A Fruit to Be Tasted
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…(Galatians 5:22-23)
With the Fruit of the Spirit You Taste Christ!
“Snack sensibly, eat an apple.” Surely you remember this advertisement about eating fruit. Whether an apple or something else, it’s healthy to eat fruit. A wide variety of fruit is available for every taste, from sparkling fresh to deliciously sweet. It’s wise to eat fruit, for it contains vitamins.
Galatians 5:22 speaks of fruit, a very special type of fruit, which comes from a very special fruit tree. It is the most beautiful and delicious fruit in all the world: the fruit of the Spirit. Let’s take a closer look at this fruit.
From Gifts to Fruit
In the last number of years there has been much ado about the gifts of the Spirit, especially those gifts that make quite an impression. Think of the gifts of speaking in tongues, of healing, and of prophesy. Less attention is given to the less impressive gifts, such as teaching, correction, and service. Yet, all of these gifts are not the fruit of the Spirit. Gifts may vary from person to person. The one has this gift, while another has that gift. One person offers a listening ear, another gives a helping hand, and still another brings a fitting word in good time. There are a wide range of gifts. It is not so with the fruit of the Spirit. The Bible speaks of a fruit that is one and the same for everybody. It grows within each person in whom the Spirit lives and works. With all who believe, the same fruit can be seen.
If you compare the fruit with the gifts, you will see that the fruit clearly stands superior. The fruit is more beautiful than any gift. Just read Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth. You will find several chapters on gifts (1 Cor. 12-14). In the middle of this passage, Paul writes: “But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way” (1 Cor. 12:31). He continues by writing the well-known chapter about love, which is above all other gifts.
Love! This is greater and more important than anything else. You can see this in Paul’s chapter on love. You may possess the most wonderful gift, but if you don’t have love, it is worthless. Even if you can speak the language of the angels, it sounds hollow and empty if you have no love (1 Cor. 13:1ff.). The fruit is more than any gift. Therefore, it is important to pay close attention to this fruit, and to stand amazed by it.
The Word Fruit, Not the Word Work
Let us first look at the word fruit, from which much can be learned. Perhaps you have some type of fruit tree in your yard, whether it be an apple tree, a pear tree, or a plum tree. You hope to harvest some delicious fruit from it again this summer. But what can you really do to promote the growth of the fruit? Yes, you can fertilize the tree, and you can prune it. If no rain falls, you can water it yourself. You can do all kinds of helpful things. Yet, you cannot make the fruit grow! When the fruit begins its growth, you can spray pesticides. You can protect the fruit so that it stays beautiful and spotless. But that is the exterior. You cannot grow the fruit from the inside outwards. You have no control over its growth. This comes one hundred percent from God, and from his Spirit (Ps. 104:30).
The word fruit gives a feeling of tastiness and freedom. Fruit is not something you have to produce yourself. It’s not something you have to achieve. The heart of our Christian faith is: God does it! God does everything! This can be seen in the work of Christ. He did everything for us, and he did everything without us. It can also be seen in the work of the Spirit. He too does everything for us: not outside of us, but within us. Think of what the Spirit does in your heart and in your head, with your will and with your feelings, by renewing and changing all of these functions.
I know that the Bible also uses words other than fruit. You can read about good works (Eph. 2:10). But work is a very different word. This word puts you to work. It tells you to stand up and put your hands to good use. That is indeed part of the picture: working, co-working with God.
In the old translation you can see how these two words can both be found in Galatians 5. Verse 19 is about the old nature. You read about the desires of the flesh. And then follows a list of ugly sins: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality… enmity, strife, jealousy, etc. These are our own works, which are still with us.
In contrast to those desires of the flesh stands the fruit of the Spirit! It is God who takes care of that fruit. The Spirit makes it grow.
The Attitude of Christ Grows in You
How does this fruit grow? John 15 tells of a fruit tree, namely, the vine, with its branches and bunches of grapes. The vine is Christ. The fruit grows on branches that are attached to him. The Spirit takes the fruit from Christ and brings that out in us. He makes fruit grow by binding you with Christ and giving you faith in him. You begin to believe in him, in who he is and in what he does and in how he does it. You believe so much that Christ begins to live in you. Think about the sap that streams from out of the vine and into its branches. It then comes to manifestation: a fruit begins to grow.
What fruit? You can read nine words about this fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. It is striking that all of these are words that say something about your inner being. They are not concrete things that you need to do, or deeds that you have to show. Rather, they are words that deal with a new nature.
The character of the Lord Jesus begins to grow within you. The first three words here are: love, joy, and peace. While reading John 15, you come across these words one by one.
Regarding love: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love” (John 15:9). Jesus spoke these words. Love comes from him and from the Father. For God is love.
Regarding joy: “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11). Joy comes from Christ and from the Father. For God is a God of joy.
Regarding peace: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you” (John 14:27). Peace comes from Christ and from the Father. He is the God of peace.
