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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:A Harvest of Fruit through the Spirit
Text:Galatians 5:22-23 (View)
Topic:The work of The Holy Spirit

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 67:1,3                                                        

Ps 1:1,2,3

Reading – Psalm 1; Galatians 5

Ps 92:1,3,6,7

Sermon – Galatians 5:22-23a

Hy 47:1,2,5

Hy 76:2,3,4

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved in Christ, today is a harvest day. We’re not farmers, but today God is looking for a crop, a good yield, a rich harvest. Ever since Pentecost in Acts 2, God has been looking for this from his people. Already in the Old Testament, Pentecost was one of seven feasts for Israel. Like some of the other feasts, this one was connected to the work in the fields; in particular, it was a way to celebrate God’s bounty of blessings in the wheat harvest.

With his righteous life and his atoning death, Christ fulfilled every Old Testament law and ceremony. He also fulfilled the feast of Pentecost. And so in the book of Acts, Pentecost is transformed with a new meaning. It marks the beginning of a new kind of harvest, when the Holy Spirit descends in power upon the church. For now through the Spirit’s work, believers from all nations are being gathered up and brought into God’s house. Now the world is God’s own field, and He is seeking a rich harvest of faith.

And if we have the Holy Spirit living within, God wants a harvest from us too: a harvest of fruit for his glory. Psalm 1 says that the righteous person is “like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in season” (v 3). The “fruits” are the good things coming from us. It’s the behaviours and words and attitudes that our hearts produce.

The plants and trees that we see around us get their life from the nutrients in the soil, the rain that falls, and the sun that shines. But our spiritual life comes only through the working of God the Spirit. As the Psalmist says: we’re like trees, “planted by rivers of water” (v 3). Those refreshing and life-giving streams flow to us directly from God.

That might sound completely obvious: “Of course our life as Christians comes from God! Where else?” But when Paul wrote his letter to the Galatians, he couldn’t assume that his readers knew this. In fact, some of the Galatians were saying that the Christian life was a bit like a do-it-yourself project. They said that if you kept the law of Moses—that is, if you were circumcised, and you ate the right food, and observed the holy days—it was then that you could be counted among the righteous. In short, any “fruit” in your life was nurtured by your own will and effort. The good harvest was actually your doing.

Paul has hard words for his congregation: “You foolish Galatians!” he even cries out at one point (3:1). This was a grave mistake! How is it conceivable that dead sinners—spiritually comatose and paralyzed—can ever do what is good and right? Paul gives the only possible answer just after our text: “We live in the Spirit” (v 25). We have a living and productive relationship with God, not because of our ethnic background, or because we’ve done something commendable, but we live because of Pentecost—because of the grace of God’s Spirit!

It’s only because of those heavenly streams of water that we bear any fruit at all. And then not for ourselves or our own praise, but for the glory of the God who saved us. That’s something we have to stay busy with for our whole lives. Remember what Psalm 1 said: we keep yielding our fruit. Our leaves do not wither!

So what is the fruit of the Spirit? Our text is familiar; probably some of the children could sing it for us: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal 5:22-23).

Let’s first notice how Paul speaks not of fruits but of the “fruit”—singular!—of the Spirit. That’s because these nine are all part of the Christian character; each of them will belong to a renewed and holy life. To stay with the image of a fruit, it’s like how when you open up an orange, you see it’s made up of several sections; they’re individual pieces, but they all go together. So with the fruit of the Spirit: it’s a unity. You can’t have love without goodness, or self-control without kindness. Unlike having an orchard, you can’t pick and choose which fruit you’re going to specialise in—a person who’s connected to the Spirit should bear each of these, together: the fruit of the Spirit.

First is love. Some say love, and they think of romantic walks along the beach at sunset. But we’re talking about a different kind of love. It’s not a love based on our changing feelings or a vague notion of being attracted to someone. We must have Christian love! It’s an action word, for love must come across in how we treat the people around us. It’s an unselfish love—it’s not about what you stand to gain, but how you can benefit the other.

