The lectionary reading from the Letters for the 6th Sunday after Pentecost is Galatians 5:1, 13-25, a passage that includes Paul's discussion of the fruit of the Spirit. I'd like to share an excerpt from my newly published book Unfettered Spirit: Spiritual Gifts for the New Great Awakening, in which I take up the importance of this fruit to the Spirit-filled life.
I’ve already mentioned the fruit of the Spirit, and we return to them now. Jesus says of humanity, “you will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles?” (Mt. 7:16). The Christian community, if it’s to be salt and light, will be a community that gives evidence of its relationship with God through the fruit it bears. Paul’s list of the nine “fruits of the Spirit” stands as a marker of the church’s spiritual health. On this basis, Phil Kenneson believes that the church is in fact seriously ill. In spite of apparent numerical growth, at least within the Evangelical community, the church today is “simply cultivating at the center of its life the seeds that the dominant culture has sown in its midst.” The nine “fruits” that serve as markers of spiritual health are “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23). Each of these markers of spiritual health undergird human relationships, they enable a person to put the needs and concerns of the other in a position of priority. While the fruit is a permanent expression of the Spirit’s presence, spiritual gifts are temporary expressions designed for ministry within the body and in the world at large (1 Cor. 13:8).
If the fruit of the Spirit define Christian character, then love is the foundation of Christian life and experience (Eph. 4:17-19, Gal. 5:22-23). It defines the Christian faith precisely because God is love (1 Jn. 4:7-8). Ontologically, we could define love, in the words of Paul Tillich, not as emotion but as “the drive towards the unity of the separated.” Love (agape) seeks the best for the other, even when the intention of the other is evil. Again, I turn to Thomas Oord for help in providing a definition – this time, of agape.
I define agape as acting intentionally, in response to God and others, to promote overall well-being in response to that which produces ill-being.
Oord calls agape as “in spite of love.” Thus, it becomes the foundation of the ministry of reconciliation to which we have been called. This principle finds its connection to human life in the person of Jesus, in whom God reconciles all things to himself and makes all things new (2 Cor. 5:16-21, Eph. 2:11-22).
[Unfettered Spirit, pp. 88-89]