The fruit of the Spirit is the result of the Holy Spirit's presence and working in the lives of maturing believers and is itemized in Galatians 5:22-23. In the context of these verses, the singular fruit of the Spirit is contrasted with the plural works of the flesh ( 5:19-21 ). Neither listing is exhaustive, as is clear from Paul's ending of his list of the works of the flesh with the phrase, "and things like these, " and his statement at the close of his itemizing of the fruit of the Spirit that "against such things there is no law."
Several attempts have been made to explain the reason why "works" is plural and "fruit" is singular. Some have suggested that the singular stresses the truth that the fruit is one cluster with many individual parts, as one diamond has many facets. Others have suggested that the singular refers to one harvest and the unity of the characteristics that the Spirit produces within the individual. Another possibility is that the fruit of the Spirit is actually one, love, with the other virtues being different manifestations of love in operation. A support of such a view may be 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, where several of the things itemized as fruit in Galatians are included as identifying features of agape [ajgavph] love. It is notable that the fruit of the Spirit, as listed, is in direct opposition to the works stemming from the flesh.
An Identification of the Fruit. The fruit of the Holy Spirit's work in the life of the individual Christian, which is enumerated in Galatians 5:22-23, can be described as follows: an active love for God and one's fellowman; a rejoicing in all kinds of circumstances; peacefulness and serenity of character and peacemaking among people; patience and longsuffering with persons, some of whom may not be easy to get along with; kindness toward others; goodness that seeks to aid others; faithfulness and dependability in one's relationships with God and other people; gentleness and meekness in accepting God's will and in dealing with others; and the ability to keep oneself in check and under control in all kinds of circumstances. Paul concludes by observing the obvious: "Against such things as these virtues no law has been enacted."
A Contrast of the Fruit with the Gifts of the Spirit. This fruit is the evidence of the Spirit-filled, sanctified life. The evidence is not, as some claim, the gifts of the Spirit called charismata. The fruit is one but the gifts are various. The fruit is shared by and expected from all Christians alike, while the gifts are parcelled out to various members of the body of Christ as the Holy Spirit wills ( 1 Cor 12:8-11 ). In addition, love, which seemingly is the chief element in the fruit, being named first in Galatians 5:22 and being declared the greatest of Christian virtues in 1 Corinthians 13, is never said to be a gift but rather "the most excellent way" in which the spiritual gifts are to be used ( 1 Cor 12:31 ). In other words, the fruit of the Spirit sets forth the manner in which those who have the gifts of prophesying, teaching, administering, helping, speaking in tongues, and the others are to utilize their gifts. For example, as Paul writes, if I speak in the tongues of men or of angels and do not have love, the fruit of the Spirit, I am just noise ( 1 Cor 13:1 ). The Christian should use whatever gift or gifts he or she may have been given lovingly, joyfully, peacefully, patiently, kindly, and in keeping with the other fruit of the Spirit. The problem in the Corinthian church with which Paul had to deal was not their lack of the gifts of the Spirit but their lack of the graces or the fruit. In 1 Corinthians 1:4-7 Paul thanks God, among other things, for the fact that the Corinthian congregation was not lacking any spiritual gift; yet at the same time he rebukes them for their being carnal and obviously lacking the fruit of the Spirit in their lives ( 1 Cor 3:1-3 ).
The Requirement of Human Cooperation with the Spirit. Finally, it is important to note that, as with all analogies, the comparison of natural fruit with the metaphorical fruit of the Spirit's work in individual Christians breaks down. Naturally good fruit is produced without any effort by a good tree; however, the fruit of the Spirit does not come into being that automatically. Regularly it requires effort on the Christian's part. It demands a heeding of the commands of Scripture and a cooperation with the Holy Spirit in his work in the believer's life. The declaration of the Bible, that this fruit is the production of the Holy Spirit, must be balanced with the demands found in the Bible. The declarations of the indicative mood are to be balanced with all of the exhortations of the imperative mood. All of the fruit of the Spirit are, in other biblical references, expected from and commanded of the believer. For example, the fruit of the Spirit is love and yet Christians are commanded to love God with all their heart and to love their neighbor as themselves ( Matt 22:37-39 ; Gal 5:13-14 ). Another fruit of the Spirit is declared to be joy, and yet the individual believer is commanded to continue rejoicing always in all circumstances ( Php 4:4 ; 1 Thess 5:16 ). The peace of God is something the Christian is expected to enjoy ( Php 4:7 ). The believer is commanded to continue living at peace with all people ( Rom 12:18 ) and to seek to be reconciled with those who consider themselves enemies ( Matt 5:23-24 ). Another facet of the fruit is goodness and yet Paul commands us to overcome evil done to us by doing good in return ( Rom 12:20-21 ).
Either by direct commands or by divinely approved examples, such as the self-control Paul declared was his practice as a Christian ( 1 Cor 9:25-27 ), it is the responsibility of each Christian to yield to the Holy Spirit. In other words, one is not passive but very active in the development of the fruit of the Spirit. In fact, in Colossians 3:10-15 Paul commands Christians to put on many of these same virtues. Peter in 2 Peter 1:5-8 commands his readers to add to their faith some of the same characteristics that are called the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5.
Consequently it is important not only to know what the fruit of the Spirit is but diligently to attempt to make it an integral part of one's own Christian life. No one ever drifts into spiritual maturity or excellence. It demands a yielding of life to the Spirit's leading by means of the Bible ( Rom 8:14 ; Gal 5:18 ) and this can involve, at times, a real battle. The Christian life for Paul is always a combination of the work of the Spirit of God in originating fruit and the cooperation of the will of the individual.
Wesley L. Gerig
Bibliography. F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Galatians: A Commentary on the Greek Text; E. De Witt Burton, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians; R. Y. K. Fung, The Epistle to the Galatians.
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
Baker Book House Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan USA.
All rights reserved. Used by permission.
For usage information, please read the Baker Book House Copyright Statement.
Bibliography InformationElwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Fruit of the Spirit'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology".