Galatians 5:13-26 Living by the Spirit
Given at TRINITY Church, Southover, 6.30 service 26/2/17
Right, what do we learn from this passage?
Is it just: no dodgy sex, no getting wasted, no seeking out witches for spells, and definitley no orgys? Sorry if that’s your evening’s plans ruined but it’s there in back and white…
But… this series we are doing this term at the 6.30, is all about what it means to live as a wholehearted disciple of Jesus in the modern world. So there is of course more to it than that.
You know so often we read the bible, or we talk about what we believe, or what the church doctrine says, people get bogged down in the ‘sensational’ stuff – sex, drink, debauchery, and you know Paul does tend to have a habit of talking about this kind of stuff, he’s always dishing out his thoughts, but if we can see beyond that stuff, there is actually a lot more here than just the ‘don’t do this’ instructions.
We are looking today at ‘living by the spirit’ and basically what Paul says is we need the Holy Spirit in our lives. To follow Jesus, to be a disciple of his, we are going to need some help, right? It’s not always easy being a follower of Jesus.
We want to follow him, we try to be like him, we try to act in a way that is honouring to him, but we get distracted – as he says: our flesh desires things that we don’t want it to desire. Anyone do ‘dry January’ or ‘Sugar free February’ or ever given up Chocolate for Lent? If so you might well know about your flesh desiring things you don’t want it to desire…
And actually I don’t think he is just talking about bodily desire here anyway. He is talking about things that draw us away from God, or from a Godly life, perhaps things that tempt us away. So for example he also mentions hatred, discord, jealousy and anger.
We need the Holy Spirit to help us, we cannot do it alone.
I love this, in The MSG version (verses 16-18)
My counsel is this: Live freely, animated and motivated by God’s Spirit. Then you won’t feed the compulsions of selfishness. For there is a root of sinful self-interest in us that is at odds with a free spirit, just as the free spirit is incompatible with selfishness. These two ways of life are antithetical, so that you cannot live at times one way and at times another way according to how you feel on any given day. Why don’t you choose to be led by the Spirit and so escape the erratic compulsions of a law-dominated existence?
I think often we forget about that part of the Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit – or perhaps we are fearful or wary of it. But the HS is a guide, a comforter, one who comes alongside us in our every situation. We might remember the Acts passage where the Holy Spirit falls on the disciples for the first time and they speak in different tongues. Sometimes this is our only view of the HS that he makes people do crazy things. But he’s so much more than that. For example:
John 14:26 says he is a teacher, someone to point us to Jesus
Romans 15:13 that he brings Hope
The Holy Spirit is meant to be a part of our lives. Jesus sent him for us, he is a part of helping us to live as wholehearted disciples of Jesus.
So how are we guided by the HS? How do we live life ‘by the Spirit’.
Now, I’m not really a 3 points beginning with ‘p’ kind of preacher,
so we’re calling them keys ok? and I reckon that we can pull out some ‘keys’ if you like, some guideines from Paul’s writing, that might be a practical help for us all to live life by the spirit.
We have to listen to God. To listen to what the spirit is saying to us, to be led by him. And we have to know HOW to hear him.
John 14:15-16 says of the Holy Spirit:
‘you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.’
So, if we are followers of Jesus, then the HS lives within us – he is there, it’s just we don’t often listen!
In v. 13 Paul notes that we were ‘called to be free’. We have freedom from following Christ – freedom to not be tied down by sin, by the bad stuff we experience in our lives, because, Jesus takes away our shame and our sin, whenever we seek him and say sorry or we invite him into our lives.
BUT we also have freedom of choice, we get to choose how we live our lives and sometimes we just don’t choose very well! And I think a lot of that has to do with what we are influenced by – or by what we listen to in our lives.
So let’s do a little experiment – I want you, in a moment, to make some noise now. I want you to think of one thing that you follow, maybe a band you like, a football team, a designer, apple products, someone on Twitter, anything, anyone. Just someone that you would say you follow.
Ok everyone got one? So After the count of 3, I want you to call that thing out,
for example: Seagulls, or Justin Bieber,
ok everyone ready? After 3 shout it out…
Calm them down…
Right, now how many of those things that we shouted out, do you think you could actually hear? Maybe a couple of them? Maybe the person next to you shouted so loud you couldn’t hear, or maybe you were drowned out – did anyone even hear you?!
