Well, here we are.  The last segment in the two month journey into the fruit of the Spirit.  I have worked my way backward through the list because I felt like saving the best for last.  So let’s talk about love, shall we?

I realize that love is a word that is thrown around carelessly in today’s society.  Teenagers fall in love every ten minutes.  My son corrects me when I say I love his backpack.  Love has been watered down to be fairly meaningless until you experience real love, the love of God.

Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.  (1 John 4:8 NIV)

God is love.  Wow.  That is a concept that I think we have trouble wrapping our minds around.  But the scripture above is pretty clear about its application.  If any action is not an act of love, you can be sure that God is not a part of it.  And if love is in the mix, the scripture implies that God is there also.

So if we believe all of that to be true, then it seems that any ministry that is done for God (yes, I know what I said) is done in love.  From huge clothing drives and construction projects to helping an old lady across the street, any of these things done in love produce holy fruit.

As I look over the rest of the list, it is obvious that none of the fruit of the spirit can produce fruit without an element of love in them.  Joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulnessgentleness and self-control all come from a place of love, from a heart of service to God.  So all of the fruit that we have discussed in this series have all been produced through love.

So if you are keeping score at home, that means than any and all fruit that come from the Spirit of God, the holy fruit that we should seek to produce with every breath, is produced through love.  What does love look like?  There really is no description I can provide that is better than 1 Corinthians 13.  And since I often overlook that passage because it puts me to sleep at weddings, let’s all take some time and pray our way through it.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails.  (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a NIV)

Yeah…if we do that, we will be fruitful.  God is love.  Let’s try to be more like Him.

I Googled the word joy, and this was the very first picture that came up:
If that doesn’t scream, “JOY!”, I don’t know what does.  As we are about to round up our study on the fruit of the spirit, we arrive at the fruit that is, by far, the most easy one to identify.  The others, while they produce very holy, Christ-like fruit, are often hidden and can only be identified through the results of their labor. 

Joy, on the other hand, is undeniable.  When a person is filled with the joy of Christ, it is written all over their face.  And there is absolutely nothing on earth that says, “I’ve found what I’m looking for” like a person’s expression when they give their life to Christ.

Unfortunately, we often let the worries of the world get in the way and our joy gets hidden under our problems.  But it is in those down times where our joy means the most.  That is when our joy can be the most fruitful. 

When a person is down on their luck or going through a tough trial or painful situation, their ability to express the joy of the Lord can do more for the kingdom of God than we can ever imagine.  Being able to smile through sadness, praise through pain, and love through hate are some of the most powerful things we can do to be a witness for Christ.  Because of the overwhelming joy He gives us, we have the ability to overcome any and all trouble that this world throws at us as long as we set our compasses toward God.

When others see that joy, they are getting a glimpse of who Jesus really is and the power He has in our lives.  If pointing people in His direction is what ministry is really all about, then joy is our ticket to success. 

I know times get tough and life gets hard, but if we live each day as if the Spirit of the Lord lives within us (spoiler alert…He does) then our joy should be so overwhelming that the fruit we produce is both plentiful and eternal.  Joy changes lives…let yours show.
I’ve always admired newscasters.  I mean, it’s one thing to be able to read from a teleprompter and act like you actually understand what you are reading.  However, the ability to completely captivate an audience with a five word sign-off line amazes me.  I have always wanted to have my own sign-off.

I have had friends over the years that have had their own sign-offs for random conversations.  Some said the standard, “later.”  Others tried to be cool and would announce to everyone that, “I’m out” whenever they left the room.  I have had one friend, however, that has ended every conversation for the last ten years with the same word: “peace.”

While I have taken his sign-off for granted over the years, I have never once doubted the fact that he has been 100% sincere every time he has said it.  I always felt like he truly wanted me to experience peace.  But the more I think and pray about what that actually means, the more I realize how little I have experienced in my lifetime.

As with many of the previously discussed fruit of the Spirit, peace is often defined by the lack of other things.  Peace can be thought of as a lack of war, a lack of adversity, or even a lack of inner turmoil.  The Bible teaches that the peacemakers are blessed and that, as much as we are able, we should be at peace with everyone.  Avoid unnecessary turmoil, avoid unrighteous conflict, and avoid volatile disagreements.

