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First Thoughts

How Many Fruits?

For several years I served as a minister of music and youth. We call this Student Ministry now. It was not in my natural disposition to be a “wild and crazy” youth pastor. I have always been a bit more serious than that. But I did my best to fit the prototype of youth ministry frivolity when the role called for it. And this included singing silly songs (sometimes “with Larry,” if you remember him).

One of those songs that continues to be somewhat popular today is the “Fruit of the Spirit Song.” (You can find this on YouTube if you need a refresher.)

The fruit of the Spirit’s not a *banana.
The fruit of the Spirit’s not a banana.
If you want to be a banana, you might as well hear it. You can’t be a fruit of the Spirit.
Cause the fruit is Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control-ol-ol.
Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control!

*insert fruit of your choice (with appropriate hand motions)

You can say what you want about the trivial nature of these songs, but one very important theological truth is expressed in this song that most people miss. I know I did for years. Look at the lyrics above and see if you notice it. You have a list of nine attributes of the fruit of the spirit, but a singular verb–“is.” Why does it not say, “Cause the fruits are…”?

Well, I don’t know if the anonymous songwriter realized this, but the noun in the Bible is actually a singular noun. It is “fruit” in Galatians 5:25 and not “fruits.” Then it lists nine qualities that describe this one fruit of the Spirit that all true Christians should demonstrate. This is odd to our thinking because we think of lists like this in the Bible as individual characteristics. We are better at some than others and need to work a little harder on a few of them. This is not what this list intends to communicate.

What Paul is saying is that if you are genuinely bearing the fruit of the Spirit—meaning that you are walking/living in the Spirit—then you will demonstrate all these characteristics. You can’t split up the traits, or you have malformed fruit. The fruit of the Spirit demonstrates them all, and here is how it does so.

Some would argue that the real “fruit” of the Spirit is love—the first characteristic on this list. This fits the context of this passage because a few verses earlier, Paul has just said, “Only do not use your [Christian] freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (Galatians 5:13). He then goes on to quote the second commandment in the next verse: “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” The one word that fulfills the whole law is love.

So how are we to understand the addition of the other eight characteristics? These traits demonstrate the qualities of this love for other people in the church. Love is tough to see. How do I demonstrate God’s love for someone? I demonstrate abiding joy when I am with them. I am at peace in my relationship with them, quickly resolving offenses. I am patient with their shortcomings. I am kind toward them, even if they have not been kind toward me. I am good in my dealing with them, treating them primarily for their benefit. I am faithful in my word to them, and they can trust me. I am gentle with them, using my strength to serve their weakness. And I remain self-controlled in my emotions, interactions, and words.

This is how the one fruit of the Spirit (LOVE) acts.

Which characteristics of the fruit of the Spirit are you asking God to demonstrate more in your life? Who do you need to pray for that you will demonstrate more consistently the fruit of the Spirit toward?

Listen to Pastor Scott’s sermon on Enjoying the Fruit of the Spirit from the Sunday night series entitled Reclaiming Love: People of Compassion in a World Full of Hate.

Scott Connell (Ph.D., The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is the Worship Pastor at First Baptist Church Jacksonville.

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