"But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!" — Galatians 5:22-23
When we think of fruit, we typically envision delicious, citrusy food. Abundant and varied, fruit abounds from healthy well-nurtured trees and vines. When fruit-bearing plants are looked after and cared for—when they receive the nourishment and pruning they need—good fruit is the result. The Bible uses the language of this kind of bountiful flourishing to describe the reaped rewards of a life lived well. To rely on the Holy Spirit and follow where God leads is to allow ourselves to be well-nurtured. And out of this spiritual care come comes the nine attributes, each a different aspect of a flourishing life.
Notably, when Paul writes of the Fruit of the Spirit in the book of Galatians, he speaks of fruit, singular. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control are not intended as a spiritual buffet in which we choose the elements or flavors we like best. Rather all nine reflect different qualities of one unified fruit-bearing life.
We'll briefly consider each of these aspects that together make up the Fruit of the Spirit.
Our word for love is derived from the Greek language. There is more than one Greek word for love, each encapsulating a range of types, including platonic, romantic, and brotherly love. Agape, from the Greek word ἀγάπη, is the name for the love referenced by Paul in Galatians. This is perfect love, offered to humanity by God.
Agape is love without conditions or reservations, embodied in Christ Jesus' sacrifice and care for the world. It is the love that 1 Corinthians 13 describes as patient, kind, and completely humble. When we recognize this love and live out of it, we reflect this compassion to everyone we encounter.
Joy is often associated or conflated with mere happiness. However, true spiritual joy is much more than a temporary pleasant feeling. Biblical joy is born out of the anticipation, expectation, or experience of something wonderful. It is a feeling of bliss or delight rooted in our relationship with God. While the world around us may beckon us to despair, the Holy Spirit moves us to hold on to hope, to live out of gratitude for the ways God has provided, and to rest assured that beauty and restoration are within reach.
Peace is central to who God is. Creation as God intended was in a state of Shalom, or perfect peace. Jesus Christ is referred to as the Prince of Peace. If we live our lives according to the Holy Spirit's work and guidance, it makes sense that peace would be definitive for us as well.
We may look out at the world around us—at war, uncertainty, and division—and feel like peace is a pipe dream. But the peace of the Spirit is born out of our relationship with our Creator. The ways of the world and humanity may be chaotic, but God is constant and steadfast, and ever in control. Experiencing perfect peace comes when we recognize that God is working for our ultimate good, moving us back to Shalom.
Embracing God's agape love, and rejoicing in the ultimate peace that Jesus promises leads us to patience. We stand assured that the whole of creation will be brought back into tune. But in the here and now, we recognize that things still go awry.
In the face of the world's imperfection, of our own imperfection, God is patient with us. The Bible tells us time and again that God is slow to anger, meeting the shortcomings of humanity with mercy, forgiveness, and a teaching hand. Patience as a reflection of the Fruit of the Spirit strives to adopt a similar posture. As God is gracious to us, we strive to be gracious and patient with others and with ourselves.
Much like our common conflation of joy and happiness, it is easy to view kindness as a stand-in for being nice. To be nice generally refers to politeness, a surface-level display of affability and pleasantness. But kindness fully understood is so much more.
Kindness involves action; it is lived out in tangible care and support of others. It is recognizing the image of God present in each person we encounter. We are all of us siblings in Christ. When we acknowledge our collective identity, we move forward with empathy, grace, and charity.
What does it mean to be good? We often throw the word around as a qualifier for everything from a tasty meal to an engaging movie. When we dub something "good" usually we mean that we, subjectively, like it. But this is a universal standard. As scripture tells us, God is good. Goodness then is born out when we strive to be like God.
Ultimately, all nine aspects of the Fruit of the Spirit that Paul lists can be understood this way. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control are all core aspects of God's character. To live out of the Holy Spirit's presence is to strive to embody these qualities as well.
Faithfulness has two major components to it. On the one hand, we speak of faithfulness as a reflection of having faith. In the midst of trying and troubling circumstances, it is the endurance of our belief that God remains good and in control. To persevere in faith is lean into the Holy Spirit, not just when life is easy, but always.
Additionally, faithfulness speaks to dependability and reliability. God has demonstrated God's faithfulness time and again, protecting and providing for creation. All of God's promises are kept. We have faith because God is faithful.
As we ruminate on the various aspects of the Fruit of the Spirit, gentleness may make us squirm a bit. For many of us, gentleness is associated with weakness, and weakness is something we attempt to deny or avoid at all costs. Vulnerability may be uncomfortable, but in our weakest moments, the Holy Spirit meets us not with cold cruelty or dispassionate ruggedness, but with gentle care.
The gentleness of God reaches out to us in our brokenness, cultivating and facilitating healing and restoration. To be gentle, with ourselves and with others is to recognize that we are all vulnerable and worthy of comfort and healing.
To embody self-control is live one's life in pursuit of what is best for all. Left to our own devices, it can be tempting to center our lives solely around the pursuit of our own desires. If our only concern is for ourselves, our wants consume us. What hurts or deprives someone else is excused if it enriches us.
Self-control moves us to view creation from the perspective of the Creator, who loves and cares for every living thing. It is recognizing that there can be too much of a good thing if we are hurting ourselves or those around us. When we put God—put the Holy Spirit—in the driver's seat of our lives, we acknowledge the boundaries and guardrails our Creator has established for the health of the world.
The Fruit of the Spirit is the result of a life out of abiding in the Holy Spirit. These aspects are not a check list that we must strive for in order achieve moral goodness. Rather, when pursue God each and every day of our lives, we will begin to see ourselves flourishing as we become more and more like the Creator in whose image we are made.
If you want to read more about the Fruit of the Spirit, consider the book FRUIT by Alabaster Co. This book is intended to refresh and refine our understanding of the Fruit of the Spirit—of a life lived out of the Holy Spirit’s dwelling with us. It is meant to guide and encourage us on the journey to fruit-bearing. As we read, may we read with the Holy Spirit, growing in awareness of how God embodies this fruit and calls us to do the same.
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