Galatians 5:1, 13-25

June 26, 2016


Motivational speaker Zig Ziglar calls it “stinkin’ thinkin.’” He’s talking about people who approach life with a negative attitude. Do you know anyone like that?

Whether or not it’s justified, New York cabdrivers are notorious for having a bad attitude. A man approached one such driver in New York. “Take me to London,” the potential fare said. The cab driver told him that was not possible. He couldn’t drive across the Atlantic Ocean. The customer insisted it was possible. “You’ll drive me down to the pier; we’ll put the taxi on a freighter to Liverpool; when we get there, you’ll drive me to London, where I’ll pay you whatever is on the meter.”

That sounded pretty good to the driver. He agreed to make this absurd journey. When they arrived in London, the passenger paid the total on the meter, plus a $1000 tip. Even a New York cabdriver couldn’t complain about that, but what was he to do now? How would he get back home? He roamed aimlessly around London for awhile not knowing quite what to do. Then an Englishman hailed him and said, “I want you to drive me to New York.” The cabdriver couldn’t believe his good luck. How often do you pick up a guy in London who wants to go by cab to New York? When the passenger began to say, “First, we take a boat …” the driver cut him off.

“That I know,” the driver interjected. “But where to in New York?” he asked.

The passenger said, “Riverside Drive and 104th St.”

The driver thought for a moment and then responded drily, “Sorry, I don’t go to the west side.” He was willing to go across the Atlantic, just not across the city.

Some people are like that, they want to do things their way or not at all. If things do not go their way, they voice their unhappiness loud enough for everyone to hear.

I wonder if there are any children in our congregation who watch Sesame Street. If so, then they know about Oscar the Grouch. Oscar is probably the world’s most famous grouch. He manages to insult everyone he meets. Of course, if we lived in a trashcan, we might not have the world’s best attitude either.

It’s interesting how Oscar the Grouch got his name. In the early days of Sesame Street, Jim Henson and Jon Stone, Sesame Street’s director, would meet to work on the upcoming show at a Manhattan restaurant. The name of the restaurant was Oscar’s Cavern. Each time they ate there they were waited on by a man who was constantly rude and grouchy. He was so over-the-top with his grouchiness that they actually went to the restaurant looking forward to what he might do or say next. Call it an exercise in masochism, I guess. The result was that the waiter’s attitude was forever immortalized on Sesame Street in the character of Oscar the Grouch.

I thought of Oscar the Grouch when I read Paul’s words to us in verses 22 and 23 in our lesson for today from Galatians 5: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” Wow! No grouchiness there.

These are the characteristics of a follower of Jesus Christ. Let me read them again: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” You know anyone like that? Unfortunately, it’s probably easier for most of us to think of someone with a contrasting disposition.

It seems to me like the workplace brings out the worst in people. I was amused at an article in Fortune magazine. In the article was a list of some actual lines that people had written in résumés and cover letters. For example, one applicant wrote, “It’s best for employers that I not work with people.” Would you want to hire that applicant? Another wrote, “I have become completely paranoid, trusting completely no one and absolutely nothing.”

Still another wrote, “Personal interests: donating blood. 14 gallons so far.” Okay, interesting hobbies might not disqualify a person, but what about this next one? “Note: Please don’t misconstrue my previous 14 jobs as ‘job-hopping.’ I have never quit a job.” Does that mean that he or she was fired from 14 jobs? And finally this one, “The company made me a scapegoat, just like my three previous employers.”

I don’t know about you, but if I were an employer, I would be looking for someone who embodies the exact characteristics that Paul lists here: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” That’s the total package.

If I were looking for a mate, these are also the exact characteristics I would hope to find in a person I would want to spend the rest of my life with. What more could you hope for? Some people seem to be born with a sunny, wholesome disposition. For the rest of us, the kind of attitude we have is ultimately a matter of choice. We can choose love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

I was interested to read about the early years of the positive thinking guru, Robert Schuller. Schuller says that when he was growing up, mornings were a hectic time for their family. His mother would come running through the house and wake every one up at 7 o’clock. At 10 minutes after seven, she’d raced through the house again and wake everybody up again. Then she’d go to the kitchen and start making breakfast. Each member of the family had chores to do. His sisters set the table and made the beds. They probably had other chores, but he’d forgotten them. He never forgot his own routine, however. He’d bring in the milk. Then he’d walk the dog, sweep the walks, and take out the trash. Every morning for years he did those four things.

At exactly 5 minutes before eight, everyone had to be at the breakfast table ready to eat. By 8 o’clock the food was gone, so you dared not dawdle. That gave them five minutes for a short devotion. His father would say a few comments, they’d read some Scripture, then they would always stand and say aloud a certain motto. I want you to listen very carefully to this motto that they recited, as a family, each and every day. I quote, “I’m going to be happy today, though the skies may be cloudy or gray. No matter what comes my way, I’m going to be happy today.”

“That determination,” says Schuller, “set the tone for the day.”

No wonder Robert Schuller became one of the world’s most famous proponents of positive thinking. “I’m going to be happy today, though the skies may be cloudy or gray. No matter what comes my way, I’m going to be happy today.”

