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“The Spirit's Masterpiece”

Galatians 5:16-26
Bob DeGray
May 13, 2018

Key Sentence

The flesh makes a mess; the Spirit makes a masterpiece.


I. Two sides of the battle (Galatians 5:16-18)
II. The expression of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-21)
III. The expression of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-26)


The most famous masterpiece in the world is probably Leonardo DaVinci’s “Mona Lisa.” Even in Leonardo's era, the early 1500’s, artists came from far and wide to study the painting. One said “This work is executed in a manner calculated to astonish all who behold her." In fact DaVinci broke so much new ground with one painting that virtually all portrait painting since has imitated him.

For example, he broke with the tradition of outlining the painted image, creating imperceptible transitions between light and shade, and sometimes between colors. He blended everything "without borders, in the manner of smoke," his brush strokes so subtle as to be invisible to the naked eye. Leonardo was fascinated by the way light falls on curved surfaces. The gauzy veil, Mona Lisa's hair, the luminescence of her skin – all are created with layers of transparent color, each only a few molecules thick, making the lady's face appear to glow, and giving the painting an ethereal, almost magical quality.

Leonardo was a genius, possibly the only true renaissance man. From the use of perspective to the study of the sky, he translated his scientific observation into his painting. “One of the most amazing things about the Mona Lisa, of course, is her smile. And it seems to flicker. As I looked through Leonardo’s notebooks I realized that he discovered that if light comes directly into your eye, that’s the center of your retina, you see details. But if it comes in from the corner of your eye you see shapes and shadows and colors. And so he made the very end of Mona Lisa’s lips as a detail where it turns down a bit, but the shadows and the colors turn up a bit. So if you’re looking directly at her the smile looks different than if you turn a little bit and you’re looking at her cheekbone or her forehead. That makes her smile flicker on and off.”

So the Mona Lisa is a masterpiece by a genius. As I read Galatians 5:16-26 I realize that you and I are, and are intended to be, masterpieces by a genius. God the Holy Spirit makes masterpieces through his fruit in our lives. The flesh makes a mess; the Spirit makes a masterpiece. The works of our old nature leads to ugliness and hurt. The fruit of the Spirit’s work in our lives leads to love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control

Last week we looked at Galatians 5:13-18, where Paul wrapped up his discussion of freedom and began to talk about the work of the Holy Spirit. We said that real freedom is to be led by the Spirit into love for others. Love for others is the main point of verses 13-15, and walking with or by the Holy Spirit, rather than the flesh is the focus of verses 16-18. That’s where we begin this week.

Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

“Love one another” and “through love serve one another” were the hallmarks of the freedom we have been given in Christ. But gratifying the desires of the flesh characterizes the natural man, without Christ. The result is two communities, one where any mistake or misspoken word is met with condemnation, where relationships are about name-calling, threats, eye-rolling, belittling, mockery, hostile teasing, and hatred. The other community is controlled by love and mutual concern. Mistakes are overlooked or gently corrected. Relationships are characterized by affirmation and words of encouragement, by building up, cheerfulness and service. Facial expressions and tones of voice are open and honest. People look out for each other and try to help each other do their best.

The hellish community is the product of our old sinful nature, which we express even as believers. The loving community is only created when we walk in the Spirit and receive power to do his will. Verse 16 Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. But this is a war, a battle. Verse 17, the desires of the flesh are at war against the desires of the Spirit. The outcome of that war determines which community we end up living in. If the flesh is victorious the result is hellish. If the Spirit is victorious the result is glorious.

In World War 2 most of France, even the part not occupied by the Germans was a dangerous, hostile, even deadly place. Nazi sympathizers and informers made it hard for Jews or any refugees to find safe haven. Most of the networks that tried to rescue the Jews and downed fliers were riddled with treason and death. But there was one town, Le Chambon in mountainous central France, that was a safe place. Le Chambon only had 3000 residents, but they rescued over 5000 refugees, many of them Jewish children. As a result 34 individuals and the town as a whole were recognized by Israel in 1971 as righteous among the nations. It was a community that carried love for others to an extreme.

Le Chambon had a deep Huguenot heritage. The Huguenots were French Protestants who were persecuted for centuries after the Reformation. But despite this heritage this was not a ‘walking in the Spirit’ village or a loving community in the early 1930’s. It was a summer tourist town and the locals had a saying which summarized their attitude toward life: “nine months of winter and three months of trouble.” When Pastor André Trocmé and his wife Magda first came to the town in 1934 he characterized it with the phrase “death, death, death, and the pastor entrusted with helping the village die.”

