You Were Made To Love!

I’ve decided to post my weekly sermons to this blog. I hope that they will be an encouragment to you.

Sermon preached on Sunday, June 8, 2008 by Rev. Brian D. Schulenburg,
at Woodbury Community Church, Woodbury, MN

GALATIANS 5:22-23

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”

GOT FRUIT? – WEEK ONE

YOU WERE MADE TO LOVE!

Introduction – Last week you welcomed our family to Woodbury Community Church in such a special way. We felt so loved as you gave us a reception after church with all sorts of great food. You even served at least three different types of fruit juice. So, this morning, I thought I’d return the favor. I have with me a bunch of different types of fruit juice. Anybody thirsty? (I gave out bottles of apple, orange, grape and cranberry juice. After each bottle I asked what type of tree, bush or vine that the fruit juice came from. Then I gave out a bottle of fruit punch and asked what type of tree that came from. I then drew the parallel to the Fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5:22-23. I told the congregation that God expects us to be like a fruit tree that bears nine different types of fruit, not just one. We don’t get to pick and choose. I can’t say that I want patience without love, etc. I originally saw this idea used by Leith Anderson, pastor of Wooddale Church, Eden Prairie, MN in a staff chapel devotional.)

The fruit of the Spirit, which I speak about, is a very familiar concept to followers of Jesus Christ. Many of you memorized the verses that talk about the fruit of the Spirit when you were a child. They are found in the New Testament book of Galatians. Turn in your Bibles with me to Galatians chapter 5, as we read verses 22 and 23.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”

Are you ready to dive in?

My prayer for the past month has been that God would use this summer series to challenge us, equip us and conform us more into the image of Jesus Christ. Join me in prayer.

Dear God,

Today we begin a new series. It would be easy for us to say, “It’s summer time. I’m ready for a break,” and to believe that we deserve a pass on attempting to grow closer to You. But, when we do that, we give Satan a foothold. It would be easy to say, “I know all about the fruit of the Spirit.” and to think that there is nothing new for us to learn on the subject. Help us to come expecting Your Sprit to teach us. Soften our hearts to those areas that You need to tweak in our lives. Encourage us when we encounter a virtue that we are displaying. May Your Spirit change us, and may our lives reflect Your desires.

In Jesus’ name,

Amen.

It was the Apostle Paul, who penned the words which make up our summer’s text. He wrote the words to the church at Galatia. He could have just as easily written them to any other church in the ancient near east world. And, he could have written the words to us. They are as applicable today as they have ever been.

Galatia was located in the central region of modern day Turkey. If you were to book a trip to Turkey today, you’d most likely board a plane from Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport and then fly to Chicago. From there you would board a plane headed for Paris, France. Then you would catch a flight to Istanbul, Turkey. From Istanbul you would drive across the country until came to the highlands of central Anatolia. You see, Galatia was not so much a city, as it was a region. The Galatian believers that Paul wrote to were those people who lived in the Galatia region. The capitol of modern day Turkey, Ankara, is located in this region. It was also the capitol of Galatia.

One of the things that I love about travel to other parts of the world is when you get to see the regions that are mentioned in the Bible. Last summer, I took an unexpected trip to Istanbul. My mother and father were on their first ever mission trip. Mom became ill in Istanbul, and over the course of a couple of days it became apparent that Mom would die at the American Hospital in Istanbul, Turkey. My father asked if I could fly out to be with him. I caught a plane in a matter of hours and for three weeks lived in Turkey. God was good. My mother, who was in a coma the first few days that I was in Turkey, was here last Sunday. As she recovered, I took a little time to explore the sites of Istanbul. While not in the location that Galatia was located, Istanbul still has incredible history located within the city. Mosques, some that used to be Christian churches, litter the landscape. Istanbul is called the City of Mosques because of the enormous amount of mosques located in the city. Within the city lies Haggia Sofia, the site of three of the seven church counsels that took place in the middle ages.

