By Melissa McLaughlin
It was the perfect fall day in Pennsylvania. The leaves were just beginning their autumnal costume change, preparing for the next act. Glimmers of yellow, orange and red leaves flitted among the green with just a hint of the coming glory.
Our family arrived at the apple orchard ready for the flavorful taste of just-picked apples. As far as the eye could see were row upon row of apple trees. Some branches were heavy laden with fruit like an over-decorated Christmas tree bowing beneath the weight of bulky ornaments, while others were barren, the harvest already over.
Our first stop was the taste testing tent. Each apple now ripe for the picking was on display with a small accompanying slice awaiting eager tasters. After sampling the available apples, a diagram and directions were provided to assist apple pickers in locating their personal favorites among the acres and acres of trees.
Each of us selected our desired apples and discovered our top picks were widespread. We had a distance to travel to find each chosen apple but we determined it was worth the effort. First stop was the Golden Delicious, a gentle sweetness. Next was Crimson Crisp, a crunchy sweet-tart apple. We moved on to Jonagold, sporting a honey-tart flavor. By the end of our apple excursion, we had picked several more varieties with a robust collection of every shade of red, green and yellow.
Our joy at gathering a mixture of flavors through a wide range of apple varieties soon presented an unwanted consequence. Apples are heavy! We had filled two large bags and now as we peered off in the distance we spied our car, a tiny speck on the horizon in the far-removed parking lot. Our apple-red smiles softened a bit as we trudged along carrying our delicious, but weighty burden.
Eventually, we loaded every person, apple and sore muscle into the car to head for home. As we pulled away from the orchard we all reflected on the lovely day we had shared. Enjoying the fresh air, the bounty of God’s creation, the beauty of diversity, the joy of being alive.
The day had been a gift. A gift of simple family time. A gift of autumn’s colors and flavors. A gift of sweet remembrance of days long past.
I thought of all the days that came before this, making this gift possible. Once upon a time, many years ago, a farmer planted an apple seed. Well, quite a few apple seeds in fact. Those apple seeds needed to be nourished with the nutrients of fertile soil, refreshing rain, clean air and plentiful sunshine. In addition, the apple seeds needed protection from rampant weeds, rodents seeking an easy dinner, insects and birds on the scout for an appetizing treat. Once tall enough, the seedlings must be protected from deer and other animals gnawing on the bark. This diligent care must continue for some 4-7 years before an apple tree may be ready to bear fruit.
Imagine the time it took to grow just one of those apple trees. Years! Imagine the care. Imagine the days of sunshine and rain in just the right amounts. Imagine the protection, steady, undaunted and persistent. Imagine the nourishment day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year.
This one beautiful gift of a day for us, was actually the accumulation of many days of tender-loving-garden-care leading up to that one moment.
Through this experience, I am reminded of the difference between the Gifts of the Spirit and the Fruit of the Spirit as found in the Bible. The 9 Gifts of the Spirit: wisdom, faith, healing, miraculous powers, prophecy, distinguishing spirits, speaking in tongues and interpretation of tongues; are listed in 1 Corinthians 12:7-11 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.
Clearly the Holy Spirit is in charge and the Gifts of the Spirit are given according to heavenly plans and scales which we cannot see with the natural eye.
Contrasting this are the 9 Fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control found in Galatians 5:22-23 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
If we are honest with ourselves, we can easily see we are no more capable of producing the Fruit of the Spirit on our own, than the Gifts of the Spirit. We cannot conjure up more love or patience by giving ourselves a pep talk, trying really hard or wishing it to be so. The Fruits of the Spirit are Spirit-qualities. The Source of these qualities is God. The truth is, I don’t have more love or patience to give, it’s simply not in me. I need God as the true Source at work in my life enlarging my heart and filling it with the Spirit-qualities only Jesus can give.
Unlike gifts, fruits are not given, but grown by remaining attached to our Source, Jesus, the True Vine, as found in John 15:1-5 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.
In both cases, the Bible plainly records that believers should desire the Gifts of the Spirit and the Fruit of the Spirit. However, it is critical that we recognize the deep differences.
The Gifts of the Spirit are given for the common good. We use these gifts to display God’s glory, to reflect His power, to strengthen believers and help nonbelievers believe.
On the other hand, the Fruit of the Spirit is grown as we remain in close connection to Jesus, the Source of these God-qualities. These God-traits are the spiritual byproduct or outgrowth of our intimacy and close walk with the Lord over time. These qualities make our faith believable to others, for when we possess the Fruit of the Spirit we posses the image of Christ.
