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The Fruit of the Spirit Is Not…

Last night Jack Caldwell led a very stimulating Bible study on the question “Is Our Church Spiritual Enough?” His text was Galatians 5:22-23, which discusses the fruit of the Spirit. Jack provided a handout listing the various fruits along with a suggested opposite:

Love Hatred
Joy Gloom
Peace Strife
Patience Intolerance
Kindness Cruelty
Generosity Stinginess
Faithfulness Infidelity
Gentleness Roughness
Self-Control Indulgence

I commend Jack for leading an excellent, humorous, and thought-provoking discussion. Of course, I never know when to leave well enough alone.

While Jack asked us to think of examples where our church may have exhibited (or failed to exhibit) these godly characteristics, my mind raced over to the left-hand side of the handout. I wondered if spirituality, or the lack thereof, could really be captured on a continuum with two end points, one obviously preferable to the other. Is it not possible, I thought, to misconstrue what these positive qualities are all about and overshoot them completely? For example, might we think we’re being loving when in fact we have settled for being merely sentimental?

Rather than seeing each of these pairs as the ends of a continuum, I wondered if we might really be dealing with the three points of a triangle. The base would be made up of two “inauthentic” qualities. (For example, in my example from the previous paragraph, these would be “Sentimentality” and “Hatred.”) The truly godly attitude would be at the apex of the triangle—above them both, and often uncritically claimed by people who are actually situated nearer to the base.If so, then maybe I can slightly adjust Jack’s table to something like the following:

Sentimentality Love Hatred
Giddyness Joy Gloom
Impassibility Peace Strife
Enablement Patience Intolerance
No Personal Boundaries Kindness Cruelty
Indulgence (Others) Generosity Stinginess
Zealotry Faithfulness Infidelity
Passivity Gentleness Roughness
Asceticism Self-Control Indulgence (Self)

What do you think? Does this advance the conversation, or does it merely provide cover for people’s excuses when it comes to spiritual development?

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5 Comments

  1. Rev. Bryant J. Williams III says:

    Dear Darrell,

    I find it interesting the juxtaposition of the Asceticism and Antinomianism with true, fruits of the Holy Spirit. As seen in the last fruit, self-control, you have given Asceticism and Antinomianism as the corresponding “sins of the flesh.’ In fact, Gnosticism had two branches, Asceticism (as represented in the later Hermetic/Monastic movements of Catholicism) and Antinomianism (the Libertines or “Nicolaitans (?) of Rev. 2-3; or better yet, Paul’s comment in Romans 6 about sinning so that more grace abound (which he condemns).”

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  2. When I clicked through, I was so sure this post was going to mention the Vacation Bible School song, “The Fruit of the Spirit’s Not a Coconut” etc.

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  3. LancasterCalifornia says:

    I think your second list highlights the problem of the first list and why paul did not include it. Light is light. Not fear of darkness, and not a median balance of light. Though Jack’s list may have initially seemed beneficial in providing some perspective, it is a distraction. The two extra lists merely leave an open door for excessive doctrine, and judgmental attitudes. Let’s simply all personally strive for the fruits of the spirit, and allow the Lord to cultivate them within us, and trust him to do the same with others. (And though I understand your affinity for triangles. Such rudiments [Colossians 2:8] of the world can often take us near the borderline of the occult, and I mean this in the lightest way possible, triangles are not inherently evil.)

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  4. Bruce Conn says:

    I also enjoyed Jack’s comments on evidence of a spirit filled church. My mind went to the seven deadly sins. (I think there’s a more ancient nine deadly sins, too.) I was just wondering how they would match up against the fruits of the spirit.

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  5. I think the material you propose has good value. It shows thoughts that people ought to give honest consideration on their way to spiritual maturity. We all have a tendency to present our faults as if they were virtues; I suspect it’s part of what gives “virtue” a bad name in some circles. If your list opens someone’s eyes that it’s possible to kid ourselves about whether we have real virtue or a cheap counterfeit, then it has helped. The Bible says not to fall aside to the left or the right …

    Take care & God bless
    WF

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