  (Galatians 5:16-17 ESV)

 Paul gives us this contrast in other letters. In Romans 8:9 we read, “You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you.” (ESV) Again in Ephesians 2:5, “…even when we were dead in our trespasses, [God] made us alive together with Christ.” (ESV)

The old (also known as the Old Adam, the old man) = the sinful nature that is opposed to God and the life one has in Christ.

The new (also known as the new man) = the life that is filled with Christ, guided by the Holy Spirit.

 This beginning verses from Galatians 5:16-17 are a challenge to the Christian life. To walk by the Spirit is a challenge. The desire of the heart is to walk according to the sinful flesh. The reason is because of the original sin within each of us. Born sinful, our very nature is sinful. To walk by the Spirit means to not follow the depth of the depravity of our souls.

 This is not something that we do on our own. To say to the children, you must try harder to bear the fruit of the Spirit is not what we need to be saying to them. Once again, it comes down to the very fact that we are sinful by nature and cannot by our own power walk by the Spirit. We recall the explanation to the 3rd Article of the Creed: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.” (Small Catechism, 3rd Article) It is only as we are made new by the Spirit that we walk by the Spirit. He leads us. He guides us. He is the One that empowers us to follow the way of the Lord. This is important to remember because it is so easy to say to one another, “Try harder. Be a better Christian. You must really work hard to bear the fruit of the Spirit.” That puts the pressure on us, which means that we will only fail the test. In and of ourselves we will not and cannot walk by the Spirit.

So how does this happen? How is it that we walk by the Spirit? It is as we are guided by the Holy Spirit through the Means of Grace. He empowers us in the very way that He has told us that He will work – through the Word of God, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Calling us by the Gospel – in the waters of Baptism and through the Word as it is read and proclaimed. Each of our children has been called by the Gospel. The reason that we celebrate the Baptism birthdays of each of the children is because of the importance of their Baptism. It isn’t just a “nice” thing to do. We recall our Baptismal birthdays in order to remind us of the importance of this day when we have been called by the Gospel. We continue to study the Word as He enlightens us daily – leading our children in devotions, religion class and in various other ways that we bring that Word into our lessons.

 Back to Galatians. “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.” (Galatians 5:19-20 ESV)  Paul gives us the works of the flesh which is not comprehensive. It isn’t that we look at this list and say, “Those are not things that I do so I am all right.” We can find ourselves in this list at some point in time. In fact, as we look at the fullness of the Law, we see that we are definitely struggling with the works of the flesh. That is something that we are led to help our children to understand about themselves.

 The works of the flesh are against the commandments of the Lord. We teach these to the children, even having them memorize them through the yeas. The works are evident – other things take the place of the Lord in the heart and life, language is not as the Lord would have it to be (in the classroom as there is disrespectful language against one another, on the playground when no teacher is around, at home), the heart is not worshiping the Lord in the classroom, at home or in the church, respect is not given to parents, teachers or others in authority, etc. Yes, it is evident to see the works of the flesh. It is a struggle between walking by the Spirit and walking in the flesh.

Our task as teachers is to guide the children from the works of the flesh to the life in the Spirit. As we do that, we find that we must first be guided by the Spirit in our lives. It is easy for us to focus on the children and forget that we must begin in our own hearts and lives in order to then be able to guide the children in their lives.

 Turning to the Fruit of the Spirit. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” The fruit that is born by the Christian is the fruit that comes from being connected to Christ. Jesus tells us, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he is it that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5 ESV) Connected to Christ in Word and Sacrament, we grow in our lives of faith and in growing, we bear much fruit. It is much like the crops planted in the field. We cannot enjoy sweet corn without it first being planted, nurtured, watered and harvested. The ear does not come by itself. It cannot grow on the ground without any connection to the corn stalk. Nor can it grow without being watered by rain or irrigation. So the Christian cannot bear fruit without being connected to Christ Himself (the very word “Christian” shows us that Christ is the center of who we are and without whom we would not be “Christian”). Nor can we bear such fruit without being watered by the Holy Spirit through the Means of Grace. Connected to Christ, we are to bear fruit.

Is it an option, this bearing fruit? No it isn’t. We will bear fruit one way or another. Paul writes, “Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to one another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.”  (Romans 7:4 ESV) Bearing fruit for God, bearing fruit in our lives, is what we are to do. We do not believe and that is the end of it for our lives here on earth. No, we are called to bear fruit. What type of fruit we bear shows where our heart and life is as Jesus says, “So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit…Thus you will recognize them by their fruit.” (Matthew 7:17-18, 20 ESV) Bearing good fruit is what we as Christians are to be about.

And what is the fruit? It is what the Holy Spirit works in our hearts and lives. It is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Each month we will be emphasizing one of these fruit. At the same time, we will need to remind our students that it isn’t just for that month that we are to bear the fruit of the Spirit. It is to be that which we do day after day, week after week, month after month, long after we have finished the 2011-12 school year, the fruit of the Spirit is still to be part of our daily lives.

We can divide these fruit up into 3 categories (for our benefit): Love, joy and peace are inner qualities that reflect our Christian relationship with God. Patience, kindness and goodness show themselves in our attitude and actions toward one another. Faithfulness, gentleness and self-control reflect how the new man conducts himself in view of the duties, opportunities and obligations that come to him because of his Christian calling.

For our students, we will begin by looking at those fruit that reflect their life in Christ and their relationship with their heavenly Father. Love is that which begins in God’s heart and is poured into ours as we love one another as Christ has loved us (which includes the attitude of forgiveness towards one another). Love is the foundation of all else that comes in our lives. If we do not love God, we cannot love one another. It is as John writes, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know god, because God is love…Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (I John 4:7-8,11 ESV) So we begin our year with love – love for God and love for one another.

Each month, I will bring forward at the staff meeting the next fruit so that we will have a fresh look at what each fruit means for us and for our students.

August/September – Love

October – Joy

November – Peace

December – Patience

January – Kindness

February – Goodness

March – Faithfulness

April – Gentleness

May – Self-control

May the Lord bless our school year as we, as teachers, bear the fruit of the Spirit in our classrooms and lives and as our children bear the fruit of the Spirit each day.

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