Updated: Sep 15, 2020
"The Fruit of the Spirit is Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Faithfulness, Generosity, Gentleness and Self-Control there is no law against such things" Galatians 5: 22-23
These past few months, we have been doing a sermon series on the fruits of the spirit ending last week (30th August) with Rev Sarah's talk on self-control. The challenge to those giving the talks over the past few weeks has been to not only talk about what the fruits are, but what they mean for us living today, not only in 2020 but in a pandemic.
The book of Galatians is thought to be one of the first letters Paul wrote in the bible and was written because the churches in Galatia were facing a religious crisis! Both Jewish and Gentile (non Jewish) people were starting to follow Jesus and there were some disagreements on how a Christians should lead their lives. Some disagreed that you could enter heaven purely based on faith and that you needed to prove yourself through human works whilst on earth. Some Jewish Christians also believed that all Christians should keep the Jewish Law, essentially converting to Judaism first to then become a Christian. Paul aims to remind the Galatians of the good news of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit to clear up some of the misunderstandings!
So what is the Fruits of the Spirit? In the bible, the Greek word for fruit can be translated in different ways, and as well as meaning something that we would find in the fruit bowl, on a tree or in the fridge, a fruit is an action or result. So when we say "the fruit of the spirit" we are saying the "results of" or "action of" the spirit. The presence of the Holy Spirit in a Christian's life or community is the presence of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, generosity and self-control. These are in comparison to the "result of" or "action of" the flesh, which Paul speaks about in Galatians 5:22-23. Look it up if you'd like to find out what he said - we need the pray for the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives and communities; when we start to do things in our own strength they quickly begin to go wrong.
As Christians, we know we aren't perfect. We know we make mistakes - we are human! Paul gives a really clear explanation for this, for it is when we rely on "the flesh" or our humanity that we make mistakes. In this way, Paul explains to the Galatians that having faith alone was enough to enter into heaven, because by having faith, the Holy Spirit will enter their lives and bring about good human deeds. Bit of a "two birds - one stone" message there!
In the sermon series, Dave, Hilary, Bishop Robert, Michael, Sue, John, Catherine and Rev Sarah each take one of the Fruits of the Spirit and talk more in depth about it, from Love through the Self-Control. If you have missed any of the talks through July and August, you can catch up here. Thanks to all of them for their interpretations and thoughts on what these fruits are and how we can use them in our lives.
Then there's the pandemic. I think we can all agree that the pandemic has been harder than perhaps some of us thought. We have worried about loved ones, jobs, money and watched as the government have tried to keep us all safe. We have had the chance to take a step back, watch as nature has healed itself, enjoyed a slower pace of life. But we have had also had thoughts of frustration, anger, sadness, grief and loneliness. Now that we are in September, we are in a strange limbo. The immediate threat of the disease seems to have passed but we remain in that state of vigilance.
Will it come back? What about my friends and family? I need to work! I just want things to be back to the way it was.
Stress does weird things to our brains. It's there for a reason, stress is the thing that lets us react to perceived threats and get us out of there! But when we stay stressed for too long we end up in a state of "hyper-vigilance". We misinterpret things as threats when they may not be, we find it harder to sleep, we are short-tempered and emotional but aren't always able to say why.
People find different ways to cope with the stress. For some, conforming precisely to government guidance on social-distancing and "bubbles" brings them comfort because they feel they are alleviating the threat. Some crave social contact because it brings them comfort. Some focus on threats that they can see and do something about. And some will seek out threats or danger because it is better to be in control of the danger than to not know where it is.
All of these are natural and human responses to threat. We are biologically wired to find and respond to danger. But when we rely on human responses, rely on "the flesh" we make mistakes. We argue, we grow defensive, we disobey. We feel pain and anger.
For us to make it through this pandemic and to come out together the other side we need love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, generosity, gentleness and self-control. We need to love and care for one another, seek out joy, find moments of peace, be patient, show kindness, have faith that everything will be okay, be generous with our actions and resources, be gentle and understanding of one another and have self-control over our thoughts, actions and behaviours. We cannot do this by relying on the flesh. We have to turn to God and have faith, so that the Holy Spirit will fill us with this fruit. Some people have asked the very good question, "where is God in a pandemic?" Perhaps one answer is "right alongside us". The Holy Spirit is often described as being an enabler, comforter or helper, and this is what God longs to be for us as we step into the last quarter of the year. So let's commit to praying one of the oldest prayers of the church "Come Holy Spirit" as together we follow Jesus into an future that remains uncertain.
- Ellie Todd