There is a great difference in excellency, usefulness, and comfort between people of clear, digested knowledge, and confused, undigested apprehensions. -Richard Baxter

the fruit of the Spirit and its implications for marriage

They are now Mr. and Mrs. Brian Black (and, at their request, I presented them as Mr. and Mrs. Married-Filing-Jointly in a nod to their common profession of corporate tax), and they married last weekend.  They picked the text. I tried to link its implications to marriage.  The English Puritan, John Owen, said that no sermon (or wedding homily, for that matter) is fit for others until it has been preached to the preacher, himself.  I’m reading it again for my sake this morning.


22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self control, against such things there is no law.  24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh in its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. 26  Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.

If you happened to be at the base of Mt Rainier or somewhere in the Himalayas, and you saw a man preparing to climb to the summit of either, outfitted only with a single rope and a granola bar, you might think for a moment that this man was brave and tenacious.

But it’s more likely that the outcome of his attempt to climb with only those items will reveal he was neither brave nor tenacious, but merely foolish.  The climb before him would be magnificent and worthy of the ascent, but it’s treacherousness would require a kind of preparedness he did not account for.

You’re stepping into something this day that is both magnificent and treacherous. Marriage is an institution ordained by God, full of significance that represents the kind of love God has for His people.

But because it brings two flawed humans together in a world so fraught with flaws, it is as treacherous an existence as it is magnificent.  You need to be properly outfitted.

Paul has in these few verses three things I want you to take with you into marriage: three ideas, three non-negotiable truths that outfit you for marriage.

He makes no mention of marriage here, but in speaking of what constitutes a true and good life, he naturally outlines what will make a true and good marriage.  What I say to you this evening then applies to everyone in this room—single, married, newlywed, happily or unhappily-married.

Marriage is an earthly work sustained by a heavenly power.

In this first verse, Paul lines out almost comprehensively what constitutes true virtue

He lists these nine character traits that all go together, and which are those attributes of God He means for we, His creation, to share in—to give off, to reflect.

And who would argue that if you want to be married and stay married, this is a pretty good list of what to aspire to.


When you’re trying to walk out the door for some evening together and her pace leads you to believe she’s living in a different time-zone, you’re going to need patience. When he seems about as sharp as a bowling-pin when it comes to some of your sensitivities, you’re going to need gentleness. When stress, sickness, uncertainties, and children all begin to steal away your energy—and maybe even your hope—you’ll need perspective that allows joy to buoy your outlook. When each of you discover patterns and temperaments in one another that make you want to scream, you’ll need self-control. When the familiarity that comes with years of hearing the same jokes, enduring the same mistakes, talking through the same neuroses tempts you to think that the grass is greener somewhere else, you’ll need faithfulness.

The marriages that don’t crater, and the marriages that don’t drift into just a dull co-existence abide by these virtues.

The problem is: for all the need of these virtues, I wish I could tell you that they just emerge naturally—that given enough time you’ll just want to be loving, joyful, self-controlled.  You know and I know that they don’t just appear. If anything, married life can actually provoke the very vices opposed to these virtues.

That’s why you and I need to continually remind ourselves of where such virtue originates.  Paul makes it very clear that all that comprises a good, true, and virtuous life is a product of something outside you, yet at work within you.  That something or someone is the Spirit of God.  Kindness, goodness, patience—these and the rest are said to be the fruit of the Spirit.  They are born of and sustained by a gift from God—a gift that is a part of Himself, His presence.

All the communication strategies, the conflict-resolution techniques, are to no purpose unless there is something acting within you that originates from something beyond your own will and perspective.  That requires the Spirit of God.

There’s a huge difference between people who hear a list of virtues and then seek to comply with them, and people who feel deeply the goodness and truth of those virtues and seek to live by them.  The presence of the Spirit of God in us is what helps us to know not only what God calls from those who are His children but helps us to feel the value of those virtues that serve life and marriage—to know their beauty, their sturdiness, their nobility.  You cannot do consistently and authentically what you do not love to do.  It’s the Spirit of God in us that helps us to come to love what we ought to love—the virtues that sustain life and marriage.

