Here it is: the end of another summer. Not technically as far as the seasons go, and certainly not everywhere in the world, but here in North America just about all students have ended their summer vacation and have returned to school. Where I live, there are hints of autumn in the air lately too—wisps of coolness in the breeze, and leaves are starting to turn colour and fall from the trees. Our summer was dry and hot. It was wonderful for those who spent their time at the beach, but after a winter with very little snow, and spring with very little rain, the farmers were having a hard time getting their crops to grow. We have already been warned of higher food prices to come because the fields have yielded less fruit this season.
The same principal holds true for the fruit of our lives as well. What we feed our hearts and minds will determine the fruit we produce. Proverbs 11:30 says that the fruit of the righteous is like a tree producing life. Just as a tree produces fruit that sustains physical life, the fruit of a righteous person can sustain or improve spiritual life. We can be an encouragement or a comfort to others, but only if we have been fed enough ourselves. If we are weary, sick or disheartened, how can we find it within us to give hope to another?
There are several ways to feed your soul. You can read uplifting and educational books that will help your mind focus on the right things. Spend time with good friends who encourage you (but remember that they can’t give continually to you without being recharged themselves). Take time to talk to those who have walked your path before you and allow them to share their wisdom. But the two most important ways are through Bible study and prayer. Spend time with God, and let Him replenish you. Let Him help you to grow into a tree producing life.
For the last couple of weeks I have been talking about various aspects of the passage of scripture found in John 15:1-17. Two weeks ago I spoke about John 15:13, and how the greatest act of love is to give up your life for another. Last week I spoke about abiding, remaining, in Jesus. (John 15:4-5)
This passage is the one in which Jesus tells the parable of the vine and the branches. The concept of healthy vines would have been very familiar to Jesus’ listeners, since growing grapes was a common agricultural activity, and it would not have been the first time that the vine was used as an allegory. Just as it is necessary for a branch to be connected to a vine to survive and bear fruit, we need to be connected to Jesus in order to bear spiritual fruit, to do things that will bring glory to our Heavenly Father. In order to bear the best fruit though, we must go through the pruning process.
The term translated as “takes away” (John 15:2) can also have the meaning of “lifts up”. If a branch was not producing fruit as it should, the gardener would lift it up to get more air and light and would prune away the dead wood of the branch. The word translated as “prunes” (John 15:2) has the meaning of “cleanses”. Pruning is not limited to cleaning away the bad parts of the branch; it also sometimes requires removing good parts to allow for better, and removing better parts to allow for the best. When our Heavenly Father, as our gardener, cleanses parts of our lives by changing our circumstances, it is because He has a better plan for us. He is helping us to produce not only more fruit, but much fruit, (John 15:5) fruit that will have lasting spiritual value, and will glorify God.
Recently we have been talking about having discernment, being led by the Holy Spirit, and the results of following our own sinful desires. Now let’s look at what happens when you allow the Holy Spirit to be the influence over your decisions and actions. It is outlined in Galatians 5:22-23.
Take note that this passage says that “the fruit of the Spirit is”. There are two important points here. First, the term fruit is singular. All of these characteristics are one fruit; they are all given in equal abundance when we allow the Holy Spirit to flow through us. Secondly, it is not the fruit of our works or striving; it is the fruit of the Spirit. We cannot achieve these things on our own. When I was younger, I used to think that I had to work at exhibiting these qualities in my life. I would try to be loving and joyful and all of the other things listed here, and thereby gain more of the Holy Spirit, which I thought was a noble goal. The problem was that I had it all backward. What a relief to find out that it wasn’t up to me to become good and kind and gentle. Especially gentle.
We become these things by having more of the Holy Spirit. That part is up to us. We need to choose, and it is a daily, perhaps hourly, choice to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. This is done through reading and studying the Bible and through prayer. This is how we get to know God better, and the better we know Him, and the more we allow Him to lead our lives, the more the Holy Spirit will work through us. The word fruit is an apt description. Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in me—and I in him—bears much fruit, because apart from me you can accomplish nothing. (John 15:5) We are not the source of all that goodness, but it is our choice to remain in the vine and allow the fruit to be produced through us.
Over the next three weeks I will look at each of the nine elements of the fruit of the Spirit.