Gifts and Fruit
Gifts of the Holy Spirit
Pentecost signifies the glory of Christ, which shines in his congregation and through that congregation toward the world. Those who carefully read Acts 2 notice that Christ is the real originator of what is happening. He has been exalted at the right hand of the Father, and he has poured out what can be seen and heard. Peter has made this very clear (Acts 2:32-33): “This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.”
Christ has acquired the life-giving Spirit. His suffering and death are the ground for the outpouring of the Spirit. There is something to be seen and heard in the congregation! It is the work of Christ. By his Spirit he works in the congregation, which is his body. He does that by means of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. And this is how he makes possible the fruit of the Spirit. This brief article deals with the connection between gifts and fruit.
Gifts in the Body of Christ (Romans 12)
It is striking that especially in those places in Scripture that speak of the gifts of the Spirit (the so-called charismata), those gifts are portrayed as given to and within the body of Christ. A careful reading of the texts in question makes this immediately clear. In Romans 12:4-8 Paul speaks of the one body with its many members, who do not all have the same function. These gifts are distinguished according to the grace of God. Mentioned here are the gifts of prophecy, of service, of teaching, of exhortation, of generosity, of leadership, and of mercy. All these gifts clearly have as aim to help the entire body to function well. Of interest is the emphasis on diversity. This is in agreement with the diversity that by God’s grace has been given to the congregation. All members of the body have their own task, place, and competence, in accordance with the task God has assigned to them.
1 Corinthians 12-14
We find a similar enumeration also in 1 Corinthians 12-14. Paul speaks there in detail about the utterances of the Holy Spirit. He again points to the diversity of the charismata. That diversity does not diminish the unity, which, after all, is grounded in the same Spirit. The services and workings differ according to the will of the Lord. Some members have the gift of a revelation of the Spirit, others can speak with wisdom, or knowledge, or faith. There are members who have the gift of healing, others of miracles or of the gift of prophecy. But all this comes from the same Spirit. And all gifts serve the functioning of the body.
Those who try to understand Paul will realize that he speaks of the gifts of grace as if he wants to show their limitations. Apparently people in Corinth were overly enthusiastic in attempting to cultivate these special gifts.
In the Old Testament the work of the Holy Spirit, sometimes powerfully present in specific persons, served the guidance and governing and also the correction of God’s people.
This is not different in the New Testament. But now God extends these gifts to the body as such. Much emphasis is placed on the fact that each member of the body has his own place and function. The Spirit gives to everyone, according to his will. No one is without a gift. That in itself makes those gifts already less spectacular. All have a gift according to his will. Who then would boast?
The second thing we notice here is that Paul tries to rein in things. We often forget that 1 Corinthians 12-14 move around the axis of 1 Corinthians 13. Take away love – which is the more perfect, which brings us much higher – and no gift remains. The greatest of all gifts is love. That, too, means a reduction of the emphasis on what is special, in order that what is primary gets significance. The gifts are determined by the community, which profits by them, and also by the gift of love, which exceeds all.
A third element that shows Paul’s restraining attitude is found in chapter 14, where the order in the congregation is strongly emphasized. We have noted that element before. Everyone – without exception – has his own gift in the congregation and for her service. But not everyone is an apostle, a prophet, a teacher. In other words, God has given a gift to everyone in the congregation. But the “offices” in the congregation are not universal. Each office has its charisma, but not each charisma is an office. We see how Paul attempts to order things in a charismatic congregation. Offices and services exist to order things and to keep them in order.
This becomes a bit more evident in Ephesians 4, a text that has played an important role in Reformed Protestantism. Christ has given the gifts to and in the congregation. Apostles and prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers have the mandate to prepare the saints for the work of ministry. The institution of the offices has as goal the growth, the building up of the congregation. They have no other meaning than to enable the saints to occupy their own place in the body of Christ. The body grows out of Christ and, through the service of the office bearers, back to Christ. That is the growth of the body, which builds itself up in love. We find here in abbreviated form what was explained in the other epistles. The body of Christ is being stimulated, by the service of apostles and prophets, to build itself up in love. The offices have the function of equipping the saints for ministry. They must function, each according to its own task and place, within the body. The offices or services in the congregation have this task: equipping.
Special Gifts or Charismata
There is today, through the influence of the charismatic movement, much interest for the Spirit’s gifts of grace – and especially for those of speaking in tongues and of healing. Those are spectacular occurrences, which cause much sensation. Today still other physical and also psychic displays of power are added.