And it’s a love that endures. Say you’ve just been insulted, or someone has hurt you. What do you do? Respond with anger, spit out some nasty things about them? No, you’re called to love. Or what if there’s someone you’re basically neutral towards: they don’t anything for or against you, and you don’t have a lot of use for them. Are we allowed to ignore them? That’s not love either. God says, “Put out this fruit! Make it obvious.”

Christ showed us how active love can be. He healed people. He fed and taught them. He even died on the cross—unselfishly, for a people not deserving of anything. And then Christ once said, “By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). So this is what we need to do: Love others by serving them. Let people know by your loving deeds that you’re a disciple of Christ.

Then comes joy. We know about this: joy is a gladness of heart, it’s being happy and cheerful. But happy about what? It’s easy to be happy when we have what we want. I have joy when I’m on holidays; someone else has joy when their soccer team wins. But an earthly joy is quickly fleeting. The next day when we’re disappointed, or when we’re frustrated, or tired, our joy crumbles like autumn leaves.

This means we need a better reason for joy. And our reason is this, that no matter what, we belong to the LORD our God. Like we read in Psalm 35:9, “My soul shall be joyful in the LORD; it shall rejoice in His salvation.” Being saved by Christ inspires in us a joy that we can have even when our life is hard, even when things don’t go so well.

So we should ask ourselves: Is this what fills me, a joy in the Lord? And how does this joy come out in my life? One simple way to tell is by listening to the kind of words that you speak: in a typical conversation are you likely to complain about something, or criticise someone else, or grumble? That’s not joy. Or do our words have a tone of gladness, where we speak with gratitude for God’s gifts, appreciation for other people, and an enjoyment in the faith?

Another fruit of the Spirit is peace. Biblical peace is freedom from hostility and fear, freedom from anxiety and worry, all through being at rest with God. It’s being the friend of God, instead of being God’s sworn enemy. Such a peace is possible only through Jesus Christ, who took away God’s wrath against sinners. Because He did that, we have perfect fellowship with our Creator. Like Jesus once said, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27).

We need to hear Christ’s words of peace. Maybe we’re worried about our children. About our business. About bills and debts. About our marriage. We’re worried about the future and what we’re going to do. We’re even worried that we worry too much! But the Spirit brings peace. He says: “Let not your heart be troubled. The Almighty Father has it in his hands. He’ll always be with you in Christ.”

This peace is another fruit that is meant to be shared with others. We should remind each other of God’s promises, and encourage each other to trust in the Lord. And there’s also this, that we can live at peace with one another, because now we live at peace with God. In Christ we have the greatest motivation and the most powerful example to do what leads to peace; as it says in Romans 12, “If it is possible, as much as it depends on you, live peaceably with all men” (v 18). A person with the Spirit is a person who works for peace, even if it’s hard, even if it means yielding, even if it means that you must forgive.

Let’s pause a moment. Brothers and sisters, reflecting on it, would you say that your faith is fruitful with good works? Or are there barren spots, a lot of empty branches? And what if these fruits are not found on the branches of your life? What is there instead? Each of these things can have its opposite. Instead of love in our hearts, there’s resentment. Instead of joy, we are bitter. Instead of living in peace, we have a lot of hostility or a lot of anxiety.

Like Paul says just before our text, “The works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like” (Gal 5:19-21). Notice what he says: these things will be evident—obvious! It’s hard to hide it if you don’t have God’s Spirit within you.

Compare it to having a tree in your yard that isn’t alive. It’s plain to see, for it will have a lot of broken branches, bark that’s peeling, piles of leaves all around it. For us too: if we’re not alive as Christians, it will become obvious. So God wants us to take a careful look at our life, and take note of what we find.

