Thursday, July 14, 2011

Counterfeits of the Spirit's Fruits

Joe McKeever

"Your words have stood men on their feet." Job 4:4

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, kindness, faithfulness, humility, and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23)

Half the people I know in church have this list of Christlike qualities memorized. But I find myself wondering if they also know the list of counterfeits which precedes it. In some respects, it's every bit as important to know the negatives, the dark side, the alternate universe if you will, of those wonderful positives.

Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also toldyou in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21)

Note that these ugly traits are:

1) Of the flesh. Man-generated. We can't blame them on God.

2) Against the Spirit. "For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh." (Gal. 5:17)

3) Anti-love, every one of them. Earlier, Scripture says, "For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself'" (Gal. 5:14). Each one is a perversion, a corruption, of true love.

4) Your ticket to hell. "Those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God."

At this, the beginning of a series on the fruit of the Spirit, let's take a closer look at these counterfeits.

Keep in mind what a counterfeit is supposed to do: fool the owner into thinking he possesses the real thing.

Listen to the person deeply involved in adultery, sexual pleasures and promiscuity, jealousies, and the like. It's all about love, they will tell you. "I'm just a loving person." "I fell in love with her." "It's my nature to love a lot of people."

Love has nothing to do with it, friend.

It's about lust: "uncontrolled, untamed desires." We generally use the word to refer to sexual lust, but in itself, it has no connection to sex. It's merely a wayward force in your life that wants what it wants, wants more and more of it, and is never satisfied with what it gets. One can have a lust to possess more cars, or the biggest house on the block, or collectibles. Or, he can lust after his neighbor's wife, as the tenth commandment puts it (Exodus 20:17).

Lust and love are strangers to one another and enemies in all that matters. Lust is love's ugly cousin, the bastard child (excuse me, mom) of the black sheep of the family. Lust claims the family inheritance but should be denied all rights and privileges. Lust must be tamed and controlled and regularly nailed to the cross.

Adultery is not about love.

Sorry, friend, no matter how you dress it up, it is not. Adultery is about "getting my needs met," "achieving the happiness I deserve," and "finding fulfillment with the man/woman of my dreams." Adultery is all about me. And anything that is all about "me" bears no relation to love at all.

When the pastor's wife left him for a man in the church (who also left his family) and ran off to another state, some women from the congregation tracked them down, and tried to talk some sense into her. "You are interfering with the will of God for my life," she stubbornly answered. As the song put it, "This feels so good, it can't be wrong." But it was. She soon realized it, but not before destroying two marriages.

I'm not sure what Tina Turner had in mind with her hit song of a generation ago, but "What's love got to do with it?" surely pertains to adultery.

Fornication is not about love for anyone.

The Greek word porneia gives us our word "porn" or "pornography." The idea is any and all sexual iniquity, not just fornication (which we generally interpret as sexual relations outside of marriage).

I could not believe my ears. This deacon widower was dating a widow who had long been a pillar of our church, with both in their mid-70s. He sat in my living room and said, "Pastor, is it wrong if Mildred Ann and I sleep together?" I sat there quietly for a moment, then said, "Where have you been all these years? Have you not heard one thing we have said about sexual faithfulness?"

I knew exactly what had happened (and their ages had nothing to do with it). Once they were convinced they were in love and that no one would be hurt by their actions, as soon as their desires got the best of them, they quickly rationalized their actions.

All the sexual iniquity does not take place in honky-tonks on Bourbon Street, friend. Not all of it involves dirty old men preying on vulnerable young girls. Some of it takes place between the nicest and best people.

Lewdness is not about love for anyone but yourself.

Some translations call this "indecency" and "uncleanness." It's a general term that covers a lot of sins (but not, we hasten to add, the way love does! A reference to I Peter 4:8, which is itself a quote from Proverbs 10:12.).

We can imagine some drunken husband trying to get his wife to look at pornographic movies with him, or engage in bizarre sexual behavior. He may be so far gone that he thinks this is all about love. He certainly uses the term a lot. Pity the godly woman he is married to, who has to deal with this on a regular basis.

Idolatry is not about love for God.

Anything we put in the place of God--even if we claim it helps us worship Him--is an idol. Our minds immediately go to household deities people of some religions install in their living quarters and before which they bow. We think of various manmade representations of deities, everything from a rag on a stick to a totem to a gold-layered idol in a jewel-encrusted temple. But idolatry is often much closer to home than all that.

