Poverty, Justice and the Fruit of the Spirit

A meditation on Galatians 5.22-25 shared with the Wine Before Breakfast community on August 20, 2013.

In the beginning was fruitfulness.
And in the end, there will be fruitfulness.

From the beginning to the end,
it’s always been about fruitfulness.

A fruitful creation.
A bringing forth creation.
From the fruitfulness of the earth
to the fruit-bearing trees,
to the multiplying fruitfulness of birds, fish and animals,
to the fruitfulness of that creature who images the Creator,
it was all about fruitfulness.

In the beginning was fruitfulness.

And in the end there will be a tree of life,
with fruit borne twelve months a year,
and with leaves that will be for the healing of the nations.

In the end there is fruitfulness.

From beginning to end, it has always been about fruitfulness.

Fruitfulness is what this story is all about.
Be fruitful and multiply.
I will make of you a great nation that will bear much fruit.
Obey my word and you will be fruitful in all your ways.
You shall share the fruit of your labours,
and the poor will glean from your fields.
Israel is a vineyard and the covenant God is the vinedresser.
In exile you are to be fruitful and multiply.
I will make the wilderness bloom and bear rich fruit.
They shall plant vineyards and drink their wine,
and they shall plant gardens and eat their fruit.

This is Israel’s story,
the story of fruitfulness in covenant,
the story of a fruit-bearing creation,
the story of a fruitful community of justice,
and yet …
a story of fruitlessness when covenant is broken,
a story of bitter fruit when paths of idolatry are followed,
a story of injustice and oppression when fruitfulness is hoarded.

So Jesus comes and tells stories of fruitfulness.
There was this sower and he sowed his seed …
The Kingdom of God is like the smallest seed …
A man planted a vineyard …
I am the vine, you are the branches …
You will know them by their fruit …

it’s always been about fruitfulness,
the truth of the gospel has always been in the fruit it bears.

And the fruit of the Spirit, Paul says,
is love, joy, peace,
patience, kindness, generosity,
faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Sounds good.
Sounds like a fulfillment of our deepest longings and hopes.
But the reality seldom meets the vision.

The fruit of the Spirit is love …
while 25,000 children die daily from starvation
and we live harboring our own hatreds.

The fruit of the Spirit is joy …
while millions languish in refugee camps
and so many of us struggle with depression.

The fruit of the Spirit is peace …
while Syria, Palestine, Egypt and other nations around the world erupt
and we remain in deep conflict within ourselves and with others.

The fruit of the Spirit is patience …
while 83,000 households are on the waiting list
for subsidized housing in Toronto,
and we are crying out ‘how long’?

The fruit of the Spirit is kindness …
while more than half of all First Nations children in Canada live in poverty
and sometimes we’re just too overwhelmed to give a shit.

The fruit of the Spirit is generosity …
while every year more than 13 billion dollars is used
to service foreign debt in Africa
and maybe we get a tad too anxious when the bank account gets below a certain level.

The fruit of the Spirit is faithfulness …
while trade agreements are screwing the poor
and some of us find it pretty difficult to find sexual fidelity in our lives.

The fruit of the Spirit is gentleness …
but Trayvon Martin and Sammy Yatim were brutally gunned down
and some we find ourselves lashing out at those who we love the most.

The fruit of the Spirit is self-control …
but we live in an addictive, consumerist culture
which keeps us in an insatiable orgy consuming products,
services, and images, 24/7,
and well, we’re all addicts.

You will know them, by their fruit, Jesus says.

Paul brings this whole story of fruitfulness into sharp focus
when he writes about the fruit of the Spirit.

That Spirit who hovered over the waters in the beginning,
that Spirit who led the children of Israel from the fruitlessness
of the empire through the wastelands of the desert
to a land rich in fruit,
that Spirit who breathed through the writing of the Scriptures,
that Spirit who would lead the exiles home,
that Spirit who inspired the prophets with visions of fruitfulness,
that Spirit who rests upon the One who proclaims
the Jubilee of renewed fruitfulness in Israel,
that Spirit who falls upon the disciples at Pentecost
to lead the young church in paths of fruitfulness
that Spirit, says Paul, bears rich fruit in our lives.

And that fruit is named:

This is the fruit that the Spirit seeks to cultivate in us.
This is the fruit that has been at the heart of the story all along.

And just as Israel’s story is one of fruitfulness and barrenness,
a story rich blessing and crushing curse,
a story of faithfulness and infidelity,
so also is our own story deeply ambiguous.