Why the history lesson? Because it’s important to understand the culture and the people to whom this book was written. The Galatians first received the Gospel from the Apostle Paul. It was on his first missionary journey. In fact, Paul visited the region of Galatia on all three of his missionary journeys. On his first journey, in Acts 14, we read that the crowds had to be restrained from sacrificing gifts to Paul and Barnabas as if they were gods, because of Paul’s, through the power of the Holy Spirit, healing of a lame man. The crowds assumed that Paul and Barnabas must be gods if they had the power to heal the lame. The story is seen in Acts 14:8-23. Verses 18-19 record the outcome of the story. Paul tried to persuade the crowd that it was not through his power but by God’s that the man was healed. Read with me Acts 14:18-19.

“Even with these words, they had difficulty keeping the crowd from sacrificing to them. Then some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium and won the crowd over. They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead.”

In Acts 16:6 we read that Paul, on his second missionary journey, became sick when preaching in Galatia, and that the sickness required him to spend more time in the city. Therefore, in God’s sovereignty, Paul spent longer in Galatia than he had planned. Sometimes God’s plans are different than ours. He can even work in our sickness to accomplish His purposes. The Galatian church was important to God.

And, so these words, which Paul writes are important too. Want to know how a Christ-follower lives? He lives as one who is controlled by the Holy Spirit. And the Spirit produces fruit. Not just one type of fruit, but you are like a fruit tree that produces nine distinct virtues. Galatians 5:22-23 says, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”

Before we dissect this passage, I want you to hear it in its broader context.

Galatians 5:13-26 – “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law. The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.”

Spiritual living is not natural. The result of living in the flesh is a life that gratifies the flesh. The sin nature and the life of the Spirit are in conflict with one another, according to Paul. There is freedom that comes from living the life that God has called us to live. Paul wants us to know that freedom, and it begins with love.

Did you catch what Paul said about love in 14? He said, “The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

So, the first fruit that Paul lists in this group of nine is love.

Love is a word that we hear thrown around all over the place today. In his video, “Flame,” pastor and teacher Rob Bell says, “What’s the deal with this word, ‘love?’ I mean I love my wife and I love tacos?” Bell goes on to talk about three different Hebrew words that were used for love (ahava, raya, and dod). Many of you have heard the three most common Greek words used for love (phileo, eros and agape). In English, we have one word that is used and confused in many different ways. Paul used the Greek word, agape, as he described the type of love that a follower of Jesus Christ was to display. Agape was the type of love that was always used to describe God’s love for us. It is a holy love. It is a love that always asks, “What can I do for the other, not what can they do for me.” When I was a youth pastor, and I taught series on relationships, I would talk about this as being a “for you” love and the Greek word eros being a “for me” love. Most love relationships are built upon a “What can this person do for me,” not “What can I do for this person” type of love. And therein lays the problem.

Two years ago, a young man and young woman in their early twenties stood before me in a church. The room was filled. Their parents, grandparents, friends, and relatives had gathered for their wedding day. They were committed to entering their relationship as husband and wife in a holy covenant that was to be held high and esteemed.

Listen to these words from their ceremony.

Caty and John, you are about to assume mutual relationships and responsibilities, and to pledge to each other your undying devotion and faithfulness. From this day forward you will no longer be two, but one flesh. Your paths will be parallel. Your responsibilities will increase but your joy will be multiplied if you are earnest in your relations with one another.

By coming into the presence of God you recognize that this commitment you make this day is not only a legal contract, the papers for which will be kept in secured files, but is also a bond of union made in heaven.

With this in mind, John will you receive Caty as your wife and bind yourself to her in the covenant of marriage? Will you promise to love and honor her in true devotion; to rejoice with her in times of sorrow; and be faithful to her as long as you both shall live?

If so, you will answer, “I will.”

Caty, will you receive John as your husband and bind yourself to him in the covenant of marriage? Will you promise to love and honor him in true devotion; to rejoice with him in times of sorrow; and be faithful to him as long as you both shall live?

If so, you will answer, “I will.”

Then we came to their wedding vows. I said, “John and Caty, if you desire to share your vows with one another, your guests, and your God, please join hands and repeat after me.

I guided John through his vows. . .

