Bible study led by Rev Sydney Maitland at an open worship evening / house group on October 29. Scripture references: Galatians 5: 22-23; John 15: 1-17; Philippians 2: 5-11; 1 Corinthians 13: 1-13; 1 Corinthians 12: 1-31; Ephesians 4: 11-13.
The study was complemented by Jane Hely’s meditation based on the carol Jesus Christ the Apple Tree.
Gifts and fruits
We will all, I think, recall the hymn ‘Gracious Spirit, Holy Ghost‘ which says that of the gifts of Pentecost, love is the most to be desired. It assumes however that love is a gift of the Spirit as given at Pentecost or as understood by the church.
But a gift is something that is by definition, received but never earned. If it was earned, it would be a wage and not a gift. And the gifts of the Spirit are in their nature and purpose, aspects of Christian life that can never be earned or deserved. In the same way, if they are exercised then they can never be proofs or tokens of personal sanctity.
Fruits of the Spirit
There is however a strand of scripture that refers to the FRUITS of the Spirit. Paul lists then in Galatians 5 as “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control” (v 22-23). These are the personal qualities that characterised the life of Jesus, and they are grown and indeed cultivated.
It takes time for any of these to come to maturity in any one of us, and in John 15, Jesus speaks of Himself as the vine, His Father as the gardener, and His disciples as the branches. So long as the branches abide in the vine, then they will be fruitful. If they become separated from the vine, then they cannot be fruitful. In the same way, so long as Jesus’ disciples abide and continue to abide in Him then they also will be fruitful: more than that, God the Father will watch over them to care for them and indeed to prune them so that they may become more fruitful yet. This is of course, a lifetime’s work and for all of us this is a work in progress.
But then Jesus also, in His human life learned obedience, and He did so by laying aside His glory and by becoming obedient to God in all things including death by crucifixion.
Jesus does not therefore expect His disciples to undergo anything that He has undergone Himself, certainly in terms of the nature of the test, even if the exact character of the test – eg the fatigue of jet-lag – was not available in His time.
But the fruit of the spirit, including the sacrificial nature of His love, are all part of the character of Jesus. In this sense, love is also wholly dedicated to the other person and can never be confused with the rather modern kind of self-obsession that is passed off as love.
In this Paul has given us a full description of love in 1 Corinthians 13.
But while all of this is foundational to the Gifts of the Spirit, none of it deals with their character of purpose.
The life of the church
In teaching the Corinthians about the gifts of the Spirit, Paul also provides a solid foundation by teaching about the church: proper conduct in church, the Lord’s Supper, self-examination are considered in chapter 11.
He then describes the gifts of the Spirit and stresses their diversity, before describing church as a body, unified in its life and headship, but diverse in its organs and their functions, and indeed their prominence. He stresses that the members of the church depend on each other and just as the failure of one organ would distress the whole body, so misuse or abuse – or indeed rejection of one of the spiritual gits would also affect the whole body, (1 Cor 12).
In the Holy Spirit the variety of gifts to the church, are given and exercised individually but for the benefit of all. (12: 7).
In some instances these gifts are given for use as and when required, while for others there may be an extended use of such gifts, so that those who exercise them enter an area of church service revolving around those gifts. These are the ministries of the Spirit which Paul describes in his letter to the
Ephesians. Here he speaks of prophets, rather than prophecy; apostles rather than apostleship; pastors and teachers, rather than pastoring and teaching.
An individual may exercise all of the gifts of the Spirit but may be particularly entrusted with one area of ministry, while others may expect to develop other areas of Christian service.
The purpose of these is to equip the church and its individual members in their areas of service, to up-build and edify the church as a whole, “till we all come to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man and to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” (4:11-13).
The lessons for us
For us the lessons are that personal progress in the things of God, in fruitfulness and in understanding consists of a perpetual personal abiding in the person of Jesus Christ – to belong to Him and to find our identity in Him.
In doing this we will also find that we belong to one another, and as we relate to one another so we will have the opportunities to support and edify one another.
It also means that we should not be surprised when we undergo a certain amount of personal pruning – in order that we may become more fruitful yet. This may well come in the form of personal denials and reversals, and of trials of various kinds.
It will give us a deeper understanding of Christian love, inspired and instructed by the self-giving and self-denying love of Jesus Christ. This is of a wholly different character to the self-regarding fallacies peddled by today’s entertainments and fashion media.
Part of our growing to Christian maturity is Christian service – and in this we should expect to enter the realm of the gifts and ministries of the Spirit. To enter this realm is certainly not a matter for pride or sense that we have arrived, for in reality we will only just have begun something new.