Those who examine these things in the light of God’s Word will conclude that there they function differently. Paul does not want to promote them but rather tries to discourage them. The great work of the Spirit consists herein, that people call Jesus Lord. No one can say this except by the Spirit. That is what counts. And this will become evident in the great fruit of the Spirit, that of love. It is usually the special things that draw our attention. But although the Spirit indeed gives special gifts, these are to serve the building up of the congregation. And that work of building requires one gift: the gift of love.
One can criticize the Reformers for limiting the special gifts to the first years of church history. They judged that these striking occurrences should make room for more normal situations. And in this connection they even made a distinction between permanent and special offices in the congregation. To the first belonged pastors and teachers, together with elders and deacons. We won’t deal here with the question whether they were sufficiently careful, noticing only that they did show an awareness of the manner in which Paul spoke about the charismata: reserved, making sure that things were kept within the limits of a healthy growth of the congregation.
I think that herein they did justice to the intention of Scripture. For what is at stake, also with the charismata that are meant to build the congregation, is the fruit of the Spirit. It cannot be denied that today there is again much interest in the charismata. But these have a secondary function. They are not there for themselves, but serve the actual work of the Spirit. They belong to the instruments the Spirit will use to let the fruit ripen.
Paul speaks about this in his letter to the Galatians (5:22):
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.”’
Notice the contrast that becomes evident in this text. There is a controversy between the Spirit and the flesh. They are against each other; they are opposed to each other (Galatians 5:17ff.). Paul then describes the works of the flesh. There is a number of them. Paul mentions fifteen of these works of the flesh. They are the signs of a life under the law, which make alive the works of the flesh if they are not under the control of the Spirit. Then the flesh lives according to its desires.
Living by the Spirit, Recognizable by the Fruit
But when the Spirit of Christ enters our lives, then we are not under the law. Then we live a life wherein the fruit of the Spirit is revealed. Paul mentions nine Christian virtues here. But they are not independent, nor do they intermingle; they always and everywhere reveal themselves as the fruit of the Spirit.
This shows the simplicity of the Christian life. Rather than being complicated, it is one in the fear of God’s name. Where the Spirit of Christ works, there the divided heart is united. It exhibits the sign of what is true: simplicity. In this simplicity the fruit of the Spirit reveals itself. So the unity of the new life stands over against the dividedness of the flesh. One can try to describe the Christian virtues in many ways, as Paul does here as well. But they can in fact be reduced to that one glorious reality of the renewal, which is called the fruit of the Spirit.
Unity instead of Division
Over against the flesh stands the Spirit. Over against the works of the flesh with all their active power stands the fruit of the Spirit in all its vitality: a new life, a life of love that fulfills the entire law; a life of joy that gives thanks because of joy. A life in the fruit of the Spirit means also peace, a miraculous peace that surpasses all understanding. It is a life of generosity inspired by God’s patience; a life of kindness and goodness inspired by the nearness of him who alone is good, because he alone is God; a life of faith and loyalty, of modesty and humility or gentleness. What else is it but self-control that is led by the great Guide, the Holy Spirit.
These are not fruits from our own tree, not flowers of our own work, but the fruit of the Spirit who takes it from Christ and imparts it to us. It is one work of the Spirit that reveals itself in one fruit of the Spirit. We should always be aware of the distinction between the gifts, the many and manifold gifts of the Spirit, and this one fruit of the Spirit, which unites the divided life and leads to one fruit of that life through Christ.
Gifts and Fruit
That fruit remains. One day all the gifts of the Spirit fall away. When according to God’s counsel they have fulfilled their purpose and the body has been built up and has reached the maturity of the adult, then the conclusion of all God’s works has been reached, and then all the charismata disappear forever. For precisely then the fruit of the Spirit, which has renewed all the aspects and facets of life, has become full-grown. Then the work of the Spirit is completed. And the fruit enters the glory of God. Love, which has shown its superiority over all the charismata, shall unfold itself in God’s glory as the fruit that remains eternally.
Gifts of grace, charismata of the Spirit? Yes, but only for the sake of the fruit of the Spirit. How much do we need that!
Come, Creator Spirit! Let your fruit be seen, acknowledged, and sought!
This article was translated by Dr. Freda Oosterhoff.