“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.”
– Galatians 5:19-26
I was standing in the lobby of a church a number of years ago when a couple of 20 somethings walked in with some grungy clothes on and earrings in their ears. I have to admit that at that time in my life it even made me a little uncomfortable as that was not the culture I was used to, nor was it the culture of the church they were entering that day. I hoped they felt welcomed but I didn’t step up to the plate to greet them. Neither did anyone else that I could tell. Then an elder walked up to him and it seemed someone was finally going to welcome them into the assembly. You have read all those stories in your email about the grungy guy who walks down the aisle in the middle of service and while everyone wonders what to do or if he should even be there an elder walks down the aisle and sits next to him. Great stories. But this day was not one of those days. This day would not end with a beautiful “email this to ten of your friends or else you will catch the bubonic plague” kind of day. It was much uglier. The elder told them they weren’t welcome there and that it was time for them to leave. I never spoke with them. Maybe there was more to the story than I knew. Maybe they had done something they shouldn’t and I just missed that part. I don’t know…but wouldn’t church be the very place they needed to be regardless? I never got their name but I do know that I never saw them at church ever again. Why would they? Why would they come back to a place they weren’t welcome to be at?
In Galatians 5, Paul gives us two lists of the fruit we can bear in our lives. The first type of fruit is deadly and the second leads to life by the Spirit. Which of these two lists do you think those young adults thought better characterized the church that day? I have seen the fruits of the Spirit portrayed in many churches, especially the one that I am now a part of. But I am sad to say that I have also seen in the church some of the things Paul lists in his first list including: idolatry, hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissentions, factions, and envy. I can also say that some of those things have characterized me at some point in time as well. Listen to Paul’s warning – “that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God” (5:21). Paul even concludes his list of the fruits of the Spirit with an admonishment that we need to hear again – “Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other” (5:26).
I was sitting in a men’s meeting after church about 10 years ago. The elders were asking for input and the men were giving it. At the end of the meeting an elder stood up and shot down every idea that had been brought up. One of the bolder men brought up one last point at the close of the meeting. He said he needed someone with a key to stay longer so they could talk with visitors after church. One of the elders was rushing people out of the building so they could lock up and go home. Hearing this suggestion, one of the elders stood up, got his building key out of his pocket and threw it at the man saying, “If you want to lock up, here’s the key.” There was no question that this elder was mad. He wasn’t thinking about lost people who needed a connection and conversation while they were there. What kind of fruit are we modeling? What kind of fruit is being produced in our churches? Can we evaluate ourselves and see that the fruits of the Spirit are indeed a part of our fellowship and our lives as individuals? Are we big enough to face the parts of our lives that fall into Paul’s first, deadly, list?
Before I close this post. I don’t want to add to the problem by bringing up a bunch of negative stuff and talking bad about the church or elders I have known. I have a tremendous amount of respect for elders and try my best to not say anything negative about those who hold such a difficult and often stressful position. I use these examples to say this is a real problem. It is not just made up. We all bear responsibility for making sure our lives produce the kind of fruit God desires. Thanks be to God that there are thousands upon thousands of faithful Christians who get it. There are so many good deeds that are being done in the name of Jesus Christ by his church. There is so much generosity out there. There are so many loving and kind people. I am not trying to paint a bleak picture because I believe the future is bright. But, before we can move healthily into the future, we must confront the evil that has fractured the body of Christ for far too long now. We must pick up the pieces and move in a healthy direction that is characterized by the fruits of the Spirit.