These notes accompany a series of addresses on the Fruit of the Spirit the Christlike qualities listed in Galatians 5: 22 & 23 being given on Wednesdays this Lent (2003) at All Saints Church at the Army Training Regiment (Pirbright).
Feel free to use the studies as you wish: there is no need to tackle all the questions in each, nor to do all the studies. Just use them as much or as little as you please, to help learn from Gods word in the scriptures.
Read Galatians 5, verses 1, 13, 16-26.
The members of the church in Galatia were being troubled by Judaizing teachers. These people told them that to be proper Christians they had to submit to all the Jewish laws (circumcision, special diets etc). But, in contrast, Paul taught them that in Christ they were free from such things (vv 1,13). What sort of social or religious conventions does Jesus set us free from ?
Liberty is different from licence (v 13), and Paul paints a picture of the Christian faced by two alternatives: to live by the Spirit, or by the flesh, ie by our unredeemed and spiritually rebellious human nature (vv 16,17). This is spelt out in more detail in Romans 8: 2-9. How true to your experience is this conflict between unsanctified human desires on the one hand, and Gods will on the other?
The works of the flesh are now listed (vv 19-21), in four groups sexual, occult, social, narcotic. Are some sins worse than others? Does the church teach clearly enough about, or against, such things? How might it do better?
Now, the fruit of the Spirit (vv 22,23)
Fruit is in the singular (perhaps harvest would be a better translation). What does this suggest?
Fruit is something which grows naturally. How much do these qualities grow naturally in us, and how much do we need to work at it?
Spirit or spirit? Theres no difference in Greek. How exclusive to Christians are these qualities? Why?
Living by the Spirit speaks of a spiritual state, walking by the Spirit a daily experience (v 25). How can this be true for us? What part do our feelings play?
Take turns to describe briefly a particular occasion or experience of love which you find memorable.
The Bible has many different words for love, covering a wide range of experience. In particular, four kinds of love are found in the New Testament: friendship-love, family-love, romantic/sexual love, and finally a self-giving love the love shown so radically by Jesus that a new word had to be coined for it, agapé. Which of these sorts were the different instances shared at the start of this session?
The fullest treatment of Christian love, agapé, is found in the first letter of John. The rest of this study is based on that letter.
Love your neighbour as yourself (1 John 4: 21). How reasonable is it for love to be a command? How much is it actually under our control?
Christian loving is based on what God himself is like (4: 10,11,19). How does this relate to our own loving? What do we learn from this about Christian love (4:9; 3:16)?
This God-like love will be expressed first in our care for the needy (3: 17,18). Who are the needy whom we should love? How are we to do so? What difficulties do we find? What implications are there for the life of our church? Secondly, this love will be shown in our love for our fellow-Christians. (This is what the word brethren in 1 John usually means. How much fellowship and sharing is it realistic to expect in our churches? What place is there for a more private religion? What changes would you like to see to help develop the fellowship in your church?
Finally, a contrast. On the one hand, a wrong love for the world (2: 15-17) world here in the sense of life, and society, without God. What are some of the marks of this in you, or in our church? On the other hand, love for God (5: 2,3). What does loving God actually mean? Discuss ch.5 v.3. Where do feelings come into this? How do we develop our love for God?
Most languages have three words like these:
pleasure from things and through the senses
happiness from people and through fellowship
joy more settled, less dependent on externals
How much of each is evident in society today?
Now read John 16: 20-24, some words of Jesus shortly before his death. The Christians joy is rooted in Jesus himself, particularly in our experience of his words in verse 22, "I will see you again". There are three levels of meaning here, corresponding to three events:
the Resurrection (John 20: 20). In what way does the Resurrection of Jesus cause us to "be glad"?
the Coming of the Spirit (Acts 13: 52). In receiving the Spirit, the first Christians experienced the presence, and joy, of God in their own lives. How does this match your experience and your expectation? How can this become more real for us?
the Return of Christ in power (Rev. 19: 6,7). We rejoice in the eager expectation, the hope, of the time when history will end, and God will usher in his kingdom of love and peace. Or do we? Why do you think there is so little emphasis in the church today on this major New Testament doctrine? How significant is it in your thinking, and how significant ought it to be?
