Growth in the Spirit

The Fruits of the Spirit

By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit,
 and so prove to be my disciples.-- John. 15:8

Brent Hislop

The apostle Paul lists the fruits of the spirit as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5.22,23, NAS). Individually or collectively these fruits demand a Christian’s close consideration. They are the fruits of a spirit-filled life; they are the measure of our growth in Christ-likeness.

The churches in the region of Galatia were comprised mostly of Gentile Christians who were experiencing tremendous conflict. Paul writes, “I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel” (Galatians 1:6). He asks, “You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you?” (Galatians 4:1). Later he answers his own question: It was those of the circumcision, judaizers who sought to compel all Christians, both Jew and Gentile, to observe the Jewish law. Paul would have none of it: “I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole law. You who have been seeking to be justified by the law; you have fallen from grace” (Galatians 5:3,4).

Before Paul lists the fruits of the spirit in chapter five, he first lists the works of the flesh in verses 19-21. According to the NAS they are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, out-bursts of anger, disputes, dissentions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and the like.

Beginning in verse 18 Paul says if you are led of the spirit, you are not under the law. Then he says the works of the flesh are manifest, or self-evident. What is the connection between the law and the works of the flesh (Greek: sarx, usually used to signify the fallen human nature)? Perhaps it is simply that the doctrinal error of the judaizers leads to corruption of both doctrine and behavior. More likely Paul is taking a key argument of the protagonists and turning it around to illustrate their error and develop a powerful lesson regarding the fruits of the spirit. The judaizers believed and sought to convince others that observance of the God-given law was how one was could rise above the flesh, the fallen human nature, and thereby live in God’s favor. They believed and taught that liberty from the law meant license to the flesh.

Paul says explicitly to not use liberty as an occasion for the flesh, but rather as an opportunity to serve one another (Galatians 5:13). He then says that though the judaizers may be promoting the law, they failed to see that the conflict they were causing was contrary to the summation of the law which was, “You shall love you neighbor as yourself.” He continues in the following verses by saying: “But if you bite and devour one another, take care lest you be consumed by one another. But I say, walk by the spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.” The conflict was really of the flesh, the very thing those of the circumcision claimed to be able to overcome by an observance of their beliefs. But Paul says it is by the spirit, not the law, that one can overcome the flesh: “If you are led of the spirit, you are not under the law” (vs. 18).

In verse 12 he wishes those of the circumcision that have caused this great conflict would be “cut off.” This tells us that 1) the troublemakers were within the churches, and 2) they should cut-off or disfellowship them or that they should “cut themselves off” from the church’s fellowship.

After Paul emphasizes that one overcomes the flesh, the fallen human nature, not by the law but by the spirit, he enumerates the works of the flesh in contrast to the fruits of the spirit. Here is a simplistic comparison of the two.

The works of the flesh include:
1. Various immoralities;
2. False worship;
3. Contentions and disputes with others.

The fruits of the spirit include:
1. Moral excellence;
2. True love and faithfulness to God;
3. Love, peace, and patience toward others.

The fruits of the spirit according to the NAS are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. Is this a complete list? And if these fruits are only obtainable through the spirit, why do non-Christians also experience love, joy, and peace?

Looking at Paul’s list it is clear he intended it to be comprehensive, not exhaustive. Just as his list of the works of the flesh could have been more extensive, so also could he have extended his list of the fruits of the spirit. When Paul lists the gifts of the spirit in 1 Corinthians 12:7-11, he says God gave to the early church nine gifts for their edification. Likewise Paul enumerates nine fruits of the spirit. Perhaps Paul is drawing our attention to the development of the internal fruits of Christ-like character development by contrasting these to the temporary, external gifts.

Although non-Christians experience love, joy, and peace, only those begotten of the spirit can develop these fruits through the spirit of God. Only these are now the children of God: “As many as are led by the spirit of God, they are the sons of God” (Romans 8:14). Only a true child of God is led by the spirit through trial and tribulation to be “filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are through Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God” (Philippians 1:11).

Jesus as Model

It is not by accident that the first fruit listed is love. Through the spirit we learn intellectually and through life’s experiences that God is love; we learn that if we are to develop God-likeness, we must learn to love as God loves. The Greek word rendered love is agape a word rarely used in ancient writings and thought to have been adapted by early Christian writers including Paul, John, Peter, and Jude to express a higher love not generally understood by the world. Agape love finds its greatest personification, as do all of the fruits of the spirit, in Jesus.