I John . . . take thee, Caty . . . to be my wedded wife . . . to have and to hold . . . from this day forward . . . for better for worse . . . for richer for poorer . . . in sickness and in health . . . to love and to cherish . . . till death to us part . . . according to God’s holy ordinance . . . and thereto I give thee my love.

Then Caty made very similar vows. And after they said those words, they gave each other rings. And then at the end of their wedding ceremony I pronounced Caty and John to be husband and wife. And finally I said, “Those whom God has joined together, let no man separate.”

It was a beautiful ceremony.

I would later find out that within a month, the love that brought them together began to deteriorate. Today, the young couple, married for about two years, is in the process of getting a divorce. What happened to the love?

Could it be that we just don’t understand what God had in mind? Could it be that we’ve settled? Could it be that true love is really quite difficult to show?

Bill Hybels jokes about the way that love is defined in society today. The definitions of love, he says seem so superficial. He writes that the definitions of love “seem to change with the seasons.
• Love is a gentle smile
• Love is finding someone’s space that is similar to your own.
• Love is standing up in a church service and shaking hands with people.
• Love is feeling warm and sentimental towards other believers.
• Love is the feeling you get when you are near someone attractive.
This is all lightweight, hollow stuff. The Bible cuts through all of the haze and says that if you want one clear definition of what love is, treat every person as through they were more important than you.”
I like to define love this way. Love is the relentless pursuit of the lifting up of others.

In counseling sessions with the young couple, it has become clear that the love that they have displayed in their marriage is the Greek word eros, which never once appears in Scripture. It’s Satan’s counterfeit to God’s best. Eros is where we get our English word erotic. This couple is consumed with what will make each of them feel better. Their love is selfish. And, that is so common. How many times have we heard, “You’ve got be happy. Do what makes you happy.” If what makes us happy hurts our spouse, or those that God has put into our life, then we need to forego our happiness for the lifting up of the other. Because, love is the relentless pursuit of the lifting up of others.

In 1 John 4:7-16 we read about Christian love. This time, it’s the Apostle John writing. The beloved disciple of Christ, part of Christ’s inner circle wrote to the church, these words:

“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.”

Jesus wants us to love like He loves, and enables us to do so because of the Sprit’s control in our lives. So, how does the Spirit control us? How do we become one who can produce this type of fruit? We daily yield ourselves to the Spirit’s control in our lives. It’s daily asking the Holy Spirit to control us. On my best days, I begin the day with a prayer that goes something like this:

“Lord God, I can live two ways today. I can live with me controlling my life, or you controlling my life. I choose you. God, take control of my actions, my thoughts, my words, and help me to see others with your eyes. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

When I consciously yield the control of my life to God, I demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit.
So, what does love look like? Remember, we said that love is the relentless pursuit of the lifting up of others.

Love is also a decision. The first time I heard that concept was when I was in college and dating my college sweetheart, Cyndi. I thought I understood love. And, Cyndi and I had it! I loved loved loved loved loved her! And, nobody could tell me any different. But, I had little understanding of love. As we’ve grown in our faith, and in our years of marriage, we’ve discovered that there are days when we don’t feel very in love. I thought that I fell in love with Cyndi, but I fell into attraction with her. Love is a daily decision to honor Cyndi and more important than me. It’s relentlessly pursuing the lifting up of her, and my kids, and those that God has placed into my life.

In Mark 10, James and John made an unusual request of Jesus. It revealed the depths of their heart. Listen as I read Mark 10:35-45,

Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”
“What do you want me to do for you?” he asked.
They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”
“You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”
“We can,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.”
When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

It’s God in the flesh, Jesus Christ, who shows love in this passage. Jesus did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. Mark 10:45 has been called the key verse in the book of Mark. It is the purpose statement of Jesus’ life on earth. He came to serve. He lifted up others. Talk about the ultimate example of love being the relentless pursuit of the lifting up of others. Jesus’ death on the cross lifted us up from wrath to grace. May we lift others up!

Love is perhaps described in 1 Corinthians 13, more beautifully than anywhere else in the world. Some people think Shakespeare was the greatest at describing love. I don’t think that you can beat these words of 1 Corinthians 13:1-8a.

