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It Takes Work to Grow a Fruitful Garden

It Takes Work To Grow a Fruitful Garden

Galatians 5:22 & 23 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, / patience, kindness, goodness,/ faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

How Does Your Garden Grow?

This is the time of year people put a lot of work into their vegetable gardens. Now I love to dig in the dirt!  For years I have loved to work in our yard planting things. I actually enjoy digging, weeding, pruning, and spreading mulch.  It is a lot of work, but even though it can be exhausting, it often energizes me. Seeing the results is also rewarding.  For years I have kept my work to ornamentals, like flowers and shrubs, not edible things.  I am not good at growing edible things. 

But about this time last year my husband, Dave, along with so many others during this pandemic, decided that it would be a good time to start a garden. Well, things did not go as we had hoped. As the summer progressed, we realized that there were things we clearly did wrong. There were also many things we could have done better.

There is so much to learn to have a successful and fruitful garden.  It takes head knowledge and then practical knowledge. It also takes a lot of work and a lot of time; preparing the soil, planting, mulching, weeding, fertilizing, watering, and pruning. Then you also need to be diligent watching for signs of pests and disease.

All these things apply to our spiritual lives. It is truly amazing how many times the Bible compares spiritual truths to horticulture. Just look up how many times the Bible uses words like fruit, fruitful, root, grow and harvest. I’m telling you, it blows my mind!! I believe this is because horticulture illustrates spiritual truths so perfectly.

I love how well Kate showed us that spiritual growth is what God does in us.  And it is so true that you cannot glue fruit onto a tree and expect it to grow.  But we can and should do the work of cultivating the fruit. Scripture makes it clear that there is work we must do in order to bear fruit.

How plants grow demonstrates these truths in such a wonderful way! This word picture helps us to see how two seemingly conflicting truths work together, that God works and we also work to make spiritual growth happen. We sow the seed and cultivate it and God is the one who makes it grow. The farmer does his work while the Lord mysteriously does His work.  We see this in one of Jesus’ parables found in the gospel of Mark. You may remember it from a recent sermon. Here is what it says;

The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.

And Paul tells us in 1Cor., “some plant and some water but-it-is-God-who-gives-the-growth.”

We see from these verses that our part is to cultivate our spiritual gardens. Then it is God who makes growth happen. Phil. chapter 2  is another place where we see that we work and God works. It says “...work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Notice that It tells us to work “with fear and trembling.” These are very sobering words. They stress the truly dire importance of doing our part of the work.

I want to share some reasons to grow in the fruit of the Spirit, but first, there are a few things that I think are important to understand. A lot of this  Kate and I collaborated on.

The first thing is that most scholars would not limit the fruit of the Spirit to just these nine traits in Galatians chapter 5. We can easily add to this list contentment, hope, thankfulness, faith, diligence, and compassion. There are many lists of godly traits throughout the New Testament which we are called to pursue. 

Another thing is that the traits overlap and blend together. Jerry Bridges says in his book The Fruitful Life that they are like a rainbow. The colors blend together. It is hard to say where one color stops and another starts.

Also, notice that in our passage it says the fruit of the Spirit, not fruits of the Spirit. The fruit of the Spirit is singular. The traits cannot be separated. Jonathan Edwards says that they are concatenated, which simply means that they are all linked together. It has been described this way, “Real joy is connected to peace, which is connected to patience, which is connected to self-control. You pull on one string and it pulls another one, or all of them. They can’t be separated.”  

Next, the fruit of the Spirit is formational first and then it becomes relational.  First, it is formed in us, then it affects how we live and relate to others. The fruit grows in our hearts and we are changed. What happens to a seed when we water it? It begins the process of germination. The seed changes and life sprouts from within it. After the fruit of the Spirit is formed in us; it becomes part of our identity. Then and only then, does it become relational. Only then does it affect how we relate to the people around us.

Lastly, and this ties into the previous point, but I think it is key. The fruit of the Spirit is not things we do, it is who we are.  As I said, it becomes part of our identity. Then who we are affects what we do. As 1Corinthians chapter 13 tells us, unless we have love, no matter what we do, it is worthless! So fruit is not a deed but we can work to create the conditions for fruit to grow. 

Kate and I hope that knowing these things will help us to cultivate real and living fruit. Now I would like to talk about six reasons I see in Scripture for investing the time and effort to cultivate the fruit of the Spirit. They are; Obedience, we are God’s children, the Day of Christ, fruit begets fruit, and lastly God’s glory.