When Christians think of developing God-likeness, they think of Jesus who said to Phillip, “He that has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). On other occasions we read: “Jesus said ... You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind … and love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39). “Ye have heard it said, You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say unto you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax gatherers do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what do you more than the others? Do not the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48) Jesus tells us we are to love as God loves.

Jesus not only told us what it meant to love, he exemplified it: “... that the world may know that I love the Father, and as the Father gave me commandment, even so I do” (John 14:31). Prophetically it is written of Jesus, “I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart” (Psalm 40:8). Jesus came not for the exaltation of self, but for the exaltation of God. He delighted to do the Father’s will, it was within his heart, it was his greatest love.

On one occasion the disciples came to Jesus and told him to eat something because he surely was tired from his ministry and needed refreshment. But Jesus said his food was to do the will of him who sent him, and accomplish his work. What an example of love for the Father and for mankind does Jesus provide. His love is so profound that even while on the cross, while being mocked by the soldiers, chief priests, scribes, and elders, Jesus’ love looked out on others as he said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children” (Luke 23:28). When Jesus saw his mother, he commended her to the care of the disciple he loved (John 19:26,27). If the word agape is meant to signify a higher selfless love, agape is Jesus.

The next fruit of the spirit is joy. This suggests a direct connection to Jesus. We are told that for the joy set before him, Jesus endured the cross, disregarded the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:2). Jesus’ joy was to do the will of his Father, and in his sacrifice to express his love for his Father. He rejoiced to bring redemption, and with it, the opportunity for all creation to come back into harmony with God: “He shall see the travail of his soul, and he shall be satisfied” (Isaiah 53:11). This satisfaction includes eternal joy. It shall be likewise for his faithful, foot-step followers: “... at the appearing of Jesus Christ: whom having not seen, you love; in whom, though now you see him not, yet believing, you rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory, for he will bring with him the end, the conclusion, the result of our faith, even the salvation of mankind” (1 Peter 1:7, 8). Imagine our hardest experiences being turned into our greatest joys as lost loved ones return from the grave and come to know God. Halleluiah, what a savior!

Peace is the next fruit of the spirit. Consider the last night of our Lord’s earthy ministry as recorded in Luke 22. As Jesus’ great trial lay before him, the disciples disputed about who should be greatest in the kingdom. Judas left to betray him. Jesus took three others with him into the garden of Gethsemane and asked them to watch and pray as he himself went a stone’s throw distance to pray. We are told his soul was sorrowful, even unto death. The divine plan embracing eternal redemption rested on his shoulders as his death lay immediately before him. He sought some strength and solace from his disciples, perhaps as instruments of support, but when he returned to them, they were asleep. Later that night Peter denied Jesus and the others fled. But from the great soul anguish that Jesus had when he entered the garden, he left composed and at peace; his prayer was answered when he was reassured that all was well in his relationship with the Father.

He was arrested, tried, beaten, spat upon, and mocked. Though physically spent from his three-and-a-half year ministry, he could stand before Pilate with such regal composure, that that Roman magistrate said in awe, “Behold the Man.” Can there be a better measure of our nearness to God than composure under fire? Paul tells us to not be anxious or careworn, but to take everything to God in prayer (Philippians 4:6,7). If we do this, the peace of God which passes all human comprehension will keep our hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. What a promise this is! The intimate, prayerful relationship with God will bring calmness and peace to allay all anxiety; it will keep or guard our affections and thoughts from going astray. As it was for Jesus so it will be for us; outward circumstances should not affect our inner calm, our peace of God.

Patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control complete the list. Patience means to suffer long, to endure under provocation from others. Kindness carries the intriguing thoughts of moral excellence, affability, mildness of temper, a pleasant disposition that is not crabby, sour, or morose. Goodness has the simple meaning of a disposition to do good for others. Faithfulness means full of faith, fidelity to God and man. Gentleness conveys the thought of meekness, mildness, humility, and submissiveness. Self-control means self restraint about one’s desires.

