I have been working on a sermon for this coming weekend and I have been doing a lot of thinking about the fruit of the Spirit as listed in Galatians 5:22-23. Spiritual gifts, graces and fruit have been an interest of mine for some time (check out Equipped for Every Good Work and Beyond Money… if you can still find copies, since they are both now out of print) but each time I come back to lists of gifts or fruit, I start thinking about them in new (or at least different) ways. Paul lists nine signs (evidence) of true spirituality in Galatians. Christians will be known by their love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Love is agape – that wondrous, unselfish, all-encompassing, non-judgmental, unconditional love that most of us cannot possibly understand (because we want to withhold it from so many…). Joy is chara – unbounded exuberance and sense of well-being. Peace is eirene – either absolute balance and calm or the total absence of discord. Patience is makrothumia – which means “far-feeling” or tolerance, perseverance, long-suffering, or putting up with discomfort. Kindness is chrestotes – servant-like compassion and care extended to others, especially the stranger (what we often mean by “hospitality” today). Agathosune means doing for others, a form of charity — goodness in outward and tangible gifts and service — true generosity of heart and action. Faithfulness is pistis – hardcore belief and unwavering adherence to the highest values of holy living, those who are completely devoted to God. Gentleness is praotes – the humble acknowledgement that others are as good as, if not better than, we are — and that all those created in the image of God deserve respect and care. Self-control is egkrateia – literally “in-holding,” it means keeping it together and not allowing one’s emotions to run wild. Each of these Greek terms can be translated a number of ways, which makes their study rich and rewarding.
What comes clear quickly is that these fruit are not passive and pleasant, but are active and demanding. We must LIVE the fruit of the Spirit, not merely possess them. We need to “feed” others these fruit. But where my thinking has gone this time is in a slightly weird direction. Watching my wife dump oranges, pineapple, blueberries, bananas and cranberry juice in a blender the other day, I started thinking, “What would the result be if we dumped the fruit of the Spirit in a big blender and hit ‘puree’?”
I have three answers that have popped into my head, that I will share here, but I would love to hear what kind of “fruit smoothie” you come up with.
1. Love + joy + peace + patience + kindness + generosity + faithfulness + gentleness + self-control = justice. Compassion, mercy, caring for the weak and powerless, serving those outside the faith — these things are all implicit in the Greek words we translate as the fruit of the Spirit. We are the “fertile soil” in which God nurtures, cultivates, and grows the fruit, but it is grown to serve the entire world — not just the community of faith, but especially those beyond and outside. When I think of the fruit in combination, justice is the smoothie it creates. Justice will never happen by accident. It will only occur because people commit to ensure it happens. It will not happen without love. It will not happen without radical kindness and generosity. Without gentleness and self-control, we will not be motivated to do for others. Anyone possessing even one iota of faithfulness knows that justice isn’t an option, but an imperative. And a commitment to joy must be a commitment to joy for all or it is incomplete.
2. Family — not dysfunctional human family, but truly spiritual family grounded in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Who hasn’t wished to be part of a family like that? Wouldn’t it to be fantastic to find yourself gathered at a table where everyone truly loved and accepted everyone else? Wouldn’t it be great to be with people who you didn’t fear were judging or condemning you? Can you imagine being together without having to walk on egg shells and avoid delicate conversations? Wouldn’t it be simply amazing to be with others you know love and care about you without reserve — and you feel the same about them? That would be…
3. Heaven — do we want to experience the realm and kindom of God here on earth? What are we waiting for? A significant part of Jesus’ message, especially in Luke’s gospel, is that the kingdom has come, that God’s realm is not waiting in some far off day and time, but that it is possible now, well within our grasp if we will merely accept it. Living the fruit of the Spirit is experiencing the kingdom/kindom of God RIGHT NOW! There is absolutely no reason not to experience true Christian community today, apart from egotistical self-centeredness. The reason we do not experience it is because we do not want to. We think we know better than God. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
We need to become fruit-farmers and fresh produce sellers. We have been given everything by God that we need to experience a taste of heaven on earth. We need to enjoy the goodness of God’s fruit and blend it in tasty ways and share it with the world. Why make it harder than it needs to be? If the world got the best of what we have to offer instead of the worst (bickering, judgment, divisiveness, arrogance, condemnation, etc.), perhaps our witness would make a bigger impact. To me, at least, it seems worth a try.