By Shawn McMullen
Most of us are familiar with the nine Christian character traits Paul calls the fruit of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22, 23, New Living Translation). To see these characteristics displayed is proof of the Spirit’s presence and influence in a person’s life. Interestingly, few—if any—of these characteristics are traits people of the world consider strengths.
It is the rare corporate executive, professional athlete, celebrity, or high-profile politician who wants to be known as kind, good, and gentle. No, most want to be considered savvy and successful. Powerful people who get what they want.
In their eyes, anything else would be seen as weakness. And once people think you’re weak, they walk all over you. As a result, most of the world’s successful people don’t concern themselves with the fruit of the Spirit.
That’s to be expected. After all, you can’t display the Spirit’s fruit in the Spirit’s absence.
But sadly, this same mind-set influences many who claim Christ. They notice how people in the world wield influence and power. They see the results. They watch as other people admire and even idolize them. And they want the same things—but in the context of Christianity.
So they do their work and raise their families and relate to others using the same methods and demonstrating the same attitudes they’ve witnessed in the world. They complain and argue, even though Scripture clearly says, “Do everything without complaining and arguing” (Philippians 2:14). They speak over their peers in order to get their own way, failing to “take an interest in others, too” (Philippians 2:4). They rarely display the heart of a servant, even though Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be first must take last place and be the servant of everyone else” (Mark 9:35).
They drop names and dwell on their personal achievements even though the writer of Proverbs warned, “Let someone else praise you, not your own mouth” (Proverbs 27:2). They act more important than the people around them, even though God says, “Don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3). Although the Scriptures say, “A fool is quick-tempered, but a wise person stays calm when insulted” (Proverbs 12:16), they’re easily angered and respond quickly to the slightest offense.
Their tactics appear to work and they often get the results they want. But they fail to realize that God is concerned with both the process and the result. He wants his kingdom to grow—but not at the expense of his glory and our integrity.
Which brings us back to the fruit of the Spirit. Paul provided this list not as a series of steps to win God’s favor, but as a guideline to help us determine if the Spirit is at work in our lives.
When we see the fruit of the Spirit as a reflection of strength rather than weakness, when we allow Christ (the vine) to produce his fruit in us (the branches), we will honor God with both the process and the result. And we’ll be doing the very thing Paul commanded: “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person” (Romans 12:2).