The Spirit’s fruitfulness
So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives… the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Let us keep in step with the Spirit.
– Galatians 5:16,22,25
There are at least six important characteristics of the fruit of the Spirit.
1. They are Spirit-produced
These marks of the Holy Spirit in the life of a follower of Jesus are the striking evidence of the supernatural, divine Person who has entered that follower’s life. More than miracles, manifestations or inspired utterances, all of which need to be tested for their source (1 John 4:1), these nine-fold fruit do not need their worth or accuracy tested. They cannot be imitated or counterfeited by the devil, or by human effort. What is produced by human effort is a work of the “flesh”.
I think of Keba, whose lifestyle in his pre-Christian days followed the meaning of his Huli name – Anger. He was notorious in the community for his inner rage and external violence. One day when I went to Keba’s place, my friend who was with me said, “Do you know why there are no trees around Keba’s land?”
“No,” I said. “Why?”
“Keba used to be so angry that he felled all the trees around his place. Everyone feared to go close to him. He was an angry man.”
Then Keba became a believer. Change came. It did not come all at once. But the Spirit invaded his life. Smiles began to emerge on his face. There was a new light; a new day had begun for him.
Some years later, when revival swept through the valley, Keba took a new name. He was ashamed of the old associations. He chose the name Turubali – Happiness lives within. Life did not always go smoothly for this beautifully changed older man. But the contentment of knowing God indelibly changed the rest of his life.
2. The fruit go beyond natural expressions of human graces
Ordinary expressions of human kindness, concern, pity and affection are certainly God at work in people’s lives, whether they realise it or not. But the fruit of the Spirit that Paul is discussing in Galatians 5 are not these expressions of people operating within their comfort zones. They go beyond that.
James, a fairly young Christian man, was embroiled in an on-going land dispute. One day, he was walking around his land when he met the man who was his rival for the ownership of it. Here was someone whom James would normally want to avoid above anybody else. In a world where land is your identity, here was his arch-enemy. To be landless is to be an absolute nobody. But James was a changed man. He had come to know Jesus. His true homeland was now somewhere else. So on this day, when his rival met him, he reached into his bilum, the string bag slung over his shoulder and down his back, hauled out a prime piece of cooked meat and gave it over to his opponent. “Take it, and enjoy it!” James told him.
What happened? The dispute died! The argumentative rival lost his power to argue his claim because an act of divine love had gone beyond the boundaries of Huli land disputes. And James later reflected that it was God’s Spirit that moved him to meet his foe with kindness.
3. The fruit of the Spirit are not “worked up”, they are the by-products of walking with God
If we were determined to turn over a new leaf and live a better life, the effort to produce these fruit on anything like a continuous basis would cause us such stress we’d not only destroy our best efforts, we’d destroy ourselves.
A tree does not have to focus its energies on fruit-bearing. It reaches out to sun and rain, it reaches down to nourishment and solidity. It grows. And as it grows it matures, and the fruit just comes. So it is with the Spirit’s work. Our duty to God is to “obey”; that is to model our lives – attitudes actions, and words – on the lifestyle we see in Jesus. The fruit will follow. The quiet ministry of the Spirit within moves the disciple to behave in the Spirit-formed way.
The Spirit jogged John’s memory (John 14:26) that Jesus has told them the secret of fruitfulness. Remain in me and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me (Jn 15:4). “Remaining in Jesus” – that is the key to producing the kind of lifestyle God desires in us. But how do we remain in him?
It is first of all commitment. The branch’s job is not to bear fruit but to remain unsevered from the Vine. Second, it is to listen and learn. Jesus’ words need to be attended to. Third, Jesus expects his words, his laws of living, to be obeyed. That is what learning to be a disciple means. And fourth, what is his law for life? It is to live in his love and to love in response. And – surprise, surprise! We discover that love and joy, the first two mentioned of the “fruit” of the Spirit, are being produced already!
Radically, there are no other rules – only to love. It is a strange slavery to the Spirit of freedom (Galatians 5:1 and 13).
4. The fruit result in actions, not mere feelings
The fruit of the Spirit are active products of this life of commitment to Jesus. Love is more about action than it is about emotion. We are not called to a life of elation; we are called to service, and this service is action-oriented. But the actions we perform arise from a deep attitude, and build the character of The Vine into our lives. The Vine is not recognised by others by a digging up of its roots or by studying the trunk. The Vine is recognised in the branches and in the fruit they bear. The Jesus vine is continuously evaluated through his disciples’ actions and attitudes. What a challenge! People will not be won to Jesus today by street preachers or by bumper stickers and probably not by anonymously-distributed tracts, but by the love shared among us. In fact, the “I (heart) Jesus” bumper sticker of a speeding, or impatient, or rude, motorist is a positive travesty.
5. The fruit emerge in a hostile environment
The fruit is fruit of the Spirit, if for no other reason than that it is unnatural and against the trend of the surrounding society. We live in a world rather starved of the fruit of the Spirit. In fact, the fruit are not only lacking, they are somewhat disliked as apolitical, and anti-social. Sometimes, those who display the fruit of the Spirit are thought of as “goody-goods” – too nice to be useful.
But another aspect of the inhospitable environment is in fact within us. We are the infertile and rocky soil in which the Spirit grows his fruit. God loves to grow his fruit in unlikely places.
6. Jesus himself modelled the fruit of the Spirit
Together, the fruit describe God in human form. Just as the fruit of the Spirit reflect the divine influence in the life of a follower of Jesus, so Jesus, as truly God in human form, demonstrates all the fruit of the Spirit in perfect harmony. We shall pick this up as we consider the nine aspects of the fruit.
A final point before we can proceed. Are the fruit of the Spirit one or many? Though we may focus on them one at a time as we consider their implications in our life and outlook, the fruit are not many. It is not as if you could choose some and not others. The qualities Paul outlines in his list are different aspects of the same fruit from the same Spirit. An analogy from the mango may be appropriate. A mango fruit consists of skin, fleshy juice and a seed; it has a distinctive colour, flavour, odour and texture. You cannot have flavour without the flesh, or juice without the odour. Similarly, don’t expect the joy without the patience of the Spirit. If you have the life of the Spirit within you, you have the singular fruit of the Spirit emerging in all you do. If you have the joy but not the patience, there might be reason to doubt whether your joy is of the Spirit.