CULTIVATING THE FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT
must be cultivated
In the natural,
we cannot produce fruit. We cannot cause an oak tree to bear apples.
We cannot cause an apple tree to bear apples until it has reached
the state of maturity at which it is ready to bear. But we must
cultivate the fruit. Trees and vines left to themselves will bear
poorly, if at all. Orchardists and vineyardists have to work hard
in order to get a good crop.
A similar process
is true in the spiritual. In this, as in so much of our Christian
life, we are "God's fellow-workers" (1 Corinthians 3:9).
Jesus gave the image that we and he are like two oxen yoked together
(Matthew 11:29). Paul, in a somewhat different context, expressed
the principle that applies here as well: "Continue to work
out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works
in you to will and to act according to his good purposes" (Philippians
2:12). We work, and God works in us.
this aspect of laboring to produce fruit. In Isaiah's parable of
the vineyard (Isaiah 5:1-7), God "dug it up and cleared it
of stones", he planted it with the choicest vines, he built
a watchtower, and then he looked for it to bear good fruit. See
also Jesus' parable of the tenants (Matthew 21:33). In John 15:2
Jesus spoke of God pruning the fruitful branches so that they would
bear more fruit. In Luke 8:15 Jesus said that it is "by persevering"
that we produce a good crop. In 2 Peter 1:5 we are told to "make
every effort" to add certain qualities to our faith so that
we will not be unfruitful. Paul told Timothy to "pursue"
righteousness, faith, love and peace (2 Timothy 2:22). All of these
are applications of the principle of 1 Timothy 4:7 (KJV) that we
"exercise" ourselves unto godliness.
process of cultivation may include these steps, each of which has,
I think, a parallel in the spiritual realm:
- clearing, digging, tilling, cultivation, adding humus and other
material to improve texture so that the soil will absorb and hold
moisture and the roots can grow freely.
- fertilizing, watering
cutting away unnecessary wood to encourage more fruit
- spraying to protect from disease and insects. Physical protection
from birds, or from frost.
Let us look
at each of these in spiritual terms:
Soil Preparation. Jesus gave a parable of a sower who sowed
seed on four different kinds of soil. Only one kind yielded a rich
crop. The parable relates primarily to salvation, but it is applicable
to much else in our spiritual life. We need to be good soil, ready
to receive and hold on to all that God gives us. This includes being
teachable, being open to receive admonitions and criticism (not
taking offense), freeing ourselves of mindsets and preconceptions
that keep us from hearing, etc. It includes being ready to receive
trials and hardships in a Scriptural way.
Nourishment. If we are to bear fruit, we need to be nourished
by our relationship with God. If we are to become like God in character,
we need to feed ourselves daily on God's word. "Man does not
live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth
of God" (Matthew 4:4). We need to spend time in praise and
prayer. We need to think about the things that build us up in Christ
(Philippians 4:8-9). We need to set our hearts and minds "on
things above, not on earthly things" (Colossians 3:1-3). These
are all ways in which we can become "transformed by the renewing
of your minds" (Romans 12:2). What we allow into our minds
is very important. What are we feeding on? Things which build us
up in Christ? Or things which conform us to this world?
Pruning. Jesus wrote, "I am the true vine, and my Father
is the gardener. He cuts off every branch that bears no fruit, while
every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even
more fruitful" (John 15:2). Sometimes this pruning can be quite
drastic. Jesus said that if your hand or foot cause you to sin you
should cut it off, and if your eye causes you to sin you should
pluck it out (Mark 9:42-48).
In the spiritual
sense pruning serves two functions: (1) to get rid of unnecessary
baggage, things which, although not harmful in themselves, distract
and take energy away from the primary task, and (2) to get rid of
things which are harmful and can cause damage. Both functions are
expressed in Hebrews 12:1: "Let us throw off everything that
hinders and the sin that so easily entangles". If we are to
"run with perseverance the race marked out for us" we
don't want to be carrying any unnecessary weight or anything that
will create resistance, nor do we want to carry anything that could
trip us up.
of being transformed involves getting rid of the old. Romans 12:2
says, "do not be conformed to this world". The world's
ways and Christ's ways are often very different. The world says,
"If someone injures me I need to get back at him." Christ
says, "Let me take care of the vengeance; you need to forgive
and get on with your life." The world says, "I'll get
rich by holding on to what I have" Christ says, "Give
and it shall be given to you." Etc. We need to get rid of the
world's ways in order to be able to take on Christ's ways.
us to "Put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its
deceitful desires,... and to put on the new self, created to be
like God in true righteousness and holiness" (Ephesians 4:22-24).
In order to put on the new self we have to put off the old self.