Listen to Paul’s words to the church at Corinth:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails.

Those are beautiful words. Those words can become discouraging when we think about how we love. Do you have the capacity to love with a love like that which Paul describes here? The answer is simple. No. You can’t love like this, without God’s Spirit working in and through you. Love never fails. We do. We fail to love when we try to love on our terms and not God’s. Make the decision to allow God’s Spirit to control you so that you can show His love to the world around you.

Bill Hybels tells the story of being wakened by his son Todd, at 1 A.M. He says,

“Todd, then five years old, [said], ‘Mom. Dad. I just had a nightmare.’ As soon as I awakened, my instinct was to lay very still and pretend I was asleep so Lynne would get up and deal with him. After he kept trying to get our attention, I poke her and said, ‘Lynne, Todd had a nightmare.’ I was hoping she would be so startled that her motherly instincts would take over. It worked like a charm. She jumped up and took care of him. But as I lay there, trying to doze off to sleep, I found myself thinking, ‘Oh no! This was a great opportunity to treat my wife as more important than myself, and all I could think of was me.’”

Hybels’ story could have just as easily been mine. I can’t even count the times that I have been selfish in my love for Cyndi and our kids. And, those are the people that I love the most. My selfishness has also been shown to others. I’ve entered friendships for what I thought I would get out of it, instead of trying to be a blessing to others. I’ve ignored those who most need to receive love, because it would be inconvenient for me. I’ve bristled at calls that require my time and love because it’s been inconvenient for me.

Life in the Spirit means that we relentlessly look for opportunities to lift others up.

So, what are some ways that you could do that this week?

How could you show others that they are more important than yourself?

Maybe it means –

• Offering to pay for the meal of the person behind you in line at the drive thru window.
• Offering to cut the elderly neighbor’s lawn.
• Offering to help the new family down the street move in. And then, inviting them over for dinner at your home.
• Choosing to love the democrat when you are a republican or the republican when you are a democrat.
• Providing one of the items that the Wessman’s, our missionaries coming back from Israel, need for the next year that they will be living in Minnesota.
• Purchasing an item for the Tiner care package.
• Offering a weekend at your cabin for a family that can’t afford a vacation.
• Surprising your spouse by doing the chores that they normally do.
• Putting a love note in your spouse’s purse or computer case.
• Telling your Mom or Dad something that you specifically appreciate about them.
• Giving up one of your favorite events so that you can take your child out to dinner.
• Calling a relative that you haven’t spoken to in a long time.
• Inviting a neighborhood child, grandchild, niece or nephew to Vacation Bible School this week at Woodbury Community Church.

Did you know that this week could be the week that changes the life of a child forever? Vacation Bible School is one of the most important outreach events that we offer every year. It’s a practical way to show love. Maybe you have a single parent in your neighborhood who is stressed to the max now that school is out. Offer to drive their kids to VBS. Give them a break from childcare cost for the week. Maybe God will use this week to draw that parent to Christ too.

Why do you suppose that Paul chose to call these virtues the fruit of the Spirit? I was at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts last weekend with my parents and sister. They had never visited the museum before. There is a painting there that my wife and I fell in love with on our first visit to the museum. It’s a painting of fruit. Maybe you’ve seen it. My wife loves it because she says, “The fruit looks so real. The grapes are translucent. You want to reach your hand into the painting and eat the fruit for yourself.”

And, that’s why Paul, writing through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit calls it the fruit of the spirit. Fruit is meant to be devoured. It is meant to be eaten. Our fruit is to be tasted by the world so that they can see just how good our God is.

As our ushers come forward, we are going to show a music video. It’s the song, Does Anybody Hear Her? by the group Casting Crowns. Maybe you’ve heard this song on KTIS or Christian radio. As you watch the video may it be a reminder of those in our paths who need to devour the fruit of love in our lives.

Let’s pray.

Dear God,

As we give to you, out of hearts of love, may Your glory be shown throughout our region. May You give us the eyes of Jesus so that we can see and love those in our paths whom You have brought our way.

In Jesus’ name,

Amen.