There is great danger in Paul’s image of the fruit of the Spirit. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and especially self-control are ripe for the abuse of works righteousness. It is easy to take this fruit and turn it into an ethical treatise on how one must live one’s life. This is especially true in the context of the whole lesson from Galatians 5 that is appointed for Proper 8c. It is tempting to take this fruit, allow it to rot, and to chuck it at other disciples who we have deemed “not fruitful.”
But this is a serious misreading of the text because the reality, at least my view of it, isn’t that an apple tree works to make apples, but that an apple tree is because it produces apples. Does that make sense? Let me say it another way. The fruit of the Spirit are precisely that, of the Spirit. They are in no way the result of our own work, but simply what happens to those who have been caught up in the power of the Spirit. These laudable qualities, “against which there is no law,” are the natural result of the Spirit’s work in our lives.
That being said, it is no doubt true that we can work to cultivate the fruit tree. When we are walking close to the will of God, fertilized by the Word, we will no doubt produce better fruit in higher yields, but even when the Father seems far away, even when the Word is hard to hear, the Spirit remains, working within us to unite us to the Father. As Paul wrote to open this passage (and is reiterated strongly in Romans 8), we have been set free in Christ. We are set free such that the Spirit will produce fruit in our lives, even as we attempt to yoke ourselves once again to the bad soil of self-preservation. As Christians, it is in our very nature to produce good fruit, the outpouring of the Spirit. So relax. Don’t work so hard to do what you can’t help but do in God, and instead, focus on the Spirit at work within you. Allow yourself to be set free to let the Spirit produce in abundance.