The Fruit of the Spirit

Galatians 5:22 and 23
(22) But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
(23) gentleness and self-control.

Love

“Love” is the very nature of God, for God is love (1 John 4:7-12 and 16). The Greek word is agape. [1] Love is revealed by the action produced from it (John 3:16; 1 Cor. 13:1-8). Christian love is not an impulse based upon our feelings, nor is it always in accordance with our natural inclinations, nor is it lavished only upon those things we naturally like or find lovely or beautiful.

The understanding of true biblical love has been distorted in our modern society in two major ways. First, it has come to mean, “like a lot.” People say, “I love ice cream,” or “I love going to the beach,” when what they really mean is that they very much enjoy those things. Biblical love can involve feeling and emotion, but it does not have to. Agape love is commanded, showing that it is related to obedience and action, not necessarily feeling. God can command us to “do” something, but not to “feel” a certain way, because our actions are under our control, while our feelings often are not.

“Love” is obeying God whether we feel like it or not. Jesus made that point very clearly: “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me…. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words…”(John 14:21 and 24 ESV [2]). Jesus also modeled true biblical love for us when he suffered and died, something he clearly did not want to do. Agape love is an exercise of the will, a deliberate choice, which is why God can command us to love our enemies (Exod. 23:1-5; Matt. 5:44).

The second way “love” has been distorted in our modern society is that it has been confused with a lack of judgment (discernment) and justice in our society. A modern sentiment is, “I do not want to judge people, I just want to love everyone” (translate that as: “I do not want to have to recognize any evil, and I just want to feel good about everyone and treat them as if what they are doing is good”).

This sentiment is not at all biblical, and causes great harm to individuals. People act as if, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged” (Matt. 7:1), was universally applicable, but that verse is in the context of hypocrites who are judging others because they have logs in their own eyes. The universally applicable teaching of Jesus on judging is in John: “Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment” (John 7:24). True love is obeying God, which involves recognizing what He says about the evil in the world and dealing with it to protect the innocent. For example, punishing criminals to keep society safe is loving, but not easy (Exod. 21:12-17, etc.), and asking someone to leave your Christian fellowship because they persist in flagrant sin is also loving, but never easy (1 Cor. 5:1-5).

Love energizes faith (Gal. 5:6), and empowers us to give and keep on giving. Christians are to be known for their love toward one another (John 13:35). Love is the distinctive character of the Christian life in relation to the brethren and to all humanity.

Joy

“Joy” is an inner light, an internal effervescence or bubbling. The Greek word is chara. True joy is a quality of life, not simply an emotion. It is grounded in God and comes from knowing and believing Him, what He has given us, and what He promises us in the future. It is excited by the expectation or the acquisition of good. The “goods” we possess now are the gift of holy spirit, the wonderful Word of God, and many other blessings from Him. The goods we will possess include forever being with Christ in Paradise. These things cannot be taken from us by the trials of this life, and for that reason true joy is not extinguished by the cares of this world. We should make our joy visible so that others can be won by it.

Jesus is our chief example of joy (John 15:11). Joy gives us a sound basis for optimism; it helps us look at the future that is desirable and possible (Heb. 12:2); and it strengthens us for the work we are called to do (Neh. 8:10). God commands us to have joy (1 Thess. 5:16; Phil. 3:1,) so it must be a choice of our will, based upon how we think about our circumstances. Joy can result from the way we choose to interpret the things that happen to us, especially painful things (James 1:2). The Apostles rejoiced after being beaten, that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for the name of Jesus (Acts 5:41). Joy is related to an attitude of thanksgiving.

Peace

“Peace” is quietness, rest, tranquility. The Greek word is eirene. It is an inner quietness that comes from an inner strength, an exemption from the rage and havoc of conflict, internal or external. It is associated with the elimination of one’s enemies. As influenced by the Hebrew word shalom, which was the ancient Jewish salutation and formula of well-wishing, it includes the concept of total well-being, including security, safety, harmony, prosperity, and happiness. True peace includes the tranquil state of a soul assured of its salvation through Christ, the certainty of which can temper any fears we have in this life.