But André Trocmé was two things: first, a real believer who took Jesus and his teachings seriously, and second, a person whose life story led him, to a firm commitment to non-violence, to doing no harm to any person no matter who they were. And his ideas became, almost unconsciously, the soul of the town, so that Le Chambon in a very matter of fact way, gave refuge to Jews, ultimately in the thousands. Those who couldn’t be housed in the boarding houses or the nearby farms were led over the mountains to Switzerland.

This village refused to let anybody be dehumanized. They believed that if somebody needed help, they had to be helped. Their rallying point was the teaching of André Trocmé. The author of Lest Innocent Blood be Shed, says of Trocmé, “his ethic drew its power from the life and death of Jesus. The example and the words of Jesus inspired awe in André Trocmé, and he did what he did because he wanted to be with Jesus. He wanted to be close to Jesus, a loving disciple who put his feet in Jesus’ footprints with stubborn devotion.”

And the village followed his lead. Despite tremendous dangers and the temptation to submit, they steadfastly protected the oppressed. One of my favorite stories is called ‘the empty buses.’ At one point in 1942 Trocmé and the villagers openly declared, in the face vicious threats, that they would not turn over Jews to the authorities. “I do not know what a Jew is. I only know human beings.” So the authorities conducted a raid. But the hundreds of Jews being sheltered had disappeared, mostly into the dense forests around the town. The buses sat empty. The Vichy police found only one Jew, an Austrian named Steckler. As he sat alone on the bus, Trocmé’s son Jean-Pierre brought him his last piece of imitation chocolate. Others brought more presents, and soon the quiet little man had a pile of gifts beside him as high as his head. He was later released.

That’s the Spirit winning the battle over the flesh. But that victory has to start with us and it has to be the Spirit’s fruit. It is not a work that we do but fruit that we bear. Paul makes this distinction perfectly clear in the rest of our passage. Verses 19-21 tell us how the flesh works itself out in our lives. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

These are the personal and interpersonal qualities that lead to hellish communities. The first three have to do with sexual sins: sexual immorality, impurity, and sensuality. The first, in Greek, is porneia, from which we get ‘pornography.’ This is a broad term but is certainly meant to include the more narrow term ‘adultery,’ and sometimes it’s translated that way.

The thing I’m emphasizing here, and it’s not the only thing I could be emphasizing, but the thing I am emphasizing is that living out our old sinful nature poisons community. For example, nothing poisons the community of a marriage more than adultery. Many, many marriages do not survive it. Impurity or uncleanness, is perhaps a little more focused on the thought life, more inward, and sensuality is a more outward flaunting of sexual mores. Our culture has, for decades turned up the amplification on all three sexual sins, while denying they even exist. But the works of the sinful nature are obvious.

The next two, idolatry and sorcery, point to offenses against God. Idolatry, as we’ve said, is worship of the creature rather than the Creator, and extends to anything we put in God’s place, whether power or security or materialism or even moralism. Sorcery is ‘pharmakeia, which comes into our language as pharmacy, but is really about the use of drugs and magic in ways we most closely identify with the word ‘witch-doctor.’ Both of these sins tend to bleed over from denial of God into cruelty toward others.

Then we get the longest part of the list, directly pointed at community-destroying interpersonal sins. My description last week of a hellish community, sounds a lot like this list: hatred, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy. We know these things. We’ve seen them in our marriages, families, church, neighborhoods, workplaces. Communities weakened by these sins of the flesh become ‘toxic’ communities or ‘toxic’ churches. But I was amazed to find, if you google ‘toxic communities,’ the most common hit is in the world of gaming. Apparently the folks who play these multi-player games are really nasty. They hate on each other and demean each other a lot.

Yet we tend to deny our own responsibility for these things. Each of these sins has its origin in individuals. Enmity, a softer word for hatred, is so easy to fall into. “I don’t hate anybody, but I’m definitely not in love or even at peace with that particular individual.” Strife. People in dysfunctional communities argue and fight. Jealousy. This Greek word is used at times to mean zeal in pursuing a noble task, but here it is a begrudging resentment which envies the good fortune of others. Fits of anger. We’ve talked often of how explosive anger is, how hard it is to see it coming, to even fit a prayer between the irritation and the explosion. Rivalries. We so often feel like second class citizens. Whether it’s the number of hits on our social media posts or the perception that others get invitations and I get left behind, we all tend to keep score, and resent others. Dissensions, is the forming of little groups to complain to each other, often leading to divisions. These can occur in a family, but usually in larger communities, like, sadly, churches. Also civic groups, neighborhoods, maybe especially work places, anyplace envy takes hold.

