The Fruit of the Spirit
When I was a seminarian, I met a person who had a great knowledge about Christianity in China. When we got to know each other well, I asked her a sensitive question about a very controversial Chinese Christian leader. My question was how we should look at this Chinese Christian leader since there were so many radically different views on him. She gave an answer I still remember today. Her answer was actually from the Bible: ‘By their fruit, you will recognize them'. (Matt. 7:20)
I have been ministering many people who do not know much about Christianity. One of the most common questions I often have to answer is how we can know the Spirit is working in a person or a group of people. My answer has always been this: By their fruit. If we can see the fruit of the Spirit in their life, then we know the Spirit is working in them.
The Epistle of St. Paul to the Galatians tells that the fruit of the Spirit includes love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. This isn't simply a message intended only for the Galatian believers about 2000 years ago. It's a message intended for us as well. It is a message of great encouragement for us to live out a Christian life.
The fruit of the Spirit sometimes can possibly be taken in three triads. The first three express our possible relationship to God—“love, joy, peace.” The next three express our possible relationship to our fellows—“patience, kindness, generosity.” The last three express our possible relationship to ourselves—“faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” This categorization reflects the whole range of the relationships we as Christians need to put right.
Noticeably, St. Paul uses the word “fruit” in its singular form. It tells us that the fruit of the Spirit that is produced in us is not "nine different fruits", but one singular "fruit" manifested in nine distinct qualities. This reminds us that the Holy Spirit produces his fruit in us as a whole - not "love" this fruit season, then "joy" the next fruit season, then "peace" the next season, and so on. If we are keeping in step with the Spirit, we need to strive for the fruit of the Spirit in all those distinct qualities.
These distinctive qualities are not specific things we do. These are specific descriptions of how and why we do things. And these descriptions of “how” and “why” go far behind and beneath such surface issues as which action we should take. It touches the deepest, truest parts of our character – why we act and how we act as Christians.
Fruit doesn't grow overnight, but grows over time though a process that is under the sovereign control of God. The fruit of the Spirit produced in us also takes time. We must allow the Spirit all the time he wishes in directing the timing and the process of the production of his own fruit in us. And we must accept that he brings us into the various trials and tests that develop and perfect that fruit in us; and not try to short-change the process. After all, we are Christians and we should let people see that our life bears the fruit of the Spirit.