This summer at Southwest Church in Jonesboro, AR, the Young Adult class is studying the Fruits of the Spirit and discussing how we might bear such fruit in the world as a faithful community. We are using Phil Kenneson’s book as a guide; Life on the Vine: Cultivating the Fruits of the Spirit in Christian Community:
I never ceased to be amazed at the hearts and minds of the Young Adults at Southwest. I set out to “lead” these folks on the path of discipleship. HA! How arrogant of me! They have rather discipled me!
This summer we are talking about Cultivating the Fruits of the Spirit in Christian Community. Our grounding texts are Mt. 7:16-20 which says,
“By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.”
– and Gal. 5:22-23 which lists nine “fruits” that spirit-filled people bear in the world; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
We are examining each of these fruits closely, and with Mt. 7:16-20 in mind, we are asking ourselves two tough questions: “What sort of fruit are we currently bearing in the world?” and “How might me bear more of the Spirit’s fruit in the world?”
Over and over the bible uses a horticultural metaphor (especially Jesus) with regards to discipleship. Of course God (the Spirit) supplies us with everything. But uses fertile soil to cultivate a “good tree” and bear “good fruit”. We are interested in cultivating our lives in such a way that we are open to God’s Spirit working in us to bear good fruit.
This last Sunday, we dealt with “love.” How are we doing at bearing the fruit of love in the world? How might we do better?
We looked at a lot of passages from the New and Old testaments that deal with love. Our Young Adults named four characteristics of biblical and holy love.
1> The kind of love that reflects God’s own love has to be “Unconditional”. We looked at Ephesians 2:4-9. There are no pre-requisites to God loving us. There is nothing you can do to earn or merit his love. There is nothing you can do to lose it. God loves us all from first to last – greatest to the least – our friends and our worst enemies – the high-society types, and the bums. And if we are REALLY bearing the fruit of God’s love in the world, our love for others will be unconditional also! The question we want to wrestle with this week is “Do we put conditions on our love?” and then “How do we grow in the love of God?”
I had a friend say to me after class, “We put conditions on who we love, because we are obsessed with being effective. We think it’s a game. So we only love those that we think we can convert, or get to come to church, or get a response from. And we miss the point. The point is not to be effective. It’s to be faithful representatives of God’s love to everyone we meet. God loves them, and so should we!”
2> God’s love is steadfast and unmovable. God put’s himself at risk in loving everyone. He dares to love the unlovable. Think of Jesus with the Woman at the well. He is putting his divine reputation on the line to meet with this woman of ill-repute… did you hear me? Woman! Oh, and she’s a Samaritan Woman! This is a Jewish no-no! But Jesus’ love for her is unmovable and steadfast. But we Christians are sometimes (oftentimes?) more sporadic in when and where we offer acts of love to people. Sometimes I wonder if there is a subconscious method to the sporadic nature of our love. Perhaps we show love to those people that don’t pose a threat to us? Those folks that won’t damage our reputation if we are seen in public with them. But we need to be honest with ourselves – God has called us, through his Son, to embody a more steadfast and unmovable love in the world. And it’s time for us to grow!
3> Suffering. Uh-oh. The one we don’t want to hear. But we cannot escape it. Christian love is suffering and sacrificial love. No way around it. Jesus tells his disciples that he has to go to the cross, suffer, be rejected, and die. Oh, and did I mention he told them that they do to? Yeah. He immediately told them:
“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?”
If we are bearing the fruit of God’s love in the world, a good question for us to ask ourselves is “What’s it costing me?” If the answer is “little” or “nothing” then we need to re-think our kingdom priorities and commitments. There is no way around it. Following Jesus will cost you something. And more specifically, it will cost you exactly one life – your own.
4> The forth characteristic we noticed was that God’s love “knows no boundaries”. I understand that this is part of, or goes along with, the “unconditional” quality of his love – but it’s worth specifying. We humans create all sorts of boundaries and loyalties and identities. The world says, “there are those we love and those we are allowed to hate.” We create walls (metaphorical and physical) between us our enemies. This is fact. And we all do it. So I will leave you to deal with the implications of Jesus’ toughest words. But as you wrestle with these words, realize something important – this is exactly what Jesus did for you on the cross. You were his enemy. (the following is from Luke 6)
“But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.
“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ lend to ‘sinners,’ expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”