I don’t like being wrong. And, while that’s probably true of just about everybody, I’m guessing that I’m up there in the top decile of people who react most poorly when someone else points out that they’re wrong. Maybe that’s why I can remember fairly vividly those moments in my life when someone has pointed out just how wrong I was. One of those moments involved fruit.
I think I was either in seminary or about to go to seminary, and I was speaking with my mother about Paul’s letter to the Galatians—specifically that part that is our New Testament lesson for today (Galatians 5:16-24). I mentioned that I had recently heard a good teaching on the “fruits of the Spirit.” “Fruit of the Spirit,” she quickly corrected (and in that loving yet definite tone that mothers know so well). “What?” I asked. “Fruit of the Spirit,” she replied. “Go look it up.” At the time, not willing to fully embrace my wrongness, I couldn’t see much difference—fruit or fruits. Whatever. I didn’t give it much thought, but the incident stuck with me for a while.
Years later, when taking part in a youth event, I heard a youth minister begin a teaching on the same passage. She had drawn various pieces of fruit on a flipchart, and she invited the youth to come and pick whatever fruit went with each of the various “fruits of the Spirit.” (Kiwi was a popular albeit ecologically discouraged choice.) I didn’t say anything, but I thought it. “Fruit of the Spirit”—singular—and for the first time I got what my mother was saying.
We don’t bear one or two of the fruits of the Spirit. We bear all of the things Paul lists as the (singular) fruit of the Spirit. That is contrasted with the works of the flesh, which as a plural expression, may include any number of the things Paul cites (“fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissention, party strife, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like”). Notice how Paul concludes that rather exciting list of sinful works—“and the like”—as if to suggest that the list could go on and on. The fruit of the Spirit, on the other hand, is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” When the Spirit is in you, you bear fruit, and that fruit will be those nine things.
The Christian life isn’t a fruit salad, of which you can take or leave your favorite parts. When God dwells in you, certain things happen. It’s unavoidable. Unlike the gifts of the Spirit, which may be parsed out on an individual bases, the fruit of the Spirit is something we share. And it’s something to celebrate. Don’t ask yourself which “fruits of the Spirit” are manifest in your life. Ask whether you are fully bearing the “fruit of the Spirit,” but don’t write off any of them as “not for you” or “something you’re not good at.” As a Christian, you bear them all—no matter to what degree.