I want to take a few minutes to talk about fruit. I'm sure that many of you are already ahead of me in Galatians 5:22, "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law"--that's the New American Standard Bible--and we could spend a year of Sunday sermons just talking about those nine things and barely scratch the surface. But I'm not going to say much about them at all. What I want to talk about is "fruit"--because I notice that Paul has just pulled the word from nowhere, and dropped it just as quickly. He just spoke of "the deeds of the flesh", nothing to do with fruit, and has made no mention of vines, trees, or anything else which would make us expect the idea of fruit; nor does he pick up the idea in what follows to draw out some meaning from the word. Therefore, there must be something about the idea of "fruit" itself that Paul expected us to grasp.
However, by and large Christians don't grasp the most important words in their biblical language. Instead, we change
them into clichés. Who thinks about phrases like "born again", "filled with the spirit", "walking by faith"? We throw these around without ever considering what those words mean. They have become labels, not ideas. And "the fruit of the Spirit" has become one of these, something we talk about by that name, but never discuss the idea behind the name. Why does Paul use the word "fruit" here? What does he expect us to understand? Well, I have some ideas--three things I've noticed about fruit which I think Paul may have wanted us to discover.
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The first thing I've noticed is that fruit grows. Some of you have developed only the tiniest first buds, barely noticeable in your life. For others, those buds have opened into the beautiful, fragrant--and fragile blossoms. Those blossoms give way to the hard unripened fruit, and, over time, grow and develop to full maturity. The process takes time. That's important. These things aren't gifts; you don't wake up one morning with the gift of gentleness or the gift of self-control. They grow slowly over a lifetime.
Many years ago I heard a Bible teacher tell a story he said was a true account of his own boyhood. He and his brother would from time to time be sent to their room if they had been bad. But the punishment was not very effective, because there was a big old fruit tree right outside their window. They would go out the window, onto the roof, into the branches, down the tree, across the back yard, over the fence, and into the fields, where they would play ball for a while, then come back over the fence, across the back yard, up the tree, into the branches, onto the roof, and in the window, and no one ever knew that they were gone.
Then one day they overheard Dad saying to Mom, "Mary, this tree hasn't borne fruit for years. Tomorrow morning I'm going to cut it down." They were horrified. They needed a plan; they came up with a plan. That night, they went to bed early, gathered together all of their money, went out the window, down the tree, and into town, where they bought all of the apples they could find, and some black cotton. Returning home, they proceeded to tie apples onto every branch of that tree that they could reach. Then they went to bed, and waited for their father to get up in the morning.
Father got up and went outside. Then he came back in, calling out, "Mary! Mary! It's the most incredible thing I've ever seen! This tree which hasn't borne fruit for years this morning is covered with apples! You have to see this: it is absolutely covered with big, red, juicy apples! I don't believe it! It's a pear tree!"
And that brings me very nicely to my second point. Not only does fruit grow, but the kind of fruit which grows on the outside is a reflection of the nature of the tree. Apples grow on apple trees; pear trees produce pears. And the fruit of the Spirit which grows in your life is an outgrowth of the nature within. You love because you are a lover. You have patience because you are patient. It is the new man, the new life, the new nature growing within you which expresses itself in the kind of fruit that grows on the outside.
And the third point would be the fertilizer factor: if you want to see the fruit grow in your own life, you have to expect the fertilizer.
Expect the fertilizer? What is this guy talking about? Well, let me see if I can explain the fertilizer factor. Have you ever heard anyone say, "Don't pray for patience unless you want trials?" Well, that's the fertilizer factor; and I'm convinced that the same could be said for every part of the fruit of the Spirit: if you pray for it, you're asking for trouble, and trouble will come.
Let me explain why this is. Do you know that it's easy to love those who are lovely? As long as everyone with whom we are in contact is nice, pleasant, easy-going, and kind, we learn nothing about love. These people are easy to love. But as soon as you pray for love--say the words, "God, teach me how to love"--someone will come into your life who is nasty, bitter, cranky, difficult, harsh, mean-spirited; because when you can learn to love that person, then you will have learned something about love.
Or look at joy. Someone has said that joy is distinct from happiness, in that happiness depends on happenings, and if my happenings don't happen to happen the way I happen to want my happenings to happen, I'm unhappy. Joy is me being happy when my happenings don't happen to happen the way I happen to want my happenings to happen. So if everything in your life is running smoothly and falling right into place, you not only aren't learning anything about joy--you don't even know if you've got any. And I could say the same about each of the nine. What is peace without a storm? Patience without trials? You can work out the rest. And that's the fertilizer factor: if you pray for the fruit to grow, you will be hit with the fertilizer.
Am I saying not to pray for these things? Well, I have three thoughts on that, too--but they're a shorter three thoughts. The first is that God will tell you what to pray, and I certainly won't tell you not to pray for something you know God has required. But beyond that, I believe that we should pursue growth, we should embrace maturity. We were all younger once, and thank God that we've grown up. There are few of us who truly would give up all we've learned and go back to be teenagers and go through it all again; but there are none of us who would prefer never to have learned it, never to have gone through it to get here. The difficulties through which we pass are the lessons which mature us for the future, and however harsh they may seem at the moment, the life they bring us is worth the trouble to get there.
And the third thing is that God doesn't need you to pray for these things. He doesn't need your permission to work in your life to build the new creation. He already has it. You already asked Him to make you a new person, gave Him full authority to do what He saw fit. You might need to pray for these things, as part of your own lessons--to embrace that which He is doing; but He will do it, whether you pray for it or not. I'm not telling you that if you don't pray for these things your life will be easy. I'm telling you that the fertilizer is coming, the fruit needs to grow, and the Gardener will see that you get what it needs. I'm telling you to expect the fertilizer, to understand what it is when it hits you, and to focus on the fact that the fruit is growing.
This, I think, is some of what Paul wanted us to understand when he used the phrase, "the fruit of the Spirit". I hope it has been enlightening for you.