1) Fruit bearing is gradual.
Paul, why does he use the word “fruit”? Why not say traits? He’s using an analogy of botanical growth and it speaks to the rate of growth. Bearing fruit is as gradual as the growth rate of a blade of grass. Can you see a blade of grass growing while it is happening? Of course, not. Growth is gradual. If you expand the analogy to people, take for example a young boy or girl. For a parent who sees their child every day, you think that your child has grown, but you are not sure because from one day to the next, you can’t tell. The growth is so small, so gradual that you can’t see it. But grandparents who see grandchildren once or twice a year, they can notice right away that the kids have grown several inches taller.
Growth is gradual. So we need to be patient. In terms of spiritual growth, we don’t often see dramatic change. There are some exceptions like Apostle Paul who seemed to blossom overnight. But for the vast majority of us, there is slow growth. There are long stretches of winter. But there are also seasons of growth in the springtime.
2) Fruit bearing is gradual and it’s mysterious.
For humans, there is no formula for growth. It’s part nature, our gene pool, and it’s part nurture, what we eat, how much sleep we get, our environment. We can’t self-generate physical growth. You can drink 4 cups of milk and sleep 10 hours a day, but if your parents are under 5 foot, chances are, you will never play in the NBA. We can’t will growth, even physical growth. How much more we are utterly powerless to grow ourselves spiritually. It’s the fruit OF THE SPIRIT. The Spirit does the growth and we can’t fully explain it. It’s mysterious. No growth, nothing, nothing, week after week, then suddenly, a little bud breaks through the soil, a little shoot, a sign of life.
3) Fruit bearing is gradual, it’s mysterious and it’s internal.
There is a difference between mechanical growth and organic growth. Mechanical growth is external and organic growth is internal. For example, you can make a pile of bricks. And the pile may be growing, but it is not growing organically. It’s mechanical growth to put a brick on top of another brick and watch the pile grow. It’s not the same as the way a child grows.
The spiritual fruit of love, for example, comes organically from the inside out. 1 Cor 13 – the point of this chapter is that you can have all these external giftings, but if you are harsh, if you’re rude, then the bottom line is, you’re not loving. 1 Cor 13, Matt 7, Gal 5 – God is God so he can use your gifts to save people even while you are not saved. Did you know that? God can use a donkey to speak to you. If all you have is external change or mechanical change, God can still use your life to achieve his purposes. But in the end, Jesus will say, I never knew you. If people’s lives are being changed through you, through your ministry, but you yourself are not being changed organically, spiritually, on the inside, stop everything you’re doing and run to Jesus. Ministry can be a sign of true spiritual life, but it can also be a leaf.
Recall the fig tree we studied at the end of Matthew a few months ago. The fig tree had many leaves, but no figs, no fruit. In fig trees, the figs come out and then the leaves. Most other trees, the leaves come out and then the fruit or flower. But it’s the complete reverse in the case of fig trees. The presence of leaves assumes or presupposes that figs will be there. Because it had leaves, the tree was advertising, come get your figs. Jesus was hungry and seeing the fig tree with leaves, he understandably goes up to it looking for a fig newton snack. But he finds nothing. No fruit. He was deceived.
Frustrated, he curses the fig tree. It was not fig season, meaning it was unnatural growth for this fig tree to display leaves in the first place. This figless, leafy fig tree was a freak of nature and Jesus used this as an object lesson for the nation of Israel. They had many leaves of religion but no fruit and soon God’s judgment would be upon them.
We have to heed the warning. Obedience to God is good. External acts where you are trying to love others is good. Ministering to others is necessary, but these things can be leaves. If you are not being changed on the inside, you don’t know whether or not you have true salvation. I’m not saying you are not saved, but you have no way of knowing for sure.
4) Fruit bearing is gradual, it’s mysterious, it’s internal and it’s symmetric.
