This guest post is by Jeffrey Kranz, who writes more Bible-study material at OverviewBible.com.
As Paul wraps up his brief, gospel-centered rant to the Galatians, he tells the church what it looks like to walk by the Holy Spirit. This call to live in the Spirit culminates with a list of nine qualities the Spirit produces in Christians.
Paul calls them the fruit of the Spirit:
(This is all from Galatians 5:22–23.)
Christians through the ages have latched onto this list. If you grew up in the church (like I did), you’ve been thoroughly exposed to the fruit of the Spirit. You’ve seen cross-stitches, paintings, greeting cards, and cartoons. You’ve heard sermons and small-group pep-talks. You’ve read devotionals and blog posts and cheesy, cheesy calendars.
But a list of these qualities can often leave us wondering, “what do these look like in real life?”
Turns out the Bible gives us plenty of examples of these qualities in action. I’ve put together a quick study on the fruit of the Spirit, and paired each attribute with a Bible character that sets a good example in that area.
On second thought, this “quick study” turned out to be quite a bit longer than we’d originally planned. I’ll break it down into digestible chunks over the next few posts.
Fruit of the Spirit: love
The Greek word Paul uses for “love” is agape, which is a little broader than the romantic meaning we have for love today. This sort of love means “good will toward others, the love of our neighbor, brotherly affection, which the Lord Jesus commands and inspires”. This unconditional love is a fruit of the Holy Spirit in us.
Example of love: Ruth
Ruth gives us a good example of this kind of love. For those of you unfamiliar with Ruth’s story, it goes a little something like this:
- Ruth marries a Hebrew man who’s travelling in her country.
- Ruth’s husband dies after 10 years of marriage.
- Ruth’s mother-in-law, a widow, returns to Israel.
- Ruth returns to Israel with her.
- Ruth works in the fields to support her mother-in-law.
Obviously, the story gets a lot happier toward the ending (which we’ll get to later on). But Ruth’s loving loyalty to Naomi, her mother-in-law, is remarkable. When Ruth’s husband dies and Naomi wants to leave for Israel, Ruth holds onto Naomi and cries:
“Do not urge me to leave you or turn back from following you; for where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. Thus may the LORD do to me, and worse, if anything but death parts you and me.” (Ru 1:16–17)
So Ruth goes back to Israel with Naomi and volunteers to gather food for the two of them to eat.
And by the end of the story Ruth becomes a bit of a town hero. The women of the town cheer to Naomi: “Your daughter-in-law, who loves you [. . .] is better to you than seven sons” (Ru 4:15).
What an example of love! Ruth devoted herself to seeking what was best for Naomi. What if we were that committed to loving one another?
Fruit of the Spirit: joy
I’ve heard a lot of people talk about the differences between joy and happiness, but when Paul says joy is a fruit of the Spirit, he’s talking about genuine gladness. This joy is a by-product of walking in the Spirit, and it’s directly tied to faith in the gospel (Ro 14:7).
Example of joy: Paul
And Paul is a fantastic example of Christian joy. He finds delight no matter what his circumstances. Listen to some of the things Paul writes to the church in Philippi:
“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all . . . .” (Php 1:34)
“Even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all. You too, I urge you, rejoice in the same way and share your joy with me.” (Php 2:17–18)
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!” (Php 4:4)
Here’s the kicker: Paul wrote this in prison. When you read these words, you don’t get the idea that Paul’s faking it. He’s really, really glad. His identity is in Christ, and nothing is going to get him down.
If Paul isn’t an example of joy, I don’t know what is.
A few thoughts on love and joy
Looking at these biblical heroes challenges me:
- Whom can I show loving devotion to—the way Ruth did to Naomi?
- Do I love my neighbor this way? If not, why?
- Am I as steadfastly joyful as Paul?
- Am I encouraging others to rejoice as well?
Of course, these examples are still fallible humans. They do help us see what love and joy look like in real life, though.
Who are your examples?
Which Bible character (or Christian figure, for that matter) comes to mind for you when you think of love or joy? I’d love to hear about it.
Coming up next: peace and patience!
 Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2000).