Obedience 

The first and obvious reason to grow in the fruit of the Spirit is obedience. We are called, even commanded to grow in the fruit of the Spirit. Jerry Bridges says, “Though the power for Christlike character comes from Christ, the responsibility for developing and displaying that character is ours.” He says that it is not only here in Galatians 5 that we are told to bear the different aspects of the fruit of the Spirit; we are told to do so many places in the NT. He says that he found that, “For everyone of those traits [in Galatians 5], [he] found one or more passages in which we are commanded to exhibit them.”

I will give you just two examples; concerning love, John 13:34 “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another,” and concerning peace,  Col. 3:15 “...let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body.” When I looked up each of these nine traits, it seemed to me that a whole book could be written about each one. The treasures are here, in the Scriptures of God, ready for you to dig them up!

But our calling is not just to grow, we are called to grow more and more. Consider what would happen if after our vegetable gardens began to grow we stopped watering and weeding and doing all it takes to maintain a garden. It would not only stop growing, but it would also begin to die.  This gives us an idea of why we need to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. Now we know that we cannot lose our salvation, so that is not what it is talking about when it says to work out our salvation. God has given our salvation to us, it is an undeserved gift. It is within us, part of us, our identity. But if we do not work it out of us, decay and death will result. 

2 Pet.1:5-8 tells us to keep adding godly traits and to keep them growing. It says, “...make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and so on...” Then verse 8 says, “ if these qualities are yours -and-are-increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful …”  

Early in this passage and at the end we see the word “knowledge.” I believe knowledge is where growth begins. We start with the work of knowing God’s word and who Christ is, sowing the seed into our hearts and lives.  Let’s think again about our adventure in growing a vegetable garden. Dave did the hard work of gaining a lot of information. Then as the garden grew, we gained experiential knowledge that we could apply in the future. Then we added to all that knowledge lots of time and additional chores to help our garden continue to grow.

Growing the fruit of the Spirit begins with doing the hard work of gaining knowledge, the knowledge gleaned from the scriptures. Then we gain experiential knowledge as we walk through the Christian life with all its ups and downs. Our knowledge becomes intimate. It is the kind of knowledge that makes our love grow in the person of Jesus Christ. This kind of knowledge creates growth and fruit which is living. Then as we continue to do our part of the work, because the growth is living, we grow more and more. We are called to grow more and more, and to do otherwise would be to our detriment.

We are His children

My 2nd reason to do the work of growing our spiritual garden is that we are God’s children and so we should exhibit His character. Every aspect of the fruit of the Spirit is an aspect of who God is, His character. Kate touched on this last night with the helpful grammar lesson of “the fruit of the Spirit.” Sometimes things may seem obvious, but we miss them. The fruit of the Spirit flows from God the Holy Spirit. That is why all these traits of the fruit of the Spirit are aspects of God’s character.

As Kate said, if you want to understand more about kindness, look at the kindness of God. If we want to know more about patience, learn how God is patient. If you want to see what love is, study the love of God.  Then remember that you are His child. Ephesians 5:1 says, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.”

The Day of Christ

The next reason I have to pursue a fruitful life is anticipating the Day of Christ. Many, many times in the New Testament we are told to remember that one day our Lord Jesus will return. We will see Him face to face! We are told that remembering this encourages us and inspires us. It helps us for every aspect of the Christian life, including to bear the fruit of the Spirit.

Consider this. When we are expecting a visit or the return of a loved one, we joyfully and excitedly anticipate it.  Perhaps it is a husband returning from military service; perhaps it is a child returning from college or perhaps a dear friend or relative we have not seen in a long time. But we not only look forward to it, but we also work hard to make their return as joyful and pleasant for them as we can.  We clean the house. Maybe we buy flowers or add other beautifying touches to the guest room. We may also plan to prepare their favorite foods.  We do a lot of work, but it is not to impress them nor is it out of duty; it is out of love for them.  We work hard to please them because we love them and we want our reunion to be a great time of rejoicing.

This is also true of our motivation to bear fruit for Christ. It takes a lot of time and a lot of work.  But we do it because we love Jesus and we look forward to His appearing.  One day we will see Him face to face, what a glorious anticipation! This is a great motivation! It causes us to joyfully do the work in order to bear fruit and live lives pleasing to Him.

Fruit begets fruit

So far we have talked about three reasons to grow in the fruit of the Spirit; to obey the call to grow, to display God’s character as His children, and that one day we will see Jesus face to face. The fourth reason I have to inspire us to grow in the fruit of the Spirit is this: fruit begets fruit. Let me explain what I mean. Think about a piece of fruit; inside fruit, there are seeds or one seed like in a peach.  The botanical definition of fruit is the seed-bearing part of a flowering plant. When that seed is planted its purpose is to grow into a mature plant that produces more fruit.  So I see that a big reason to grow in the fruit of the Spirit is that it produces more and more good fruit.