The last two on the list, drunkenness and orgies, or possibly ‘drunken parties’ are a little different. We talked weeks ago about addictions, of which alcoholism is one example. They are evidence of the control of our lives by the sin nature: “the good I want to do I do not do.” Hellish communities characterized by drunkenness and addiction will have sexual sins as well. So Paul brings it all the way back around to where he started. These are the works of the flesh. It is the individual expression of the sin nature that leads to toxic communities.

The obvious question is this: is there something here that you need to repent of, something I need to repent of. Yup. There were several things on this list where it is clear to me that my old selfish self-centered self-promoting self was driving my life. There were others where I felt precarious, like I’m tempted, not succumbing, but not really confident that I won’t succumb. How about you? Is there any evidence in the communities you’re in that you may be the problem? Is your sinful nature creating strife, hurt and hatred? Are there any sins here like pornography or anger or addiction where you know you’re right on the edge, and your potential sin could cause tragic damage to others?

But God the Holy Spirit powerfully works against that by his fruit in our lives. Verse 22: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. 26Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.

You know I could do a whole sermon on each of the fruits of the Spirit. I think I did so some years ago. Today we can only touch on them. But one key thought is that the Fruit of the Spirit is who you want to be in relationships. This is what you really want for your communities. The second key thought is that this is the Spirit’s fruit in our lives. Works of the flesh we do naturally. But Paul changes the word. This is not the works of the Spirit, this the fruit of the Spirit. Just as a tree nurtured by soil, sunlight, and rain will produce its fruit, so a life nurtured by relationship to the Holy Spirit produces these fruits.

The Fruit of the Spirit is love. This is unconditional love, sacrificial love, relational love. It may also be the heading of the whole list. The Fruit of the Spirit is love: that is, joy, peace, patience, etc. The other fruits are the working out of love. That fits with Paul’s thinking. He has already told us that love is the summary of the law, and that in freedom means giving no opportunity to the flesh, but in love serving one another. But love, the nozzle that focuses God’s work, is itself a fruit or outcome of the Spirit’s work. He’s not just the fuel, he’s the rocket builder that makes an effective life possible.

What is love? Of the multitude of definitions that have been offered the simple ‘seeking the best for others’ is the one I like best. True community happens when the Spirit seeks the well-being of others through us. Cooperating with this is both the simplest and the hardest thing you will ever do. It’s simple. You weigh ‘my best interest,’ and ‘this other person’s best interest’ against each other, and put your thumb down hard on their side. It’s the hardest thing because the flesh wants you to act in your self-interest. Walking by the Spirit, not by the flesh is daily surrender. It’s also hard because you don’t know which of the many good things you can do you should do. And you’re not always sure what is in someone’s best interest. But that’s why the Holy Spirit has come to us, to guide those decisions as we trust in Him.

The Fruit of the Spirit is joy. Joy is a deep-seated, expressive, sustained version of happiness, more based on eternal realities than circumstances. So Peter praises a God who has given new birth into a living hope and says “though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with inexpressible and glorious joy.” This joy is to impact our relationships. Paul tells the Romans to rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. “The most important word isn’t ‘rejoice’ or ‘weep.’ It is ‘with.’” In the Spirit we celebrate with others, without jealousy or self-pity. If someone gets married and you’re single are you to rejoice? With them, yes! If one finds a job and you’re still looking are you to rejoice? Yes. If someone has a baby and you’re still waiting are you to rejoice? As a fruit of the Spirit’s presence in our lives, we can give the gift of rejoicing.

The Fruit of the Spirit is peace. Part of this is peace with God, as seen in Romans 5:1 and elsewhere. But this is also peace with others. Jesus commends peace-makers, and calls them sons of God. James says that those who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness. Through the Spirit we can be peacemakers in community, not easily offended ourselves and trusting that he will give us the words to help in the conflicts of others, and will work in power in their lives.