In Old Testament days, God told Moses how to build the "Ark of the Covenant," that gold-covered box into which was placed the ten commandments, the rod of Moses, and samples of manna. Above the ark, on the "mercy seat," artists were to build and place cherubim, one at each end, facing each other. The Lord then said to Moses, "There I will meet with you. I will speak with you from above the mercy seat, from between the two churubim on the ark...." (Exodus 25:22)

Before long, the people of Israel got it in their minds that God lived in that box, and from there it was a short jump to believe the box was God. See I Samuel 4 for the kind of foolishness that brought about. Idolatry is folly.

Sorcery has nothing to do with love.

This is an interesting word in the Greek: pharmakeia. Our word "pharmacy" comes from that. It originally referred to medicines of all types, but eventually came to mean the kind of drugs used in magic, the occult, and witchcraft. Pagan religions often used mind-altering drugs in their worship practices.

God would have none of this foolishness. Whatever the person's motives, love has nothing to do with it. After all, Jesus said, "If you love me, keep my commandments" (see John 14:21,23,24.).

Hatred and love are sworn enemies.

There is no room in the life of a disciple for a quarrelsome spirit, for strife and enmity. One of the saddest features of the modern religious landscape is the groups that spout hatred in the name of the Lord. They picket at public events telling homosexuals that "fags will burn in hell forever." They picket any religious meeting that they decide is soft on their issues. They thrive on strife, they feed on hatred.

It would be interesting to slip in unobserved and watch the private worship meetings of these people. I wonder if at any point they stop and bow before the Lord and quietly and humbly worship Him. Do they ever prostrate themselves at His altar and ask a loving God to "have mercy on me the sinner"?

They do not.

No one who experiences the living God in worship can then rise to his feet and step outside and hate his brothers. He who says he is in the light, and hates his brother, is in darkness even now (I John 2:9).

Contentions are the antithesis of love.

I have known church members who lived to argue. If there was no fight going on in their congregation, they started one. If the pastor proposed the church do something, they looked for flaws in the plan and reasons to oppose it.

These are the people who drive pastors and other church leaders to early graves. And, we hasten to add, they will stand before the Heavenly Father and give account of what they have done.

The puzzling thing is that a church's trouble-makers will protest a deep love for the Lord.

But they do not love the Lord. They may love a lot of things, but if they loved Jesus Christ, they would obey Him. Why do you call me 'Lord, Lord,' and not do the things which I say? (Luke 6:46)

Jealousies masquerade as love, but don't be fooled.

Law enforcement people will tell you the most dangerous part of their job is dealing with conflicts between couples when jealousy has entered the picture.

We pick up the morning paper and read where some jilted lover is so incensed that his ex- has broken up with him and moved in with the new guy, he takes a gun and kills them, then turns it on himself. "Where is the reason in this?" we wonder. What did he possibly hope to achieve?

The answer is that jealousy is not rational, does not see clearly or think sanely.

Jealousy is a dangerous blend of lust and pride. As with everything else here, love has nothing to do with it.

Someone asks, "Doesn't the Bible say God is jealous?" (I recall hearing that Oprah Winfrey marked "God" off her list when the pastor preached that He is jealous.) The answer is so simple a child can get it: He is jealous for us not of us. As with any loving parent, He wants to protect us from harm. He wants us to do well, and resents anything interfering with that.

Outbursts of wrath are not about love.

"Fits of rage" they're called in one version.

Here's a husband who beats his wife, then later repents and vows his undying love for her. Before long, he does it again. She tells the doctor she "ran into a door" or "fell down the stairs."

I've seen wives like that sitting in my congregation. Their eyes reflect the cruelties with which they live. Unless they escape to a safe haven and find help, they soon become like whipped puppies and unable to think or act for themselves. The scoundrels to whom they are married, however, speak of love. Eventually the wives become so warped in mind and hurt in body that they really do think such husbands love them. Not so.

Selfish ambitions are the enemies of love.

On the shelves in my study are a number of commentaries on Galatians. When I consult them for insights on these unholy qualities, I find they have no patience for the repetition the Apostle Paul does here. They end up grouping the traits. (John R. W. Stott says the first three have to do with sex, the next two with religion, followed by eight terms having to do with society, and the last two--drinking and carousing--dealing with drinking.)

Many a book or program promising success and material wealth will demand that the practitioner of their dark arts spend all their time planning and scheming, working and climbing, to get to the top of the pinnacle. Say goodbye to one's family, to outside activities, to church, to hobbies. It's all about "me" and all about "getting to the top."

One wonders why those who buy into this scam never seem to notice that others before them have done this and found it to be a dead-end route to happiness. I keep thinking of a cartoon in the Wall Street Journal from a generation ago. A businessman in a large office tells his visitor: "I owe my success to my first wife. And I owe my second wife to my success."