Peace is not the state of being undisturbed simply because we do not care what happens. Rather, it is the state of quietness that comes from knowing there will be a righteous end to life and the world. God is a God of peace (2 Cor. 13:11). Christians have peace with God (Rom. 5:1). Jesus is the Prince of Peace (Isa. 9:6). The peace of God will guard your heart (Phil. 4:7). Scripture says, “Great peace have they who love your law, and nothing can make them stumble” (Ps. 119:165).

Longsuffering (sometimes translated “patience”)

“Longsuffering” is being patient with people. [3] It is the ability to deal with difficult people for a long time before becoming angry. It is to persevere patiently and bravely; to be patient in bearing the offences and injuries of others; to be mild and slow in avenging; slow to anger, slow to punish. It is translated from the Greek word, makrothumia, which itself is made up of two words, makro = long; thumia = passion or anger.

Longsuffering is that quality of self-restraint in the face of provocation that does not hastily retaliate or promptly punish. It is how a Christian should behave in difficult circumstances with people rather than getting angry quickly. It is associated with mercy, and is used of God. However, it is not being a “door mat” and allowing yourself to be used or abused. Similarly, true longsuffering is not being “too spiritual” or “too holy” to get angry at people, nor is it tolerating sin indefinitely.

In contrast to longsuffering, “patience” (in Greek, hupomone), which is not mentioned in the list of the fruit of the spirit, is being patient with things, not people. Patience is the quality that does not surrender to circumstances or succumb under trial, and it is associated with hope that things will get better (1 Thess. 1:3). The Greek scholar and grammarian Richard Trench writes: “We may now distinguish makrothumia [longsuffering] and hupomone [patience]…. Makrothumia refers to patience with respect to persons, hupomone with respect to things. A man is makrothumei if he has to relate to injurious persons and does not allow himself to be provoked by them or burst into anger (2 Tim. 4:2). A man is hupomone if he is under a great siege of trials and he bears up and does not lose his heart of courage.” [4] “Longsuffering” may not be used much today, but it is a wonderful and descriptive word.

Interestingly, makrothumia (longsuffering with people) is used in reference to God, while hupomone (patience with things), is not. Like the rest of us, God has to put up with people, who have free-will, so He must be longsuffering. However, God never has to be patient with things, which He can change immediately, and He never has to put up with the trials from things and life that people do. Longsuffering (makrothumia) and patience (hupomone) occur together in Colossians 1:11; 2 Corinthians 6:4-6; 2 Timothy 3:10; and James 5:10 and 11. Longsuffering is especially important as an essential quality for Christian leaders (2 Tim. 4:2).

Kindness (sometimes translated “gentleness”)

“Kindness” is a generous, warm-hearted, friendly, nature. The Greek word is chrestotes. “Kindness” is sweet, mild, and full of graciousness. It is a virtue that pervades and penetrates a person’s whole nature and that mellows anything harsh or austere. “Kindness” is ready and willing to do good deeds, and it expresses itself in acts that create pleasure or relief in others. Kindness comes from an inner disposition to benefit others, and is aroused by their need.

Kindness is a fruit of the spirit that is now, and always has been, greatly lacking in society. People seem to take great pleasure in making cutting, critical, sarcastic and belittling statements to each other, and pointing out faults, mistakes, and shortcomings. Television sit-coms, and many jokes, plays, books, and stories are “funny” because they have sarcastic or cutting remarks. Kindness does none of this, but seeks the welfare, relief, and happiness of others. Kindness is a fruit of the spirit Christians can cultivate that will truly set them apart from the world.

It is important to separate true kindness from sentimentality. It is easy to feel sorry for someone who has gotten himself into a mess, and begin to “caretake” him, which actually weakens the person. In many situations, what one really needs in order to become strong is to repent and get busy restoring his own life with the help of the Lord. People who are kind to others must be aware of the difference between kindness and caretaking.

God is kind, even to the unthankful (Luke 6:35), and God’s kindness leads people to repentance (Rom. 2:4), but most of the time God lets us work ourselves out of our own messes. It would be easy for Him to take weight off of us when we overeat, create money in our account when we overspend, energize our bodies when we stay up too late watching television, etc. Instead, God lets us fight our desires and control our eating, our spending, our sleeping habits, etc. God is not a “caretaker,” and we should follow His lead. Nevertheless, it is the responsibility of every believer to be kind to others (Eph. 4:31 and 32). Love is kind (1 Cor. 13:4).