In case you did not pick up on my overuse of adjectives, I want to be perfectly clear that peace does not involve avoiding turmoil, conflict, or disagreements.  In fact, the Bible encourages us to make peace, which is not a very peaceful process.  Peace only comes through achieving justice and purification, neither of which are pleasant ventures. 

Sometimes we must confront people or situations, eliminate baggage that have become a part of who we are, or even do away with relationships that are keeping us from being more like Christ.  These things are painful.  They are difficult.  But if we want to find peace, we must go through the peacemaking process.

Peace is the first fruit on the list that is the fruit in and of itself.  The process of finding and achieving peace is very difficult, and incredible fruit can come from the love, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control that it takes to get there.  But when you achieve real peace, peace within your soul to know that you are seeking purity and justice with all that you are, you will realize that no fruit is sweeter.

With each situation that is resolved, we allow a little more peace to enter our lives and refuel our souls.  When we are at peace, we have fewer things to prevent us from producing all the fruit we can carry. 

Have you ever prayed for patience?  I have, and there are few things that I have ever regretted more.  Don’t get me wrong, patience is a great thing.  It is one of the fruit of the Spirit, in fact, and we’ll get to that a little more in a minute. 

But trying to attain patience, the process of learning and developing patience, is a nightmare.  If you pray for patience, God will put you in all sorts of situations where you will have to be patient.  For some reason, that seems like a prayer He is always willing to answer with yes.  If you ask Him to help you become more patient, be prepared to wait, be frustrated, and cry it out.  Patience is a-coming.

That is why patience, in its truest form, is one of the most rare fruit to actually possess.  Many people may appear patient, but actually being able to use it to glorify God is an entirely different story. 

According to Google, patience means “the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset.”  So how can somebody glorify God just by not getting upset or angry?  Isn’t that more like damage control?  Not necessarily.

We often think of ourselves as patient because we can mask our emotions.  We believe that as long as we keep our frustrations at bay, then we are being patient. 

But if the Google definition is accurate, and I believe it is, patience is not just being able to hide being upset.  It is having the spiritual constitution to not get upset in the first place.

Patience is one of the most tricky traits on the fruit of the spirit list because there are no obvious fruit.  Since the definition of patience revolves around not doing something, it is often difficult for it to even be identified.  In fact, the fruit that comes from patience is often credited as being a different kind of fruit.

When we see a fellow believer being patient through a tough situation, we usually admire their faithfulness.

When we notice other Christians being patient with people that are giving them a hard time, we are in awe of their gentleness.

When we see another Christian seeking to bless others even though their blessings have yet to arrive, we are overwhelmed by their kindness.

If we are truly patient with our circumstances, our relationships, and with God, we will be able to see other fruit appear in abundance.  It’s like I always say, “Be patient.  Be fruitful.”  Okay, I don’t always say that.  But maybe I should start.

“Kind” is not a word that we use very often, at least not correctly.  People often talk about being nice, or pleasant, or caring.  But kindness is a concept that unfortunately is often sold short by comparing it to these other terms, and they are usually substituted for it out of convenience.  In fact, I probably would have never heard the word “kind” growing up if it did not rhyme with “rewind.”  (Note:  Nobody under 23 will get that joke.)

Kindness is so much more than anything it is commonly associated with.  Being nice or pleasant is not necessarily genuine; it is more like being consistently polite, which people fake every day.  Caring is great, but it does not always result in action. 

Kindness involves showing authentic love through intentional actions.  Actually loving people and caring about them is the foundation of kindness.  Wanting to help them, wanting to spend time with them, and being willing to give up your own interests are all essential roots from which kindness can grow. 

We can give lip service to kindness all day and talk about how much we love each other or how dedicated we are to making our community a better place.  But do we really mean it?  Do we really care about helping people, or do we want them to get help as long as we are not inconvenienced?

Pure, genuine love.  Actually feeling pain for those in pain and not just knowing that there are people hurting is the difference between actual kindness and playing Christian.  That is why a strong foundation of genuine love and concern is vital to being kind.

Using that foundation as motivation to serve widows and orphans, meet the needs of the poor, feed the hungry, heal the sick, visit those that are alone, build relationships with non-believers, comfort those in pain and anything else the Holy Spirits leads us to do is what kindness is all about. 