The Fruit of the Spirit is patience. No matter what you’re going through, it will probably seem like you have to endure it for a long time, and this is especially true in relationships. A true expression of love for others always requires patience. But as with most of the other things on this list, we are commanded to bear this fruit. James says, “Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord's coming.” Only by daily dependence on the Spirit can this command be kept.

The Fruit of the Spirit is kindness. God himself led Israel “with cords of human kindness, with ties of love; I lifted the yoke from their neck and bent down to feed them.” The Spirit, as in most of these, makes us like God, makes us kind.

1st Thessalonians 5 says “Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always be kind to each other and to everyone else.” Kindness, my wife likes to say, is being nice. If people would be nice to each other so many hurts would be avoided. I’ve seen this in marriages that are struggling. Often one or both partners have stopped being nice. There is no politeness, no deference, no thoughtfulness in how things are said, no acts of kindness.

The Fruit of the Spirit is goodness. Distinctions are a bit difficult between some of these words, but if kindness is being nice, goodness is what teaches us what nice is. Paul says in Galatians 6:9 “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. 10Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” This was the driving force of Le Chambon. André Trocmé was motivated by the love of Christ, but his wife Magda would not have said it that way. “For her a person either opens the door or closes it in the face of a victim. That person there, that pursued terrified person before her, needs help, not a closed door. That person’s need is the basis of ethics.”

The Fruit of the Spirit is faithfulness. Like all of these, this is first a character quality of God, celebrated throughout Scripture: “I will sing of the Lord's great love forever; with my mouth I will make your faithfulness known through all generations.” God expresses himself in us to live out the same faithfulness. Jesus says “He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much.” John writes “Dear friend, you are faithful in what you are doing for the brothers, even though they are strangers to you. 6They have told the church of your love.” Faithfulness is a long loving obedience in the same direction.

Next, the Fruit of the Spirit is gentleness. The God of the great wind, the God of the earthquake spoke to Elijah in a gentle whisper. Jesus said of himself that he is gentle and compassionate in his heart. Mary Batchelor wrote this as a prayer. “Give me your gentleness, Jesus. Make me sensitive to needs, quick to discern even when no words are spoken. Help me never to rush in with thoughtless words, nor to brush others aside with sweeping assertions. Help me never to quench another's hopes, nor deepen another's sorrow.”

Finally, the Fruit of the Spirit is self-control. Paul writes in 1st Corinthians “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.” Spiritual training, in the word and in the prayer opens the door for the Spirit’s fruit of self-control. And when we have that fruit we do not easily give ourselves to all the horrid works of the flesh.

Paul goes on to say that those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. This is a war, and while the Spirit is the one who produces the fruit, we are not without responsibility. We turn from self to him. Remember Romans 8, “the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace.” That’s true in communities too. The work of the old nature is deadly, but the fruit of the Spirit is life and peace in community.

Verse 25 “If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. 26Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.” This is almost a summary. First, pursue the Spirit. Back in verse 16 he said “Walk by the Spirit.” Verse 18 “Be led by the Spirit.” Here, “Keep in step with the Spirit.” When we stay close to Him, he will produce his fruit in our lives and in our communities. So, turn from the works of the flesh. Turn from self-centeredness and conceit. Turn from provoking and envying one another. These works of the flesh are the foundations of the hellish community.

Le Chambon was a community living out the fruit of the Spirit by following the teaching of Jesus. And God protected them. With the exception of the brief arrest of the leaders and one tragic raid on a house where André Trocmé’s cousin Daniel was caring for teen boys, the community was never harmed. The author says “Members of the Gestapo knew that the village was full of Jews, knew it in detail, but they did not come after them, though they were seizing and killing Jews in France during all the four years of the occupation. How could this be?” “One day I posed this question to a friend on the faculty of Weslayan University. He was a distinguished mathematician and always a circumspect thinker. The answer he gave stunned me. ‘It was a miracle.’” That’s what happens when the Spirit’s power is focused by love into action.

Another way to say it is that the Spirit produces a masterpiece. Actually a number of little masterpieces that merge together into a great painting, a picture of Christ working in the world. God the Holy Spirit is like the genius of Leonardo DaVinci. He puts deep knowledge of people and deep power into every stroke of his brush. With almost invisible strokes and the thinnest of layers he creates these masterpieces, people and communities that truly express His love in action. The flesh makes a mess, but the Spirit makes a masterpiece.