Fruitful 1: Introduction

In this first of ten studies we think about the relational nature of the fruit of the Spirit and their significance in the life of a leader.

Watch/Listen on:

Please read Galatians 5:13-26 before you watch the video.

Video notes

  • Effectiveness in Christian leadership comes when we are filled with the Spirit.
  • Filled with the Spirit = godliness + gifting (1 Tim 4:11-16).
  • We can often over-emphasise gifting at expense of godliness.
  • Gifting is person specific but godliness is universal.
  • Galatians 5:13-26 is a key passage for all believers including leaders.
  • ‘Fruit of the Spirit’ not exhaustive, but a good place to start.
  • Fruit should shape our leadership as much as gifting.
  • In context, all of the fruit is relational: horizontal not vertical (see 5:13 and further notes at the bottom of this page).
  • All of the fruit is supernatural, it’s not our natural inclination.

Questions to think about

  1. What emphasis do you give to growing in gifting and/or godliness as part of your church leadership?
  2. What are some of the risks of neglecting this fruit of godliness or focusing solely on gifting when it comes to effectiveness?
  3. How can you build regular review of (and prayer for) godliness into your leadership structures?

Prayer ideas

  • Rejoice in all the ways God has equipped you and pray that you would ‘serve humbly in love’
  • Confess any lack of focus on being a Spirit-filled leader, particularly with reference to godliness
  • Ask the Spirit to help you know yourself better, especially where you need to grow in godliness, and pray for godly humility and power to be more like our Chief Shepherd, Jesus.

Further passages to reflect on

Romans 8:1-17

A few things to say about the fruit of the Spirit

There are lots of books, study guides and resources about the fruit of the Spirit, and many of them contain great wisdom and helpful teaching. However, many also repeat some less robust understanding that reading Galatians in context and in its wider Bible context will help avoid.

First of all, we need to see it is legitimate to break down and meditate on each word as we are doing. Some make too much of the fact that the word ‘fruit’ is singular in v22. We certainly cannot set one fruit over and above another and say ‘I have this but not that’ (the way we do with gifts).

However, in general, focusing too much on the singular word ‘fruit’ fails to understand how NT writers use these words. In Paul, with one technical exception, fruit is always singular (as it is English), whereas ‘acts’ or ‘works’ (used in 5:19) are often plural. We should not, therefore, be afraid of considering each one on its own merits, as we are doing (nor sometimes referring to them in the plural, as I will do).

It also can be very tempting to think that these nine words are exhaustive: i.e. they constitute all of the fruit of the Spirit. A simple flick through the pages of the New Testament shows this to be obviously false (for example, look up Ephesians 4:1-3 or 2 Timothy 1:7). The particular fruits that Paul lists here are almost certainly context specific to Galatia and the divisive problems that the church was facing.

For the same reason, we ought not to read too much into the order or grouping of the vocabulary Paul uses. Each one stands on its own merits. This list is simply – for our purposes – a good starting point.

Perhaps, most significantly, we often read the fruit as how we relate either to God or to others, as befits how we understand the primary meaning of the word. Some of the words seem to only relate to God, for example joy. Others clearly have earthly relationships in view, for example gentleness. Others still could go either way, most obviously love.

I believe the context demands that we view all of the component parts of the fruit horizontally, that is, in how they inform our relationships with others. This certainly fits with the overall thrust of Galatians at this point, and sits most comfortably under Paul’s umbrella commands in 5:13-15. It also makes most sense of the contrast with the acts of the flesh in 5:19-22 which are all about relationship-busting characteristics of one sort or another.

We should be careful, of course, not to completely divorce the vertical from the horizontal: to take just one example, we love others because we love God. Nevertheless, I believe, that the horizontal, relational approach is the best (and, as it happens, most radical-living) way to understand these verses. I agree with Moo who says, speaking of faith: "the context suggests that, like the other virtues in this list, [faith] denotes an attitude or response that we have toward other people, and especially Christians." (Moo, Galatians, 2013, p365, italics added).

This horizontal aspect is why meditating on the fruit is such a rich area for Christians, and leaders in particular. It helps us fully understand what it means to be filled with the Spirit as we ‘serve one another humbly in love’ (5:13).

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