Jesus Christ said his yoke is “kind” (crestotes, not “easy,” as many translations have), because there is nothing harsh, sharp, or cutting about it (Matt. 11:30). You can put on Christ’s yoke without worrying about getting painful blisters or splinters from the Lord. Anyone who has worked hard in Christian service can attest to the fact that Christ’s yoke is not always “easy,” but it is always “kind.”

Goodness

“Goodness” is uprightness in heart and life, a moral excellence. The Greek word is agathosune. A person who exhibits the fruit known as “goodness” is upright and honorable. “Goodness” is usually associated with activity rather than inner nature, although the good actions spring from the good heart: “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart…”(Luke 6:45). Goodness is not self-absorbed or comfort-oriented. Many “good” tasks are uncomfortable to perform, as Jesus showed us when he died on the cross. “Goodness” is anchored in God and in His revelation to man.

In Scripture, “good” is often contrasted with “evil,” and it is the Word of God that defines what is good and what is evil. Moral relativism leaves both “good” and “evil” up to the feelings and inclinations of the individual. In a system without the standards given by God, all kinds of “good” things become viewed as “evil.” For example, holding people accountable becomes evil (you may hurt their “self-esteem”), punishment becomes evil (they were not really at fault, but were victims of society), and saying that someone is wrong becomes evil (why be so narrow minded?). Also, without godly standards, many “evil” things become “good,” such as getting too much change back on a purchase and then not telling the cashier; couples living together without being married; or not returning something you find to its owner.

“Goodness” can be called the “fruit with teeth,” because goodness, while it has a lot in common with “kindness,” very clearly also contains the idea that it is a good thing to uphold standards, enforce the law, and punish wrongdoers. If there is no “goodness” in the Christian’s life or in our society, evil continues without fear of consequences. Romans 15:14 (NASB [5]) says, “And concerning you, my brethren, I myself also am convinced that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able also to admonish one another.” [6] We Christians are supposed to admonish one another, which involves reproof and correction, because we are “full of goodness.”

This brings up a very important point concerning the fruit of the spirit. Each is applicable in the life of a Christian, but not all at the same time, as we see when we compare “kindness” and “goodness.” It is both good and kind to give food to a hungry person. However, it is good (and appropriate) to execute a serial killer, but it is not “kind” to him. Similarly, it is good of God to burn the wicked up in Gehenna (Rev. 20:15), but that is not “kind” to them. If earth is going to be a nice place to live, we must be “good” to one another in the full sense of the word, not just be “kind” and say we are being “good.”

Faithfulness (sometimes translated “faith”)

“Faithfulness” is translated from the Greek word pistis. In this context it can mean either “faith” or “faithfulness,” and here “faithfulness” is the better translation. While “faith” is trusting God and thus believing His promises, “faithfulness” is continued faith or perseverance. It is a steadfast adherence to God and His will. We trust God because God is trustworthy, but more than that, we are to continue in that faith day after day, thereby being “faithful” toward Him. In addition, we are to be faithful in earthly things also. The Christian is to be a faithful person: a faithful friend, a faithful neighbor, a faithful parent, a faithful child, and faithful in prayer, giving, and other Christian virtues. Many people have “faith” for a short time, and while any faith is better than none, the fruit of the new nature, faithfulness, is being full of faith day after day after day. Those given a trust must be faithful (1 Cor. 4:2).

Meekness (sometimes translated “gentleness”)

“Meekness” (the Greek word is praotes) is the quality of humility that recognizes one’s own imperfection and neediness and causes a willingness to listen to reproof and correction, as well as to help others without unduly asserting one’s authority or overpowering them. The last part of the definition is why many translators use “gentleness” here, but the first part of the definition is just as important for Christian character. Thus the translation “meekness,” as long as it is properly understood, is much better than “gentleness,” which usually refers to being soft and free of harshness.