Because in life there is not just one voice calling us, there are so many things calling our name, enticing us to go with them. For example:
Advertising voices – you need the new iphone7, it’s so good, it’s only got one thing different to the iphone 6 but you really need it, you will be so on trend if you have it, people will be jealous of you….
Or it might be the influence of magazines and celebrities, or your boss at work, teachers at school or college, or your friends,
Or perhaps a more obvious one maybe – social media – who do we follow on Twitter? Facebook? Snapchat? Instagram? Whose voice do we listen to there?
And we have to find out way through all of that, all of those voices, trying to follow a path that is right for each of us, and learn to hear the HS speaking to us, guiding us. And that will happen differently for each of us. It might be through reading God’s word, or through prayer, hearing a voice in your own head, just an inkling or a feeling, through supernatural circumstances, it’s different for all of us. Which leads us to
So to lead onto key no. 2…
So we listen carefully and within that – we need to try and recognize the voice of the HS in our lives and amongst the distractions or – the acts of the flesh as Paul calls them – the things that pull us away from God.
So, what distracts you from listening to the Lord? From being led by his HS?
Look, it might be sex or money or drunkenness, as Paul is so fond of highlighting but it might equally as likely be, and I love how the message version puts this,
a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; trinket gods; paranoid loneliness; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival….
The things we allow in our lives, are the things that influence us and the more we allow them in, the more the influence us.
So here’s an interesting thing.
do you know what an algorithm is? I expect some of you do, basically it’s like a code or equation and there are thousands of them running the internet. So for example – Facebook has an algorithm that means it chooses what you see on your timeline, you won’t automatically see all the latest posts from your friends, you will only see the ones that the code thinks you want to see.
Or online advertising is another one – have you ever noticed how you buy something online or watch TV show online, then for weeks afterwards every website you go to has adverts for that shop or that show? It’s just another algorithm that has picked up you like that show or that shop so it keeps showing it to you.
Angela Merkel (the German chancellor ) said in an interview that “These algorithms – can lead to a distortion of our perception. They narrow our breadth of information.”
They actually distort the truth, because you only see what the algorithms think you want to see. So the more you look at something, the more they think you want to see it, and so gradually what you see gets narrowed down until actually, where we think we are choosing our path, we are actually only experiencing a very narrow sphere of life.
That’s online, but we do it in every part of our lives – for example we tend to hang out with people who like the same things as us, or have the same opinions as us.
So we really need to recognise what are the things that we allow to pull us away from a life lived for God? Who, or what we choose to follow shapes who we are, shapes our personal identity.
And you know we are living in a time where it is becoming more and more important for us to distinguish between the voices who are shouting out to us. The loudest or most retweeted or most viewed, is not necessarily the right one. Often the quietest ones, are the most important; or the most vulnerable are the ones telling the most truth.
So the one thing we can and should allow ourselves to be influenced by more than any other voice, the one we could allow to guide ourselves over any other, is the HS. No ifs or buts, it has to be. In any situation.
So we need to listen and recognise his voice above all the distractions. And there’s no easy way to do that actually, it’s about learning and practice, and seeking him in our every day lives . The HS speaks to us all in different ways but one thing you can do, is to seek the fruit of the spirit in your life…
Which is no.3
3) Seek the fruit of the Holy Spirit in your life.
We don’t need to focus on the bad stuff. We listen, we recognise it, but then we don’t allow it to take us over. We need to actively seek out the fruit of God’s spirit in our own lives and make that the focus.
And what is that fruit? Well Paul tells us in verse 22, (NIV)
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
And here’s the thing, sometimes we can get a bit worried about the Holy Spirit, I expect we’ve all heard or experienced for ourselves people ‘being filled with the Holy Spirit’ and then acting crazy or shrieking or shaking or whatever. And if you have nothing to hold that against, or nothing to compare it to, or no theology of it, that can be pretty freaky right?
I know people who think the only way to be filled with the Holy Spirit is in that manner, and I don’t think that’s true. Yes it does happen like that sometimes, in the bible we can read in Acts that when the disciples were filled with the HS at Pentecost, people thought they were drunk! God can and does work powerfully in things we might think are a bit bonkers, I have experienced that for myself, but that’s not the only way, he is so much more than that. So if you are someone who finds the whole idea of the HS a bit freaky or scary, let’s look at what Paul says and this is from the MSG version again:
22-23 But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.
