Sermon Series: Set Free (The Fruit of the Spirit)

August 3rd, 2012

3 Week Series

Week 1: Set Free to Live

Galatians 5:1, 13-18

Are you ready for a pop quiz? We’re going to have one on the fruit of the Spirit. Question: How many fruit are there of the Spirit? Nine? Wrong, because there is only one fruit of the Spirit. Notice that fruit is singular.

The nine, according to the King James Version of the Bible (KJV), are simply parts of the fruit of the Spirit. One fruit with multiple traits.

“Fruit of the Spirit” is a biblical term that sums up the nine visible attributes of a true Christian life. Those nine are characteristics of life in Christ. Translated, when the Holy Spirit controls our lives, rather than forces of the “flesh,” the Spirit will produce the ninefold “fruit” that characterize all who truly walk in the Holy Spirit. Fruit of the Spirit is a physical manifestation of a Christian’s transformed life.

With this background, I would like to take us through a three-part series on the fruit of the Spirit, which are the visible attributes of a true Christian life. When Christ truly becomes the center of our life, we are set free to live, to serve, and to transform the world. However, in order to experience this freedom we need to free ourselves from our self-centered ways.

Paul’s vision of the fruit of the Spirit needs to be seen in the context of true freedom. In his letter to the Galatians, the apostle affirms that Jesus Christ has set us free. This freedom enables us to transcend the narrow limits of obligation and law, which is at the heart of Paul’s splendid charge. But there is a clear warning—that we can reject the inner voice or promptings of the Spirit. When Paul uses the word flesh, it needs to be explained that it is not an equivalent to the physical body. It means the person who resists the impulse of the Holy Spirit. Fruit of the Spirit is the visible growth in Jesus Christ.

But in order to experience the fullness of the fruit of the Spirit, we need to be set free. Paul sets the context for all of this in chapter 5, in which he boldly proclaims that, “for freedom Christ has set us free.” We have been set free from the bondage of slavery to the elemental spirits of this life. When we are set free from the “works of the flesh” we can become energized and enlivened by God’s Spirit. When that happens, we not only live by the Spirit, but are guided by the Spirit in our daily walk.

Paul is quite upset over the situation in Galatia. He had visited the area on his first missionary journey and nurtured the young Christians by encouraging them to break away from anything that would separate them from experiencing the fullness of Christ. However, after he left their territory to minister elsewhere, certain ultra-conservative Jewish Christians, known as Judaizers, threatened both Paul’s authority and his message by telling the Galatians that their faith was not sufficient unless they kept certain laws, namely circumcision and other Jewish observances. Paul counters that notion by boldly proclaiming that “for freedom Christ has set us free.” Free from the endless treadmill of “do this,” “don’t do that.” In Christ, our relationship to God has been restored, not by something we need to do, but rather by something God has done in Christ. From Paul’s perspective, when Christians fully grasp that fact, they can begin to enjoy the freedom to live.

For a period of time my parents lived in Venice, Florida, the winter home of a well-known circus. Each time we would visit I would take our children to walk around the circus grounds. One time we walked in the area where the elephants were being trained. Each elephant was tied by a heavy iron ankle bracket that was chained to a post in the ground. Each elephant stood there moving its leg in a backward and forward motion trying to free itself from the chain. That is, all but one. It kept moving its leg backward and forward just like the others, only it wasn’t chained to anything. If it wanted to, it could simply walk away. As we approached the trainer, I asked him why the one elephant kept moving its leg when it wasn’t tied to anything and what kept it from just wandering off? The trainer said, “That’s because the elephant thinks its leg is chained to the post. It doesn’t realize that it is free.”

The apostle Paul believed that as long as we were self-serving (focusing on the flesh) we were not free. Sometimes we are so caught up in the business of serving ourselves that we fail to become the person we are capable of becoming. Paul reminds us that we were created for freedom; that we have been set free not from something, but for something—to live, to serve, and to transform the world. Whenever we can break the shackles of whatever imprisons our souls and become free in Christ, we will be guided by the fruit of the Spirit and set free to live.