People often associate kindness with gentleness, and sometimes confuse both of these traits for weakness or being timid.  That could not be further from the truth.  Anybody can have a heart for a cause, but people that truly show kindness get off of their behinds and make a difference.  Let’s make a difference today.

Boy Meets World was my absolute favorite show growing up.  And since I watched a TON of television, that is saying something.  Boy Meets World was kind of like Saved by the Bell, except with better acting, better cast chemistry, and tolerable storylines.  I can recite entire episodes of BMW (that’s what true fans call it) from memory, especially the final scene of the show.

In the series finale, our characters find themselves in the classroom where it all started.  All of the main characters had come to see their teacher, principal, college professor, and lifelong mentor Mr. Feeny one more time before they all moved away.  His last piece of advice to them was this: “Believe in yourselves. Dream.  Try.  Do good.”  Since he had always corrected their grammar over the years, Topanga (my childhood crush and my first choice for my daughter’s name) decided to call him out and ask if he really meant for them to “do well.”  And he said, “No, I mean do good.

As we dive into the fourth installment of our fruit of the Spirit study, we arrive at the one with the most obvious definition.  Goodness – being good.  Pretty simple, huh?

In this case, I actually feel like the definition is sufficient.  Being good.  Making sure your actions are good, your words are good, and even your thoughts are good. 

However, I think it is our application of good that is problem.  While goodness means being productive, making things better, and seeking to actively glorify God, that often translate to us avoiding bad habits, keeping things from falling apart, and staying away from sin.  It’s like we constantly find ourselves asking the wrong question and trying to avoid evil instead of doing good.

Is it good to avoid bad habits and stay away from sin?  Of course it is, as opposed to doing evil things.  But when we are talking about producing holy fruit, goodness means so much more.

Goodness is possibly the most inherently fruitful trait on the list.  If you do good things, you will see results.  If you focus on good things in your thought life, it will be much easier to defeat evil as it arises.  If you are good to people, it will be obvious that you are different because this world is not innately good. 

God is good.  So if you want people to see God in you, then you must be good.  I’m not talking about being “not bad.”  I’m talking about pure, genuine, fruitful goodness. 

If we “do good” as Mr. Feeny instructed, we will make the world a better place.  In addition to being the voice of K.I.T.T in Knight Rider, Feeny is a very wise man.  Let’s follow his advice.

I’ve said before that I don’t have a lifetime enemy or a longstanding rival.  However, lately I have noticed a prospect lurking in the weeds.  He gets on my nerves.  He angers me to no end.  And there is no way that I can ever get rid of him.  You guessed it, my potential arch nemesis is the silent letter.

Knife.  Pneumonia.  Debt.  Receipt.  I don’t get it.  Why?  WHY?  WHY?!!!

Silent letters kill me, and it seems like people are using them more and more in names.  I tried to get my wife to name our son “QBT”, pronounces as “John” where the Q and T are silent but the B makes a “John” sound.  It.Makes.No.Sense.

I also have issues with words that have double meanings like bat, saw, tear, and feet.  Why can’t we just create another word?  I’d be willing to learn a new word, as long as there are no silent letters.

As we move on to our next discussion on the fruit of the Spirit, we come to a word that indeed has more than one meaning:  faithfulness.  I have said that each of the fruit on the list has deeper meanings than you can see on the surface.  And I am sure books could be (and have been) written on faithfulness.  So for now, let’s just talk about the two basic interpretations.

To break it down to the different parts of the word, it is obvious that faithfulness can be translated as "being full of faith."  Faith means believing in something that you cannot prove to be there.  We are called to have faith in God, faith in the gospel, and faith that God will provide us with what we need to carry out His purpose for our lives.

If we have faith in God, we will have no choice but to trust and obey.  And from what I hear, there’s no other way.  We will follow Him wherever He leads us, even when we cannot see the next step in our faith.  We will take risks that defy the “this is all there is” attitude that we all continue to practice no matter how often we denounce it.

Faith produces the most Godly of fruit.  When we follow Him in faith, His work is carried out in the most pure and genuine of ways.  That means He truly gets the glory and it is easier for non-believers to see His hand at work.  Now that’s quality fruit.