To grow as believers, we certainly need to be connected to a church family in order to enrich our worship side-by-side with others who love Jesus, to be encouraged and challenged through Biblical teaching and to participate in smaller groups for fuller, deeper bonds of Christian mentoring and love. However, we must also stay personally connected to Christ in the secret places of our hearts and lives.
How do we remain personally attached to Christ, our True Vine?
1.Praise and Worship – Psalm 113:1-3 – Praise the Lord. Praise the Lord, you his servants; praise the name of the Lord. Let the name of the Lord be praised, both now and forevermore. From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets, the name of the Lord is to be praised. Sing or speak aloud praises to God declaring His power, goodness and love!
2.Reading the Bible – Matthew 4:4 – Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'” Reading the Bible daily helps plants the seeds of God’s Word into our hearts.
3.Prayer – Psalm 141:2 – May my prayer be set before you like incense; may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice. Luke 5:16 – But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. Prayer is the most important conversation we have all day. Draw near to God’s Presence through heartfelt personal prayer.
The Gifts of the Spirit and the Fruit of the Spirit are much like our day at the apple orchard. The day itself was a gift given by our Lord through His creation and bountiful blessings. The fruit we enjoyed was grown, also the result of the Lord’s hand. Yet the fruit was grown, not given. These differing truths are illustrated in the life of a dear friend of mine.
My cherished friend has been gifted with incredible talents in the area of music and uses those skills to bless the Lord and His people by leading music ministries in her church. She sings with the voice of an angel. Her fingers fly on the keyboard like a Spirit-wind tossing notes in the air, stirring up listeners. With a nod of her head and a smile at her people, she directs the choir from the piano bench, as she plays and sings echoing the sounds of heaven. What talents she has been given! However, this gift of music, like all talents and opportunities, was given to her by the Lord. She is simply giving back to the Lord what He first gave her. Though she is showered with compliments for her astounding musical talent, what really captures the hearts of the people is her loving, kind, patient and generous spirit. These God-qualities, unlike her music skills, were not given. These qualities are the Fruit of the Spirit which grew in her heart as she remained attached to Christ. The Fruit of the Spirit in her life gives testimony to the authenticity of the songs she sings. People love her music, but even more than the music, they simply love her. Though the talents she received from God are remarkable, the Fruit of the Spirit, her Christ-likeness, is what endears her most deeply in the hearts of the people.
May we keep ourselves attached to the True Vine so that we grow in His character and likeness. This way, no matter the earthly talents or Spiritual Gifts that God may choose to bestow upon us, our faith will be genuine to a watching world as we offer the delectable Fruit of the Spirit to those hungry for Christ. Furthermore, may we remember that ultimately any talents, gifts or opportunities are not of our own doing. For anyone who has gifts in visible areas like leadership, music, writing, teaching or preaching, may we all remember the real Source of these blessings. Without a consistent reminder of God as the Giver of our gifts, we may find ourselves on a slippery slope which can quickly lead to pride, self-reliance and an erroneous sense of self-importance.
When we see that God has gifted others with earthly talents, let us encourage them to use the talents for His purposes. When we see that God has given others Gifts of the Spirit, may we glorify Him. But when we see others who evidence the Fruit of the Spirit, may we be inspired to draw near Him that we, too, may grow in the likeness of Christ.
Talents are given. May we give these back to God out of endless gratitude to our gracious Lord and Giver of all good things. Gifts are given. May we use these Spiritual Gifts to glorify our all-powerful, miracle-working, Almighty God. Fruit is grown. May we bear a bountiful harvest of Christ-likeness for a world starving for the true love only Christ can give.
Talents are given. Gifts are given. Fruit is grown.
My prayer is that I will give any talents back to the Giver and that I will use any Gifts of the Spirit to point to Him. Most of all, I pray to remain closely attached to Jesus so I may grow in the Fruit of the Spirit resembling Him more and more. One of God’s greatest displays is Christ living and loving through you and me as we grow in the Fruit of the Spirit. Will you please pray with me to that end?
Heavenly Father, you are the Giver of all good gifts. We praise you for You are mighty, holy, sovereign and true. You have demonstrated Your power in this world through miraculous deeds and You have demonstrated great love through the sacrifice of Your Son, Jesus. Help me Lord, lay any earthly talents or Spiritual Gifts at Your feet, for You to dispense and use as You see fit. Even more, through the power of the Holy Spirit, help me stay wholly, desperately and relentlessly attached to You, the True Vine, for You are the only source of my strength and the true nourishment of my soul. As I abide in You, may the Fruit of Your Spirit grow in me, to feed the spiritually hungry with Your love and Your divine goodness. In Jesus’ name and for His sake we pray, amen.
*For an in-depth series on the Fruit of the Spirit, check out Yvonne Morgan’s blog post Bearing Fruit.