Fruit of the Spirit
Published on 13 April 2021
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Much has been written about the concept of joy vs happiness. While happiness is circumstantial, joy is an inner state received from the Lord. This idea is seen in Paul’s letters to the church at Philippi where he and Barnabas were in prison, but still full of joy. In fact, the whole epistle can be categorised under the theme of ‘joy’. Philippians 4:4 says, “Always be full of joy in the Lord.” Likewise, in Romans 12:15, Paul tells us to, “Rejoice with those who rejoice”.
Often our joy is directed towards the Lord— as it should be— but there is clearly an element of joy which needs to be directed to those around us as well. Paul describes joy as a ‘cheerfulness directed to others’, which gives us the communal aspect of joy. Just think about it – how amazing is it to be around a person who radiates joy? Joy has the ability to change atmospheres around us.
In part one of this series, we looked at an overview of the Fruit of the Spirit, including Paul’s emphasis on living by the Spirit and the fact that the Fruit is a work of the Spirit in our lives and not our own efforts.We also looked at the benefit of the manifested Fruit for the Christian community and finished our discussion by observing how all of the fruit originate from and cannot exist apart from, love.
In part two we will take a closer look at each individual expression of the Fruit, beginning once again with love.
The original Greek word used for love is ‘agape’, describing the purest form of love out of the four Greek words available to express love. The word is in verb form meaning ‘to love’, indicating that love should be accompanied by action. It is not restricted to an internal state or mindset, but should be outworked.
Looking to the few verses earlier for the context, we see Paul repeating Jesus’ commandment to love our neighbours as ourselves (verse 14) and to demonstrate love by serving one another. We can clearly see Paul setting the scene for love to be directed to the people around us.
I have often wondered why Paul didn’t use that moment to implore us to love God?
Perhaps loving God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength is the easy part for a Christian in comparison to loving the people around us. The truth is that God is easy to love because He is perfect. Loving God’s imperfect creation, however, in a pure way, requires more of the Holy Spirit’s help!
Paul describes true peace in Philippians 4:7 as, ‘surpassing all understanding’. Often peace is thought of as the absence of conflict, but the peace from the Spirit is so much more than that. Barclay says the following about peace: “Here it means that tranquillity of heart which derives from the all-pervading consciousness that our times are in the hands of God.”
While peace is clearly a state of inner contentment and right standing with God, studying the context of Galatians allows us to see a further outworking of peace— peace with each other. As we have seen, there was content quarrelling and strife in the Galatian church at the time. This idea is also seen at the end of Paul’s letter to the Romans where he makes the contrast between peace (eirene) and upbuilding (oikodome), concluding that If people in the church are at peace with each other, the church will be in a much better position to build itself up.
Patience is an especially difficult virtue to produce in today’s fast-paced, have-it-now, 21st-century world. We are conditioned for instant gratification, both with ‘things’ and with people. We want everything NOW!
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The word used for patience— makrothumia— is often used as meaning ‘patience towards other people and events involving people’. It is also translated as ‘longsuffering’, which I prefer, as it shows to us exactly what patience entails. It implies that there is no easy way out when practising the Fruit of patience and as such, is something the Holy Spirit must empower us to do. Ephesians 4:1-2 links together patience with love for one another, showing us again the communal element of this Fruit.
We can also see patience in action through Christ. 1 Timothy 1:16 shows Christ having patience with us while we were still sinners. If Christ can have patience with sinners through the Holy Spirit, we can definitely have patience with whatever is thrown at us!
Kindness is often seen as a soft and gentle virtue, which it is, but it can also often be mis-interpreted as weakness. In fact, kindness is the very opposite of weakness! Displaying kindness to those around you can often be one of the hardest things to do. This is why it is listed as a work of the Spirit in our lives rather than a fleshly work achieved in our own strength.
The King James Version of the Bible translates this Fruit as ‘gentleness’, conveying the idea of a ‘gentleman’— an easier concept to grasp in the 15th century than it is for us today. Gentlemen were not viewed as weak, but as strong men who chose to act in kindness. In 1 Corinthians 13:4, we see Paul also describes kindness as an attribute of love. This serves to remind us again that all of the Fruit always find their source in love.
