“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”
– Galatians 5:22-23 NASB
What does it mean to be a Christian? Have you ever met someone and without the name of Jesus ever coming up… something in your spirit told you they were followers of Jesus? What was different about them? What gave you that feeling?
What if you flip it around…
Have you ever met someone who said they were a Christian, but something about it didn’t sit right in your spirit? What threw you off? What was the red flag?
It’s the fruit we produce that tells people we’re followers of Jesus. When our lives are firmly planted in who Jesus is, our lives will bear the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
When the members of Westboro Baptist Church are standing outside of funerals with signs telling people God hates them…. there is no fruit of love being displayed. There is no Jesus being displayed.
And what if you flip that one around too…
Think about prosperity preachers who never preach against sinfulness. They tell people God will richly bless and heal them if only they give financially or “sow a seed” into their ministries… Is that real love if it’s not the truth? And if it doesn’t bear the fruit of real love, is it truly rooted in Jesus?
Matthew 7:18 says, “A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit.” Our fruits reveal what’s within us. Whatever you’ve been planting in private will come to fruition in public. That’s why it’s so important to practice spiritual disciplines. That’s why it’s so important to practice our spiritual gifts. That’s how we produce spiritual fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. That’s how people see Jesus in us. That’s how they know we are followers of Him, and that’s what makes them want put down their nets and start following after Him too.
From the Beginning
The first mention of fruit in the Bible occurs in the very beginning. In Genesis 1:11 God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees on the earth bearing fruit after their kind with seed in them.” And it was so. And it was good. When God created Adam and Eve, He gave them every plant yielding seed and every fruit. Everything they needed, He gave them. And He gave them one simple instruction, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely, but from the tree of knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die” (Genesis 2:16-17). All but one. Everything they needed to live, they had. But they wanted the one thing that would ensure their certain death. Sin entered the picture in the form of a forbidden fruit.
Did you know that before there was man to cultivate the earth, it never rained? Instead, a mist would rise from the earth and water the ground (Genesis 2:5). All the pain and toil that goes into producing a harvest now? That was a result of the fall. That was a result of sin. “…Cursed is the ground because of you,” God said to Adam. “In toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you will eat bread, till you return to the ground, because from it you were taken” (Genesis 3:17-19). I think about our society today – the ability to walk into a grocery store and choose whatever food you want off the shelves without having to labor in a field from dawn to dusk for that food – we start to take for granted all the work that goes into producing the food we eat. We start to forget that there is a price for our sin.
We were made in the image of God. But because of sin, we’ve been separated from Him. Without Jesus, our lives will only ever produce bad fruit. Or plastic fruit that looks good on the outside, but when you bite into there’s nothing there. There’s no nutritional value. It’s an imitation. But the closer we grow to Jesus, the more rooted in Him we are, the more we start to look Him. The more we start to act like Him and talk like Him. That’s when our lives start to produce real, lasting fruit.
Fruit trees are found all throughout Scripture, but another prominent place we see them is in the Promised Land. When the Israelites were wandering in the wilderness, and on the days when they were so miserable they were looking back with longing on their days of slavery – it was the image God gave them of the promised land He was leading them to that kept them pressing forward. It was a land flowing with milk and honey, but it was also a land filled with vineyards, and olive groves, and an abundance of fruit trees (Deuteronomy 8:5-10, Leviticus 25:18-19, Nehemiah 9:23-25).
Throughout scripture, fruit trees are known to be symbolic for fertility. When God created and Adam and Eve, He told them to “be fruitful and multiple” (Genesis 1:28). When God promised the Israelites a land or pomegranate and fig trees, He was promising them seeds – generations, a lineage, a future. Spiritually speaking, when our lives produce fruit – there is within that fruit more seeds, and those seeds are capable of producing more fruit. The goal of discipleship is to make more disciples. When Jesus left this earth and ascended into Heaven, the commission He gave to us was to “go and make disciples” (Matthew 28:18-19). In other words, “Be fruitful and multiply.”
In Due Season
My aunt and uncle live next door to me and have garden in their backyard. I see them outside working in their garden all the time. This weekend I was providing respite care for a 5-year old little boy and we went over to their yard to play on the swing-set while they were working in the garden. When he saw the garden, he asked my aunt if she had a particular kind of fruit in her garden. “No, I don’t have that one” she responded, “They’re not in season right now.”
And something about that spoke to me. There are certain fruits that taste better in certain seasons, because those fruits grow better in certain seasons. It’s easy to look at the list of spiritual fruits and get discouraged. I may be loving and kind to my neighbors… but self-control? and patience? Those don’t seem to be in season for me right now. Those fruits have a bitter taste, if they’ve even been produced at all. Can you relate? Are there certain spiritual fruits that if someone asked you, “Do you have any gentleness in that garden?” Could you say yes? Or would you have to say, “Ehhh… that one’s not quite in season yet.” That’s okay. We are human. These fruits will have their seasons in our lives. They will come and go with the seasons. They will look and taste better in certain seasons of our lives. But if you recognize where there’s a need… start planting, start preparing the ground. That’s the first step.
“Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.”
– Galatians 6:9 NASB
In Full Control
There is so much that goes into planting and harvesting a garden. My aunt and uncle are working in their garden 24/7 it seems. In season. Out of season. Early mornings. Late evenings. Weekends. Week days. From tilling the ground and planting the seeds to picking the fruit, cleaning it, and canning it. It takes so much time, and so much effort.
In addition to the physical effort, takes an emotional toil as well. I see the concern on their faces when there is mention of an “early frost” – it’s not ready yet. It’s not time. The fruit won’t survive the bitter cold. I’ve seen their heartache when their peach tree literally produced so much fruit that they couldn’t pick it fast enough and it became so full and heavy that it broke the tree in half. Or what about those summer months when the ground is especially dry and the rains are few and far between?
That’s the thing about growing fruit – there is so much that is beyond your control. In the book Life on the Vine: Cultivating the Fruit of the Spirit in Christian Community, Phillip D. Kenneson writes,
“There is so much for the farmer to do, but the farmer cannot make the seed sprout, the sun shine, or the rain fall. In fact, it is only because the farmer trusts that these good gifts will continue to be given that the challenging and risk-filled enterprise of farming is undertaken at all. Grace and effort, gift and work: these must be held together… The wisdom of the farmer reminds us that both are required, in full measure, in order to grow anything worth harvesting.”
Producing spiritual fruit requires trust. It requires a faith in what we cannot see to produce a future we cannot predict. Surrendering to God’s control and watching what He does when the work of your hands meets the grip of His grace is a beautiful sight to behold. First Corinthians 3:7 says, “…Neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but it is God who causes the growth” and Jeremiah 17:7-8 says, “Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in Him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.”
In the Weeds
Producing fruit requires faith, but it requires faith with action. If you just plant a seed and then sit back and wait for God to work His magic without ever getting out in the garden and doing the required work… then what’s going to happen? Your garden will start to produce weeds. If you don’t attend to the weeds, they will grow up and overtake anything and everything that you had previously planted. Phillip Kenneson writes, “As a child I always wondered why the tomatoes, green beans, and corn always had a much harder time making it than the weeds. If you wanted the vegetables to grow and yield produce, you had to work hard to help them. If you wanted the weeds to take over your garden, you didn’t have to do anything but stand back and watch.”
I’ve been so guilty of this time and time and time again in my spiritual life. You start a regular routine of prayer and study and other spiritual disciplines for a few weeks, and then something happens that throws you off your schedule and all of a sudden you start making excuses. I’ll wait and do it tomorrow. I’ll just do this one thing and then I’ll get back to it. And before you know it, those sprouts of spiritual fruits you once started to see peaking through are now withering beneath a patch of weeds. The enemy will get in anyway he can. He will find any opportunity to get in and destroy what God is trying to produce within you. Don’t let him in. Don’t let him try to gain a foothold. Stand watch. Stand guard. And when you have to, pull out the shovel, dig down deep and get to the root of whatever is trying to destroy your harvest. Repent and turn away from your sins. Dust yourself off and start again. The beauty of grace is that we serve a God of second chances. His mercy is new every morning.
Abiding in Love
“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.”
– John 15:1-5 NASB
The first fruit of the Spirit is Love. I don’t think the fruits are listed in order of importance, but I do think it’s important to note that love is listed is first. After all, God is love (1 John 4:7-16) – so love is the best way for us to show others we are followers of Him!
We can’t fully give love if we haven’t fully accepted how loved we are. We must receive the gift of God’s love in order to give it out to others. Once we begin abiding in the love of God and allowing it to transform us, it will overwhelm us and it will begin bubbling out in everything we say and everything we do.
How can we know if the fruit of love is being displayed in our lives? One technique I’ve seen used is to read through 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 and everywhere you see the word “love” – replace it with your name.
Karis is patient? Karis is kind? Karis is not jealous? Karis does not brag? Karis is not arrogant? Karis does not act unbecomingly? Karis does not seek her own? Karis is not provoked? Karis does not taken into account a wrong suffered? Karis does not rejoice in unrighteousness? Karis rejoices in truth? Karis bears all things? Karis hopes all things? Karis endures all things?
When you come up on one that doesn’t ring true, and you feel that ting of conviction in your heart – that’s an area for improvement. We will never check every box on love – that’s an impossible measure to live by, and that’s exactly why we need Jesus. But it should be our aim to be as much like Jesus as humanly possible. All that love is, God is. So the more characteristics of love we have, the more characteristics of Jesus we have. That’s what being a Christian is all about. If they don’t see our love, then they don’t see our Jesus.
Love is the greatest commandment. In 1 Corinthians 13:13 Paul wrote, “Now faith, hope, and love remain, but the greatest of these is love.” When Jesus was asked which commandment was the greatest, He responded, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend the whole Law and Prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40).
“Love is a fruit in season at all times, and within reach of every hand.”
– Mother Theresa
A prayer for you…
“For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience.”
– Colossians 1:9-11 NASB