When I think of the fruits of the Spirit, my first thought is a children’s song about the fruits of the Spirit.
The fruit of the Spirit’s not a coconut
The fruit of the Spirit’s not a coconut
If you want to be a coconut,
You might as well hear it,
You can’t be a fruit of the spirit,
Cause the fruit of the Spirit is
Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness,
Faithfulness, gentleness and self-control
The song goes through coconuts, lemons, cherries, and watermelon. This song gets stuck in my head. It’s an earworm. There were girls in my youth group in Litchfield that went to the Lutheran school in town. They had religion classes every day and learned songs like this to help them learn the Bible. The girls would see who could sing the fruits the faster without messing up or getting their tongues twisted.
Careful or this little song will be your earworm for the day.
Each of us knows someone who exhibits a fruit of the Spirit. I like to say they have a spirit of joy or love or gentleness.
My friend Christal Williams, who is the Associate Regional Minister in the Christian Church in Illinois and Wisconsin in the Chicago-land area, she has a spirit of joy. No matter what is going on in her life she is joyful. She posts on her Facebook page daily about her faith. She always has a message of hope and faith that is rooted in the joy of every day she gets to be a minister and be a part of people’s lives. She has a special joy now because she is going to be moving to Tennessee to be the head-honcho Regional Minister.
My friend Steve Sherman has a spirit of peace. For as long as I’ve known him he just exudes peace. He has never had a care in the world trusting that all will be well because God is good. He is so peaceful that he makes me uncomfortable. He is just chill and relaxed because he trusts the Prince of Peace.
I call my dad “Mr. Patience” because he has no patience. It takes him about ½ a second to give up, get frustrated and let a few bad words fill the air. So many people want to be more patient. This seems to be a coveted spirit probably because we all want things to happen when we think is the opportune time. God acts at the 11th hour, not on our time table.
My friend Dawn Ingram has a gentle spirit. There is no other word to describe her. She will sit and listen to you all day and you feel like she is gently holding your spirit in prayer as you sit with her. You feel genuinely cared for after being with her. She’s expects nothing from anyone and is always concerned that she not dominate the conversation.
My friend Kara Swartz is the model of self-control. I have never seen her have too much to drink or overindulge at a meal. She prides herself in having no debt, except her house payment and car loan. She has savings enough to cover any unexpected expenses. She’s not a big shopper only buying what she needs and can afford. Her wedding wasn’t over the top. Even in the most devastating moment of her life, she was rational and levelheaded only breaking down once the crisis was over.
My friend Brooke Schneitman had the gift of faithfulness. It may have been her near death experience of Jesus. She had one of those experiences of talking to Jesus in the space between life and eternity. She told Jesus she wasn’t ready because she wanted to be ordained as a Christian minister. I didn’t know her before that experience. After her experience, she has the faith of a saint. She was a pastor to me in seminary encouraging me to keep the faith when nothing made sense and everything seemed chaotic. She lived long enough to reach her goal of being ordained. Then, shortly after, she went to be with her Lord.
I think of so many people when I think of the spirit of love, kindness, and goodness. Lots of people have shown be those fruits. Lots of people have loved me and shown me kindness. There are a lot of good people around me. As for forbearance, no one really knows what that means because the definition is patient, self-control, tolerance, restraint.
So, why is this so important to Paul? Why does he want us to look for the fruits of the Spirit?
Paul’s letter to the Galatians was about justification by faith and a response to missionaries critiquing his evangelism practices. There were missionaries who came to Galatia after Paul left. These missionaries were Jewish Christians who wanted Christians to adhere to the Law of Moses. They wanted Gentile Christians to be circumcised and follow the Law.
The letter to the Galatians is Paul’s argument that Gentiles didn’t have to become Jewish to become Christian. In Acts 15, there was a Jerusalem Council who was trying to decide what Gentiles needed to do to become Christians. Some, like these missionaries to Galatia, thought Gentiles needed to become circumcised and adhere to every letter of the Law. Paul argued that every believer is justified by their faith.
When Paul had become a Christian, he had to rethink his relationship to the Law because it was his defense of the Law that drove him to persecute Christians. Paul wrote that we were set free from the Law by the grace of Christ. However, freedom is not the right to complete abandon, indulgence, and recklessness. Paul told the Galatians that they should serve one another humbly in love. He reminded the believers that the whole Law could be summed up as “love your neighbor as yourself.”
Believers could be found faithful and free as they exhibited life by the Spirit. Believers would not give into desires of the flesh like conflict, sexual immorality, impurity, debauchery, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, orgies and such behavior.
“But, the fruit of the Spirit, [evidence that you were a believer and had been baptized by the Spirit], were love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.”
This passage has been problematic of the life of Christianity. These verses have been used to argue that the flesh or human desires are all bad. They have been used to argue for temperance and sex only for the purpose of conception. The verses have been used to judge anyone who didn’t fit the mold of the purely pious and righteous model Christian…whose sins were hidden behind closed doors. The rhetoric of condemnation inspired by these verses have given over to the spirit of hatred of which they were trying to guard against.
It is much more spiritual to love everyone and try to include them in the circle of those who are trying, like us, to be faithful but fall short. Thank God for the justification by our faith in Christ Jesus without which we would be left to trying to justify ourselves by not doing all those fleshly things. Galatians 2:15 – 16 says, “…we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law.”
Paul’s point is that we should exhibit to others that we live by the Spirit. It should be evident to other believers and to non-believers. We should be marked by our freedom from trying to live by religious rules. Christians should show that our freedom from religion is the freedom to live by the Spirit of God which sustains us in love and inspires us to love others.
So much of what non-believers say about Christians and the church is that we are hypocrites. They see that we don’t live lives that reveal that we are loving people. They say we go to church to be all pious then Monday through Saturday we can be seen as judgmental and hateful. They say we worship and revere a God who so loved us that He became one of us to teach us about love, humility, sacrifice, and grace yet we say mean things and talk behind each other’s backs. They say we gossip and give people judgmental looks. They say we exclude others. They say we have meltdowns on Facebook and end the post with “but I trust God.”
All of that behavior is true of some believers. When I read articles about those arguments for not going to church, I think, “Yeah, I know Christians who are hypocrites.” And, yes, I know there are people who would call me a hypocrite or say I’m leading people astray for things I’ve done in my leadership. But, if we all honestly ask ourselves, at the end of the day, have I shown love and kindness, faith and grace to those I’ve encountered, and say yes with conviction; then, we’re living by the Spirit.