When I say fruit begets fruit, I am not just talking about the fruit of the Spirit bringing more traits of the fruit of the Spirit. Although that is true because as we said before, they are all connected. But what I’m referring to are all the good things, the countless good things that come from the different aspects of the fruit of the Spirit. Today I want to give you just one example from each of these aspects of fruit of the Spirit listed here in Galatians 5.

I want to warn you that this is the longest part of what I want to share with you, because we will touch on each of these nine traits, but I hope it will be beneficial in making this practical to our daily lives. Also, as we talk about the fruit, I want us to be careful to remember that we cannot glue fruit on a tree and expect it to grow. The purpose of seeing that fruit begets fruit should do two things for us, inspire and identify. It should inspire us to do the work to cultivate the fruit and also help us to identify whether or not the fruit is real and living.

Self-control begets power

I would like to begin with self-control, which is at the end of the list, and work backward.  I’ll explain why later. Let’s first consider the lack of self-control.  What does the Bible suggest is the most difficult thing to exercise self-control over?  James chapter 3 says that if we can control our tongue we are also able to bridle our whole body. What we say and even how we say things is something we all struggle with.

James tells us that although the tongue is small it has great, great power. It is like a small rudder guiding a large ship driven by a strong wind. He also says it is like a small fire or even a spark that can set an entire forest on fire; our tongue can set the entire course of our life on fire!  So we see that the tongue has great power for evil or for good. One example is in  Eph. 4:29. It says our speech can build others up and give grace.

You know there is much being said these days about women being strong and powerful. But here is where we find real power and power for great good. If we will, by God’s grace, exercise self-control over our tongue and then bridle our whole body, we gain godly power. This is one of the good things which come from self-control. Self-control begets power.

Gentleness begets beauty

The next trait is gentleness.  One fruit, one good thing coming from gentleness is beauty; gentleness begets beauty. A familiar passage to us is in I Pet. ch. 3. Verse 4 says “let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious.”  We are told here that gentleness is an imperishable beauty, precious to God.  We are told to adorn ourselves with it.

But it is not something we can put on the outside. God calls it the hidden person of the heart.

Most people we meet are not outstandingly attractive, but if someone’s inward qualities are beautiful, that is how we come to see them. We actually see them as beautiful.  The opposite is also true. No matter how stunning a person may be on the outside, if they do not show gentleness and other godly traits, we do not see them as beautiful.  God works gentleness into our hearts, giving us imperishable beauty. Gentleness begets beauty.

Faithfulness begets trust

Continuing to move backward in our list, we come to faithfulness.  Trust is one good thing which comes from faithfulness.  Let’s consider the relationship of a wife to her husband. Proverbs 31 says of the virtuous woman, “the heart of her husband trusts in her.”  

Faithfulness to our husband is more than sexual and emotional faithfulness. It means that he can depend upon us, that we will not deceive him about anything, and that we will do the things he has asked us to do.

Dave and I have been blessed with a really good marriage, for 42 years.  I want to share that as a testimony to God’s grace. But we have our disagreements, as all couples do. It may seem silly, but one is about recycling.  I like to clean what goes into recycling and he feels it is a waste of time and a waste of water. 

One time recently I thought to myself, “He is in the other room and he will not see me.”  The Holy Spirit immediately brought this verse to my mind, “her husband trusts in her.”  I needed to not hide and deceive in the things that I did or he would have cause not to trust me.

He also needs to trust that I will do things which he’s asked me to do, so I try to make those things a priority on my to-do list.  

Now all these things also apply to those who are not married and they also apply to all our relationships.  Are you a faithful employee and coworker? Do they trust you at work?  What about friends and family members?  Can they trust you not to be deceitful and to do what you say you will do?  So we see, that being faithful begets trust.

Goodness and kindness beget good works

Next is goodness and kindness.  Jerry Bridges puts these together in one chapter in his book,  so I guess it’s okay for me to put them together too.

The Greek words overlap so much in scripture!  I see them as twin sisters often walking hand in hand.  Goodness and kindness result in good works which benefit others. Goodness and kindness beget good works.  The NT is full of exhortations to do good works.

But goodness and kindness must walk together hand in hand doing those good works. Good works are not truly good if not done in godly kindness, and kindness is not true kindness if it is not put into the action of good works. (repeat?)