Goodness is a fruit of the Spirit that often lacks the same ‘impact’ as some of the other Fruits listed and is frequently passed over without due consideration. The concept of goodness sounds so simple, right? Actually, I believe we have become so desensitised to the word ‘good’ that it is now thrown around without true effect. In Genesis 1, God announced that His creation was very ‘good’—the highest compliment that He could bestow!
It is this same unique and holy ‘goodness’ that is reflected in the character of Jesus. As our Saviour and example of how we should live life, Jesus is the personification of goodness! The Holy Spirit enables us to become more Christ-like by producing the Fruit of ‘goodness’ in our lives.
The word translated ‘faithfulness’ is the word pistis, more commonly translated as ‘faith’. The Blue Letter Bible observes that the most commonly used definition of the word is, “the character of one who can be relied on”, as in someone who others can have faith in. W. T. Davison comments on this when he says, “trustfulness is a more accurate translation of this word in the context supplied.” He goes on to say, “It means the freedom from suspicion and grudging, the hoping always for the best in men, the finding good in all men and helping it to grow, which is proverbially an unworldly virtue.” This faithfulness is again intended to be directed both inwardly and outwardly, extending to having faith in those around us as well. Think back to those times when someone has put their faith in you. For me, these were the moments when I grew the most!
So we can see that faithfulness means being reliable. Can you imagine what the Church would look like if everybody was reliable with God and each other, 100% of the time? It would certainly be a beautiful thing.
Today’s 21st-century culture has again curtailed the meaning of the word gentleness. Not to be confused with the King James Version of gentleness, this Fruit more accurately means, ‘mildness of disposition’. This ‘meekness’ can be found in the Sermon on the Mount and is also used by Jesus to describe Himself (see Matthew 11:29). Gentleness is not weakness, but rather the ability to be teachable and to know the appropriate times to exercise our true strength. Remember that Jesus drove out the sellers from the temple court, yet He was self-described as gentle. Did He lose this attribute at that moment? Quite the opposite! He remained gentle but knew when the time was right to take a stand. By contrast, when He was being taken to the cross, he did not resist, knowing it was not the time to fight and to demonstrate the reality of His strength!.
Self-control means ‘mastery of something’— in this case, ourselves. This extends to our sinful nature which we cannot hope to master on our own. Only through the Spirit can our sinful impulses— especially those described in the preceding verses —be brought under control and mastered. But this is just a broad definition of self-control. It also means mastery of the little things. You may have all the big things sorted out, but then find yourself coming unstuck in the little things which have great impact in your life. It’s having the self-control to read your Bible instead of watching Netflix or to spend time in prayer instead of watching that sports game, that really counts!
Self-control can (and should) also be extended beyond ourselves; selfish self-control will only work for itself, while the self-control of the Spirit will work towards the greater good for others. It will have individual benefits, but it will also benefit the community as a whole.
Tying it All Together: Our Response
During this discussion we have investigated the context behind the Fruit of the Spirit and how it is the Spirit’s work in us and not the efforts of our flesh that produce this fruit. We have also seen the communal aspect of the Fruit of the Spirit and how their manifestation in our life should impact those around us. In closing, I want to read on, beyond verse 23, to see what Paul tells us right after he describes this Fruit.
Verse 25 speaks about ‘living and walking in the Spirit’. Paul combines what is called an ‘indicative’ (i.e. God’s promise to us) with an ‘imperative’ (an action that is our responsibility). Living in the Spirit is the promise we receive at the point of our salvation. The Spirit never leaves us and is always ready and available to help. As we have seen, the Spirit is a prerequisite for the fruit as it is HIS fruit. The good news, if you’re saved, that part is already checked off! He is IN YOU!
However, our responsibility is to walk in the Spirit. How amazing our lives could be if we set our minds to doing this for the rest of our days! It would require constant yielding to the Holy Spirit.
My encouragement to you today is this: do not just LIVE in the Spirit, but WALK in the Spirit daily, submitting yourself to Him and letting Him lead and guide you to see His fruit manifest in your life.