Over the past year, I have written three mediations about what St. Paul calls the “fruit of spirit”: Resilience” (Patience),” “Gentleness in my Dealings” (Gentleness), and “Joy”(Joy). This month, I would like to focus on Kindness.
The “fruit of the spirit” refers to the virtues that genuine Christians should manifest in their daily lives in word and deed. How should you as a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ, live your life in relation to others? How should you behave? The answer St. Paul gives is that in everything we do and say, we should manifest the “fruit of the spirit” in our lives.
St. Paul is not inventing this metaphor on his own. Jesus himself in numerous places in the gospels urged his followers to live lives that bear fruit. In the gospel of John Jesus, for example, says:
My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples” and “You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name (John 15:8,16).
In his letters, St. Paul continually urges Christians to bear fruit.
…We have not ceased praying for you and asking that…you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God (Col 1:10).
In his letter to the Galatians St. Paul contrast the “works of the flesh” with the “fruit of the spirit.”
Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these (Gal 5: 19-21)….By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness(Gal 5: 22).
It is important to note that the “works of the flesh” are plural, but its opposite, the “fruit of the spirit,” is singular. St. Paul does not call them the “fruits” of the spirit as if we could display some but not others, but rather groups them into one. We can’t have one without all the others if we are to manifest signs of the presence of Christ Jesus in our lives. The fruit of the spirit is made manifest when all together and at the same time are on display in our lives.
The list that enumerates the “fruit of the spirit” in Galatians is not the only listing of moral virtues found in St. Paul’s writings. In Colossians, we find a similar list:
As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience (Col 3:12).
In 2 Corinthians, St. Paul cites the example of his own manner of life and that of his band of fellow evangelists when he writes:
…[A]s servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: …by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left…” (2 Cor 6:4–7).
In the list of the virtues found in Galatians, Colossians, and 2 Corinthians we always find “patience” and “kindness.”
We find those two virtues listed again when in 1 Cor. 13, one of the most renowned passages in all of St. Paul’s writing, he describes the meaning of love (another aspect of the “fruit of the spirit”). St. Paul begins with these simple words: “Love is patient; love is kind….”
Here again, we see the interrelatedness of the Christian virtues. To describe love, St. Paul turns to patience and kindness. (All three are found in the list of the “fruit of the spirit” in Galatians.) I’m sure that if St. Paul were to describe kindness, he would at a minimum turn to love and patience to give shape to his description. That’s why love, patience, and kindness are elements of the “fruit of the spirit” and not separate fruits of the spirit.
St. Paul goes on to describe how love is kind and patient. “Love,” he continues, “is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth” (1 Cor 13:4–6). Love and kindness are integrally connected, but to exhibit full kindness to someone, we need to embody all the elements that St. Paul lists in his description of the “fruit of the spirit”: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, and faithfulness.”
St. Paul compiled the list we find in Galatians to describe how Christians should behave toward one another and as a tool to urge them to live in a manner consistent with the teachings and example of Jesus Christ. When we act in accordance with his teaching and example, it can be said that our lives are bearing fruit. St. Paul’s description of the fruit that we who follow Jesus should seek to bear, particularly as it relates to how we live and work with others, gives us both a helpful checklist and a way of discerning whether we are living our lives in accordance with the teaching and example of Jesus.