But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The law is not against such things. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.
Brothers and sisters, if someone is overtaken in any wrongdoing, you who are spiritual, restore such a person with a gentle spirit, watching out for yourselves so that you also won’t be tempted. Carry one another’s burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone considers himself to be something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Let each person examine his own work, and then he can take pride in himself alone, and not compare himself with someone else. For each person will have to carry his own load.
Do not judge, so that you won’t be judged. For you will be judged by the same standard with which you judge others, and you will be measured by the same measure you use. Why do you look at the splinter in your brother’s eye but don’t notice the beam of wood in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the splinter out of your eye,’ and look, there’s a beam of wood in your own eye? Hypocrite! First take the beam of wood out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to take the splinter out of your brother’s eye.
For the word of God is living and effective and sharper than any double-edged sword, penetrating as far as the separation of soul and spirit, joints and marrow. It is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
Over the past few weeks, our pastor preached from Galatians 5 and 6 on the fruit of the Spirit. I must say, the sermons have borne an excellence worthy of the emphasis on expositional preaching many have trumpeted over the past decade or so. While the fruit itself made up most of the bushels of edifying material our pastor brought out, he made a remark in one of the sermons which put a key distinctive on the series. Paraphrasing, he said something like, “Do not listen to these for other people. Don’t be like the person who comes to compliment the pastor’s preaching to say, ‘I really wish my teenager could have heard this.’ Listen to this for you.”
In churches like mine, with a high regard for Scripture, we readily acknowledge, even encourage the thought of the Bible as living and active and sharper than a two-edged sword. We understand its ability to pierce our hearts. And yet, we often think of the use of Scripture as Antonio Banderas did when he played Alejandro Murrieta training as the new Zorro:
“The pointy end goes in the other man.”
The moment is comic yes, but does it represent how we think of the Scriptures in the role of spiritual formation? We need the Scripture to edify us, to encourage us, but when it’s pointy-ended, that’s for someone else. “So-and-so really needs to read this.” How often have I dodged the pointed points of Scripture because I am entirely too comfortable in my own sin and lack of sanctification? Or how often have I put on armor consisting of explanations on how I already do the thing Scripture tells me? Either way, the sinner in need of sanctification quenches the Spirit of God.
As a child, I heard “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” It’s been replaced with the practice of saying hard things. The perceptive Bible student will say, “Ah yes, but Proverbs 27:6 says wounds from a friend are faithful.” Indeed it does. However, in our depravity, we so easily shift to hide behind the faithful wounds we want to give a friend when we hear a sure word from our pastor. We think John needed to hear that, and I’m going to tell him. Or we muse Now I know what I’ll say to Susan. What if instead, the Holy Spirit meant for us to appropriate for ourselves the hard questions of “Am I patient? Would my wife say I am? When my kids reflect on my parenting as they hold their children, will the words ‘self control’ cross their minds?”
When I was a kid, I went through a basketball phase. Probably a lot of boys did around that time. With 1992 came the Barcelona Summer Olympics featuring the US Dream Team. Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, and Larry Bird all on one roster with Chuck Daly coaching. Trying to beat that team would be like trying to put out a forest fire with a garden hose. When visiting my grandmother, we’d play basketball in the driveway, and I can remember my dad tell me I would need to be able to dribble before I could ever think of pulling off some stunt like the Dream Team. No, I knew better, and I would attempt some sort of flying maneuver that would send the ball to one of my uncles or cousins we were playing against. I never learned. On the rare occasion I play, I’m still terrible at basketball.
So many times, we get the word either via our own devotion and study or through the preaching and teaching we hear at church, and we treat it like a weapon to use against someone who has frustrated or disappointed us. When we do not take and let the Scripture pierce between our own joints and marrow, we will find our attempts at sanctifying someone else to misfire. I know I have demanded of others what I did not first place at the nail-pierced feet of Jesus myself.
Friends, brothers and sisters, let us let the Spirit do his work in us through his Scriptures. I’m willing to bet if we do, we’ll find ourselves drawn more closely together as a Christ-redeemed people as we walk more closely with him.