We know the fruit of the Spirit when we see it,
and we are painfully aware of how our own lives do not bear such fruit.

We long for the Spirit to bear such fruit in our lives,
we strive for such fruit,
we even will submit ourselves to certain spiritual disciplines to cultivate such deeply spiritual virtues.

It is true – we are known by our fruit,
and we embrace the way of the Spirit
so that our very character will be shaped by this fruit of the Spirit,
these will be the virtues that direct our paths so profoundly
that such fruit will become second nature to us,
simply the most natural way in which we engage the world.

This is deeply personal stuff, friends,
but we also need to remember that
these virtues, this fruit of the Spirit,
cannot be limited to personal morality.

You see, these are public virtues.
If the fruit of the Spirit is the fruit by which we will be known,
then this means nothing if our political,
economic, agricultural, ecological, cultural and social lives
are not shaped by the likes of

Here’s the thing, if we reduce the fruit of the Spirit to personal piety
and private virtue,
then the fruit of the Spirit will be co-opted
by the forces of oppression,
we will be comfortable in a world of poverty and injustice,
and the Spirit will be grieved.

The fruit of the Spirit is love,
sacrificial love in a world of market exchange,
a free gift in a world where everything has its price,
a suffering love that cannot and will not
allow injustice to have the final word.

The fruit of the Spirit is joy,
a deep joy in a world where our desires are manufactured
by the ad companies,
a contented joy in a world of insatiable consumption,
a joy that must meet the world’s sorrow if it is not to be reduced
to a cheap happiness.

The fruit of the Spirit is peace,
an all-embracive shalom in a world bleeding from its wars,
a peace rooted in justice in the face of the war on the poor,
a covenant of peace in a creation groaning in travail.

The fruit of the Spirit is patience,
a quiet, non-anxious patience because we know who saves this world,
patience in a sped-up culture of quick fixes and immediate gratification,
a patience that is committed for the long haul.

The fruit of the Spirit is kindness,
a deep disposition of care in a world of harshness and indifference,
an ethos of kindness that weeps with those who weep,
an open kindness that refuses an aggressive egocentric lifestyle.

The fruit of the Spirit is generosity,
an economics of enough in the face of unspeakable affluence,
a generosity that insists that the fruitfulness of creation
is to be shared equitably by all,
a generosity that says if we are to make poverty history,
then perhaps we will have to make affluence history first.

The fruit of the Spirit is faithfulness,
a faithfulness to our God that is more concerned with obedience
than effectiveness and results,
a faithfulness that will not break faith with our most impoverished
brothers and sisters,
a faithfulness that refuses to be slaves of the empire
because we are subjects of the Kingdom.

The fruit of the Spirit is self-control,
a self-control that can say “no” to our own pleasures for the sake
of justice,
a self-control that can secede from an affluent consumerist society,
a self-control that can break our addiction to “more”.

This is the fruit of the Spirit, my friends,
this is who we are, if we are filled with the Spirit,
this is where this story of fruitfulness becomes manifest in our lives.

And there is no law against such things, writes Paul.

There is no law against

But if our lives are shaped by these fruit of the Spirit,
then we will face social disapproval,
we will face defensiveness in our churches,
in our families and in our communities,
and we will find ourselves at odds with
the principalities and powers that rule our world.

But if we live by the Spirit,
if the fruit of the Spirit is cultivated  in our lives,
then we will walk by the Spirit.

Refusing the idolatrous direction of the spirits of this age,
we will submit our lives to the leading of the Spirit of God.

And this Spirit will lead us in paths of justice,
this Spirit will lead us to embody such fruit in every thing we do,
this Spirit will make us into a community of

May it be so.
Come, Holy Spirit, Come.

Brian Walsh
Brian is an activist theologian, a retired CRC campus minister, the founder of the Wine Before Breakfast community, and farms with Sylvia Keesmaat at Russet House Farm.He engages issues of theology and culture, and has written a couple of books you might want to check out. His most recent offering is cowritten with Sylvia Keesmaat and entitled Romans Disarmed: Resisting Empire, Demanding Justice.

2 Responses to “Poverty, Justice and the Fruit of the Spirit”

  1. Jeremy Lile

    Hi Brian…any chance of this being made available in a different format? I’d love to share it and print off some copies to handout to our church community – with your permission. Let me know. Thank you so much.

  2. fruitfulness | goingbacktochurch

    […] I’m shamelessly copying part of it below.  If you like it, go read the whole thing. […]


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