I have posted several meditations on what St. Paul calls the “fruit of the spirit” (Galatians 5:22). The last post focused on “Kindness.” In this post, I would like to reflect more generally on what this “fruit” might mean for you personally.

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.  

The way we live and work with other people witnesses directly to our own spiritual formation and maturity. If we live in peace with one another, demonstrating our kindness, love, and generosity with others, we demonstrate that Christ indeed lives in us.  On the other hand, if we are angry most of the time, our lives do not witness to the love of Christ, something that all those who follow Jesus are called to embody and show to the world.  Jesus told his disciples very clearly that they were to love one another just as he had loved them.  

In the New Revised Standard of the Bible, the version used most often in the Episcopal Church today, St. Paul’s words are translated in this way: “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness” (Gal 5: 22).

Each of these words contain a vast treasure of meaning for us.  After all, what does it really mean to love another person or to be a person of peace? How are we to be kind and gentle toward others? 

The Message is a paraphrased translation of the Bible. Eugene Peterson, its author, does not call his translation the Bible, as he does not want his version to be confused with more literal translations.  His version seeks to express what the passage means for us today in our current context using simple, but contemporary language. As a result, it functions best as a companion to more literal translations of the Bible.  I find that after I read a passage in the NRSV, I often want to see what Peterson makes of it in The Message

The paraphrase of Galatians 5:22-23 in the Message is as follows:      

But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.

The way in which Peterson unfolds what St. Paul means by the fruit of the spirit is brilliant: “[God] brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard….”   

The purpose of a fruit tree is to produce fruit.  Similarly, Jesus calls those who follow him to bear spiritual fruit by living a life that is genuinely Christ-like, a life that is peaceful, loving, gracious, forgiving, kind and generous towards one another.  

What kind of fruit are you bearing in your life?


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.


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A long time ago in high school, I bought a very small paperback book of 102 short prayers.  They were written by Malcolm L. Playfoot, “Sometime Administrator of the Society of the Companions of St. Francis.” A Saint Francis Prayer Book was published by the Society for the Preservation of Christian Knowledge (SPCK) in London in 1941. I carried it with me for years until I lost it. Then in the early 1990s, the book was reprinted and I bought another copy that I carry with me to this day.

The book contains prayers for all sorts of occasions and occurrences in our lives. There is one for “On hearing Bad News,” another “Before reading a Serious Book,” one “Before Going Shopping,” and another for “Square Pegs in round holes.”

The prayer that has most stuck in my mind, ever since I first encountered this book, is the one “For Gentleness in My Dealings.” The prayer, written long before inclusive language was the norm, goes like this:

Grant me, Lord, to be so much thine that I may fitly show thy presence in all my dealings. Give me thy patience, thy sympathy, and thy love, that wherever I may be men may see, not me, but thee.

It is not surprising that this prayer is included in a book inspired by the witness of St. Francis to the Christian virtues and manner of life. Francis endeavored to live his life in imitation of Jesus Christ. At the heart of this manner of life is a certain gentleness and peacefulness.

Each of us is created in the image of God and in the image of Christ. The reminder implicitly posed to each of us by this prayer is that each of us who endeavors to live the Christian life should also reflect the presence of Christ that is within us to those around us, that wherever we may be others may see not [you] but the presence of Christ within you.

In the letter that St. Paul wrote to the church in Philippi, he urges Christians to “Let [their] gentleness be known to everyone”(Phil. 4:5). We find descriptions of what that gentleness looks like in other places in the New Testament. It is, for example, tolerant and willing to take into consideration the opinions of others: “the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy”(James 3:17). Living this manner of life, we are also “to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show every courtesy to everyone” (Titus 3:2).  That is because true, genuine love “does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful” (1Cor. 13:5).  Finally, St. Paul sums it up when he writes: “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor” (Rom. 12:9-10).

In a genuine Christian community, each person acts with gentleness to the other, each recognizes the presence of Christ in the other, and each reflects the presence of Christ back to the other.  This reciprocity of gentleness and kindness, in imitation of Christ, is at the core of Christian ethics. Christian ethics is at its core about how we can act as Christ’s representatives in the world. Gentleness in our dealings with one another is a good place to start.

Try saying this simple short prayer for “Gentleness in my Dealings” each day. See if it begins to change the way you deal with others in your daily life.




I taught myself to play guitar in 9th grade so that I could play at the 12:30PM folk mass at my home parish in Tulsa, OK. It was the fourth worship service of the day. Often I served as an acolyte at one or two of the previous services before playing guitar and singing at the folk mass.

