Is Love the only fruit?

Every now and then I see someone read about the fruits of the Spirit in Gal 5:23-25 and pause at the singular use of the word “fruit”. Invariably, someone will say that the fruit of the Spirit is love, and that love expresses itself in all the other traits listed in Galatians.

I think that’s missing Paul’s point. By quite a bit, actually.

The rest of the story

Let’s back up and take a quick look at how the words “fruit” and “fruits” are used in the Bible.

If I do a quick read of all the appearances of both the word “fruit” and “fruits” in the OT and NT, I see at least two consistencies (I’m using the ESV. Other translations may have different words):

  1. The words are used interchangeably. That is, the Bible doesn’t seem too concerned to describe “fruits” as one thing, and “fruit” as something different. The same words are used interchangeably whether they’re used to describe one item in a basket or many items in a basket.
  2. The fruit passages are concerned with fruit as a clear revelation of the condition of one’s heart.
  • Know them by their fruit: Matt 3:8-10; 7:15-20 – repeated in 12:33-37 [must be important], paralleled in Lk 6:43-45;
  • Parable of the sower explained. Only the fruit-bearing seed are worth anything: Matt 13:18-23 (paralleled in Mk 4:10-20; Lk 8:9-15)
  • Only fruit-bearing trees/branches are spared. The rest are burned in fire: Lk 3:7-9; Lk 13:9; Jn 15:1-10
  • Results of lifestyle (both good and bad): Rom 6:20-23; 7:4-6; Rev 18:14; Rev 22:2
  • Results of nurturing the Body of Christ: Col 1:3-10

In short – the heart, not the fruit, is the focus of the passages. Fruit is how you can tell where a heart is.

Back to Galatians

With that brief overview in mind, it seems to me that if we spend too much time focusing on whether or not love in Gal 5 is a singular fruit, we run the risk of missing the forest for the tree. Gal 5 is quite intent on giving us information on how to differentiate works of the flesh from works of the Spirit. One produces “sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy,  drunkenness, orgies, and things like these”. The other produces ” love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” That’s Paul’s primary point, and we need to spend most of our time and focus where he places it before we tend to any rabbit trails that may be nearby.

Having dealt with the primary issue, we can turn our attention to some secondary questions:

Do all sins of the heart come as a singular package?
No. If you don’t have the Spirit, you may not have a temper or suffer from divisions or be a slave to sexual immorality – but you’re still producing thorns of some kind or another, and you’re not one of His, then Jesus has some bad news for you: you’re heading to the fires of Judgment.

Do all the fruits come as a singular package?
Actually, yes! If the Spirit is working in you, then *all* of your heart will be moving in His direction. Thank God He doesn’t sanctify 1 or 2 parts of us – He sanctifies our entire being (I just wish He’d do it all at once! 😉 )

For what it’s worth, the OT almost always deals with “fruit” as a tangible/edible item used for offerings, trade, gifts, etc. A few exceptions can be found in Psalms, where the word fruit is used in the same way it’s used in the NT – to talk about the byproduct of good or evil hearts. Of particular interest it its use in Ps 109, the Iscariotic Psalm. That’s the Psalm with the 30 curses for Judas Iscariot [Recall that Jesus was betrayed for 30 pieces of silver]. Definitely a good and sobering read.)

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