Meekness is a submissive attitude toward the will of God. Biblically, meekness is the ability to take coaching, teaching, and even reproof from others without resistance, anger, or temptation to seek revenge and retaliation, and it also includes being gentle when guiding others. The Christian’s meekness is first and foremost to be toward God. It is that temper of spirit in which we accept His dealings with us as good, and therefore without disputing or resisting.

Godly meekness is a mental posture of power, not weakness. The common assumption is that meekness is synonymous with being “mousy” or “cowardly,” and comes from a feeling of weakness, but the opposite is the case. The Lord Jesus was “meek…in heart” (Matt. 11:29). He knew who he was, so he had no need for pride, arrogance, or controlling others. He was coachable, and took direction from God and others when appropriate. Someone who is meek can afford to be so because his strength and confidence allows him to listen to others. Moses was the meekest man on earth in his time, but his life was filled with powerful signs and wonders (Num. 12:3). Meekness is a way of being, and is the opposite of being pushy, demanding, overly self-assertive, and arrogant. It is to be the default manner for leaders in the Body of Christ (1 Cor. 4:21; 2 Cor. 10:1 and 2).

Self-control

“Self-control” is mastery over oneself. The Greek word is egkrateia, and the root word is kratos, which means power in action; strength exerted. As used by the Greeks, egkrateia is the virtue of one who has power over himself and thus masters his desires and passions, especially his sensual appetites. God designed us so that we are not slaves to our flesh or mind, but instead can use our will to decide what we think and do.

The whole concept of self-control implies that there is a standard to conform to. If there were no standard, there would be no reason for control. The Word of God is the standard according to which God expects people to practice self-control, and the disregard for the Word of God in our society today is a major reason why people are so out of control in their thoughts, emotions, and actions. People have no standard, and thus no reason to control themselves. Furthermore, as our culture becomes less and less godly, we Christians must recognize that what is legal is not necessarily godly. Christians are not to live like unbelievers who indulge the flesh (Eph. 2:3). We are to avoid sin, including culturally accepted indulgences and legal sensuality. We are to control ourselves, even when it takes great effort to do so (1 Cor. 9:24-27).

Godly self-control is not trying to reform the flesh by ascetic practices, as if our sin nature could be reformed so that we never have sinful desires. Self-control is controlling, situation-by-situation, our fleshly desires. Similarly, self-control is not overcoming sinful tendencies by outward religious practices, although having godly practices in one’s life can contribute to one’s ability to control his mind and desires. True self-control comes from a combination of free-will decisions, a heart that is right before God, and our new, spiritual nature within us that is trying to reproduce itself in our outward man. We must bear in mind that “self-control” is a “fruit of the spirit,” not a “fruit of the will.”

A person with great self-control can accomplish much for himself. Thus, self-control, more than the other fruit of the spirit, can feed prideful ambition and self-glorification if it is not combined with love, all the other fruit of the spirit, and a desire to serve God and others. Therefore, it seems fitting indeed that self-control is the last fruit in the list, because it shows that we Christians need all of them to live a productive and godly Christian life.

Endnotes

[1] We give the Greek words in this article for clarity, because different versions of the Bible translate the Greek differently. Having the Greek words assures that there will be no confusion as to which of the fruit we are discussing. Although it is commonly stated that the Greek word “love” is agape, the more accurate understanding is that the noun is agape, and the verb is agapao. This is different from English, in which the word “love” is a homonym, used as both a noun and a verb.
[2] Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™ © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.
[3] Richard Trench, Synonyms of the New Testament (Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI, reprinted 1989), pp. 207-210. We believe Trench is correct, but not all Greek scholars agree, and that, combined with the fact that “longsuffering” is not used much in English any more, has caused many versions to read “patience” instead of “longsuffering.” However, when the two Greek words occur together, one of them must be translated as “endurance” or a similar word, which causes more problems.
[4] Ibid., Trench, Synonyms, p. 209.
[5] Scripture quotations marked (NASB) are taken from the New American Standard Bible®, © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977 by The Lockman Foundation Used by permission.
[6] The NASB correctly has the word “admonish,” not just “teach” or “instruct.” The Greek word contains the possible need for confrontation, not just teaching.

1 comment

  1. what is your understanding of speaking in tongues

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