Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.
This is the easiest of passages and the hardest of passages: it seems so obvious, doesn’t it? It’s all a bit Ronseal really – it does what is says on the tin! As Paul says, the works of the flesh are pretty obvious and so are the fruit of the Spirit – and we all know which should be on full display in our lives and in the lives of our churches (bearing in mind that Paul writes to churches and not to individuals) Except, are they really?
Paul is no fool – re-read that last sentence again – have we ever really desired someone else’s gift? I would love to be able to bake. It must be wonderful to be able to contribute to fetes and fairs, and even to after-church coffee. I have tried, and I watch cooking programmes, but I’m too ashamed of my offerings to contribute them– leave alone compete. I could say the same thing about flower arranging: I’m up to “stick them in a vase and hope” standard – whereas my daughter has real flair.
More seriously, do congregations “mark” preachers? As someone with an itinerant ministry, I’ve often wondered…. I do know that there can be fierce competition within a preaching team. If that drives up standards of preparation and commitment to a congregation, then done in the right Spirit then that is no bad thing, but it is all too easy for that to become corrupted. I also know that within Worship Groups, there is a serious danger of a similar dynamic developing.
Churches are composed of human beings, and being human, we all fail. It may look simple, but it’s not easy.
Living Lord, Help us to truly live by the Spirit Not only to display the fruits of the Spirit But grow them in our hearts That our whole being may glorify you Alone and together Amen
Dr Lesley Bailey, lay preacher and member of St George’s URC, Maghull, Liverpool