Friday, November 17, 2006

The Ninefold Fruit

After having explained the Pauline doctrine of the “works of the flesh,” I think I ought to give equal time to the fruit of the Spirit. For it is not enough simply to avoid evil, but we must positively do good if we are to please the Lord. Remember what He said about the possibility of more evil spirits returning after the first one has been cast out…

So here’s the list of the ninefold fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23. We begin with agápe (love). Notice he did not use other words for love, like eros (desire and passion) or filia (friendship). There’s a place for each of those in the Christian life (though eros is the one most susceptible to distortion, exaggeration, or abuse), but as fruit of the Holy Spirit, Paul chooses agápe, because this is the self-giving, self-sacrificing love which is most characteristic of Christ and hence of Christians. It is a love that is wholly focused on the beloved and not on the benefit of the one who loves. Thus it is devoid of self-interest. Of this love Jesus said, “Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

Next is khara (joy). This, as you might guess, does not mean mere fun or superficial, fleeting happiness. For St Paul often says that he rejoices in his sufferings, and sufferings are no fun at all! This is the kind of joy that comes from a deep faith and trust, that endures trials in hope—in short, the “joy that no one will take from you” (John 16:22). As such it comes from life in the Holy Spirit, for all lesser joys can be easily lost. Likewise, the next on the list, eirini (peace), is not a mere emotional tranquility or absence of conflict but, as a fruit of the Spirit, it is the “peace that passes all understanding,” the peace that “keeps your heart and mind in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:7). Thus it remains deep in the soul even during struggles or trials, for this peace comes from, and reaches out to, Heaven, in which our souls are anchored if we are living in the Spirit.

Continuing the list, we come to makrothymia (literally, “long-suffering,” but often translated “patience”). The manifestation of this fruit indicates that we are most likely already bearing the first three. For if we love we can rejoice, and if we are rejoicing in love we are at peace, and fortified with these three we can endure patiently whatever hardships we are required to bear in the service of the Lord and of his people. The fact that it is so hard for many of us to be patient and long-suffering ought to give us pause to reflect on the measure of love, joy, and peace in our lives.

The next two are practically synonyms: khristotis (kindness) and agathosyne (goodness). The former we might call gentle, benign, obliging, gracious, agreeable, and the latter beneficent, generous, upright, and in general, virtuous. (You may think that khristotis is a form of khristos, Christ, but the difference is between a Greek iota and an ita, which are pronounced the same, but are different letters in Greek. You can guess that there would be plays on the word in Scripture, as in 1Peter 2:3—“the Lord is kind” sounds just like “the Lord is Christ”). Be that as it may, kindness and goodness are Christ-like virtues and hence belong in the life of anyone who wishes to bear the fruit of the Spirit. These too, are not easy, for we often see much more rudeness, roughness, stinginess, and disagreeable selfishness than kindness and goodness.

Pistis (literally, “faith,” but usually translated “faithfulness,” for it also means honesty and integrity) is the next fruit of the Spirit. This is what keeps us bearing all the above fruits, for without faithfulness and integrity, we may sometimes bear the fruit of the Spirit and sometimes indulge in the works of the flesh, manifesting ourselves as the unstable, double-minded (literally, “two-souled”) people that St James says cannot expect to receive anything from the Lord (1:7-8). Faithfulness carries us through both good times and bad, and will place us among the good and faithful servants who enter forever into their Master’s joy.

The eighth element of the fruit of the Spirit is prautis (meekness, forbearance, gentleness). It is similar to “kindness” above, though it seems that meekness is a kind of quality of being which bears all with equanimity, while kindness has a more active expression toward others. It seems also to be similar to patience and long-suffering. These are attitudes that reflect Him who went like a lamb to the slaughter, who opened not his mouth in the face of unjust condemnation—and who said to learn from Him, for He Himself is meek (praus) and humble of heart (Mt. 11:29).

Finally, we come to the end of the list with egkrateia (self-control). This is sometimes translated “chastity,” which is certainly an important part of the meaning, but the term has a wider significance. It also means temperance, and in general the strength that underlies all forms of continence and self-control. This is obviously necessary in our modern society, in which all moral restraints are often seen as undesirable. There’s a curious reversal in the true order of things, where the self-controlled (who are really the strong) are considered weak and bound to archaic taboos, while the out-of-control hedonists (who are really the weak, being enslaved to every desire) are looked upon as the heroes of freedom and zest for life. But as we saw a few days ago, Scripture makes it clear that our freedom is given to serve one another in love, and our wayward passions are to be brought to the Cross, so that the Holy Spirit can make the fruit of self-control grow in joyful abundance.

St Paul goes on to say that if we are to bear the fruit of the Spirit we must “walk” by the Spirit, which means walk in his ways, live according to his guidance and revelation, follow his lead. We must “crucify” what is evil so that what is good can rise and shine forth. This will bring us to fullness of life, in this age and in the age to come. Having seen these past few days the works of the flesh, what it means to be unrighteous, and the fruit of the Holy Spirit, with all that these entail, what kind of person would you like to be?