In order for the new creation to come, the old has to go (2 Corinthians
5:17). This can be a difficult and painful process. Paul says, "I
have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ
lives in me" (Galatians 2:20). He says the our "old self
was crucified with him" (Romans 6:6); "we were buried
with him through baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ
was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too
may live a new life" (Romans 6: 4). "Put to death, therefore,
whatever belongs to your earthly nature" (Colossians 3:5),
"put to death the misdeeds of the body" (Romans 8:13).
We need to "demolish strongholds" and "every pretension
that sets itself up against the knowledge of God" and "take
captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians
More can be
said about this pruning process, but I think this is enough to show
how necessary it is and how drastic it can be.
Protection. I have pointed out that living by the spirit involves
spiritual warfare. Hence developing the fruit of the spirit may
involve protection from assaults of the enemy. This can include
strongholds of various kinds that the enemy uses for shelter and
to block progress
captive to obey Jesus Christ
protection, by yourself and by others
stand against the enemy
not to give the devil a foothold (Ephesians 4:27).
process of cultivation
God uses a
process for developing those qualities he desires in us. In order
that we may learn love, he may bring into our lives people who are
hard to love. In order to develop faith, he may place us in situations
which in the natural seem hopeless, so that we have to depend on
God. In order to develop patience he may put us in situations which
test our patience. In order to develop self-control in us, he may
allow us to be tempted.
is illustrated by Hebrews 12:7-12, "Endure hardship as a discipline;
God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by
his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline),
then you are illegitimate children and not true sons... God disciplines
us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline
seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces
a harvest of righteousness for those who have been trained by it.
Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees."
This process can be seen as part of the way in which we "run
with perseverance the race marked out for us" (Hebrews 12:1)
and "make every effort... to be holy" (Hebrews 12:14).
There is a co-laboring. God disciplines us, but we must persevere,
make every effort and strengthen ourselves.
must choose to show good fruit
5 Paul contrasts the fruit of the Spirit and the fruit of the flesh
and commands us to "live by the Spirit" (v. 16). It is
clear that this is a choice, like the choice he gives us in Romans
6:13 whether we shall offer the parts of our body as weapons of
wickedness or of righteousness. It is basically the same choice
as that of Deuteronomy 30:19, "I have set before you life and
death, blessings and curses, Now choose life".
Paul told Timothy,
"Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness,
faith, love and peace" (2 Timothy 2:22). We decide where to
run, what to flee, and what to pursue.
Many of the
aspects of the fruit of the Spirit are commands. Love, joy, self-control,
faith and patience are examples. We are also specifically commanded
to refrain from the acts of the flesh, which are the opposite of
the fruit of the Spirit. Bringing forth the fruit of the Spirit
is not an option, but a command.
that we cannot just sit back and wait for the fruit of the Spirit
to develop. God develops the fruit but we must also do our part.
We must pray for good fruit. In obedience to God's commands, we
need to make specific decisions that we will love, will have joy,
will have peace, etc., and then do everything we can to carry out
those decisions. We must repent when we find ourselves falling short
in any of these areas. We must take our thoughts captive to obey
Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). We must hide the word of God
in our hearts so that we will not disobey him (see Psalm 119:11).
fruit is evidence of the Lordship of the Holy Spirit
The fruit of
the Spirit is the outward evidence of the power of the Spirit working
within us. Just as our deeds are the evidence of our faith (James
2:17), so the fruit of the Spirit is the evidence of a Spirit-led
life. To attempt to produce the fruit of the Spirit without allowing
the Holy Spirit to control our lives would be like tying artificial
apples onto a tree. Our emphasis should be to "live by the
Spirit" (Galatians 5:16).
SPECIFIC ACTIONS WE CAN TAKE
Decide. Galatians 5:16 calls on us to make a decision to live
by the Spirit. We must decide to love, to be joyful, to be at peace,
to have faith, to be patient, to have self-control, etc. We make
these decisions daily, minute-by-minute. Whatever may come up, we
must decide at the moment whether to respond to it after the flesh
or in a godly manner.
has said, "Character is the habit of making right decisions."
If we would have godly character, we must cultivate the habit of
making right decisions.
James 1:5-8 says, "If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask
God, who gives to all generously without finding fault, and it will
be given him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because
he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the
wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the
Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways."
The same principle applies to each of the aspects of the fruit of
the Spirit. If we lack love, pray that God will give us love. Do
the same with joy, peace, and all the other aspects. Pray without
doubting. Pray expectantly. Pray persistently; "always pray
and not give up" (Luke 18:1).
KJV says, "The effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man
availeth much." We must want to be Spirit-led; we must want
to show the fruit of the Spirit. Jeremiah 29:13 says. "You
will seek me and find me when you seek me with your whole heart".