Patience begets seeing God’s promises fulfilled

Next, we see patience.  The King James Version translates it “long-suffering” and Jerry Bridges says that, “that rendering perhaps best describes its meaning.”  This can relate to everything from the most difficult of circumstances to the countless little irritations common to us all.

I want to slow down here because I believe the Lord is pressing upon me that many of us are needing to suffer-long with things in our lives today. There are many various kinds of griefs and struggles we have to suffer-long with. What are you needing to suffer-long with today?  The Lord wants to comfort us and encourage us. Please know that patience, or long-suffering, in these difficult struggles brings about the fulfillment of God’s good purposes and promises.

We saw this in Maria’s wonderful testimony. She suffered long with the unfaithfulness of her husband, depression, and feeling like God was silent for many years. She suffered long but she was able to see that the Lord brought many good purposes through it. Remember Joseph who endured trial after trial...until he saw God’s good purposes brought about. Remember David, being pursued by King Saul for years before God fulfilled His promise to David to make him king.  David’s patience came from his heart, because he had a heart for God, and that is what enabled him to wait for God to fulfill His promises.

Heb. 6:15 mentions Abraham saying, “thus Abraham, having patiently waited, obtained the promise,” and verse 12 speaks directly to us saying to be “imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.” As we experience trials, sometimes very great trials, remember that patience begets seeing God’s good purposes and promises come to pass. God’s good purposes and promises will come to pass!

Peace begets unity

The next aspect of the fruit of the Spirit is peace. We are told in Heb. 12:14 to “make every effort [make-every-effort] to live in peace with all men.” And what fruit, what good thing, comes from this effort for peace? Peace begets unity with others.

The New Testament has a lot to say about the importance of striving for peace and unity in the body of Christ. To have peace resulting in unity in all our relationships is very sweet fruit.  Otherwise, there is discord and irritation and division. 

Think of the verses in Proverbs which speak of the quarrelsome wife.  It’s better to live in a desert or in a corner on a housetop. Living with a quarrelsome wife is like having to listen to the constant, irritating sound of dripping water, drip, drip, drip...drip.  This is clearly not peaceful living and it does not bring unity into the household.

This does not mean that we should not express our disagreements.  Keeping all our opinions to ourselves can actually prevent peace and unity.  The idea is not to be characterized as quarrelsome; we are not to be repetitively arguing, or complaining about every little thing. We should express our opinions graciously and in a helpful way and then we need to let it rest.

We should pursue peace in our household with not only our husbands but also our parents and our children and our siblings-anyone in our household.

We should also pursue peace in the household of God, with our spiritual brothers and sisters and our elders and homegroup leaders. 

This also applies to our place of work and our whole community.  Pursuing peace will contribute to unity in our marriages and homes as well as our church, our workplace, and our community.

Joy begets strength

Next let’s think about joy, biblical joy.  Biblical joy is not dependent upon our circumstances.  Biblical joy is dependent on what God has done for us; His provision of salvation and His sustaining grace and His promises for this life and the life to come. We can be going through grievous trials while at the same time have the joy of the Lord.  

Biblical joy gives us the strength to endure hardships and trials. So I see that one of the good things which come from joy is strength; joy begets strength. Neh. 8:10 says, “the joy of the LORD is your strength.”

Sadly, I’m good at throwing myself a pity party and falling into the sin of complaining, but if I repent of that and pursue joy, the Lord renews my strength for whatever I am facing.

My favorite hymn is “All the Way My Savior Leads Me”. I think it is because I often need to preach to myself these truths.  I want to share with you the second verse. I am surprised that this verse is often missing when it is sung or quoted. It goes like this:

"All the way my Savior leads me,

Cheers each winding path I tread,

Gives me grace for every trial,

Feeds me with the living bread.

Though my weary steps may falter

And my soul a thirst may be,

Gushing from the Rock before me

Lo, a spring of joy I see,

Gushing from the Rock before me

Lo, a spring of joy I see!"

 

May the Lord help us to cultivate His joy and then gain His strength through it.

Love begets all the fruit of the Spirit

Lastly, we see in this list, going backward, is love. The reason I wanted to work backward in this list is that I wanted to talk about love last. The reason I wanted to talk about love last is because the Bible tells us that love binds all the godly virtues together in perfect unity.

Love is supreme.  We are told it never ends and that it is greater than faith or hope. We are told that love with faith is the only thing that counts and that without love we are nothing and gain nothing. We are told to pursue love above all else and that all of the law is fulfilled by love. We are even told that God is love. So, I will say it again, love-is-supreme.