Week 2: Set Free to Serve

Galatians 5:1, 13-18; Luke 22:24-27

Dag Hammarskjöld said it well in his autobiography: “The road to holiness necessarily passes through the world of action” (Markings [New York: Ballantine, 1993], 103).

Paul tells us in our Galatians text that we have been called to freedom, not as an opportunity to serve ourselves but to serve others.

Paul carefully defines freedom and what it requires. He reveals that freedom in Christ is not a freedom toward “self-indulgence.” Rather, the exercise of loving service is the truest mark and measure of Christian freedom. Loving service is measured by one’s response to neighbor—not to self.

Self-indulgence seems to be a pretty apt word for our society today. Lucy, of the comic strip Peanuts, is often the poster child for a self-indulgent philosophy. In reading a book to Lucy, Linus says, “It says here that the world revolves around the sun once a year.” Lucy replies, “The world revolves around the sun? Are you sure? I thought it revolved around me.”

Such thinking seems to be a reflection of our culture and of our church. Just look at some of the self-help books that are bent on helping us to be happy. And to listen to a good number of the electronic preachers today, one would have to assume that God’s sole purpose is to help us be happy and prosperous. But those who are guided by the fruit of the Spirit know that true happiness and fulfillment is found not in serving ourselves but in serving others.

Jesus reminded his disciples who were caught up in a discussion regarding greatness that true greatness was not a matter of place or position, but a matter of serving. As Jesus said, “I am among you as one who serves” (Luke 22:27).

When I was a pastor in Omaha, I was called by the Salvation Army Headquarters in Chicago. The Army was going to honor a member of my congregation for the outstanding work he had done for the city. I was asked if I would give the invocation.

It was quite an affair and the guest speaker was the general of the Salvation Army. When he got up to make his remarks, he began by telling the audience that he loved being the main speaker because it gave  him an opportunity to explain his uniform in detail. I thought to myself, this is going to be a trip!

He then smiled and said, “There are just two things about my uniform that I want to tell you about. They are my two brass buttons on the lapels of my jacket; “S...S.” As he put his thumb under his right lapel, he said, “This ‘S’ stands for saved. I have been saved by Jesus Christ.” Then he placed his thumb under his left lapel and said, “This ‘S’ stands for serve. It lets the world know that I have been saved for one purpose and one purpose only, and that is to serve.” Then with a note of seriousness he said, “Quite frankly, folks, I grow very weary of some of my Christian brothers and sisters who are always talking about the brass button on the right and do not have a clue what the button on the left is all about.”

This is a powerful reminder that we have been set free by Christ so that we can serve the needs of the human family especially the least, the lost, and the lonely. We will be able to do that if we can be free from serving only ourselves.

Some years ago I saw a segment on 60 Minutes that featured a seventy-nine-year-old Roman Catholic nun by the name of Sister Emmanuel. When most folks would like to think of retiring in Arizona during the winter and traveling around the world during the summer, this woman fell on her knees and prayed that God would send her to the most desperate place on earth. As she said in the interview, “Be careful what you pray for as your prayer might be answered.” Her prayer was answered and at the time of the interview this elderly French nun was serving God in the “City of Garbage”—a ghetto in Cairo, Egypt.

Every day she would rise at 4:30 a.m. to begin her work among the ten thousand “untouchable residents” who manage to stay alive by sorting through refuse hoping to sell bottles and tin cans. At 9:00 a.m. she would be in her own hut teaching forty Christian and Muslim children to read and write. She has also worked with the government to provide better housing. In her quiet ministry of serving, Sister Emmanuel has helped improve the living conditions of many children, youths, and adults. How appropriate is her name, Emmanuel, which means “God with us.”

Diane Sawyer was the one interviewing Sister Emmanuel. At one point Sawyer asked her if there might be a reward for her work. The elderly nun pointed to a painting hanging on her wall. It was a picture of angels with hands joined dancing in the celestial kingdom. “One of these days,” said Sister Emmanuel, “they will offer me their hand and I will dance in the kingdom of heaven with them.