So living with the HS in your lives can and perhaps should lead to these things.
Are these things you could say about yourself? Perhaps not all the time, but when can you see these in your life?
When are you filed with joy?
Or when are you patient? Or when do you have a ‘sense of compassion in the heart’ or serenity?
Because these are all indicators of the HS at work. So if you seek out where those are happening in your life that can help to point you to where the HS is at work and learn to be led more by him.
If we’re having a bad time, maybe getting dragged into temptation, all those things Paul talked about – instead focus on where the fruit of the spirit is in your life, even if it might seem in small doses.
I’m a parent and you know sometimes that is bloomin’ hard, it’s emotional, exhausting, whether they are in nappies and awake 10 times a night, or 16 and slamming doors in your face (it’s also amazing too!!). But when I was having a particularly ‘I’m a crap mother’ morning a while back, and I was just really seeking God in it all, and I felt like he said to me – through the HS, – just take the moments of joy when they are there and celebrate them. Joy – a fruit of the Spirit.
It was a good word, because I was focusing on all the times when I felt I’d done a bad job – like the times I’d shouted at the kids (I would never shout at my children, right…), or the times when I’d missed a school event for work, or as happened the other week, because I’d made spag bol for tea which was of course the thing my children hate most in the world and ‘you know I hate it, I’ve told you 1000 times…’
Anyway, I was focusing on all those times and not the times we’d sat crying with laughter over a particularly spectacular fart (not mine) or a cat video, or the times we’d just sat and chatted about important life stuff unexpectedly, or the time we all went bowling or whatever…
So instead I’ve begun to look for those moments on joy and see where the HS is at work in all our lives.
So look for the moments where the fruit of the spirit is present in your life.
4) Serve one another in love
One of those fruit is ‘love’. And I’ve talked a lot about love recently, it’s something that I just feel we don’t fully grasp how important it is and how love should be a foundation in our lives.
Here in v’s 13- 14 Paul reminds us that:
rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself”.
So we need to act in love and serve one another in love. When we do that we are allowing ourselves to be led by the HS and it helps us to understand others, in serving one another, it helps us to proactively be like Jesus, disciples of his.
One of my favourite books of all time is ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ by Harper Lee, It is a classic, written in 1960 it addresses issues of racism and prejudice and having to read it at school, I think it was the first time that I really recognised that injustice in the world often comes from peoples own preconceived ideas, that develop into prejudice or hate.
In it one of the main characters, a lawyer, Atticus Finch tries to help his young daughter, Scout, to understand that people are not always what they seem- he says:
“If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”
You know, when you actively seek to love someone, to come alongside them, to serve them, that is in part what you are doing. And it changes us as we do that. But again, I think we need the help of the HS to do that.
Some of you might have heard of a woman called Jill Saward who died recently. She was a Christian and a campaigner on issues relating to sexual violence. Having been the victim of a violent robbery and rape in her youth,
She was the first rape victim in Britain to waive her right to anonymity which she did in order to campaign and support others.
12 years after the rape, she met one of the attackers and reportedly forgave him for his role in the crime. Jill Saward was quoted as saying
“Of course, sometimes I thought it might be quite nice to be full of hatred and revenge. But I think it creates a barrier and you’re the one who gets damaged in the end. So, although it makes you vulnerable, forgiving is actually a release. I don’t think I’d be here today without my Christian faith. That’s what got me through”
Her husband said of her:
“She was always trying to bring joy and love to people’s lives, which is what she does at home too, and with all her friends.”
She truly served people in love…
Now I didn’t know her and nor do I want to twist what she said. But I believe that had to be the work of the Holy Spirit in her life. She could have given in to hatred, or anger and who would have blamed her? But she chose to walk God’s path, I believe she chose to be led by her faith and the fruit of that being that she was able to forgive, to act in love, in peace, goodness, faithfulness. She was able to serve others in love.
Now we might not all be called to serve in the way Jill did, or as in the picture before, mother Teresa, but if we allow the HS to lead us to situations where we can love others, I believe we hill reveal himself more and more to us and those around us. After all God is a God of love and so it is in his nature to want to share that love…
So 4 keys…
1) Listen to the Holy Spirit
2) Learn to recognize his voice – and recognize the distractions that draw us from God
3) Seek the fruit of the HS in your life
4) Serve one another in love
Lead into prayer….