Weve seen above that Christian joy spans past, present and future. How good are we at expressing it? How might our church improve at this?
Read Ephesians 2:11-18, (a difficult passage dont worry about understanding every part of it at this stage). "Christ is our peace ... and he has broken down the dividing wall of hostility" (v 14). This hostility exists:
between people and God. What is the cause of this alienation? (2: 1-3) How does this match your experience of society, or of yourself in the past? How aware are people generally of this problem?
between people and other people (v 11). The great divide referred to here is that between Jews and Gentiles. What divisions are you particularly aware of in our own age and culture? To what extent is our own neighbourhood subject to divisions of age, of class, of race etc?
In Christ, God has broken down every barrier, and overcome the two-fold hostility outlined above (vv 13-16). What does it mean in practice to be "reconciled to God" (vv 16,18)? How far are human divisions overcome in Christ and in our churches? How could we better experience, and express, our unity as Christians?
Our calling is not to find peace by a retreat from our troubled world, but rather to share Christs ministry of bringing peace into that troubled world (v 17). Look at 2 Corinthians 5: 17-20. How in practice can our church bring Gods message of reconciliation to our community? What can you yourself do?
Read James 5: 7-11. Two words are often translated as patience in the New Testament. One occurs in v 11, and speaks of endurance, of standing firm in trouble; the other is found in vv 7 & 8, and refers to waiting patiently until an appointed time, like a farmer waiting for harvest. Its this second word that we are studying here.
God reveals himself as patient look at Exodus 34:6, where the same word is translated "slow to anger". In our living as Christians, we too shall need to be patient in relation to:
ourselves (Isaiah 28: 16). It takes time for our bodies to grow; so too it takes time for us to grow in the life of the Spirit. In what sense should spiritual progress be quick for a Christian, and in what sense can it only be gradual? What is your experience, and your expectation, of change in yourself as you follow Christ? How much does the church help this process?
those around us (1 Thess 5: 14). When have you felt a particular need of patience with other Christians; or at home; or at work? Patience is specially needed in our trying to help others come to faith in Christ, as even the greatest Christians discover (Gal 4: 19,20). Can you give examples of this?
the world (2 Peter 3: 8,9). Things so often seem to get no better, and Gods kingdom seems slow to come; but what clues do these two verses give about why God allows this? Our business is to "wait for" and "hasten" the coming of Gods kingdom (2 Peter 3: 11,12). What will this involve?
All well-intentioned people believe in being kind; there is nothing specifically Christian about that. But our understanding of kindness comes from what God himself is like. Look at Luke 6:35, and discuss what is distinctive about Gods kindness. What is your experience of this?
This is spelt out more fully in Matthew 5: 43-48: again, Jesus teaches that our attitudes and actions should reflect those of God himself. What opportunities do you have for "loving those who dont love you"? Can you give an example of an occasion when it was in your power to do this?
Its easy to be kind to your friends (Matt.5: 46), but our generosity of spirit should extend to outsiders also. How true is this in our church; what can be done to improve it?
This kindness doesnt always work even Jesus couldnt touch Judas heart. Look at Matthew 18: 21,22: can you illustrate this from your experience?
A final, unexpected, use of the word kind is in Matthew 11: 30: God puts on Christians a yoke that is easy, literally kind. In the words of Bishop Stephen Neill, "If we will take his yoke upon us, we shall find that it is made just to fit us, that it suits exactly the true nature of man as seen in Christ that true nature to which God wants to bring us all back." How true do you find this that to become a Christian is to become more fully human, and that to grow as a Christian is to become increasingly the sort of person that you sense you were made to be?
In the New Testament, as today, the word good often has a very general meaning; but there is also a particular emphasis to it, as we shall see.
Only two people in the New Testament are directly referred to as good: Joseph of Aramathea and Barnabas. (There is another word, often translated good, which literally means attractive as in "I am the good shepherd", but that is not the word used here.)
