Fruit of the Spirit
By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. —Galatians 5: 22
We are called to love God with our total being. Ranking just below is our second priority, to love our neighbour, to be mindful of the needs of others and to seek their welfare. And third, often overlooked, is the acknowledgment that we are to love ourselves, to take care of ourselves, to make intelligent decisions for our own welfare.
All three priorities are important, but only one can be ranked first. To those seeking to enter the kingdom of God, Jesus says simply, “Follow me.” When a potential follower responds that he wants to tend to family matters first, Jesus gently rebukes him and says he is not yet fit for the kingdom. Jesus speaks not in anger, but as a wise counsellor offering compassionate advice. A life properly lived, Jesus teaches, is one in which our love of God comes first, in which the kingdom of God has first priority. If we place others or ourselves in first rank, our relationships will be skewed and ultimately unhealthy.
In his letter to the Galatians, the apostle Paul sets before us two paths of life, the way of the flesh and the way of the Spirit. Following the way of the flesh is to have our priorities wrong. It leads to a distortion of all our relationships—with God, with others, and with ourselves. Our relationship with God, says Paul, is distorted by idolatry and sorcery, putting our faith in false gods; our relationship with others is poisoned by enmity and strife; and our sense of well-being is torn apart by feelings of jealousy, anger, and envy.
Paul then contrasts these works of the flesh with what he calls the fruit of the Spirit. His words about that fruit long have had special meaning for me.
Nearly thirty summers ago I was doing some intensive Bible study as I traveled through the heartland of California and Oregon. During my workday, I was moderating a traveling history chautauqua; during my free time, such as it was, I found myself pondering the priorities in my life. I became preoccupied with the connection between my faith and the way I was conducting my life. I knew I was a beloved child of God, redeemed by the grace of Jesus Christ and blessed with the presence of the Holy Spirit. But how was that related to my day-to-day life? What were the practical implications of my relationship to God?
On one hot July afternoon, just north of Modesto, I was hiking along a dusty trail through a patch of prickly sagebrush. Then, on a lowly bush, I spied a fluttering yellow Post-it. I picked the Post-it off the bush and saw, scrawled in faded blue ink, these words from Paul’s letter to the Galatians: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” Moses may have had his burning bush, but I now had my own Post-it on a bush! Suddenly everything became clear. From my relationship with God flows whatever is needed to follow the way of Jesus Christ. Only by the grace of God, not by my own pitiful striving, can I be the Christlike person I am called to be. Faith first, discipleship second. Love God first, and from that relationship comes love for others and ourselves.
Jesus teaches us to seek first the kingdom of God and then all the things we need shall be given us. Once we are members of this kingdom, once the Spirit of God dwells within us and our lives are transformed from the inside out, we will bear the fruit of the Spirit—fruit like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. I know this is true because the experience of my transformed life and the words of the Bible—quoted on that yellow Post-it on a bush—tell me so.
Rawls, James J.. On the Way: 100 Reflections on the Journey of Faith. WestBow Press. Kindle Edition.