The other interpretation of faithfulness is similar to the definition of loyalty.  Faithfulness involves being fully devoted to a person, a cause, an idea or a relationship.  If we are to remain faithful to God, we should praise Him no matter what is going on in our lives.  We are to obey Him no matter what is on the line.  We are to stay focused on Him no matter what beautiful or scary distractions try to get in the way.

Being faithful and remaining true to your relationship with Him, no matter what, is the greatest thing you can do as a witness to others.  In reading A Case for Christ by Lee Strobel, some of his most convincing evidence for Jesus being the Christ is the behavior of His disciples that we see in the book of Acts.  Other history documents support Acts in the fact that the disciples were fully devoted to the cause of Christ and to their relationships with Him.  They were so loyal that they were willing to be humiliated, tortured, and killed without even considering changing their story. 

That is how the good news of Jesus Christ spread from several dozen people in an upper room to the rest of the civilized world, and ultimately to you.  Those dudes were faithful, and their fruit is undeniable.  So let’s follow their lead.  Be full of faith and be loyal to God no matter what, and the fruit will basically produce itself.  That’s the power of faithfulness.

Being a former athlete-ish type person, I have always considered myself to have good hands.  I rarely drop things.  I often catch random objects my wife throws at me.  And, on several occasions, I have saved my daughter from the horrible aim of my son.

Even though I am very confident in my ability to use my hands, I have never been more scared than the first time I held my oldest child.  I instantly felt like my hands were bricks and I was praying I wouldn’t break him.  For the first time, I really had to think about what it meant to be gentle.

When you think of gentleness, what do you see?  Babies?  Puppies?  Kittens?  Chris Tomlin?  Sure, those things are harmless.  Cute.  Cuddly.  Adorable.  Gentle.

The best way I can describe gentleness would probably be anything that has a lack of aggression.  You can’t have any aggression when holding a baby or you might hurt it.  If you are aggressive around a puppy it will run away and hide.  If you show aggression toward Chris Tomlin, he might stop making songs that all sound alike. 

Acting with gentleness is pretty much the opposite of acting with aggression.

Galatians 6:1 says that “if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently.”  If you are approaching a fellow believer about a sin, that would be hard to do gently.  You have to be careful not to come off as judgmental, angry, or confrontational. 

The best way to do that is to remove all aggression.  Approach them with love, let them know that you are only trying to help, and let them know you understand what it is like to struggle with sin (because we all do).  Don’t get me wrong, you have to be assertive and direct if you plan to be any help whatsoever.  You must be clear and honest.  But any aggression whatsoever would push somebody away in that situation.

So what kind of gentle fruit can we produce?  Gentleness seems like the most reserved and inactive of the fruit of the spirit.  However, think about the previous example in Galatians 6.  If you seek to restore a fellow Christian with gentleness, what do you think might happen? 

You will become easier to talk to.

You will become more approachable.

You will build trust. 

You will build a more solid relationship.

These things do not only apply to confronting sinful behavior.  These fruit come from anything you do with gentleness, whether it is spending time with an old friend, meeting new friends, feeding the hungry, supporting widows and orphans, disciplining your children, meeting with a client, writing a letter or an email, posting on Facebook, or even just sitting in traffic.

When the Holy Spirit produces gentleness through you, all of your relationships and interactions will change.  You will become a friend that a friend would love to have.  You will become a stranger that is trusted and welcomed.  You will become a disciple that better reflects their master.  You will become a Christian that makes other people seek Christ.

Gentleness is a very powerful fruit.  Never underestimate that.

(This is the first installment of the Fruitful Friday series discussing the fruit of the Spirit outlined in Galatians 5.  We will be working backward through the list, beginning with self-control.  Sorry if you were expecting me to cover love first...but I have been known to be a bit edgy and unpredictable.  I'm a rebel.)

I recently gave a testimony to our youth group about one of my biggest struggles growing up.  To the surprise of many, I used to have a pretty intense anger problem.  I was kind of like the Incredible Hulk, except instead of getting big and green I would get a red face and a fat lip.

