One common doctrine in Christianity is the concept of “Fruit of the Spirit”. Paul wrote this in the book of Galatians 5:22-23.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control. Against such things, there is no law.” Galatians 5:22-23, NIV
The term used in the verse is “fruit” not “fruits”. It is because ”the qualities listed should be treated as a whole, not as individual fruits”. For the believers, all traits should all manifest in the life of a Christian as a result of submission to Christ’s lordship. Although, we should bear in mind that all traits are immediately evident. These traits will develop through time and circumstances.
The book of Galatians was arguably written by Apostle Paul during the late 40s or early 50s CE. It was written in response to the ongoing issue between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians in the Galatians church. Jewish Christians pointed out the need to keep the Jewish traditions, especially the Mosaic law. There is also an ongoing pressure on the Gentile believers to be circumcised if they wished to be part of the church. Paul pointed out in this letter that justification is not by following traditions but by grace through Jesus Christ. Paul aims to remove the pressure to follow certain traditions and remind them of the freedom that Christ gave. The letter also talked about freedom in Christ and encouragement for them to walk in the Spirit. It was also a good reminder that Christians are to produce fruit in the power of the spirit, and these fruits are mentioned in Galatians 5:22-23.
These virtues will be discussed deeper in this article and the relevance it has today.
The Nine Fruit of the Spirit
The word “love” that was used in Galatians 5:22 is the Greek word ἀγάπη (agape) which is translated as unconditional love. Agape love is a choice rather than a feeling. It is a decision to sacrifice own comfort, wants, and desires to meet the need of another person. In reality, it is rather challenging to put someone else’s needs before our comfort. In Christianity, it is the Holy Spirit who empowers people to love unconditionally.
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength”. Mark 12:30
What does it mean to love God? For some Christians, it would mean offering time, talent, and treasure to serve the church. Some would say loving God means reaching others and teaching His word. Some show their devotion to Christ by trusting God whatever circumstances they are in.
The second is this: “Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:31
What does it mean to love our neighbor? This might mean willingness to lend a helping hand to those people around you. This would also mean extending grace and forgiveness to those who hurt you.
The word “joy” that was used in Galatians 22 is the Greek word χαρὰ (chara) which means “joy” or “delight”. Joy is not the same as happiness, although it is often used interchangeably. Unlike “happiness” which is rooted in external factors, “joy” is deeply rooted and is not based on external factors. Joy, as a fruit of the Spirit, means taking delight in life regardless of the circumstances and challenges we are facing.
Joy is linked with gratitude. “It is the realization of God’s favor and grace in one’s life.”. It is also rooted in confidence that God is in control.
What are the implications of this?
Joyful in Tribulation
This does not mean sorrow is not a valid emotion. Suppressing emotions may lead to negative results such as “strong stress responses” and may lead to an unhealthy lifestyle. One response to challenges and failure in life is looking at the things we could learn from suffering. Much developed resourcefulness to survive. Some became stronger in the process, others became wise. Knowing that tribulation is not the end in itself is a good way to stay joyful and hopeful.
For Christians, being joyful in the midst of the challenges means clinging to their faith that Jesus is in control of their situation. They are also clinging to hope that it gets better through time and their suffering will be rewarded in the future.
Rejoice with those who rejoice
Another implication of joy is that we should rejoice with those who rejoice. It is easy to be bitter when we see someone achieving their dreams. However, there is always a better response to that, which is to celebrate with people who succeed. Rejoicing with those who rejoice means putting aside our desire to achieve the same success and focusing on the happiness of the people around us.
The word “peace” used in Galatians 22 came from the Greek word εἰρήνη (eirene) which means “the antithesis of war, the condition resulting from a cessation of war, and the state of law and order that yields blessings and prosperity.” Peace is also linked to safety, happiness, and comfort. Peace is not easily achieved because there is always an internal and external disturbance in the life of an individual.
Peace amid discomfort
External disturbances such as war, crime, environmental disturbance, and political upheavals caused people to be not at peace. Even everyday discomfort such as traffic jams and inflation cause trouble since these factors are beyond our control.
Trouble is common to humanity but the choice to be in peace is always available. Christian believers often find peace in knowing that Jesus Christ already overcame the world, just as it is written in John 16:33.
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 NIV
We cannot control external factors, but we could always control our response.
Peace and anxiety
Internal stress like anxiety and depression robs our internal peace. To regain peace, the easiest and most basic step we could do is breathe. Stress and anxiety could cause abnormal breathing patterns which make the problematic situation more overwhelming. An article from Psychology Today written by Denise Fournier Ph.D. noted that “when we’re anxious, our breath gets even more superficial, [m]ost people—whether they suffer from acute anxiety or deal with the typical nervousness and stress of everyday living—find that taking a few deep, mindful breaths goes a long way in soothing and relaxing them.” Another way to regain peace is to have a positive mindset. Recognizing that there are always available solutions will help us focus more on finding ways to resolve challenges. Identifying people who are with us while we go through difficulties will also give us comfort.
“Patience” used in Galatians 5:22 is Greek word μακροθυμία (makrothumia) which means patience or long-suffering. There are several facets of patience. One of which is connected with waiting. In this present age where more and more processed are becoming instant, waiting is a dreaded concept. Waiting will test anyone’s patience and would result in anxiety, and irritation. Another facet of waiting is connected with relationships. Being patient with other person’s shortcomings gets harder through time, especially if they keep doing the same mistakes. Oftentimes, patience was replaced with resentment.