There will be days when your love for these virtues wanes—when you lose sight of why they must be upheld.  It’s the Spirit of God in us that, so to speak, helps us repeatedly fall back in love with that which is loving and peaceful and patient. That’s why I can say that marriage is a very this-worldly act sustained by an other-worldly power.  Or to put it another way, a marriage lives on earth but feeds on heaven. TR: That only makes sense in light of the fact that One had to come from heaven in order to bring the will of heaven to earth.


Marriage finds its hope for survival and thriving in its belonging to Jesus

The Gospel Jesus brought was not merely a message of forgiveness it was a promise of power to live the life we could not do without His help.

The reason Paul can call forth the virtues from those who read his letter is because He knows what has become of those who have come to trust Jesus—that is, those who, in his words, belong to Jesus.

Something has happened to them, a kind of death has occurred.  He says they have crucified their flesh in its passion and desires.  Their flesh is that natural bent to make themselves the center of their universe; that unrelenting inclination to try to gain acceptance, approval, and significance on their own terms and in their own strength; that preference for doing things their own way which has only led them to anxieties, compulsions, arrogance, or despair.

Most struggles in a marriage come down to one or both spouses trying to make much of themselves or clawing to get something they only think they need to be whole or loved. 

But those who have trusted Jesus have had their flesh crucified; in other words, their previous orientation to life has begun to be exposed for the fraud that it is and the deception it creates. When you come to trust Jesus for your identity, for your forgiveness, for your stability, your former way of life gets exposed.  Your flesh becomes like a character on Jack Bauer’s 24 whom you thought you could trust and then suddenly you discover they’ve been deceiving you, not just for several hours, but your whole life.

So, for example: All that devotion to work you thought was just diligence, or the commitment to appearance, or prestige, or influence, or wealth—you begin to see all that as really just your fearful attempt to make yourself look good in yours or someone else’s eyes. But in Jesus, you’re already accepted. His acceptance doesn’t mean you become a slouch, but would it not change everything to know you didn’t have to prove anything to be respected?  Jesus does that in us.

So the marriage that belongs to Jesus has hope of survival and thriving because by trusting Jesus, you’re given not only insight but power to put to death whatever would seek to destroy a perfectly good marriage.

But that leads me to my last point, Paul is not so naïve as to think that simply by having come to trust Jesus that you can just get happy and chase all your cares away, that there’s this once-for-all death blow laid upon your flesh and the world’s influence.


Marriage requires an unceasing appeal to God for what defines you foremost.

When Paul warns of conceit and provocation and envy, he knows that even Christians are susceptible to listening to the lies of the world and the residual influence of their own flesh.

So Paul says if we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. That is, if it’s the Spirit of God who first convinced us of our utter bankruptcy and of Jesus’ sufficiency to meet our deepest needs, then it’s only by an ongoing remembrance of who we are and whose we are that we can protect ourselves and our marriages from the fears that lead to the sin of self-concern. You and she will have to keep coming back to this truth that what defines you is not the children you bear, or the salary you pull down, or the house you inhabit, or the friends you keep, but the Cross in whose shadow you live.

It’s the Cross of Christ that reminds us how desperate we were for help and how doomed we were to a life alienated from God, one another, and our own selves.

It’s the Cross of Christ that reminds us how cherished we are by the creator of the universe that He had to sacrifice His own Son for us to have any hope of reconciliation

The rough and tumble of marriage, the sheer routine of 24/7/365, the unceasing requirement to set aside your own plans for the sake of another—all that has the amazing ability to afflict you with a spiritual amnesia.  You forget your susceptibility to sin; you forget your acceptance to God by faith in His Son.

So your primary task as a married person and your primary responsibility to your spouse is to make a regular appeal to God to remind you of what defines you foremost.

Conclusion: Marriage is magnificent and glorious because it displays the kind of love God has for His children.  And its treacherousness while real and substantial shall never make the path across this life in marriage impassable because He who made marriage also supplies the strength by His Spirit to be married in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Marriage lives on earth and feeds on heaven.  It’s hope lies in belonging to Jesus.  And it’s thriving requires a unrelenting appeal to God to remind you of what defines you foremost.  For those who take those truths with them, when the day comes when one of you says goodbye to the other in death, the sorrowfulness of the parting will be tempered, I believe, by the knowledge that the work God did through the one who stays behind will now be completed in the one who enters His presence.




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