The Fruit of the Spirit, Gal. 5. 22-3

R. V. Court, Bristol, England

Category: Exposition

There can be no doubt in reading these verses, as to what Spirit the Apostle is referring. In the preceding verses of the chapter he has spoken of the Spirit several times, vv. 5, 16, 17, 18, and he refers again to Him in v. 25. In these passages it is plain that the Holy Spirit of God is in mind, not the natural spirit, and the same Spirit is before us in vv. 22, 23. This fact is driven home forcibly by the realization that the nine-fold fruit detailed there simply cannot be produced by the human spirit.

A note by Dr. C. I. Scofield is helpful here - "Taken together they present a moral portrait of Christ, and may be taken as the Apostle's explanation of Gal. 2. 20, 'Not I but Christ,' and as a definition of 'fruit' in John 15. 1-8." This is equivalent to saying that if the fruit of the Spirit is seen in a believer, to the degree to which that fruit is seen, Christ is seen.

This lovely description is introduced by that which is in sharp contrast with it, described in v. 19 as "the works of the flesh". These are detailed, and we confess them to be an ugly list indeed. We see them in ourselves, we see them in others, they are boldly displayed in the media, where they are accepted as the normal for 1987. The sad and shocking details are concluded in v. 21 with the statement that they who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. If they appear loathsome to us as we read them, how much more hateful must they appear to a Holy God.

Bishop Lightfoot sums up the "works of the flesh" under four headings: 1. Sensual passions v. 19; 2. Unlawful dealings with spiritual things, idolatry, witchcraft, v. 20; 3. Violations of brotherly love, vv. 20-21; 4. Intemperate excesses v. 21. Suffice it to say that these "works" are the natural outworkings of the fallen nature of man, varying of course from individual to individual, and Divine power is needed to counteract them. This being so we can understand why Paul should urge in v. 16 "walk in (or keep step with) the Spirit and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh". The only safeguard against the "works of the flesh" is the controlling power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, and as this beneficent control is exercised the ugly works of the flesh are replaced by the beautiful fruit of the Spirit.

The production of fruit is a Divine mystery and prerogative. We gardeners look at our gardens during the winter months and we see what appears to be dead bushes and trees, dead plants, with no signs of life, and we do not expect at that stage to see the signs. But Spring approaches and soon we see the signs of miracle working power. Where death reigned signs of new life appear, and as the season advances the flowers and the fruits display themselves. Of course we expect it to happen, but who can explain the mystery of how it happens? The "fruit" comes quietly but steadily, as God ordains, and there is a beauty about it all which declares "the hand that made us is Divine". This deeply mysterious process is duplicated in human experience, and the beauty which results is in stark contrast with the ugliness seen in the works of the flesh-it consists in the individual by "being" not "doing". There is a lot of emphasis today on the "gifts" of the Spirit and sometimes the emphasis is very noisy indeed, and could be confused with the works of the flesh. The fruit of the Spirit is a noiseless, but definite, process, and shines out in human lives.

In 1 Cor. 6. 9-11 we are given an illustration of this Divine miracle of supplanting the works of the flesh with the fruit of the Spirit. In vv. 9-10 we are given a list of some of the works of the flesh-the normal for Corinth. But v. 11 tells us "and such were some of you, but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified, in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of God". The men of Corinth were now gazing at a miracle in their midst. They saw what they had never seen before, holiness, self-control, love, joy, peace-the evidence of a Divine power at work. How amazed they must have been.

The production of fruit is a demonstration of life, of an indwelling fructifying power, and the continued production day after day is surely the result of being "constantly filled with the Spirit" Eph. 5.18. Let us look a little closer at the "fruit" listed for us by the Spirit through the Apostle. He begins his nine-fold definition of the fruit of the Spirit in a believer's life with "love, joy, peace," in the realm of personal experience. There may be significance in the fact that "love" heads the list-the very nature of God, 1 John 4. 8. If this is missing none of the remainder of the fruit can flourish. This love reaches up, returning to the One from Whom it comes, and it reaches out to those around us, believers and unbelievers alike. John reminds us, 1 John 4. 19 "We love because he first loved us", and Paul, led by the Spirit of God, tells us in 1 Cor. 13 how this love operates in a human life. It must be conceded that the picture in 1 Cor. 13 is an illustration of the working of the Divine nature, and not of the works of the flesh.

