June 25, 2022 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Galatians 5:22-25 (NRSV)
By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.
The fruit of the spirit is not a kiwi. It’s also not a “super-spiritual” life that disdains the material world. It’s a life lived in daily dependence on God, doing the tasks that lie before us.
If you grew up (as I did) attending a Protestant Sunday School or Vacation Bible School, you probably heard a well-known children’s song about the Fruit of the Spirit. The leader sings about how the Fruit of the Spirit is not any of the usual fruits we might buy at the grocery store, such as a banana, grapes, or a coconut—instead, it’s “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control,” as Galatians 5:22-23 tells us.
Here’s one cute recording of the song—however, it leaves out a verse that’s a favorite at our local church, where the song leader loves to announce that the fruit of the Spirit is not a kiwi. I wish I could adequately describe the way she spreads her arms with joy and squeaks out “kiwi,” but trust me that her movements are memorable enough that in our house the song is often now referred to as “The Fruit of the Spirit’s Not a Kiwi.” (For a taste, the church recently posted some photos of VBS—click on through to here and here and you will see her demonstrating that the Fruit of the Spirit is not a prune, at least.)
It’s one thing to memorize the fruits of the Spirit (and to know that they are not bananas, grapes, and kiwis); it’s another thing to actually live them out. Paul brings up this list as part of his effort to describe what Christian freedom is not and what it is.
As he calls the Galatians to freedom in Christ, he reminds them that they should not use their freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence (Galatians 5:13-15) or to gratify the desires of the flesh (5:16-21); in fact, the positive fruits of the Spirit in our passage today are paralleled by a negative list of works of the flesh in 5:19-21: “sexual immorality, impurity, debauchery, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these.”
The words “flesh” and “spirit” have long been used as translations into English of the words Paul uses here in Greek (sarkos and pneumati), but we should not let their translations give us the misapprehension that everything having to do with bodies is evil and everything having to do with minds and souls is good. If you look at Paul’s list of works of the flesh, about half of them are sins committed primarily with the mind and soul: enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissension, factions, and envy. Humans are whole beings—mind, soul, and body—and we serve a God who became incarnate in the material world and who asked us to baptize with actual water in his name and eat actual bread and drink actual wine to remember him and to be strengthened with his grace.
The temptation may strike us in bodily ways, but it also may strike us in the mind and heart. However we are tempted, we will be delivered from temptation by relying on the grace of Christ and—through the power of the Spirit—becoming the kind of people who practice love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control with our whole selves; mind, soul, and body.
The fruit of the spirit is still not, the last time I checked, a kiwi. It’s also not a “super-spiritual” life that disdains the material world. It’s a life lived in daily dependence on God—doing the tasks that lie before us; adding a little more love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control to the world; gathering in the community; and receiving bread and wine in his name.
Where do you need help with the works of the flesh?
Where do you need to grow in the fruits of the Spirit by the help of God’s grace?
You can certainly sing along again with our Vacation Bible School song. I’d also suggest one of my very favorite hymns, Fred Pratt Green’s “For the Fruit of All Creation.” (Lyrics are on the screen.) While written as a Thanksgiving hymn, it also shows beautifully the kind of world that results when we live out the fruits of the Spirit in daily life.
Spirit, may I show your fruits to the world. Amen.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. An article on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23)
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Jennifer Woodruff Tait (PhD, Duke University) is the editor of and frequent contributor to Life for Leaders. She is also the managing editor of Christian History magazine and web editor for the Theology of Work Project, and a priest in the Episcopal Church. She has written a book of poetry, Histories of Us. Jennifer lives in Berea, Kentucky, with her husband, Edwin, and their two daughters.
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