Be patient with the process
Rushing the process would do more harm than good, that is why it always pays to wait. Waiting can be enjoyable when we wait actively. It is more applicable when we wait for important events or when we are pursuing something. Ashley Snyder noted in her article Passive Waiting vs. Active Waiting that waiting actively is “however, is a posture that seeks to cultivate habits that are focused on intentional preparation”. A good illustration of waiting is when we wait for a life-time partner or a romantic relationship. Someone who passively waits would complain how people don’t seem to like him/ her and complain that it is such a long time of waiting. Someone who actively waits still hopes to find someone to love, but at the same time focuses on improving his/ herself by doing personal development projects, pursuing his/her passion, and addressing personal issues.
Be patient with one another
Another way to exercise patience is to bear with one another. Keep in mind that this does not mean shrugging off injustice done to us by another person. This would mean extending grace to people around us, especially to those we love the most. There are times that it is easier to be patient with strangers than with people we interact with every day. It may be due to certain expectations we have with them. This may also because of repeated shortcomings. Being patient is a choice. It becomes harder to choose when it is inconvenient to us. A good encouragement to be patient is this: we are also in need of patience from other people. We also make repeated mistakes that we are ashamed of, but many people have shown mercy and patience to us and gave us second chances. Remembering the times when we experience underserved grace will make it easier to be patient with people.
The word “kindness” used in Galatians 22 comes from the Greek word χρηστότης (chrēstotēs) means moral excellence in character and demeanor. Kindness is also defined as the quality of being generous, considerate, and friendly. In Christianity, genuine kindness is the result of the indwelling of the Spirit since man, being selfish and sinful by nature, cannot act in complete altruism.
Kindness when your patience is tested
Showing acts of kindness is difficult when someone is testing our patience. While it is easier to say harsh words and be rude, choosing to be kind is always the best option. Words and actions cannot be easily taken back once said and done. Gentle communication is the best way to channel our hurts while looking out for the feelings of one another.
Goodness is translated as ἀγαθωσύνη “agathōsunē” in Greek, which means uprightness of heart and life, goodness, and kindness.
Goodness and Compassion
The very common example used to illustrate goodness as a virtue is the story of the Good Samaritan. The Good Samaritan extended a helping hand to the stranger, using his time, resources, and effort to make sure the person who was robbed and beaten badly is taken care of properly. In the same way, we can exercise goodness as a fruit of the Spirit by not turning blind eye to the injustices that are happening around us. Recognizing that there is something that is needed to be done to alleviate the situation of those who are suffering might encourage us to participate in missions for a cause, and outreaches. Another simple way to exercise this trait is by being mindful of our actions towards others.
Goodness and accountability
Goodness can also be defined as a moral character distinguishing right from wrong. A simple way to exhibit this trait is being accountable. Doing our responsibility, even when no one is looking. Standing firm in our moral principle and refusing to compromise our values are means to show goodness as a character.
The word used in Galatians 5:22 to define faithfulness is a Greek word πίστις (pistis) which means faith. For Christians, faithfulness is a “character trait that combines dependability and trust based on our confidence in God and His eternal faithfulness“.
There are two ways to exercise faithfulness every day.
Faithfulness in words and actions
Faithfulness can be exercised by committing to fulfill your promises. Let your “yes’ be yes, and your “no” be no. Compromising commitment will cause distrust between two or more parties and will mar the relationships.
We can also exercise faithfulness by avoiding gossip. Be honest with how you feel and avoid speaking words that defame someone behind their back. Telling the truth upfront will help you gain the trust and confidence of people. Faithfulness can also be shown in action by doing the right thing even if it is inconvenient. It can also be shown by unwavering allegiance to a person and speaking the truth in love.
The word “gentleness” in Galatians 5:23 is translated from the Greek word πραΰτης (prautēs) which means meekness. Being meek is often seen as a weakness and unwanted character, but showing restrains in words and actions not only benefit us but also the people around us.
Contrary to weakness, gentleness is a strength. A gentle person possesses a clear mind even in the most stressful situation. A gentle character is also a strong magnet. The steady, collected, and kind character of a gentle person attracts people around them since people are naturally drawn to peaceful surroundings and situations.
Exercising gentleness even when provoked
However, one cannot be gentle all the time. Provocation can make any gentle person lose control. A good way to stay collected is to remain quiet when provoked. Words blurted out of anger cannot be taken back. Also, this could give you a chance to think through your actions and process your emotions.
The word used for “self-control” in Galatians 5:23 is the Greek word ἐγκράτεια (enkrateia) which means self-mastery. Self-control is an important character since lack of control often leads to harm and destruction. Self- control involves “moderation, constraint, and the ability to say “no” to our baser desires and fleshly lusts”.
Learn to say “NO”
Learning to say “no” especially when presented with a good option is challenging. Chloe Brotheridge noted in her article “Want to improve your life? Just learn to say no noted that “fearing rejection, anger or just the uncertainty of what the other person’s response will be” hinders us from saying no. The people-pleasing tendency is dangerous since this may lead to abuse and manipulation. Practicing self-control and learning to say no would not only save us from difficulty but would also open the way for the best opportunities.
The doctrine of Fruit of the Spirit is of great importance for Christians. At first glance, applying these concepts can be overwhelming and impossible, since human beings, by nature, is selfish. However, members of Christianity believe that producing the fruit of the Spirit, although impossible through human efforts, is made possible through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Christians also cling to the truth that we can love, show kindness, and extend grace to one another because Jesus Christ showed how it is done by loving the undeserving, sinful, and selfish human.