Linked with love the inspired writer speaks of joy and peace. This joy is not empty frivolity and excitement, but something deep and settled, described in Phil. 4. 4 as "in the Lord". Peter speaks of it in 1 Pet. 1. 8 as something passing understanding, "joy unspeakable and full of glory". It is not what the world calls happiness, which has been so aptly described as being dependent on "happenings"-this is something supernatural which persists when everything goes wrong. It is the fruit of the Spirit, concerning whom the Lord Jesus said "He shall abide with you for ever", John 14. 16. Paul and Silas knew something of it as they sang in the dungeon in Philippi, Acts 16. 25.

Peace follows in this first grouping of three, and immediately we call to mind the word of the Lord Jesus to His anxious disciples, "My peace I give unto you" John 14. 27. Indeed He also spoke of "My love" John 15. 10 and "My joy" John 15. 11. As the Spirit's work is to take of the things of Christ and reveal them to us clearly this fruit of the Spirit is the one which the Lord promised. A few hours from Calvary His mind is perfectly stayed upon His God and God kept Him in perfect peace. We shall never have to face the tremendous experience of the Cross, but it may be that in the purposes of God we may have to pass through some traumatic experience, some shattering experience, but if the Spirit is in control His peace will be there in the experience. "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on thee" Isa. 26. 3. The Spirit will still be indwelling and working, no matter what the circumstances may be.

Paul continues his task of describing aspects of the fruit of the Spirit by indicating, again with three words, their relation to the realm of conduct - their effect upon others as they are displayed in the life of the believer, "longsuffering (patience), gentleness (kindness), goodness". This group clearly demonstrates that the indwelling power of the Spirit will positively change a Christian's attitude towards those he has dealings with, whether within the local church, in the workshop or the office, or in the home. They reveal an entirely new attitude to others.

As we look at his first word "longsuffering (or patience)" we feel constrained to ask ourselves "Is this seen in me in my contact with my fellow-men?" It is written of the Lord Jesus that He "endured such contradiction of sinners against himself Heb. 12. 3. He never retaliated. "When he was reviled he reviled not again" 1 Pet. 2. 23. As we look at Him we are looking at One who was perfect, but let us remember that this Blessed One was constantly led of the Spirit, and His reaction to the taunts and attacks of evil men was the reaction of the Spirit of God in Him. Is it possible for the tried believer to act in such a way as He did? Let us remember what we have been reading, "the fruit of the Spirit is longsuffering (patience)". No! It is not natural, it is the work of God in ordinary human beings like ourselves. Because of the work of the Spirit of God we may "turn the other cheek" Matt. 5. 39, we may "pray for them that despitefully use us" Matt. 5. 44, and in so doing we may glorify God.

Gentleness (or kindness). As Montague Goodman so aptly put it "the believer becomes a gentleman". Did not Paul write "the servant of the Lord must be ... gentle" 2 Tim. 2. 24. The bitter words of rancour will not fly when the Spirit is in control. Indeed sometimes that blessed control will result in no word at all being spoken, even as with our Blessed Lord. And our actions will be marked by humility and loving care to the "awkward".

Goodness. Here again is Christ working by the Spirit through man. "Who went about doing good" Acts 10. 38 and on one occasion they said of Him "he is a good man" John 7. 12. This did not call for special action and effort on His part, it was the outworking of what He was. In Gal. 5. 22-23 we see this as a vital part of the Spirit's work in a Christian and Eph. 2. 10 emphasizes that there are "good works" for which we have been ordained. In the Spirit-led believer there will not be found "getting one's own back" but rather "returning good for ill".