Read Luke 23: 50-53; Acts 4: 34-37; 11: 19-24. These verses reveal a striking similarity between Joseph and Barnabas. They were:
generous in their attitude to others. Faced by the novelty of Jesus and his message, most of the Jewish council voted for his death but not Joseph (Luke 23: 51). Faced by the novelty of Gentiles becoming Christians without also adopting Jewish rituals, many of the early believers were scandalized but not Barnabas. Although he was himself a strict Jew (Acts 4: 36), he was glad (Acts 11: 23) at what was happening.
What new movements in society today seem alarming, but might in reality be God working in a new way? How easy do you find it to be open-minded and open-hearted towards them? What changes, or approaches, in our own church do you find difficult? What do you do about it? How do we avoid the opposite problem that of being too quick to accept anything new?
generous in their use of money. Both gave items of real value (Luke 23: 52,53; Acts 4: 36,37) How much should Christians give away? Discuss a committed Christian approach to giving: eg as a proportion of what we earn, out of what we already possess. What, or who, should we give money or things to? Does your church teach properly about this?
For the New Testament writers, as for us, the word faithful means both trusting and trustworthy. Discuss what does this suggests to you.
When we look at faithfulness (in the sense of trustworthiness) in the Bible, we find that its:
a prime characteristic of God
He is true to his word (Joshua 21: 45). Which promises of God are particularly important to you?
He is true to his people (Hebrews 13: 5,6). What is your experience of this?
a prime requirement of Christians
A common description of Christians is that they are stewards, and should therefore above all else be trustworthy. (1 Corinthians 4: 1,2).
Read the parable of the talents (Matthew 25: 14-29) and discuss what being faithful means, in relation to: the ups & downs of life, to the unseen duties of prayer & Bible-reading; to the reliability of our Christian living, etc. Look in particular at vv 21 & 23, and compare Luke 16: 10,11: what is the result of everyday reliability as a Christian? How true do you find this?
Look at Matthew 11:28-30, one of the most tender sayings of Jesus. In verse 29 he describes himself as "gentle and lowly". These words are also used as a pair in Ephesians 4: 2 and Colossians 3: 12. Lowly here describes a right attitude to God, while gentle describes an attitude to other people. What occasions can you think of which show this aspect of Jesus character?
In the New Testament, "the meek are those who do not resist the wrong that others do to them, and do not insist on their own rights". How far is it sensible in practice for Christians to be like this?
In the churchs traditional teaching (eg preparation for Confirmation) there is teaching about our duty towards God and towards our neighbours and nothing about our rights. But a feature of modern civilization is charters of human rights etc. Where do rights fit into a Biblical understanding?
"Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth" (Matthew 5:5). In what way does gentleness lead to blessing, to happiness? Why does Jesus attach this particular promise to the saying? Does any experience of yours throw light on this?
Finally, gentleness is necessary in one area of Christian life in particular: look at 1 Peter 3: 15. In explaining the faith to unbelievers, and in testifying to our own experience of God, great gentleness is called for. Can you give an example of an occasion when you were put off by a brash Christian, or of when you yourself have pressed someone too hard in this way? How can we share our faith clearly & effectively, but gently? How can our church do the same?
The old "Authorized Version" of the Bible translates this as temperance, but to modern ears this sounds too specific (about alcohol), and too negative (about what we shouldnt do). How much do people see being a Christian in negative terms? Why? What can be done about it?
Some religions teach that material things, or natural instincts, are wrong in themselves. But the Bible says that God looked at all that he had made, and "it was very good". In fact Sin is largely a matter of wrong choices, of using badly what is good.
Look at Luke 15:11-16. The younger son used what was rightly his but at the wrong time, in the wrong way and in the wrong place. How does this apply to the wrong things that we do, or say? Where does "self-discipline" come in?
Now look at 1 Corinthians 9: 24-27, a glimpse into Pauls self-discipline. What place is there in Christian discipleship for this sort of self-denial for fasting, physical fitness etc? What has all this to do with the Gospel?
Finally, lets remember that self-control, no less than the qualities earlier in the list, is part of the Spirits fruit. In the words of Bishop Stephen Neill, "We shall gain it by letting the Holy Spirit rule our hearts and our thoughts. By far the most important step is to have each day a quiet time, in which we set ourselves to seek the power of the Holy Spirit". What is your experience of opening your life to the power of God's Spirit? How easy is it? What does it mean in practice?
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