Each of these words leads you to Christ, and so to God. That also counts for the following words, which make the fruit of the Spirit even more recognizable.
Patience. “Long suffering” in the old translation. This is how God is. This is how he made himself known to Moses: “merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” God is a Father with abundant patience.
Kindness. “I…entreat you, by the meekness and gentleness of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:1)! This is how Christ is, how God is. Therefore we sing of God’s friendly face.
With each of these words it is clear from which tree the fruit originates. The fruit of the Spirit grows only upon the tree of Christ. The tree is recognized by its fruit. Jesus himself said this in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 7:15ff.).
You now come to the heart of the work of the Spirit. He teaches you to believe in Christ, and makes you live with him. He renews you after his image. With Pentecost this became universal. Throughout the world are people who begin to look like Christ. Everywhere his image becomes visible.
Towards God. He himself also sees his own image back in people throughout the world! This is a feast for God. Finally he sees again what was lost through our own fault. It is all thanks to Christ and the Spirit of Christ. The image of Christ also becomes visible to people. They taste love, joy, peace. They taste the delicious fruit of the Spirit. Delight in Christ, if they taste well.
Love in the First Place
Nine words tell us about the fruit of the Spirit. In the first place is love. I think there is a reason for this. Love is the foundation of everything that follows. Where love lives, joy is also present. Two young people in love exude happiness and joy. Joy goes hand in hand with love. Harmony and peace grow where love is. Love is the source of all things. It is certainly true that everything can be summarized with the word love: love for God and love for your neighbor. Everything blossoms with love.
It is, then, the kind of love that God showed through his Son Jesus. The problem is that the word love is used for all manner of things. Love songs abound in many genres of music. But to where do these songs bring you? Not to the cross of Golgotha, nor to the man who gave his life for his own and prayed for his executioners.
Love takes you along a road that brings you up high, says Paul just before 1 Corinthians 13.
And then he writes about a love that is not self-seeking, but that seeks others. A love that gives itself fully to others. A love that does not let others down. If in a marriage the one is abandoned by the other, love is missing. If in a congregation one member withdraws and seeks fellowship elsewhere, love is missing.
Paul also writes about bitter fruit! I think about words like hatred and envy, scheming, quarrels, rivalry and jealousy, selfishness. All of these are mentioned in Galatians 5, and are connected with the old nature, our old nature. We are confronted with these bitter fruits time and again.
But – miraculously – a precious fruit begins to grow. God makes sure of this himself as the heavenly Gardener and Vinedresser. For this very purpose, he accomplishes much work through his Spirit. He prunes and trims. This is good for the fruit. He prunes to increase the fruit (John 15:2). The Father loves much fruit and a rich harvest. The glory of my Father becomes visible, said Jesus, when you bear much fruit.
Listening to and Praying for the Spirit
How can you be sure to bear much fruit? I have earlier emphasized the word fruit. The fact that a fruit grows is not our work but that of the Spirit. It comes down to one thing: letting the Spirit work in you! This is confessed in our Catechism, a sentence that captures the essence of this truth. You must go to his Spirit and look for him in his workplace: the church, which is the house of God (Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 38).
What you must do is to drink in what God says. Taste who he is, and what the Lord Jesus is like. The work of the Spirit is miraculous work, but it is not magic. It does not occur with a magical chant or with the swaying of a wand. That is not how fruit grows. If you look at a fruit tree every day, you will see no difference from one day to the next. However, you will see it grow gradually over time. That is how growth works. It is also how the fruit of the Spirit grows. To what the Spirit says to the churches. Have a listening ear for Christ, so that he may fill you up.
Not only do we listen to the Spirit, but we also pray for him, that we may live and move through the same Spirit as Christ. That line from Lord’s Day 38 does not leave it at Sunday church attendance, but goes further yet: “that all the days of my life I rest from my evil works [and] let the Lord work in me through his Holy Spirit.” It is about seeking God daily. It is about making time for him, and thinking deeply about him. That is what is necessary to bear fruit for God.
In your life it is really about only one thing, according to John 15: the bearing of fruit, much fruit. Without fruit there is no future, and God prunes away as he sees fit. But with much fruit, something great becomes visible: the glory of God.
It is possible to set yourself against the Spirit. This is how Stephen stated it in his last words before his death: “You stiff-necked people … you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you” (Acts 7:51).
You hear where the problem is: “You always resist!” Listening is difficult enough. You must go beyond an acceptance of what is happening to you. Indeed, you must give yourself completely over to the entire gospel.
For in everything that the Spirit says, he desires to bring you to Christ, to give you a glimpse of what he has to show you. Everything that comes from Christ must be contemplated deeply. You must take it into your mouth and taste it. You have to weigh it in your mind. You have to ponder it in your heart.
In this way, the most beautiful fruit will grow.
This article was translated by Angela Blok.