Spirit-shaped Love

(This sermon was for Sunday, July 28th, from Galatians 5:1-26.) The Bible tells of a time when young King Solomon is lying in his bed and God says, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.” (1 Kings 3.5)
If God were to come to you and ask you that question, what would be your request? Ask for whatever you want – what would it be?
I suspect many of us would have a request regarding a family member, or health, or a something about a relationship or work,
I wonder how many of us would have a request like that found in our reading from Galatians chapter 5, where Paul says, “Live by the Spirit.” (Gal 5:16) “O Lord, this is my request, let me live by the Spirit.”
And so, this morning, I want to take a look at Paul’s request, that we live by the Spirit, and ask, what would that look like? How would we describe it?
You know how when a computer program is written and a bug is found, or an improvement is needed, someone has to sit down with all the lines and pages of code and rewrite them.
The Bible tells us that all have sinned – things we have done or left undone – destructive emotions, self-centered thought patterns, stubborn attitudes.
We could think of our hearts and minds and wills to be like a computer program with a glitch – the glitch being sin, somehow skewing us away from God’s perfect plan for human life.
And that’s where the Spirit enters, doing the reprogramming. The Spirit does that, reaching inside our minds and emotions and wills and desires, reshaping them, redirecting them, re-energizing them.
The Spirit helps us to bloom into beautiful people, people whose lives bear fruit in the form of a developing character that adds to the richness of life for ourselves and for those with whom we come into contact.
We read this verse: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (5: 22-23)
The Apostle Paul draws a contrast between the acts of the sinful nature, and of the fruit of the Spirit.
The sinful nature leads to a whole series of separate acts that fragment, tear down, and isolate the various parts of our lives from each other; acts that set people in conflict against each other, acts that destroy community.
On the other hand the fruit of the Spirit builds up, it unites; it is a healing force that brings together what once was separate, a healing force that creates community.
The acts of the sinful nature concentrate on me, myself and I. They isolate me and seek to place me as king of the castle, even though the heap on which I am standing may be the broken pieces of the lives of those I have damaged in my reach for the top.
The fruit of the Spirit focuses on Jesus and seeks to enfold me into his body. It seeks to unite me with his Body as I fulfill that place in life, that calling, which he has prepared for me.
This is not something we do; it is something that the Spirit does in us. The emphasis here is on the Spirit that gives us life. It is about the Spirit coming into our lives and filling us so full with the love of God that we turn to God in faith and act toward one another in ways that reflect the mind of Christ.
I am so thankful that it’s not all up to me to live the Christian life. Because, if that’s the way it was, all on my shoulders, I would certainly fail. On my own power, I cannot decide to become more loving, or more joyful, or more patient. Yes, I can choose to oppose the Spirit or cooperate with the Spirit, but it is the Spirit doing the work in me.
Let’s look at just one component of this spiritual fruit and see how that would work: The first component of spiritual fruit – love.
What do we mean by “love?” What does love, as a fruit of the Spirit, look like?
The Bible proclaims to us: “God IS love.” (1 John 4.8) At his very essence, God is love. A love directed towards sinners, undeserved, unsolicited, seeking us and not letting us go; a love that reached its peak in his Son Jesus and his amazing sacrifice on the cross. That’s the kind of love the Spirit seeks to work in us.
One of the first things we have to do in trying to understand this love is to debunk the myth which the beer commercials on TV try to perpetuate.
You’ve seen the ad, or one like it. Good-looking girl meets good-looking guy holding beer. Boy looks into girls eyes. Heart strings go boingy-boingy. And they boogie in delight off into the sunset.
We mistake love for a feeling or attraction or desire. Trouble is that emotions come and go. Last night’s beans can affect them. You fall into them and out of them. But love, as a spiritual fruit, is something carved by the Spirit into our soul — carved in to stay.
The word used in Galatians chapter 5 is a very special word for love. It’s not the word that would refer to erotic/sexual love, and it’s not even the word for love between friends. The word used for love in this text about spiritual fruit is the word agape. It is the patient, kind, generous, faithful, gentle kind of love…the never fails kind of love.
Agape love is a love that is shaped after God’s love for us – A love that is given whether the recipient deserves it or not; that is not concerned about what one can get out of it; that does not demand that the love be returned.
That kind of love makes you vulnerable and exposes you to risk. You’re never quite sure of the response you’ll receive. And yet, that kind of love is what the Spirit seeks to work in us, and that kind of love is what Paul means when he says, “Live by the Spirit.”
As I mentioned, we cannot produce that spiritual fruit on our own. It’s the Spirit’s work… but we can open ourselves to it. How do we do that? Three ways:
First, look to Jesus; Look at him in his Word, in the Gospels. See him act out of love, for you and for the world.
Next, do an inventory of your life. Be honest and hold nothing back. Make a list of those Character traits that do not bear fruit for God: the hatred of others, the grouchiness, the impatience, the greed, etc. Look at that list — it is for those things that Jesus died. In spite of those things you are loved by God.
Third, practice the act of agape love. Start right here, in church. This is the school of love. Go to others. Pick different faces than the ones you normally visit with. Ask, “How are you? What was the high point of your week? What was the low point of your week? Can I pray for you?”
Here, with others, you will be able to exercise the muscle of love that the Spirit will grow within you. Spiritual muscles are like body muscles. If you use them, they stay strong; if you work out they get stronger.
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Think about these things. The Spirit is working all these in you. Let us live by the Spirit.
I close with an ancient prayer. I invite you to pray it with me:
“Jesus, Master, Carpenter of Nazareth, who at the last upon the cross, through wood and nails, did purchase a complete salvation for humanity; wield well your tools in this your workshop, that we who come to you rough-hewn may be fashioned to a true beauty by your hand.” Amen

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About pastorjohnwaseca

ELCA Lutheran Pastor
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