As a self-described “mature” Christian, I’ve nonetheless taken to skipping over Paul’s description of the fruit of the Holy Spirit whenever my Bible readings take me to it.
If you don’t recall, the verse goes like this:
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” – Galatians 5:22-23
Reading this list is an indictment on my soul-life; it’s like reading the quizzes in the men’s fitness magazines, but instead of asking about my exercise or sleep habits, this quiz asks: “How full of the Fruit of the Spirit are you? Take our quiz to find out!”
Using a scoring system from 5 = “Always” to 0 = “Never,” here’s how I self-assess:
Forbearance (What the Forbearance?!): 3
With about a 3.5 score, I’d probably rate as “Full of Life” – somewhere between “Full of the Spirit” and “Full of Crap.” Certainly I’m no barren fig tree (Matthew 21:18-20), right? But it’s enough to make me question my only 5 on the scoresheet. Why am I not bearing more fruit?
To cope with my spiritual insecurity, I’ve oscillated between over-obsessing about it and simply pretending the verse is apocryphally non-canonical – and thus does not apply to me or to anyone. Thankfully, I recently had an epiphany about it all (epiphany being a Greek word meaning “the Spirit smacked me silly straight”).
Here’s the gist of the breakthrough I had: In circa 2016, when I think of fruits, I think of the rainbow cornucopia of large, fresh, in-season selections at my local mega-grocer. All kinds, always available, abundant for picking … from a display.
In Paul’s day, however, fruit came to us in a much different fashion. It took time to grow, and it took close tending and hard work and a learned and respected agricultural process to grow it. Conditions had to be ideal, problems had to be caught early and headed off, and steady sustenance of good stuff needed to be fed throughout the seasons of growth.
And so it is with our Spiritual fruit; my first-world, modern expectations of large and abundant fresh consumer fruit – instantly available at the point of my salvation – was not in keeping with the metaphorical spiritual fruit Paul described: fruit that has seasons; fruit that takes growth and development and time and nurturing and learning to produce . Via a process performed by the patient, steady hand of its grower.
Tending to my spiritual life has happened, and has been necessary for any of the growth, blossoming and good fruit bearing that I’ve attained over the years – though as the quiz scores show, it all seems so modest. I’ve arguably provided a good plot for the seed of faith, the first necessity; but I also on the daily need to tend to the many fast-growing weeds of worldliness and worry that easily sprout up in my garden, lest they take over my faith life (Matthew 13:1-23).
What I learned after my smack aside my head is this: If we have sown well, and if we keep fertilizing, pruning and watering our growing faith, then assuredly the abundant fruit of the Holy Spirit will continue to show – and increase – in each of us. Amen.
All scripture from The Holy Bible, New International Version.
The Faith Deconstructed category offers an occasionally thoughtful, sometimes glib, always faithful look at today’s Christianity, from the perspective of a reformed skeptic.