I want to start with a little story. Our afternoon service time slot of 4pm has saved me on more than one occasion as a pastor. My goal in preaching is to be done with my sermon by Friday night, but sermon prep is not like writing a term paper for your English class. Pastors, we try our best to study the text, but at the end of the day, we ask God for divine inspiration to apply His universal truth to our unique contexts. So some weeks, the inspiration doesn’t come until late in the week and I am working on the sermon until Saturday noon, or Saturday midnight, or even Sunday morning and in some rare cases, even Sunday at 3:59pm. Or, the divine inspiration is there but things come up and I didn’t have the time to organize my thoughts on paper until late in the week. Or, a less glorious excuse, the summer weather hits and I am more easily distracted in my spirit. Just to say, God in his sovereignty has allowed for the Hill to worship at 4pm. Thank the Lord for his mercy.
I needed every minute this weekend. Yesterday, my grandmother in Irvine turned 90 years old. So we had a birthday party. I ate too much and by the time I got home it was around 10pm. I was tired and my wife can attest to the fact that God has given me the gift of instantaneous sleep. I don’t sleep many hours, but I have the gift of falling asleep the moment my head hits the pillow. It’s like, man, I’m tired, zzzzzz! So when it was 10pm last night and I was still only 50% done with the sermon and I had a service at Crossview Church in LA to preach at this morning and I was STILL telling myself, I just need to lie down for a few minutes, I knew I was in trouble.
I don’t normally remember my dreams, but this time, I did. It was a nightmare. One of my greatest fears is getting up in front of a congregation to preach and I’m not ready. So I was at the service at Crossview and it was a different building. Still a recreation or type of school, a larger version of where they currently worship. Large crowd of people. And I looked down at my chair right before I was about to go up and I was looking for my notes and I couldn’t find it. I rely heavily on my notes so started to panic. I ran out and started wandering the halls and I ran into Brother David Lee of Life Baptist in WLA and he was working on something with a computer and so I managed to print out my notes. Then, I looked in a mirror and I was wearing a T-shirt and shorts. What’s going on? I can’t go up looking like I just rolled out of bed. So I started rummaging through the closets and I found someone’s tuxedo that they had just worn to prom or something. You know, with the ruffles from the 90s. Ruffles used to be the “in” thing. Well, I have no choice, I got to put on the ruffles.
I finally got back to the Crossview service and they normally worship at 10:30am and it was 7pm. I have no idea who preached at the Hill. Hopefully, Brother Matthew or somebody who is ready in season or out of season filled in for me. In any case, I went up to the pulpit at 7pm and I didn’t have my Bible and so I picked up a random Bible and I was already flustered by the fact that I made everyone wait so long and the pages in the Bible were stuck together. And as I was flipping through, one guy from the congregation, probably a false brother, said, do you know it’s 7pm? When are we going to end? I’m hungry. Can you blame the poor guy? He was probably a newcomer who expected a typical hour long service and I just made him and everyone else wait for 8.5 hours? And I normally don’t do this, but I started rebuking the false brother, well, God’s Word says, man does not live on bread alone. You are not going to die so calm down. Then, I woke up from this nightmare at 5am this morning and all I could say was, praise the Lord!
Hope you had a more restful sleep than me. We are going to cover the book of Galatians over the next 2-3 weeks and the key verses we will keep referring back to were read earlier–Gal 5:22-23. It’s a famous passage about the fruit of the Spirit. If you grew up in the church, this is probably among the verses you memorized. Today, we are going to flip through various sections throughout this letter to the church in Galatia so keep your Bibles open. I hope to start with a framework for us to understand this book, and next week, we are going to dive into the specifics of fruit bearing. It’s going to be a shorter sermon today because we will be observing Lord’s Supper and I want to devote a portion of our time explaining its significance.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control.
Fruit of the Spirit. Why are these verses so important? It’s the same reason why I believe the Beatitudes is so important? In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus preaches his debut sermon and the very first thing Jesus focuses on is the Beatitudes. If you are a preacher, the first thing or the last thing you say has special significance. The first thing you say is important because you are setting a vision, a direction, a goal, it’s painting a picture, a sketch and you hope to color in the sketch over your ministry. The last thing you say is also important because it’s your marching orders. I’ve taught you all these things for 3 years. Now go do it. You have to pay special attention to anybody’s first sermon or farewell address. We know Jesus’ farewell address–go and make disciples of all nations.
What picture did Jesus sketch out in his first sermon? The Beatitudes. He defines the blessed life of a true disciple of Jesus Christ. In other words, he is defining what a born again Christian looks like in terms of his personal character and his relationships. A Christian is not somebody who serves and attends certain things and tithes 10% of his income. A Christian does do these things, but you can’t define the essence of a Christian by these external activities. A Christian at the core is one who is poor in spirit, one who mourns, one who is meek or gentle, one who hungers and thirsts for righteousness, one who is merciful, one who is pure in heart, a Christian is a peacemaker and lastly is one who is persecuted. Those things are hard to pin down. Meekness or gentleness is not something you can will yourself to be and mark a box off some checklist. You are either meek or you’re not.
Fruit of the Spirit works exactly the same way. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control–you can’t make yourself more loving or more joyful. You either have this fruit or you don’t.
The only way you can display the qualities mentioned in the Beatitudes in Matthew 5 or the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5 is if God and His grace has come into your heart and has touched you in the deepest part that defines who you are. In other words, you have to be born of the Spirit in your heart, truly saved in order to exhibit these qualities.
So the question is, how do we get at your core to determine whether or not you have been personally saved? There is no medical device that can plug into to show you the condition of your soul or your spiritual heart. It’s hard to see what is at your core. It’s hard to get at the root, the thing deep down inside of you that is driving everything you do.
None of us would readily admit that we have idols, things that are so dear to us that we would do anything to keep it. Things like power and money and romance, many bow down to these idols because it drives them to do things they would not do otherwise. They reserve their best and lay down their best to their idols. That is what it means to be enslaved to an idol.
Someone who is bowing down to the idol of academics or career will reserve the best portions of the day for this idol. They will expend the best years of their life to feed the idol of their ambition. Another can be so busy with life, but when Mr. Right or Mrs. Right comes along, suddenly, their schedule opens up. Problem sets? Pfft, who cares? I’m in love! They were just going through the motions of life, but when a special someone bursts onto the scene, suddenly life changes from black and white to full 1080P multi-million color pixels. You have been stingy with your heart with others, but toward this person, your heart is wide open. You are normally a private, quiet, unrelational person, but now you are a social butterfly in terms of wanting to be with this person all the time.
This is what idolatry does to us. We can’t see the invisible core, but we can see certain visible effects. Just like a person who idolizes career or romance displays certain behavior, a Christian who is truly born again from the Spirit displays certain fruit. In Galatians 5, Paul gives us two sets of criteria. Both sets give us insight into our core, the root, the thing deep down that is driving everything we do.