We must seek the fruit of the Spirit fervently, with our whole heart.
Keep short accounts with God and others. God
wants us to keep short accounts with him. When we find ourselves
reacting to something in a fleshly way rather than a Spirit-led
way (as we all do from time to time), let us go to God right away.
Confess, repent, and ask for His strength to enable us to handle
such situations better next time.
We also need
to keep short accounts with other people. Jesus has told us, if
"your brother has something against you... go and be reconciled
to your brother" (Matthew 5:23-24). Go quickly; put this even
ahead of worshiping. And, "if your brother sins against you,
go and show him his fault, just between the two of you" (Matthew
18:15). Whoever you think is at fault, act quickly to resolve the
difference, if you can. Don't let anger and resentment build up.
Don't take offence. Don't let any root of bitterness arise by which
many are defiled (Hebrews 12:15). Keep short accounts.
Make the most of every opportunity. Ephesians
5:15 says, "Be very careful, then, how you live - not as unwise
but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days
are evil." It is good to make the most of every opportunity
to show love, kindness, gentleness, patience, etc., to others, and
to build others up. This is one of the ways in which we can train
ourselves to be godly (1 Timothy 4:7).
Become mature. In the natural, fruit does not come until the
tree, vine or other plant has reached a certain level of maturity.
So in the spiritual, our fruit should increase as we become mature,
as we "in all things grow up into him who is the head"
(Ephesians 4:15). All the training and experience that we have received
in growing into Christian maturity will help us to produce the fruit
of the Spirit.
Do battle with the enemy. God
wants us to live by the Spirit and show the fruit of the Spirit.
The enemy wants to keep us under the control of the flesh. He wants
to rob us of our love, our joy, our peace, our patience, our kindness,
our goodness, our faithfulness, our gentleness and our self-control.
There is a war going on inside us between the Holy Spirit and the
flesh; the enemy wants the flesh to win. God has given us weapons
that have divine power to tear down the enemy's strongholds (2 Corinthians
10:4-5), but we must use them, just as an orchardist must use the
sprays that protect his trees from insects and disease. If we see
the issue as one of spiritual warfare, we can determine to give
the enemy no ground, and to yield nothing to him. We will also see
that the stakes are very high; the issue is nothing less than who
will effectively control our soul: the Holy Spirit, satan, or our
fleshly desires. When seen in those terms, no decision, no conflict,
is a minor one. The Holy Spirit wants to have complete control and
we need to surrender ourselves to him completely.
Sow into the Spirit. Galatians
6:7-8 gives an important key, which underlies many of the above
suggestions. "Do not be deceived. God cannot be mocked. A man
reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature,
from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please
the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life."
How do we sow
to please the Spirit? Many of the foregoing suggestions offer ways
of doing so. But beyond that we need to spend time with the Lord.
Because of what Jesus has done for us we can "come boldly unto
the throne of grace" (Hebrews 4:16 KJV). We need to pray, praise,
worship, read Scripture, meditate on Scripture, do whatever else
brings us into the presence of God. In his presence we find fullness
of joy. It is by being in his presence that we can be changed into
his likeness from glory to glory. When we are in his presence, something
of him rubs off on us; the more time we spend in his presence the
more of his nature will rub off on us.
The goal of
the Spirit-led life is to become like God in character. In order
to do that we need to spend time in God's presence so that we can
come to know what God is like. Unless we do that, none of our other
efforts at developing the fruit of the Spirit will have much success.
Have a right relationship with God. "I
am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I
in him, he will bear much fruit. Apart from me you can do nothing"
(John 15:5).The fruit of the Spirit is the result of, and the evidence
of, a right relationship with God. To go back to our physical analogy,
the soil, the water, the nutrients that produce good fruit are all
found in our relationship with God. The most essential element in
cultivating the fruit of the Spirit is to establish, maintain and
develop our relationship with the God in whom "we live and
move and have our being" (Acts 17:28).
"works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his
will" (Ephesians 1:11). God's purpose for us is that we shall
become like him in character. His purpose is that we shall live
by the Spirit and shall evidence the fruit of the Spirit.
God has given
us the means to carry out that purpose. He has assured us that it
can be carried out. 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 says, "May your
whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our
Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will
do it." Jude 24 tells us that God "is able to keep you
from falling and to present you before his presence without fault
and with great joy." God is able.
God works out
everything in accordance with his purpose. He has given us freedom
of choice, and we can, if we choose, defeat his purpose for us by
refusing to cooperate. But if our desire is truly to carry out his
purpose for us, and to live by the Spirit, he will enable us to
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