Fruit Toward God
The fruit of the Spirit, wrote the apostle Paul, is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance. Concerning the godly man Psalm 1 says, And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper (v. 3). This promise of God extends even to our later years, for we read in another place, They shall still bring forth fruit in old age; they shall be fat and flourishing (Ps. 92:14).
But Christians often make a common mistake. They talk about the “fruits” of the Spirit, instead of the “fruit” of the Spirit. In our text, the word fruit is singular (καρπός). The difference is this: the Holy Spirit does not offer believers a basket in which are many different kinds of fruits (apples, bananas and pears) and from which he may choose whatever suits him. Rather, the Spirit gives us a single fruit which has several parts. You can think of it like an orange with all its many segments. One segment is love, another joy and another peace. All of these segments go together to make one fruit.
The segments are also often divided into three categories: those that define our relationship with God (the first three: love, joy and peace), those that define our relationship with our neighbor (the second three: longsuffering, gentleness and goodness), and those that tell us what we ought to be in ourselves (the last three: faith, meekness and temperance).
This morning we’re going to consider the first category.
The first segment of the Spirit’s fruit is love. Liberals and Arminians tell us that God loves every man, woman and child without distinction. Now and then, we see bumper stickers announcing the owner’s love for his pet dog. Playboy encourages a debased and perverted love of the female body. In view of these many meanings of the word love, it might be a good idea to ask what love is.
Without taking you to all the passages that speak to this, let me just say that love is obedience to God’s law (John 14:15, 21, 23; Rom. 13:8–10; Gal. 5:14). Anyone who says, “I love my neighbor,” and steals his belongings, lies to him or takes his wife, is a hypocrite.
Jesus gave an excellent illustration of this in the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25–37). At the end of this parable Jesus asked his disciples which of the men who had come along was a neighbor to the man who fell among the thieves. It was the one who showed love to him. And how did he show his love? By keeping God’s law, specifically the sixth commandment, and doing what he could to protect and preserve the man’s life.
Since love is obedience to the law of God, which defines virtue, then love is the virtue that includes all other virtues. That’s why Jesus said that love is the greatest commandment.
For the same reason, the apostle Paul wrote that love is the greatest of the spiritual gifts. Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing (I Cor. 13:1–3).
The rest of this chapter lists the characteristics of true love. These characteristics make it clear that love is not what Arminians, dog owners or Playboy magazine think it is. Love is directed toward God and men. It seeks the good of those whom we claim to love. It is not self-serving in the least.
By far the greatest example of love is the Lord Jesus Christ. Why did he come into the world? It was to keep God’s law for you. He kept the precepts of God’s law to merit your righteousness before the Father. He kept the prophecies of God’s law to make a full and complete atonement for your sins. Although it is true that he did this for the joy that was set before him (Heb. 12:2), it was his unfailing love for you that brought him. Jesus himself said, Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13).
This is the love that we, as Christ’s people, must practice in our lives.
The second segment of the fruit of the Spirit is joy. Joy is having a constant delight in God, knowing that we belong to him, which in turn allows us to delight in righteousness among our fellow man. Both of these are mentioned in Scripture. Habakkuk 3:18 says, Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation. And Proverbs 21:15 says, It is a joy to the just to do judgment. In other words, the joy of our salvation inevitably leads to joy among the brethren.
We’ve seen the unbelievers can mimic love. That’s what Playboy magazine is all about. Unbelievers also imitate joy. Sinners delight in sin. Bank robbers, for example, glory in their stolen treasures. However, this kind of joy is short-lived. Sinners know that they will sooner or later have to answer for what they’ve done. Even if the FBI isn’t hot on the trail of the bank robber, he knows that someday he’ll have to stand before the judgment seat of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The joy of the gospel, on the other hand, is permanent. Nothing in the world can destroy it. When Paul and Silas spent the night in jail after having been beaten that day for Christ, they stayed up past midnight singing hymns and praising God (Acts 16:25). The other prisoners, no doubt, thought they were crazy. They couldn’t understand how these two could have suffered so much and still rejoice.
Similar stories came out of communist prisons after World War II. But listen to the Word of God. James 1:2–3 says, My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into divers temptations; knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. And Peter wrote, Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: but rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy (I Pet. 4:12–13). You see, the only effect that suffering has on your joy in Christ is that it causes it to become stronger. That’s why you should welcome trials — not that you delight in the trial itself, but rather that you anticipate with eagerness the fruit that it will bring.
Our God has provided us with salvation so rich and wonderful that we can hardly imagine how great it really is. Not only does he forgive our sins and give us eternal life, not only does he take away the law’s curse and give us his grace, not only did he send his one and only begotten Son to bear the wrath of God for us, but he has such intimate fellowship with him that it is almost as if we lose our lives in his. Earlier in Galatians Paul wrote, I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me (Gal. 2:20). He said the same about all Christians in Colossians 3:3 — For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. Such things ought to bring constant delight to believers.