Self-control is really one of the first gifts that the Holy Spirit gave me.  Sure, it wasn’t easy.  I spent lots of time in prayer and practicing ways to keep my cool.  But with the conviction and power of the Holy Spirit, I eventually became as mellow and “slow to anger” as anyone I know. 

Self-control is a pretty obvious term.  It means being able to control yourself.  Keeping yourself from getting angry.  Stopping yourself before giving in to temptation.  Being in a state of mind that allows you to do all things in moderation.  Self-control is the ability to prevent yourself from doing something you probably shouldn’t do.

While that is pretty much the extent of what we think of as self-control, I have a hard time seeing how that is fruitful.  Sure, it prevents you from producing bad fruit or planting bad seeds.  It can keep you away from sin.  It can even help you set a good example that may bring other people closer to God.  Yet, for it to be on this short list of Holy fruit, there has to be more.

Yes, there is more to self-control than just avoiding temptation or over-indulgence.  Self-control, when it comes to producing quality fruit, is about being intentional.  Self-control is about doing all things on purpose.   Even the small things.

How often do you interact with someone or complete a menial task without even thinking?  Do you ever make seemingly insignificant decisions without knowing all of the facts? 

If you are truly controlling yourself, every action you take will happen because you think it is the right thing to do.  Not because you are distracted or not paying attention.  Not because the result of your action seems insignificant.  And certainly not because it is what you feel like doing.

If we are not in complete control of what we say and do, we are prone to making mistakes because we are lazy, careless, and inconsiderate.  Self-control produces fruit because that is what it takes to make righteous decisions.  Doing everything intentionally paves the way for justice and purity in every aspect of our lives.  In everything you do, do it on purpose with righteous intentions, and you will produce Holy fruit.

Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.  So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air.  But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9:25-27 ESV)

In case you have yet to pick up on it, the Bible is pretty much a metaphor machine.  Between Jesus’ parables and Paul’s sometimes obscure references, it often feels like you are trying to solve a riddle to find the underlying meaning of a particular scripture.  There are other times when there is an obvious message, but the implications run much deeper than it appears at first glance.

One of those pieces of scripture is found in the book of Galatians.  “But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. There is no law against these things!” (Galatians 5:22-23 NLT)

The fruit metaphor in scripture is usually pretty clear.  Fruit usually represents a good work or deed.  It refers to offspring and increasing numbers.  In this scripture, we are given a specific list of fruit that come directly from being led by the Holy Spirit.

As we have seen before, Paul uses the fruit illustration to talk about good things that come from being obedient.  There is no debate that love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control are all great things.  In fact, it would be hard to find anything negative that could come from this list as long as a person’s heart is genuine and focused on the Lord.

However, there are deeper messages and implications in this list that Paul does not fully explain.  Over the next nine Fridays (Fruitful Fridays), I am going to discuss, in-depth, how each fruit can be lived out and what it would look like if truly guided by the Holy Spirit.

For now, however, let’s take a deeper look at the fruit metaphor itself.  What could fruit represent that we have not already discussed here? 

First of all, where does fruit come from?  It comes from trees, right?  Sort of, but that is not what I am looking for.  Fruit…plants?  No, that’s just ridiculous.  Fruit, my friends, comes from…wait for it…fruit.

Fruit contains seeds.  Those seeds are planted and new plants grow.  From those plants, new fruit is produced. 

Like edible fruit, the fruit that we produce should not just serve a purpose and cease to exist.  The fruit of the Spirit should plant seeds that produce more fruit…that produce more fruit…that produce more fruit...and so on.

We should also keep in mind that fruit produces nourishment.  While an apple a day keeps the doctor away, love can have an eternal impact on the lives of everyone around you.  The fruit of the Spirit provides nourishment to the souls of those we serve, and it recharges our own spiritual batteries. 

And of course, let’s not forget Jesus’ reaction to a tree that failed to produce fruit.  “Early in the morning, as Jesus was on his way back to the city, he was hungry.  Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!” Immediately the tree withered.”  (Matthew 21:18-19 NIV)

As we dive into the specific fruit of the Spirit over the next couple of months, please feel free to share any other “fruit metaphors” you come up with in the comments section as they apply to this piece of scripture.  I always find it amazing how many different lessons people can learn from a particular passage of the Bible.