Summary: An introduction to Paul’s ’fruit of the spirit’ in Gal 5
Over the next three weeks we will be looking at the fruits of the spirit. When I was planning this series of sermons, I thought that it was a nice short series which would give everybody a chance to hear each member of the pastoral team preach and at the same time cover some of Paul’s important teaching.
However after I started researching my sermon, I soon realised that many pastors actually cover the same material in ten weeks. So I’ve unwittingly given myself four weeks of material to cover in one week, so sit back and make yourselves comfortable because it might take a while.
Seriously though I was quite disappointed to think that I’m not going to really get through as much as I would have like to get through, but hopefully that will leave people hungry to hear more.
Let’s read the passage. (Gal 5:16-24)
There are two things that I want to say about this passage before we get into individual elements of the list of nine.
The first thing is how many people note that in v19 Paul talks about the ‘works’ plural vs the ‘fruit’ singular in v22. So the question people ask is ‘are there many fruits or is there only one fruit’? Now technically it could be fruit or fruits, but the most natural reading is fruit.
However for me there are various arguments which indicate that Paul is referring to the one fruit, not many types of fruits. When Jesus talks about fruits, he talks about knowing the kind of tree from the kind of fruit, you get figs from a fig tree and berries from a berry bush, you don’t get strawberries from a big tree. One tree means one fruit. And for me we have the same sort of idea here.
Secondly if we are to describe an apple we can use lots of different adjectives to describe it. A delicious red is generally red, shape like so, sweet, firm texture. All fruits that are red, are not delicious apples. But likewise all delicious apples aren’t exactly shaped the same, they vary within the general description.
For me, what we have here is a general list of adjectives that describe the fruit of the spirit and just as you get all kinds of different delicious apples from the apple tree you can get various subtle differences in how we can describe the ‘fruit of the spirit’. Here Paul’s description of the fruit of the Spirit is influenced by and relevant to the situation in Galatia, just as all Paul’s letters are influenced by the situation to which he writes.
And just as not all red fruit are delicious apples, so not all who have joy, or love, or self-control show the ‘fruit of the spirit’. And I also don’t think that it is impossible to have joy, love, or self control without God’s spirit, as some imply. Otherwise we are saying that those who don’t follow Christ don’t have real marriages, real loving families, real joy when good things happen and I’m pretty sure I saw some real joy on the face of the tiges when they won last year!
One of the downsides of seeing these as individual fruits is that maybe we start to see them as a list of things to be ticked off. I’ve got some love towards others in my life, now time to work on some joy, OK got that now time to work on some peace. That is part of the idea but not the fullness of the idea.
And so while we can see something of the fruit of the Spirit by seeing these things in people’s life it is by seeing the combination of them together that we really get to see the fruit of the Spirit. And one person where I think we see these things come together in their fullness is in the Person of Christ. Maybe what Paul is saying is the spirit of the fruit is being Christ-like, which makes sense, at least to me.
The second thing I want to say about the concept of fruit is a reminder of what John talks about. He speaks about how vines grow grapes only when they abide in the vine. The vinedresser doesn’t need to worry about branches growing fruit, that is what they do, but he needs to worry about the branches being connected to the vine.
And while the metaphor can’t be pressed too hard, I think that the important thing for us is that it isn’t about focussing on the list, like I said before, but that the fruit will come out of abiding in Christ. The fruit is an extension of our relationship with Christ, as our relationship with Christ grows, so the spirit is able to work more in our lives, and the fruit of the spirit becomes more evident.