In all these things Jesus is our example. His patience is extolled in Hebrews 12:3 where we are told to consider his example as one who endured the contradiction of sinners, lest we be weary. Paul says our love [agape] must be patient, longsuffering (1 Corinthians13:4). Most can bear hardship for a brief period; true agape love will bear up over the long term.

The thought of kindness conveying moral excellence is especially appropriate to Jesus who was holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners (Hebrews 7:26). Goodness is defined in  as an attribute of God, the disposition to do good for others (1 Thessalonians 1:11). This also fits Jesus for he gave of himself for the blessing of others. Multitudes sought to touch him because virtue, power, or vitality went out of him and healed them all (Luke 6:19).

It is thrilling to read the many gospel accounts of Jesus giving of himself for the blessing of others. In Mark 2 the fame of Jesus spread abroad early in his ministry and the people flocked to him. When he was in a home in Capernaum, the crowd was so great there was no room to move. Four men brought their paralyzed friend to see Jesus, but they could not get near him because of the crowd. So they climbed to the roof of the home, removed some of the covering, and lowered their friend upon his litter down before Jesus. Can you imagine the scene? Jesus was impressed by their faith and said something most remarkable to the man: “Your sins are forgiven.” His words struck a raw nerve with some scribes and they mused that he was blaspheming in saying this. Jesus knew their thoughts so he said to them: “What is easier to say, your sins are forgiven or to say arise, take up your bed and walk?” Even though clearly it would be easier to say your sins are forgiven, with no proof of that being true, if one should say arise, take up your bed and walk, and then prove the words by performing the miracle, this would indicate that not only did Jesus have the power to heal, he had power to forgive sins. So “Jesus said to the man, Arise, and take up thy bed, and go your way to your home.” Although the man and his friends found no way into the home when they arrived, now the crowd, stunned and amazed, parted as the man took up his bed and went through their midst. The people were truly amazed and glorified God, saying, we have never seen anything like this before. Jesus’ goodness reached out to bless others, even to instruct the hard-hearted whom he knew would not accept him.

After recounting the great heroes of faith in Hebrews 11, the next chapter shows that the greatest hero of faith is Jesus, the one with whom our faith begins and ends. Jesus said he sought not his own will, but the will of his Father who sent him (John 5:30; 6:38). This demonstrates meekness, humility, and self control. In all things Jesus humbled himself and sought not his way but the Father’s. Paul said we should let this mind be in us that was in Christ Jesus, who though a spirit being like God, never meditated usurping the majesty of God; he emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, becoming obedient even unto death, yes, even the death of the cross (Philippians 2:5-8).

Of Jesus’ self-control it is written that in all things he was made like his brethren, … for he himself was tempted in that which he suffered, he therefore is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted (Hebrews 2:17,18). In Hebrews 4:15 we are told we have a high priest who can sympathize with our weaknesses because he was tempted in all things as are we, yet without sin.

Jesus is our model of all the fruits of the spirit. More than that, without him we cannot bear this precious fruitage. He is the vine, we are the branches; a branch cannot bear fruit of itself except it abide in the vine; no more can we bear fruit unless we continue to abide in Jesus. If we continue to abide in him, and he in us, we will bring forth much fruit (John 15:4,5).

After listing the fruits of the spirit, Paul says against such there is no law (Galatians 5:23), meaning that those who live by these virtuous fruits are beyond the law’s condemnation. He says that they that are Christ’s have crucified the old fallen human nature together with its passions and affections. The works of the flesh have no place in a spirit-filled life. Paul goes to say, “If we live in the spirit, let us also walk in the spirit” (Galatians 5:25). It is one thing to have been begotten of the spirit, to have the old man crucified, to be dead with Christ and freed from sin (Romans 6:6,7), but it is another thing to continue in grace. So Paul says we must walk in the spirit, we must continue to grow in the fruits of the spirit. Paul uses an unusual and seldom-used Greek word for walk: the word he uses means to walk in line or rank, to march in step. This conveys the thought that the development of the fruits of the spirit is under the direction of God which emphasizes the importance of seeking to know and do God’s will.

“Do not be deceived: God will not be mocked, for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh shall from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the spirit shall of the spirit reap life everlasting. And let us not faint or lose heart in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we do not grow weary.” (Galatians 6:7-9)

May we continue to grow in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control that we may bear much fruit and glorify God.