Fruit and veg of the Spirit?
Many will be familiar with St Paul’s list of fruit of the Spirit given in Galatians: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. These are the attributes that he gives of a person or community living in accord with the Holy Spirit.
But is that it? Did Paul mean that as an exclusive list – or are there more qualities that he missed off? Some that didn’t make the final cut? Anyway, why fruit and not veg?
And so what?
Vegetables of the Spirit
Dan R Dick wrote a great post some time ago on what he imagined was omitted from Paul’s list. He called these the Vegetables of the Spirit.
In a flight of fancy, he ‘discovered’ a lost letter to the Cappadocians:
Certainly, brothers and sisters, we all seek the fruit of the Spirit; to live in a world of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, but we cannot enjoy the fruits without first suffering the vegetables.
As children we indulged ourselves in treats, ignoring that which is necessary to keep us strong and healthy in favor of that which is sweet, but will give us a bellyache if we indulge too much. No, our Father who knows what is good for us gives us the important, which is often not sweet or good tasting, so that we might thoroughly enjoy the good, which fills us with delight. Mature Christians, brothers and sisters, live a balanced diet, producing both the fruits and the vegetables of the Spirit.
Now the vegetables of the Spirit are these: duty, commitment, justice, perseverance, mercy, sacrifice, compassion, tolerance and accountability. By these things you will be known as people who have truly given themselves to God. The more you attend to these things, the quicker you will come to enjoy the fruits that accompany them. So, deny not these vegetables, but produce them in equal measure to the fruits.
It’s not a showy list and you get the impression that Dan didn’t like veg much as a child! But they’re all understated qualities being demonstrated day-in and day-out by faithful people who don’t want to shout about them. But all are vital and necessary to make the whole work.
Rich Gerberding has also been thinking deeply about this over the years. He has a more assertive view on the role of veg in the diet!
Rich’s Vegetables of the Spirit are: Risk, greatness, boldness, conflict, courage and passion.
And he points out the difference between fruit and veg:
- The Search: Fruit are easier to spot and identify than vegetables. You see fruit as soon as you see the trees. If you’re not familiar with vegetables, you may not even know which are edible. Spiritually, the fruit have a spotlight on them, being introduced by “The fruit of the Spirit is…”. The Vegetables are qualities that you’ll find scattered throughout the Bible, present but without fanfare.
- The Harvest: Dressed in your finest clothes you can still grab an apple off the tree and be on your way. It’s less likely you would grab a fork and dig up potatoes without changing first. A life defined purely by the fruit may seem clean and virtuous, but when you look at Christian lives with lasting impact, you’ll find the veg too… and a few messes from getting in the dirt for Christ.
- The Taste: Before children even have teeth, they have a sweet tooth. Babies started on fruit-based baby food are often difficult to transition to broccoli. Even as adults we follow this trend. In a Christian culture where getting along is the top priority, the fruit may appear to provide those goals but will only get you so far without the impact of the vegetables.
- The Response: This category is the result of the other three. The traits that are easy to find, embrace and make you feel good are going to gather a larger following than those requiring more work, difficulty and effort.
Rich now likes to think of these qualities as ‘forgotten fruit’, so that they are more an extension of Paul’s list in Galatians rather than setting up a ‘vegetable’ versus ‘fruit’ debate! Take a look at Rich’s post – and there’s a book on the way!
Taking, or making, stock
My first reaction on seeing Rich’s list was ‘Wow! Why didn’t Paul go for those? How different would the church be if he’d gone for those qualities instead?’
They’re the qualities with which you’d associate many of the prophets in Hebrew scripture. Think Elijah and Elisha rather than Jonah though! John the Baptist would be another great example. But aren’t they qualities that we should all aspire to?
Last Sunday at our Café church service at St John with St Mark, we looked at these three lists of fruit and veg of the Spirit. This was the third session in our series on ‘Setting God’s People Free‘ and it helped to emphasise the vast range of ways that the Spirit can work in our lives.
We added to Rich’s thoughts about the differences between fruit and veg by thinking about the amount of preparation and cooking time that many vegetables need before you can eat them. When you consider Rich’s list of more extrovert qualities it was a good reminder that you need to be careful and thoughtful with how you prepare to use them since they could affect a lot of people very quickly.
By the same token some fruit can be surprisingly sour rather than sweet! You might get a result that you’re not quite expecting when you take a bite… so even with Paul’s regular list of fruit you need to take precautions.
Our group felt it was passion and risk taking that are most missing from church today and a big factor in how (in)effective the church can be. We need more prophets, more John the Baptists! But we thought greatness was something bestowed because someone exercised other abilities and qualities (including servant-hood if you think of the discussion between Jesus and the disciples) and went for leadership in our list instead.
So our ‘power’ list was: Leadership, taking risks, boldness, facing conflict, courage and passion.
A balanced diet
So, we have both fruit and veg of the Spirit:
- St Paul: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
- Dan: Duty, commitment, justice, perseverance, mercy, sacrifice, compassion, tolerance and accountability.
- Rich: Risk, greatness, boldness, conflict, courage and passion (or our version of leadership, taking risks, boldness, facing conflict, courage and passion).
Put all those qualities together like that (though I’m sure we could each come up with more besides) and it reminds you of Jesus doesn’t it?…
And the ‘so what’ is that for us to effectively be the body of Jesus Christ on Earth we need to embody as many of those qualities as possible. A truly vibrant, attractive, loving and committed church – which makes a difference to the community in which they exist – needs all these qualities and needs them in balance too.
We have to learn how best to nurture all these qualities, to not let any lie dormant and to provide the right conditions for their regular use.
Both Dan and Rich went carefully through scripture to come up with their suggestions. Do you agree with their conclusions? What other qualities or attributes would you put on your list?
[This post was written by Ian Banks. Please visit his earlier post on Rublev’s icon or for sermons by Ian follow this link. For more about St John & St Mark, Bury please visit our ‘about’ page. We’d welcome your comments.]