"Fruit of the Spirit"
Lesson Set Bible Background and Lesson Objectives
Scripture: Galatians 5:22-23a*
"...the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity,** faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control." (NRSV)
* See the Endnotes for why we chose to just focus on verses 22-23a for children.
** "generosity" or "goodness" See the Word Study below for an explanation and to learn more about Paul's word choice.
Lesson Set Learning Objectives:
1. Students will learn to recite from memory Paul's "Fruit of the Spirit" (Galatians 5:22-23a), each to the best of their ability.
2. Students will be able to share examples of the kinds of attitudes and behaviors described by each fruit and what we can do to let the Spirit "grow" these good fruits in our lives.
3. Students will understand that when they practice the fruit of the Spirit in their lives, they are not only showing that they are followers of Jesus, but they are also acting like Jesus!—and letting the Holy Spirit bless others through their actions.
A "Fruit of the Spirit" Bible Background
Paul was inspired to write his famous "Fruit of the Spirit" in response to a serious problem taking place in the churches of Galatia—churches that he had founded during his first missionary journey (printable map) and felt personally responsible for. (See the Endnotes about a similar issue in Colossians.)
False teachers were telling new Galatian Christians that, in addition to believing in Jesus, they had to follow the rituals and practices of the Law of Moses, including being circumcised, observing certain Holy Days, avoiding certain foods, and so forth—to be truly righteous (justified) before God (Galatians 2:4). When Paul hears about this, he writes an anguished and personal letter to the Galatians reminding them that "for freedom Christ has set us free! Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery." (Galatians 5:1)
How then should the followers of Christ live and demonstrate their faith? By bearing the fruit of the Spirit in their lives: sharing love, joy, and peace—being patient, kind, generous, and practicing self-control.
The following 7-minute video is a terrific explanation of the problem Paul was addressing in the early Church about the "Judaizers" misleading new Christians in places like Galatia. (FYI, this video is good for older children and youth, as well as adults!)
Here's a quick recap of some of Galatian's famous verses:
I am shocked that you are turning away so soon from God,
...You are being fooled by those who deliberately
twist the truth concerning Christ.
...yet we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law
but through faith in Jesus Christ. (or "the faith of Jesus Christ")
Don’t use your freedom (from the law) to satisfy your sinful nature.
Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love.
Live by the Spirit!
But what does it mean to "live by the Spirit"?
How do you show you are a follower of Jesus
if you no longer have your old rituals, old rules,
and old religion to guide you?
We practice our faith by doing the fruit of the Spirit.
The fruit of the Spirit is what followers of Jesus do. They are the "fruits by which they are known." (Mt 7:16) And when we let the Spirit grow these fruits in our lives, when we open our lives to Jesus, not only are we blessed, but our lives become a blessing to others.
In other words: "Be like Jesus."
Be loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, generous, faithful, gentle,
and practice self-control.
Word Study: Let's munch on each fruit to understand what Paul meant.
"Karpos," the Greek word that Paul uses for "fruit" in Galatians 5:22 is a singular that's also a plural—what grammarians call a "countable and uncountable noun." Traditionally, English translations translate "Karpos" singularly as "fruit" to emphasize its singular source in the Spirit. (See the Endnotes for more on "fruit vs fruits" of the Spirit.)
Karpos in Greek generally means any kind of harvested "produce," including vegetables, nuts, olives, grains, berries, and all the typical "fruits." (So yes, you can be a nut or a brussel sprout for Jesus. )
"Fruit" is also a familiar Bible metaphor for spiritual growth and "producing" good things. In the first chapter of Genesis, God tells us to "be fruitful and multiply." In Romans 8, Paul calls the first-generation Christians the "first fruits" of salvation. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul describes Jesus as the "first fruits."
By choosing "fruit" as his metaphor, instead of something bland like "law of the Spirit" or "behaviors of the Spirit," Paul is reminding his audience that fruit is something that grows and needs to be tended, tastes sweet, is nourishing, and meant to be shared. (Roots and soil are also part of the metaphor.) Jesus himself used "growth" and "fruit" metaphors in his teachings about fig trees, mustard seeds, sowers, fields, soil, and most famously when he described HIMSELF as "the vine" in John 15:5...
I am the vine, you are the branches.
Those who abide (continue) in me and I in them
(will) bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.
What's the secret to growing good fruit in your life? Making Jesus your vine!
Paul's "fruit of the Spirit" gets at this same idea
—letting the Holy Spirit fill you and work through you.
Below is a short word study of what each of the nine fruit meant to Paul when he wrote them.
An abbreviated chart of the following can be used with any of the lessons as a quick reference. It includes "synonyms" for each fruit.
Paul uses one of his favorite and famous words here: "agape" which means "unconditional love." Under the "old" Law (Covenant, Testament), salvation was conditional upon your obedience. Jesus' sacrifice on the cross, however, taught us that God's love is unconditional, and we should love others the same way: sacrificially and unconditionally like Jesus. Check 1 Corinthians 13 for details!
Paul's word for "joy" is the Greek word χαρά (chara) which can mean simply "joy, gladness." It is also a word used to welcome and bless others as in "joy to you." χαρά comes from the same root word as χάρις (charis) which means "grace," as in "Grace to you." Paul is telling us to be joyful and gracious to others, even when it's hard. Like all the fruits, it is a gift of the Holy Spirit. a way of looking at the world and other people through God's joyful and gracious heart.