One of the first songs I learned to play was quite simple. It only had three chords. The 8 words of the chorus of the song, “The joy of the Lord is my strength,” were taken from the Old Testament book of Nehemiah (Neh. 8:10). The melody is nothing special, but I find the words difficult to forget. How is it that I find joy in the Lord? Where and when do I find this?  If I don’t find it or feel it, is something wrong with me? These are but a few of the questions that arise whenever this verse comes to mind. I am sure that the words are true, but I often wish that I could find that joy more often than I do.

Holy Scripture exhorts us in numerous places to find joy in our relationship with God and with one another. Saint Paul, for example, exhorts the Christians living in Philippi to “rejoice in the Lord always.” He even goes on to say that we should be thankful in all circumstances. What does he really mean by that? How can we be joyful and thankful to God for everything that happens?

St. Paul provides a hint. He writes, “Rejoice in the Lord always…. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Phil 4: 4-5). To experience joy, in other words, we have to let go. Joy is perfect freedom from worry and anxiety and at the same time thanksgiving and gratitude for what God already has given us. To find joy we have to learn to be thankful for what we have, not for what we don’t have. This flies in the face of our consumer culture in which advertisers continually remind us of what we don’t have and what we have to have to be happy. True joy comes from letting go of worry and learning to be happy with what we have. This takes practice.  That is why we learn to do this only as we grow and mature in the Christian faith.

Relax, count your blessings, be thankful to God for what you have and you will find that the joy of the Lord is your strength.







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Life is full of ebbs and flows. As we mature our resilience helps us to deal with the changes, disruptions, and upsets in our life.

The word “upset” describes an interesting phenomenon in our lives. It refers to a turning over, a dumping out, of something held or maintained. Upsets are usually unexpected.  When we are resilient, however, we are able to bounce back from them and move on with our lives.

Resilience is something learned—something we gain through practice, trial and error, and a series of upsets over a lifetime. It is not something given all at once. It is also not something that we just employ once when needed as an automatic fix. Resilience and patience go hand in hand and they are always practiced and learned over time.

When I began teaching at Temple University in the mid 1990s I was embarking on a second career—the first one being my ordination and work in the Episcopal Church. I was still a priest active in the church, often working on Sundays but I was looking to exercise different talents. When I began work there I knew my job was uncertain. The position was not a tenure-track position. There was a promise that the job would turn into one, but the university began to downsize and that never happened. I was given reassurances during my first year that all would be well next year. And the same the year after that—but then it wasn’t. The tenure line was never opened and I found myself in a place I never really expected to be—even though I knew from the start that nothing was assured and that this was always possible. Now I had to figure out how to bounce back.

I did not work for a few months as I began to search for a new job and then quite out of the blue I received a phone call from a nearby church, six miles from where I lived, for whom I had filled in on a Sunday morning a year before.  They wanted me to be their rector. Even with a new job it took me some time before I could shake off the sense of disappointment from the upset to what I had thought was a new career track for me. I found solace in the words of Psalm 37: “Take delight in the Lord, and he shall give you your heart’s desire.”

The word the New Testament uses to describe the resilience I am writing about is most often translated as “endurance” or “perseverance,” which in this context refers to the capacity to continue to bear up under difficult circumstances. This perseverance and endurance is grounded in our trust in the loving mercy of God, who always desires what is best for us.

In the epistle to the Colossians, St. Paul writes: “May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father…” (Col. 1: 11-12). Similarly, in the parable of the sower in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus says of those whose lives take root in the good soil, that“these are the ones who, when they hear the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patient endurance” (Lk. 8:15).  Patient endurance. The two words go hand in hand.

When upset or even disaster strikes someone’s life and they have difficulty dealing with it over time, we often say that their life went “off the rails.” There are of course no rails in life. None of us lives on a track that takes us directly to our destination—whatever that may be.  There are always detours, upsets, and dead ends along the way. How we deal with the things that disrupt our lives is a measure of our own resilience.

The way we learn resilience is not by doing everything in our power to avoid upsets but by facing them head on and doing everything we can not to give up or despair (for too long) but to bounce back. No matter how strong or determined we are, bouncing back often takes time. When we have a community of people who support us, bouncing back is made easier, even when it is a daunting task for us.

Life has its ebbs and flows. Our trust in God, the support of those who love and care for us, and our own resilience help us through the best and the worst of times.

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