Dissensions will destroy love.

Is this different from quarrels and outbursts of anger? Only slightly. I think of the competitive spirit that drives so many people in our world. Propose a plan for children to play ball where no side loses and they go ballistic. "Whoever heard of such? The whole idea is to teach the kid to win!" That is not anywhere near the "whole idea," but it shows how skewed is the mind of such people.

We see this competitive drive in church people who sleep through church but whose juices really flow when they think of their college football team and the drive to win the championship. "Beat State!" is their mantra.

If they are pastors, they want theirs to be the biggest church in town. If they are fathers, they want their children to be better and smarter and stronger and more successful than all the others in school.

Such people need to learn to chill. That contentious spirit will destroy everything good and noble in their lives.

Heresies are not about love.

"Sectarian parties" and "party intrigues" is how some have translated this. One calls it "canvassing for office."

As a pastor with a theological education, "heresy" means only one thing to me and that is people who stray from pure doctrine to concoct their own religious brand. However, the idea here is simpler: these are people who just cannot seem to get along and go along with the other disciples.

A pastor I know found himself at odds with a couple of strong leaders who happened to be successful lawyers. He told how they worked behind the scenes to undercut his ministry and eventually succeeded in ending his work at that church. Later, reflecting on what had happened, he observed, "Trial lawyers don't always make good church members. They spend their time scheming and maneuvering all week and when they get to church on Sunday, they can't quit scheming and maneuvering."

Envy is the opposite of love.

Envy is a twin to "covet," the essence of the tenth and final commandment in Exodus 20, and a close cousin to "jealousy" in our list here.

Love rejoices when you succeed, but envy/jealousy wishes he had succeeded in your place. Love is glad to see you have a new car, whereas envy/jealousy wants it for himself.

Murders have nothing at all to do with love.

It hardly goes without saying, but we are amazed at how many killings are done in the name of love. A jealous spouse, a spurned lover, a misguided zealot.

Drunkenness and love are sworn enemies.

This and the trait that follows--revelries or carousings--may have been associated with pagan worship rites in Paul's day. In our day, however, worship has nothing to do with the drunkenness we see every day.

So many of these qualities involve excess or out-of-control behavior. One feels strongly about something and cannot control his anger, his temper, or his desire, and the result is always bad.

Be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess, Paul says (Ephesians 5:18), but be filled with the Spirit.

One of the most bizarre legal defenses ever attempted in this country involve drunkenness. "Your honor, my client is not responsible for what he did. He was under the influence of strong drink at the time."

In a court of law, this would be laughed at. However, untold thousands of men and women try that ploy on each other and their children all the time. "Daddy doesn't mean it when he says that. Daddy sometimes drinks a little too much and does things he regrets. You understand, don't you, darling?"

God help the child.

Carousings. Revelries. Love's counterfeits.

Surrounding the large universities in most cities you will find fraternity and sorority houses. Young men and women who go off to college seeking an education are lured into these setups where they are taught the skills of partying, drinking, and promiscuity. Are there exceptions? Probably, although we rarely hear of them. The rule is sufficiently true that it should make clear-thinking students wary of having anything to do with such training centers of ungodliness.

Promiscuity masks itself as a form of love. We speak of "making love," as though any kind of sexual activity meets the criteria for that. Hardly.

That's the list. Rather an unholy grouping, isn't it. Thoroughly depressing.

I recall as a young pastor about to begin a series of sermons on The Fruit of the Spirit thinking it would be in order to preach one before on "the works of the flesh" here. In studying and preparing, I found myself so depressed by that laundry list of vices, I abandoned the plans and made occasional references to it.

In his commentary on Galatians, Timoty George mentions several ways in which the two lists--the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit--are presented here in Galatians 5. These are great insights and worth noting.

First, Paul did not contrast the works of the flesh with opposing works of the Spirit. Actually, that was probably the first thing most of us looked for in studying these lists, to see if the first quality was the opposite of love, the second the opposite of joy, and so forth. But no.

Second, there is a difference in the way the two lists are structured.
The fleshly traits are "works," plural. But the "fruit of the Spirit" is singular. Dr. George writes, "There is one fruit of the Spirit that manifests itself in nine Christian graces...."

Third, the 15 items Paul mentions in his catalog of evil are not meant to be exhaustive. So when he came to the end, he added, "and the like." He could go on and on all day with this!

Finally, let me add a note of my own here. Clearly, I have seen all these unholy traits as the opposite of love itself, the first-mentioned of the nine qualities that make up the fruit of the Spirit. In some places, that is clear, but in other cases I might have stretched the point a little. Readers will have your own thoughts on this.

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