Here is something we need to understand: None of these characteristics that Paul lists as fruit of the Spirit depends on external circumstance. No matter what happens to you from the outside, you can still possess love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

The Irish tenor, Ronon Tynan, had both legs amputated below the knee after a motor bike accident many years ago. How would you react to such misfortune? I’ll tell you how Tynan responded. He went on to become a medical doctor, a well-known Irish tenor, and an excellent athlete. In the 1984 and 1988 Paralympics, he won four Gold Medals in the discus, shot-put and long jump. He even rode show horses. A tall man, he had a special set of artificial legs made for riding. He became an equestrian master.

A reporter once asked Tynan, “How tall are you, really?”

Tynan replied, “I’m adjustable.”

I love it! What a great attitude. Some of us think that if we lost our legs, the world would come to an absolute end. It doesn’t have to. We, too, can be “adjustable.”

Charles R. Boatman tells about a young man who “stands” only 3 feet tall. His name is Kyle Maynard. Maybe you know his story.

Kyle was born in 1986 with a rare birth defect known as congenital amputation. Kyle doesn’t have elbows, knees, or the extremities that should attach to those joints. And yet Kyle competed in the 2004 Georgia High School Wrestling Championships. He barely missed becoming an All-American.

Kyle’s coach, Cliff Ramos, invented new wrestling moves that used Kyle’s low center of gravity and great strength as assets, even though Kyle does not use prosthetics. He uses only the stumps with which he was born.

In spite of his physical challenges, we’re told that Kyle’s outstanding characteristic is his attitude about life. Those who know him say he refuses to think about his limitations. Instead, he focuses on such things as eating with regular utensils and typing 50 words per minute, tasks that the rest of us might take for granted. An important dimension to his attitude is his ready acknowledgment that family and friends have contributed to his success. His attitude has inspired many who know his story.

People who confront difficulties and overcome them are an inspiration to all of us. They are a living testimony to the truth that what happens on the outside of us is not nearly as important as what we have on the inside. And what is the key to having the right stuff within? The positive characteristics that Paul lists are the fruit of having the Spirit of God within our hearts.

That is obvious from our text. Paul writes, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” In other words, if we want to bear such fruit, we must first have the Spirit of God living within us.

Somehow people even within the church family miss this message. They grow up in the faith, they may even come to church regularly, but they’re still seeking for the key to happiness. They’re still walking around with a God-shaped void in their life. Listen, here is the key to life. Pray right now, “Lord Jesus, send your Spirit into my heart.” That’s it. That’s the key. It may not happen at once, but it will happen. Pray for Christ’s Spirit to dwell in your heart and focus on the fruit of the Spirit–love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. As you do those two things–pray for Christ’s Spirit and focus on these attributes–you will find your life transformed. You will have not only the form of godliness, but also the Spirit of godliness as well.

Evangelist Alan Walker once told about a girl who had a rich and lovely voice. She was singing in the choir of a church in East London. She had this wonderful voice, but she had also been well-trained in vocal technique. Her fame as a soloist spread until one Christmas she was invited to sing one of the lead parts in “Messiah” at the Queen’s Hall.

One of her closest friends went to her teacher, asking whether he thought she was equal to it. His response was this: “If she focuses on what I have tried to teach her and merely follows the rules of correct breathing and voice production, she will break down. But if she can forget everything and think only of the wonder of the message she is singing, she will be all right.”

The night came. This lovely young woman stepped forward and began singing, “I know that my Redeemer liveth.” The music flowed in great beauty from her lips. And the best hopes of her teacher were fulfilled. She forgot the audience and the occasion, and saying is one who knew the meaning of it all. She sang in the strength of the living Christ whom she knew intimately and who was in power within her own life. As she sang, the audience was strangely moved. That night was one to be remembered. Why? Because she was not trying merely to follow direction or obey a set of external rules; she had found a Spirit of power, within.

Do you understand the difference? Many people are religious. They keep the rules and the traditions of our faith, but they have no music within. They have never invited the Spirit of God to take up residence within their lives. This is how some people are able to deal with tragedies that would undo most of us.

Someone has said that what spills out when you hit a bump in the road is what you are full of. That’s somewhat crude, but it is still true. If you are filled with the Spirit of God, that is what manifests itself when you come to a difficult time in your life. If you are full of something else, that is what spills out, as well. A simple exercise brings this home to me.

Some of you are familiar with this little exercise. It is a favorite of motivational speakers. If you give a numerical value to the letters in the alphabet–A, of course, being 1, B being 2, C being 3, etc. all the way through the alphabet–and then apply that to certain familiar words, you get some interesting results.

For example, H-A-R-D-W-O-R-K counted out in those numerical values equals 98. K-N-O-W-L-E-D-G-E counted out in the same way equals 96. But A-T-T-I-T-U-D-E equals 100. That is an interesting result, for truly attitude contributes 100% to a successful life.

However, someone has pointed out that L-O-V-E-O-F-G-O-D equals 101%. This is important. No one on his or her own parking give more than 100%, no matter what football coaches say. If we’re going to exceed what the world expects of us, we are going to have to have something more. We need the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control that come only from having the Spirit of the living God within us. That’s the 101% Christ can give us. Pray for his Spirit to dwell in your heart and focus on the fruit of the Spirit–love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. As you do those two things, you will find your life transformed. You will find the joy that you seek.