Saturday, 26 May 2018

A beautiful you

Don’t you know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? 1 Corinthians 6:19

Don’t get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filed with the Spirit... Ephesians 5:18

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Galatians 5:22

Two blogs ago I wrote about how the Holy Spirit came on the disciples of Jesus on that thrilling, awe-inspiring, history-changing Day of Pentecost - how the Spirit “baptised” the church to give it the energy and vitality of God himself (Acts 2).

The focus there was the Spirit in relation to God’s people as a whole, not so much the Spirit in relation to individual men and women.

But of course the Bible has much to say also about how the Spirit operates in each and every follower of Jesus: which means, if you are a Christian today, in you and me.

So last time we thought, first, about how we individually are “temples of the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 6:19), and, second, how the Spirit wants to “fill” us (Ephesians 5:18).

Today, the third in this little trio of verses (Galatians 5:22) tells us that the Holy Spirit makes us fruitful. He purifies us, purging out whatever is corrupt and sinful, and generates within us all the beautiful qualities we see in Jesus: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control”. (What a list that is! - well worth a few minutes of quiet reflection.)

Paul’s word “fruit” doesn’t just mean apples, oranges, pears and the rest. It’s fruit in the sense of what is produced: the New English Bible translates it as “the harvest of the Spirit”. So Paul is suggesting that we can see our lives as gardens or fields, and he is telling us that God wants to grow beautiful, Christlike things in us.

Not far from where we live there’s a well-known “visitor attraction” where you can spend a pleasant hour or two: in particular, a picturesque building and some easy country walking. And, of course, there’s also a little shop where you can drink your tea and eat your scones and jam.

Among the other things for sale - trinkets, guide-books etc - you can buy artificial fruit. Yes, a plastic pear can be yours for £2.50! (To fill a whole fruit-bowl you’d probably have to shell out £20.) But what’s to worry about? - it looks really, well, realistic.

And why not? It’s no crime to have nice things about the house. But, of course, it isn’t real: you’d crack your teeth if you tried to eat one of those pears, and you wouldn’t get much nourishment from them either.

Paul’s “fruit of the Spirit” isn’t something we can produce artificially like plastic - a kind of stick-on holiness, a cosmetic beauty. No, it’s something that grows naturally from deep within us as we allow God to fill us more and more with his Spirit.

Most of us probably think we can spot insincerity a mile off - that oily smile, that sillily flattering comment. We instinctively recoil from it, simply because it’s false. The harvest of the Spirit isn’t like that - it’s simple and artless, it doesn’t have to be forced; the person who is producing it comes across as “comfortable in their own skin”. Natural - that’s the word. Organic.

But wait a minute... saying it’s natural doesn’t mean it’s automatic. It doesn’t mean that we can just fold our arms and put our feet up. No, we have to co-operate with what the Holy Spirit is doing - which means the regular disciplines of prayer and reflecting on God’s word, of joining our fellow-believers for worship, teaching and encouragement. It means regular self-examination to spot any weeds of sin sprouting within us.

Jack was a keen gardener, and extremely good at it; his garden was glorious, the envy of the whole village. One day, while he was hard at work, the vicar came down the road and stopped for a chat. Admiring the garden he said, “Isn’t it wonderful what the Lord can do!” Jack paused for a moment. Then he replied, “Aye, vicar, I’m sure that’s true. Mind you, you should have seen what it was like when the Lord had it to himself...”

We get the point. Becoming like Jesus is indeed the work of the Holy Spirit. But that doesn’t mean we have no part to play. There’s spiritual hoeing and weeding, chopping and cutting, to be done. And it takes time - indeed, a whole life-time.

The apostle John tells us that one day “we shall be like Jesus, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). In other words, the fruit of the Spirit will be complete and perfect in us.

That will be then. But the time to start is... right now.

Lord God, thank you that through your Holy Spirit you want to make me a beautiful, Christ-like person. Please give me that hunger and thirst after righteousness that Jesus spoke of, so that I become more like him now, not just when I see him face to face. Amen.

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