Now, no one wants to appear like a dead or dying tree, so we might try resemble the kind of trees you see inside shopping centres. These trees look good, so you’re almost positive that they’re alive. But when you get closer, and you inspect the bark and feel their leaves, you realize they’re just plastic. Even if you come back in two years, they won’t have changed at all, and they still won’t be bearing any fruit.

This is how some of the Galatians were living. They were looking good, doing all the right things, yet doing it in the wrong spirit. All along their hearts were far from Christ, and empty of his Spirit. That can be a danger for us also. We know how to do and say the right things, the things that our parents and teachers and elders expect us to do. But what if we’re only looking good, putting on appearances, and not producing a harvest?

God says that if we don’t have the Spirit, we’re spiritually dead. If we’re not producing words and deeds and attitudes that are pleasing to him, then we’re doing “the works of the flesh.” That’s a warning: don’t be a plastic tree, the kind that sits in the corner and collects dust! It’s a warning, and an encouragement: that we be active in our faith, that we make every effort to ensure we’re working and producing.

So what’s another slice of the fruit of God’s Spirit? Long-suffering, or patience. How necessary this is! Because some people seem to do everything slowly. Other people are always making demands on us. And there other people who aggravate us to no end.

Yet when the Holy Spirit works in us, we become patient. Instead of snapping at them in anger or frustration, we’ll pray for them. Instead of urging them to hurry up, we’ll help them along. Think of what it says in 1 Thessalonians 5:14, “Comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all.” Is that what we do? How do you respond when you don’t get your way? How do you treat your irritating neighbour, or your frustrating child?

If the Spirit is working within us, we’ll also see kindness. This is having a caring attitude, where you’re considerate toward everyone around you. Nowadays, of course, you have to push yourself forward if you want to get ahead. In business and sport and school, it’s a competition, every person for himself. But God shows a different way, as Peter urges, “Make every effort to add to your faith… brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness, love” (2 Pet 1:7)

So can you lend someone a helping hand, even though you’re really busy with your own life? Kindness often requires us to deny ourselves. Will you be generous, even though it won’t bring any advantage to you? Or how are you doing at encouraging people? Do you take the time to notice the people whom God has put around you, notice them and listen to them? That’s brotherly and sisterly kindness in action.

And another piece of the fruit: goodness. More than simply being pleasant, this means we actively try to bring benefit to others. Paul says a bit later in Galatians, “As we have opportunity, let us do good to all” (6:10). “To all,” he says. Sometimes we do good only to the people we like, or the members of our family. And sometimes we forget about helping the people outside the church. But do you show goodness to “all people?” If God has given you money, or time, or an ability, or the message of the gospel, are you doing good things with it?

Let’s pause again. For maybe you’re listening, and you’re starting to wonder some more. Perhaps you have fruit on your branches, but they seem pretty small. You want to be kind, but some people make it really hard. You try to do what is good, but you don’t always know how. You’re waiting from something, but it’s so hard to be patient. So is it possible to improve? Is it possible to become more productive as Christians?

Think of what you’d do with that expensive tree you bought at the garden centre, the tree that’s having a hard time getting established in your yard. Do you give up, cut it down right away? No, you first try to help its growing conditions. You pile on the fertilizer. You keep the reticulation going. You loosen the soil, and later you might prune your tree.

What can we do to improve as Christians? How can we cultivate the soil of our hearts, and make ourselves ready for bearing fruit? We can do this: We can pray a Pentecost prayer. Ask for the Holy Spirit, and ask persistently for him to work within you. Pray, and God will answer! Just think of what Jesus says in Luke, “Will not your heavenly Father give his Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?” Of course He will! So pray for the Spirit.

What else can you do to be fruitful? Know the Word of God! The Scriptures are sometimes compared to seed that is scattered on a field. The things you read in the Word, the things you hear in church, the things you study in the Bible, these are the seeds that can spring to life and bear much fruit, even a hundred times what was sown.