They brought joy to Nehemiah. When he finished rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, the people celebrated it with a special worship service. Then, for the first time in more than one hundred years the city of the Great King was safe again. All the people gathered in the open square. Ezra the priest read from the law of Moses. But what’s interesting here is how the people responded. They wept. They mourned because they had not kept the Lord’s commandments. Their tears were tears of repentance. In this sense, the preaching of the gospel should always make people sad. But the gospel only begins with sorrow. After the people wept Ezra said, Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared: for this day is holy unto our Lord: neither be ye sorry; for the joy of the LORD is your strength (Neh. 8:10). Once we acknowledge our depravity, we must learn to rejoice heartily before the Lord.
Jesus had the joy of knowing that he was fulfilling the Father’s will. Hebrews 12:1–3 says, Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds. Our example is Jesus Christ. As he fought against sin — our sin, he remembered the delight that he had in serving his Father and he looked forward to returning to his place in glory. The writer exhorts you to keep looking to Jesus, who was able to endure such great affliction by keeping his heart fastened to the joy of God’s good pleasure.
The third segment of our fruit toward God is peace. This is something everyone wants, but few know what it really is. Palestinians want peace; for them peace means that they conquer Israel. The hippies of the 70s talked a lot about peace, too. They wanted the police to leave them alone so they could take drugs and write unintelligible poetry. Peace officers try to maintain peace in society by arresting those who take LSD and crack cocaine. Sometimes one person’s peace conflicts with another’s. And peace isn’t always what we might think it is.
For example, according to II Kings 22:20 the Lord promised Josiah that he would go to his grave in peace (cf. II Chron. 34:28). Most of us would probably take this to mean he would die of natural causes, probably in old age, and that he would be surrounded by his loved ones. But the truth of the matter is that Josiah died in battle. II Kings 23:29 reports that he died at the hands of Pharaoh Necho of Egypt (cf. II Chron. 35:20–26). This doesn’t sound like he went to his grave in peace at all.
But he actually did die in peace. Why? Because he had peace with God. General Stonewall Jackson of the Confederate army, who was a firm believer in the sovereignty of God, once said that he was as safe on the battlefield as he was lying in bed at home. He could say this because he didn’t define peace according to the circumstances of life, but rather by God’s favor resting upon him. This kind of peace transcends the circumstances of life.
Peace, then, is primarily a restored walk with our God and Savior. It begins with what God has done for us. When we are reconciled to him and know that we are reconciled, we are confident before him and have courage to serve him. In a sense, peace stands for everything that we have in Jesus Christ. Isaiah also reassures us: Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee. Trust ye in the LORD for ever: for in the LORD JEHOVAH is everlasting strength (Isa. 26:3–4).
The God of heaven is our peace. Through Jesus Christ his Son he has given us peace with himself (Rom. 5:1). Yes, his kingdom is a kingdom in which peace is the principle characteristic (Ps. 72:3, 7). As Psalm 119:165 says, Great peace have they which love thy law: and nothing shall offend them.
Peace has another amazing characteristic. It’s like the magnets that we learned about in elementary school. As the magnet approached the iron filings, the iron filings were attracted to it, just as God draws us to himself. But as the iron filings made their way to the magnet, they also drew closer to each other. And so it is with those who know the peace of God. We not only have peace with God, but we also have peace with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Things that formerly separated us — race, gender, social status, etc. — separate us no longer. Proverbs 16:7 says, When a man’s ways please the LORD, he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him. We are one in Christ.
Therefore, just as our love for God moves us to love our neighbor, and our delight in God causes us to rejoice in the goodness that God shows to his people, so the peace of God brings reconciliation to the body of Christ. And it has to since Jesus died for each of his elect regardless of their skin color, ethnic background or language.
The Christian faith also encourages us to cultivate peaceful relationships with others, especially within the church. Paul wrote, If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men (Rom. 12:18).
The latter half of the second chapter of Ephesians is all about peace — peace with God and peace with others. Beginning at verse 14 we read, For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; and that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby: And came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh. For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father. Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; and are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; in whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: in whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit (Eph. 2:14–22).
You can see from this that the fruit of the Spirit really is a single fruit. We cannot love God unless we have peace with him. When the threat of God’s wrath oppressed Martin Luther, he said that he hated God. And we cannot rejoice in God unless we love him and have peace with him.
The fruit of the Spirit begins with God. He loves us, rejoices in us and seeks peace with us. His love and joy and peace toward us cause us to love him, rejoice in him and find safety in his peace.
Then we must also learn to love, rejoice and have peace with others.
May the Spirit of God make it so! Amen.