The apostle now brings us to the realm of character-"faith (faithfulness), meekness and self-control". May I quote the words of Montague Goodman in his book "The Comforter". He very helpfully says "the fruit of the Spirit is not confined to the realms of experience and conduct, but reveals itself in the formation of a godly character. These represent the mature fruit of a spiritual life and are properly reserved to the end of the list. For character is deeper than conduct and holy living has its roots not so much in the things I do but in the man that I am. Three main qualities go to make the character of a Christian and these are named as the final fruit of the Spirit as He lives in and energises the believer".

We begin with "faith (or faithfulness)". As the Spirit works in the believer he becomes more and more like His Lord "who was faithful to Him that appointed Him" Heb. 3. 2. We look back over our Christian lives, some long, some short, and we confess with shame how, especially in the early days of spiritual experience we were constant failures, and there were even times when we denied our Lord, not necessarily by word of mouth, but by conduct. If, as the years have passed by, we have learned more and more the secret of being "filled with the Spirit", Eph. 5. 18, faithfulness has become a more marked feature of our daily life. Faithfulness to our beloved Lord has sometimes proved to be very costly, but with this experience has come a deeper understanding and enjoyment of the peace and joy we have already considered. As Paul wrote to the Corinthian believers he spoke of stewardship in 1 Cor. 4. 2 and emphasized that what God required in a steward was that he should be found faithful. In our present scripture we learn how this is made possible-by the on-going work of the Spirit of God.

In 1987 it seems strange to be speaking of the next quality listed by Paul, "meekness". The world is full of strident voices proclaiming the virtues and qualities of their owners and drawing attention to themselves. The thing that marks man in his unbelief today is pride, and the meek man will inevitably be regarded as the weak man. Yet, as we consider where in our list we find the word placed, almost at the pinnacle, we must accept that this quality is held in high regard by God. Indeed we find the Son of God Himself saying "I am meek and lowly in heart" Matt. 11. 29. This surely was an integral ingredient of "the mind that was in Christ Jesus" Phil. 2. 5 and is therefore part of the Divine nature. This is why, if meekness is going to be seen in a believer, it is because it is a part of the fruit of the Divine Spirit. It is not of earthly origin and if "meekness" is going to be maintained all the power of God will be needed day by day, and will be available.

We reach the climax with "temperance" or "self-control". Yet, immediately we use the word "self-control" we have to acknowledge that we are not talking of our own control of "self, but the submission of what we may call the "self-life", to the beneficent control of the same blessed Spirit whose work we have been examining. We have arrived at the position where "we walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit" Rom. 8. 4 and "self is not allowed to intrude. We speak of this quality as a climax because careful thought will make clear that if the Spirit is now in complete control of self the other qualities we have been thinking of will flourish. Immediately "self tries to take over they will diminish in effectiveness in our daily life.

Without question what we have been considering involves a lifetime of experience. We can well understand a young believer, enjoying for the first time the "love, joy, peace" of verse 22 feeling somewhat frustrated when the rest of the fruit is not manifest immediately. This is part of the "growth in grace and knowledge" of 2 Pet. 3. 18. Gradually as the Spirit of God becomes more real in experience and as the Spirit teaches through the regular reading of the Scriptures the fruit will become more and more evident and the truth of "Not I, but Christ" Gal. 2. 20, will show in the daily life.

The list we have considered covers every relationship in the believer's life. Do we feel guilty as we read these verses? Is there a sense of the impossible? Let us again bring to mind Eph. 5. 18, "be filled (continually) with the Spirit" and v. 16 of our chapter "walk in the Spirit and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh". "Against such there is no law", Gal. 5. 23 and no restraint needed. It is not in conflict with the law of God, as it is the Royal Proclamation of the Father's will" (Handley Moule). May we, as we finish this meditation, reader and writer alike, very quietly wait in the Lord's presence and make it our earnest prayer that this fruit of the Spirit, "love, joy, peace", etc. may constantly mark our Christian development.

Then, with the gift of holiness within us,
We, not less human, but made more Divine:
Our lives replete with heaven's supernal beauty,
Ever declare-That beauty Lord is Thine.