Notice that it says in Gal 5:22, the fruit of the Spirit, not the fruits. This was the wildest thing when I learned this. I never saw this in all my years as a Christian until a couple of years ago. The subject is singular and the predicate is plural. Did you ever notice that? What is going on here? Why is Paul breaking the rules of grammar?
Jonathan Edwards wrote a book entitled “Charity and Its Fruits.” He introduces a word in his book that helps unlock the mystery of Gal 5:22. It’s a word that you might know if you are a Microsoft Excel power user. The word is “concatenate.” In Excel, there is a concatenate function which joins 2 or more words or strings together. The graces of Christianity are concatenated, or linked together, concatenated or connected.
Listen to what Edwards says–
“True thankfulness is the exercise of love to God on occasion of his goodness to us. So there is love in a true and childlike fear of God; for a childlike fear differs from a slavish fear, for a slavish fear has no love in it. And all these three graces of love, humility, and repentance, are implied in gracious childlike submission to the will of God. And so weanedness from the world, and heavenly-mindedness, do consist mainly in the three graces of faith, hope, and love… Love and humility, again, are the graces wherein consists meekness toward men. And so it is love to God, and faith, and humility, that are the ingredients of Christian patience and contentment with our condition, and with the allotments of providence toward us. Thus it appears that all the graces of Christianity are concatenated and linked together, so as to be mutually connected and mutually dependent.” (p. 274-75)
Edwards starts by talking about thankfulness. We are thankful out of a sense of God’s love and goodness toward us. So a thankful heart is concatenated or connected to God’s love and His goodness. An incorrect pairing is love of God and a slavish fear of God. Those two don’t go together. They are not concatenated or connected. Perfect love drives out fear so love and fear are never linked.
Then, Edwards talks about being weaned from the world. Not earth bound but heaven bound. Such a person has faith, hope and love. Being freed from earth and having our minds set on heaven are concatenated or connected to faith, hope and love. Faith because you are living for what you cannot see instead of what you can see. Hope because hope is not consumed with what’s happening right in front of me but is future-oriented. And love because in the new heaven and the new earth, only love remains because faith has become sight and hope has become actualized because we are in the presence of God.
According to Edwards, all the graces are concatenated–love of God, our faith in Him, humility, patience, contentment with His provisions–these are all mutually connected and mutually dependent.
Let me read you one more quote from the book, “Charity and Its Fruits”–
“They are all communicated in the same work of the Spirit, namely, in conversion. There is not one conversion of the soul to faith, and another conversion to love to God, and another to humility, and another to repentance, and still another to love to man; but all are produced by one and the same work of the Spirit, and are the result of one and the same conversion, or change of the heart. And this proves that all the graces are united and linked together, as being contained in that one and the same new nature that is given us in regeneration. It is here as it is in the first generation — that of the body, in which the several faculties are communicated in one and the same generation; the senses of seeing, hearing, feeling, tasting, and smelling, and so the powers of moving, breathing, etc., all being given at the same time, and all being but one human nature, and one human life, though diversified in its modes and forms. It is further true of the Christian graces.” (p. 276)
Edwards likens spiritual birth to physical birth. When you are born physically, you are not born in stages. In 9 months, the baby plops out. The baby is fully born at that point. And the baby’s senses are given in one shot. You are not born with only eyes and then when you turn 1 year old, the mouth grows. That would be a horror movie. A healthy baby is born with two eyes, two ears, a nose. The 5 senses are given in one shot. Likewise, when it comes to spiritual birth, you are not born in stages. You are not born of the Spirit with only humility and no repentance. Or only love for God without having faith in Him. Or only love for God and zero love for your fellow man. You are born in one shot and all these graces–love for God, love for neighbor, humility, repentance, faith–these are all given at once. You might not start out with a lot of love for God or a lot of faith, but all the ingredients should be there. All 9 aspects of the fruit of the Spirit are given altogether upon spiritual birth. And all 9 aspects ought to grow simultaneously, there is symmetry. The 9 aspects are like a cluster of grapes that grows altogether, simultaneously, if in fact the source of the growth is the Spirit of God.