If you’re like me, you grew up learning the fruit of the Spirit in Sunday School and VBS. Or maybe you have kids learning them now in one of those settings, or on YouTube or someplace.
There’s probably a little jingle that goes along with it; the one my church uses is a silly music video with imagery of animated grapes and watermelons. It tells the kids that the fruit of the Spirit is not those things, and then the song goes on to list them:
Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Growing up with these kinds of songs and lessons, I never truly understood the context around this passage in Galatians 5.
I learned – whether directly through teaching that I can’t remember, or through the resulting construct in my own mind – that I was to simply display these characteristics. I needed to be patient, kind, and good.
Practically speaking, the TL;DR version of this was that obeying your parents and authority figures like teachers would put you in the position to meet all the criteria.
There’s More To It
At 32, I am just seeing the many layers of this Scripture. It is deep. Way more so than those children’s songs would have ever had me believe. Not that children’s songs are generally intended to be terribly provoking. But I’ve realized that as an adult, I’ve largely ignored a lot of the principles and stories that were drilled into my head as a child, sure that I already knew what they were really about because I’d known them all my life.
Let’s look at some of the facets of this passage. I won’t go into much detail on these because I intend to post separately about each, but here are all the points of the metaphor that go far beyond “have patience and self-control.”
Walking in the flesh vs. walking in the Spirit
While all the stuff we learn as kids revolves around the fruit of the Spirit, we often forget the stark, ugly contrast that Paul details just prior to the list of “fruits.” This other list is what we see when we are not walking in the Spirit.
What are the intended purposes of actual fruit?
Two things come to mind. Fruit is great for eating, and the plant producing the fruit is often beautiful and produces vibrant colors and flowers.
How is fruit planted, cultivated, and harvested?
In short, it takes a lot of work. If you know anything about gardening, it’s most certainly not a one-time thing. And each – the planting, the cultivating, and the harvesting – requires a different regimen of tasks.
How is fruit naturally produced?
You don’t really have to do anything extravagant to see fruit grow. The process is pretty simple. But the key is that you follow the processes to the point that it’s second nature to come home from work and pull weeds and water the plants.
What happens to fruit after it’s been ripe for a few days?
It starts to lose its vibrancy. Before long, it starts to rot and/or mold, at which point eating it is no longer a sweet, delightful experience. Now, it can actually do more harm to your body than good, because ingesting mold doesn’t usually end well.
What happens to a plant or a tree if it isn’t cared for?
If garden plants aren’t watered, pruned, weeded, and harvested, the whole plant can die. Any fruit produced can die on the vine. It can be snatched up by animals, instead of enjoyed by the people it was intended for.
The Perfect Metaphor
Hopefully, you can see why “fruit” is such a great metaphor. Paul chose it specifically, and he chose it for a reason. Fruit isn’t as simple as it sounds, but it’s also not that difficult to produce. We’re going to take a close look at this concept in the coming weeks and months.