During our regular Thursday evening with friends this week, the subject of the “Fruit of the Spirit” came up. Now, these days when evangelicals say “fruit” they too often mean “bear fruit” in the sense of reproduction (Matthew 13:23) rather than in the sense of showing good character (Luke 3:8-10; Matthew 7:17-20). The primary meaning, and the one with which to be most concerned, is the sense of exhibiting good character… as in “the fruit of the Spirit.” Perhaps this insight isn’t particularly new, insightful, or ground-breaking… but let’s put it into a practical context.
“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, ESV)
The fruit of the Spirit has long been thought a goal, an objective, something for which to strive in order to be more Christlike. In this sense, it’s personal, it’s about me and my struggle to more like Jesus. While there may be some element of truth to this, I now believe it misses the point, and widely so. Look at the list again: all of these have to do with relationship. Okay, wider context:
For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another. But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy,  drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. (Galatians 5:13-25, ESV)
Paul was dealing with Judaizers, which leads him into a discussion of how the church ought to treat one another. Makes sense. He reminds us to love our neighbour, lists the works of the flesh, which are anti-relational… and then moves on to the fruits of the Spirit, which are relational, followed by a couple of add-ons about how we live together and treat one another.
In this manner we see that the real point, the heart of the matter, is relationship. This leads us to two conclusions:
- Those who favour a systematic approach and wish to align the Gospel texts cited above with this one must conclude that those who would deny relationship, or decline to nurture it, will not bear good fruit, only bad… and they will therefore be pruned away by Jesus, who is zealous for his Church.
- The only true measure of the fruit of the Spirit in one’s life is an examination of the quality of one’s relationships. Those who find themselves lacking in this area may seek to exhibit more of the fruit of the Spirit by paying more careful attention to their relationships.
So how are you doin’?