So do we always welcome God’s seed and fertilizer? Do we seek just a passing sprinkle on our hearts—the minimum that we’ll get through a quick read of the Bible at dinner time—or do we seek much? For it comes back to this: Do you want to bear a rich harvest for God who gave you life and salvation? Then crave the spiritual food that He offers through his Spirit. Consider what Jesus says in John 15, “He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without me you can do nothing” (v 5). We need to remain in him, connected to the strength Christ provides. Only then will we bear fruit!

Time then, for a final batch of fruit: faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Faithfulness is being dependable. It’s keeping your promises, and it’s doing your duty in the place God has put you. This is reflected in what the master in Jesus’ parable said to his hired man, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things” (Matt 25:21).

Like that servant, each of us has a position to fulfill in this life, and God calls us to be faithful in all our tasks. Perhaps we’re children, or we’re parents. We’re office-bearers. We’re employers and employees. We’re teachers, or students. If you think about it, you’ll see that in each of these positions, there’s a hundred little things that make up our work—one duty at a time, one assignment at a time, one visit, one meal, one lesson. And whatever we’re doing, God calls us to use our time and abilities and opportunities well—to be faithful in the little, and faithful in the large! 

Another piece is gentleness. This is being humble and compassionate toward others. This attitude really comes about only if we realize who we are in ourselves: sinners who deserve only God’s punishment. It’s when we see and grasp this that we’ll also treat others rightly. We’ll be gentle with them, because we know how we’re so frail too. As Paul says in Philippians 4:5, “Let your gentleness be known to all men.”

So how do make it evident? How do we show to other people that we have this fruit? Gentleness is heard in our speaking to children and employees and customers. Gentleness is seen in our response to people that are rude, or in our response to people that disagree with us. It’s seen in how we treat those in a time of need. Are we gentle with them?

And finally: self-control. You know that at certain moments of life, it’s easy to erupt like a Hawaiian volcano: to blurt out the wrong things, to become overheated in anger, to lash out in revenge. Life presents us with many situation where we’re sorely tempted by the devil. So in that moment of testing, how do we react? God says we must bear the fruit of self-control. So be aware of how quickly you can give into sin, how quickly you can cause harm with what you say.

And instead of doing evil, get your life under the Spirit’s control. Control your life for this reason, so that you can do what is good! As Paul wrote to Timothy, “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline” (2 Tim 1:7). Master yourself, so that you can be a servant to others.

These “nine slices” are the “one fruit” of God’s Spirit. Read Paul’s words again: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” An inventory like that shows how you, and me, and everyone, falls far short. There’s a lot of work we need to do; a lot of growing that must take place.

Like the Galatians, we’re far from perfect. Sometimes our faith is weak and frail, and our fruit is pretty small and sour-tasting. But even our little bit of faith, even our sometimes-hesitant kindness, our sometimes-lacking self-control—even these small things have come from God. For this is the amazing thing: God is willing to be that patient farmer. He nurtures us. He prunes us. He gives us his Word. He sends us his Holy Spirit.

And when God does, you’ll see the results. Because as small as it is, it means God has started something amazing within you. That gives us encouragement. For when we look at our humble lives, we can see the beginning and the growing fruits of Pentecost. We look at our lives, and we know the Farmer is hard at work.

Why again do we do this, this bearing of fruit? What is our motive and inspiration? Because God himself has constantly shown these fruits to us, through the way He treats us. For God loves us. He rejoices over us. He is at peace with us. God is patient with us. He is good toward us. He is faithful. He is gentle. We get to enjoy all this fruit from our Saviour and Lord!

But now God desires our fruit. It’s what He made us for! Grow and increase in the faith. Pray and cultivate, that you may produce something more. Like the Israelites at harvest time, the Lord God rejoices in the good yields of his people. He celebrates it, He gathers the fruit to himself, and then He shares it for the good of others. So give all diligence to bear a harvest of fruit through the Spirit, to the glory and praise of God our Saviour!  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
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(c) Copyright 2018, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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