I would like to think that today, God’s servant, Sister Emmanuel, is dancing in heaven as one who shared her fruit of the Spirit with those who were in need. When we have been set free by Christ, we have been set free to serve.

Week 3: Set Free to Transform the World

Galatians 5:1, 13-18; Jeremiah 17:5-10

Those who are guided by the fruit of the Spirit have a vision that the gospel of Christ calls us to transform the world in whatever way we can. Jesus Christ was sent into this world to both redeem and re-dream the world. He lived and died so that the world would be different.

If we are to make the world a different place, we need to be focused on God and not on ourselves. This was the point of concern of the prophet Jeremiah. When we focus on ourselves, we end up trusting ourselves and we do that to our peril. Trusting in ourselves limits our freedom. When we move from trusting ourselves to trusting in God, we allow God to become the center of our life. Jeremiah says that when that happens we are like the trees along the banks of a river. We will be fed and we will flourish. When our focus turns to God rather than self we will experience the joy of the fruit of the Spirit, and that Spirit will enable us to transform the world.

Being guided by the fruit of the Spirit enables us to be a paradigm shift in the world by the way we live and by the example we set. We are to make the world different by making ourselves different. We have to be God’s eyes, ears and hands in the world.

We are called to alter life’s landscape. The apostles turned the world upside down so that it would then be “right side up.” Martyrs of the ages faced down the “principalities and powers” even unto death, proclaiming Christ as their savior. Brave missionaries carried the story of the “the light of the world” into every far place on Earth, many dying in the effort. Ordinary laymen and laywomen empowered by the fruit of the Spirit become extraordinary as they join in the struggle for justice for the downtrodden, help for the helpless, and redress to all forms of prejudice. In short, we make the world different by making ourselves different.

We would do well to remember our heritage. For example, we as United Methodists need to remember that Methodism did not start out as a church.

It started out as a movement willing to take risks. Early Methodists did more than “Gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing, and sing praises to his name . . . .” They established schools, hospitals, orphanages, and universities. They organized corps of visitors who move among the poor and sick. They operated their missions, launching the first war on poverty, attacking slavery, and using every opportunity to be outspoken on issues of civil liberty and human justice. The early Methodists were dissenting, protesting reformers of society seeking to transform the world in the name of Jesus Christ.

The fruit of the Spirit enables us to live out our lives in such a way that we can help transform the world. Let me tell you about how one woman transformed the world around her. Her name was Catherine Lawes. She was the wife of Lewis Lawes, who in 1921 became the chief warden at Sing Sing, up on New York’s Hudson River—a prison that was often referred to as the worst penitentiary in the world.

Right after Lewis and Catherine settled in, she did something that no woman would dare to do; she attended a prison basketball game. Not only that, she took her three children with her to sit in the stands with the inmates. That was just the beginning of how Catherine Lawes would eventually transform the world around her.

She would routinely visit with individual inmates. One in particular, who was a murderer and was blind. She learned the Braille system of reading and then taught him how to read. She also befriended a deaf prisoner. She learned sign language and then taught him.

Then tragedy hit. In 1937, Lawes was killed in an automobile accident. News of her death spread quickly throughout the prison. On the day of her burial, prisoners stood at the gate as the funeral procession passed on the way to a chapel outside the prison walls. Most of the prisoners were crying. They were bold enough to ask the warden if maybe they could attend the service. Warden Lawes agreed to let them go. The main gate was opened and the prisoners walked the three-quarters of a mile to the chapel.

Immediately following the service, each prisoner returned to the prison without any guards escorting him. Not one of them was missing!

Catherine Lawes lived by an entirely different value system than most of the people of her time. She was clearly a light in the world’s darkness. For a few years, Catherine Lawes helped transform the world of a dreaded prison and made it a better place to live.

Being a Christian means allowing yourself to be claimed by God, shaped and formed by Christ, made in his image to become a brand new person and to live in the world differently than you have ever lived before. The fruit of the Spirit is a physical manifestation of a Christian’s transformed life. Such a life reminds us that we were not put on this earth merely to “make a difference in the world.” We were put on this earth to make the world different.

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