Fruit is always doing one or the other: ripening or rotting. As often as the fruit of the Spirit is brought to the surface when deciphering the walk of another professing Christian, allow me to add a twist of flavor to this infamous litmus test. To refresh, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). Please take note that Scripture refers to fruit in singular, not plural, form, thereby inferring that it is all of these qualities, as a whole, that we’re to pay special attention to. Surely, for the Holy Spirit to encompass each of them as one is to be expected; however, for those of us indwelt by His Spirit, we tend to break them down individually as we attempt to gauge where we, or others, are on the spectrum of the Spirit. We, at least I, love to categorize and compartmentalize as this gives us a sense of control and understanding. This fruit, as God names it, is somewhat troubling if we’re truly transparent with ourselves. Not only are we running down the itemized list, checking each trait against a possibly false view of our true condition, but we’re faced with the fact that each term is to be defined by what God deems it is to be, rather that what our instant understanding of its definition might be. If we’re brutally honest with ourselves, the fruit of the Spirit, singularly, is a tough find.
Peter to the rescue. Fast forward to find the words in 2 Peter 1:5-8, “For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith, goodness; and to your goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (emphasis mine). The similarities between Paul’s fruit of the Spirit in Galatians and Peter’s list here in his epistle are striking, aren’t they? Just as I firmly believe there is no such thing as a coincidence in life, I hold the same conviction with Scripture.
Now the last thing I want to do is make us feel better about our condition than we ought to, but I can’t help it on this. The Spirit led Peter to pen this procession for a purpose. If we can say along with Job, “Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes,” (Job 42:6) as we stand before God in complete humility, I believe this can be the jumping off point where we can rightfully increase our measure and conduct self-assessments regularly according to Peter’s guide. The qualities he lists are intended to provoke us to proceed, not recede. If need be, the implication that we aren’t meant to attain each one, all at once, can be of comfort for those who are intimidated by the thought that their fruit is failing to produce. Here, we see, this fruit is meant to grow, increasingly; to ripen, if you will, not rot.
Additionally, the purpose of our produce is included; for it “will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Although fruit is also referred to by Jesus (Matthew 7:16) as a means for us to recognize false prophets, this is a passage misused by some to point fingers at other professing Christians by accusing them of not bearing fruit in compliance with the Spirit. This post wishes to contend for those who are more concerned with their fruit, rather than that of others. After all, while it is wise to be aware of the ineffectiveness and unproductiveness of those we’re around, it requires even more wisdom to be assessing our own positional posture. When we’re busying ourselves with checking the fruit on our neighbor’s tree, we tend to neglect the fruit on our own. This will inevitably result in the ineffective and unproductive knowledge that Peter guides us against. This is why I have reason to believe Peter was addressing self-assessing, and not to break us down to the brink of despair at how wretched we are, but with the motive to encourage us to strive onwards and upwards.
We can read and study about the fruit of the Spirit, trying our darnedest to attain a most lofty goal. However, when this insight gives way to depressing thoughts that our fruit isn’t His fruit, that we’re lagging far behind and can’t seem to catch up, perhaps a little Peter passage will assuage the pressure. It may take years to progress from one quality to the next, but as long as we’re ripening, we aren’t rotting.