Peace (εἰρήνη, Eirene) is another one of Paul's favorite words and Jesus' too! Peace is a rich word that describes a state of tranquility, calm, a feeling of safety, and actions that bring harmony, justice, and healing. Peace is not simply something the Spirit gives you; it is something the Spirit brings to other people through you.
Paul's Greek word for patience is μακροθυμία (makrothumia) which literally means "long passion," "long temper," "slow to anger." Taking your time, as opposed to being hot-tempered or reactionary. Some English Bibles, like the NIV, translate "makrothumia" as "forbearance" (lit. "enduring," self-control) which is sometimes synonymous with "forgiveness." Paul's patience fruit is more about controlling your temper, cutting people some slack, and thinking before acting or before opening your mouth.
In Philippians 2:3-4, Paul defines "kindness" (χρηστότης, chréstotés) as being unselfish and looking out for the interests of others. That's a lot deeper than the usual definition of kindness which is something like "being polite." Paul's next fruit is very similar but suggests doing better than just "be good."
"GENEROSITY" (or "goodness" in some translations)
Paul uses a very interesting word here which some English Bibles translate as "goodness" but the NRSV translates more specifically as "generosity." Why the difference? Paul's word choice here (ἀγαθωσύνη, agathosune) describes a kind of goodness that is "useful," or "beneficial" toward others. This is similar to Jesus' teaching to "go the extra mile." Children may think of "generosity" in terms of "giving money," but the "generosity of spirit" that Paul hints at includes "being accepting, tolerant, and considerate." Children often hear "be good," as a warning to not do bad! ...But here Paul is saying DO good.
Faithfulness is another one of Paul's favorite words. More than just "have faith." Paul's word for "faithfulness" (πίστις, Pistis) suggests "strength, endurance, steadfastness, and being trustworthy." A Christian whose faith is strong allows them to be strong for others, stand with them in times of trouble, be someone whom others can trust.
Paul could have used other Greek words that mean "gentle," but instead, he used the word πρᾳΰτης (prautes). The modern definition of "gentle" is something that is soft and sweet, not harsh, or hard. But Paul's word for "gentleness" (prautes) means being humble, meek, forgiving, considering others' needs ahead of your own, knowing you need God, being willing to seek help. It takes strength to truly "be gentle," the kind of strength the Spirit gives.
Galatians 5 is the only letter of Paul that uses an unusual Greek word we translate as "self-control." ἐγκράτεια (egkrateia) literally means "restraint, mastery, temperance, control" over body, mind, or soul. We might call it "self-disciplined." Interestingly, "krateia" comes from the word "Kratos" which is only used to describe God's "mighty" power. Is Paul saying true self-control comes from God's power in us? Yes! From his other letters, we know that Paul struggled with sin and a "thorn" in his flesh (Rom 7, II Cor 12) which tells us that even with the Spirit living within us, being fruit is not easy!
And so we pray: "Lord, make me an example and instrument of... your love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and restraint."
You can learn more about the Greek definitions described above in this online resource.
Why only verses 22-23a?
Why didn't we include "There is no law against such things."
When teaching many of Paul's verses to children, "less is usually more" and that's clearly the case with Paul's fruit. Including the second half of verse 23: "There is no law against such things," doesn't enhance learning about the fruit, rather, it just takes more lesson time away from learning about the fruit. If you do want to include it, keep in mind that "the Law" he's referring to are those Jewish practices, rituals, feasts, dietary restrictions, and ways of dressing, as well as circumcision that he has already talked about in Galatians 5 (and can get complicated where kids are concerned). Paul is speaking to Judaized Gentiles that they are free from those rules. Some might also want to include all of verse 24's "crucified the flesh." But that TOO is a heavy-duty concept that isn't directly connected to the fruit, but rather, to another theme in Galatians. Taking a tip from Paul, we have exercised our "freedom" to stay focused on the fruit
Paul's similar "fruit tree" metaphor in Colossians
In his letter to the Colossians, Paul seems to be dealing with the same issue as with the Galatians—that of "Judaizers" (as they were historically called) trying to reimpose the Law of Moses on Christian converts. Using the same "growth" metaphor, but not mentioning "fruits," Paul writes in Colossians 2:6-8...
...continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition...."
Fruit or Fruits of the Spirit?
In English, "fruit" is what's called a "countable and uncountable" noun, meaning, both "fruit" and "fruits" can be plural. Theologians and translators tend to prefer using the singular "fruit of the Spirit" to emphasize their singular source in the Spirit and the idea that we should exhibit all nine traits in order to say we are fully living by the Spirit.
As you can quickly see in this comprehensive survey of how the Bible translators have translated "Karpos" (the Greek word that Paul uses for fruit), the choice of "fruit" or "fruits" is variable. Matthew's Gospel uses the word "Karpos" quite a bit, but it is translated both ways (see Matthew 7:16 for example).
English is a messy language, and thus, we should practice "kindness and generosity" with children learning the fruits or fruit of the Spirit, instead of acting like a teacher of the Law. For freedom, Christ has set us free! (Gal 5:1)
The images of the "heart tree" and the green, grapevine are from Shutterstock.
The cartoon image of the vine and branches is unattributed.
The photo of watermelon in the logo is from Kenta Kikuchi @ Unsplash.
Written by the Rev Neil MacQueen with contributions from
the Writing Team and members of the Board of Directors.