But how do we know what love is? This word for love in the Bible is a unique Greek word that has a particular meaning. The word is agape and  Bullinger says that this kind of love is “self-denying and compassionately devoted to its object.”

I John says, “By this we know love, that he (Jesus) laid down his life for us…”  This is the gospel, the good news of how we are saved from hell and given eternal life! Drew Jones says it so simply and yet so well in The Gospel Song:

 

"Holy God in love became

Perfect man to bear my blame

On the cross he took my sin

By his death I live again"

 

Agape love is the basis of our salvation. This is also how the Lord calls us to live our lives, or rather lay down our lives.

So now, in thinking about fruit begetting fruit, what fruit, what good thing comes from love?  I propose that all of the aspects of the fruit of the Spirit grow out of love.  When this kind of love grows by the Holy Spirit out of our lives, so does all of the fruit of the Spirit.

God’s glory

Before I make my closing remarks, I have one last reason for us to invest the time and to do the work to cultivate the fruit of the Spirit.  It is THE reason for everything. It is God’s glory; the purpose of everything is God’s glory.

When I was a young Christian...and a young woman, many years ago,  I was struck by the passage in 2 Cor. 3:7-18. Kate talked about this passage last night too, about us being transformed, reflecting God’s glory. I want to read just verse 18.  It says, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.  For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” What a concept! As we grow in our Christian life, we are transformed, reflecting God’s glory.

The scriptures tell us in many places that we are lights in this world. I once kept a list of these verses, writing them down whenever I came across one. I named the list “Shine Verses.”  One is Dan. 12:3; it says, “those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.”

The opposite can also be true; instead of stars, we could be like black holes in the galaxy. Remember that here in Galatians 5, before the list describing the fruit of the Spirit, is a contrasting list describing the works of the flesh. Looking at this list, we see traits that are self-centered; sexual immorality, jealousy, rivalry, strife, and so on. To “gratify the desires of the flesh” is to seek to please ourselves; it's all about what we want. Instead of light, we become like a black hole in space, pulling everything around it into itself...into utter darkness.

But that does not describe us as daughters of God.  God has promised that we are like the stars shining in the sky, reflecting God’s glory as we grow more and more into His likeness, bearing the fruit of The Spirit.

Closing

Now, in closing, this is a lot to take in. Even though I am older, I continue to struggle to apply all these truths and to make head knowledge heart knowledge. But I am encouraged that even the apostle Paul said that he had not yet attained but that he pressed on, straining forward. This is going to be true for all of us until we see Jesus face to face.

So, how do we apply all of this? When we leave here we can be really inspired to go home and get to work. Figuratively speaking, we will pull up our gardening boots and head to our garden, and on the way, we will grab our industrial strength glue and work really hard at gluing on our cardboard fruit! But that would be the wrong application of this message.

As I’ve said before, all these truths I have shared today are meant to do two things for us; help us identify true and living fruit, and give us a great incentive to cultivate fruit. But we cannot make the fruit grow, that’s what the Lord does.

I struggled with how to end this message. It seemed that the application would be, you know, just what Kate said last night. Then I felt like the Lord gave me a visual picture for the application of this message. I came across a sentence in a  new book I was reading. Teresa Gregus recommended the book to me, “Aging With Grace.” I want to read the sentence to you.

Remember as I read it that we have learned that the key to growing in the fruit of the Spirit is knowing Christ and abiding in Him. The sentence goes like this, “God has given us the means of grace - his word, prayer, worship, sacraments, fellowship-to grow in our relationship with him,” - -“to grow in our relationship with him.”

The Lord showed me that these means of grace are the garden tools He has given us to cultivate our spiritual gardens. This is how we grow in our relationship with the Lord and thus grow in the fruit of the Spirit.

Do you have all these tools in your tool shed? Are you using them? What tools are you neglecting to use, to put the effort and time into? Are you utilizing God’s word, to read it, meditate on it, study it and memorize it? Are you cultivating with the tool of prayer, both private and corporate prayer? Are you using the powerful tool of worship in your personal time as well as when we gather? Do you utilize the sacraments? Do you put in the time it takes to use the tool of fellowship, which is so necessary?

These are all important, even crucial to cultivate our spiritual gardens. These things do take a lot of time and a lot of effort, but the investment brings eternal rewards.

And my final thought; I implore you, remember the dire importance of working out your salvation with fear and trembling at the same time, remember that it is God who works in you both to will and to work for His good pleasure.

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