Word of the Week
January 7, 2022
Karpos: The Multi-Faceted Fruit
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, . . .
A tomato is a fruit.
That doesn’t seem right to me. I can see apples, oranges and grapes as fruit, but a tomato?
You probably won’t find tomatoes alongside bananas in the grocery aisle, but a botanist would officially designate them as fruit, according to dictionary.com/e/fruit-vs-vegetable. To a scientist, anything edible that develops from a flower into something that contains seeds counts as a fruit.
For most of us, a fruit is one of those sweet-tasting items like bananas or cherries – something that you would put in a fruit salad.
Fruit is always a treat, and that’s true for the kind of fruit that you find in the New Testament. One of the classic passages on spiritual growth is Paul’s inventory of the “fruit of the Spirit” in Galatians 5. For the next few weeks, we are going to work our way through the list of virtues that he provides, digging into the Greek words he uses.
We begin at the beginning, with the Greek word for “fruit.” Then we will come back and examine the individual kinds of fruit that God wants to produce in our lives.
The Greek word for fruit is karpos, which appears 66 times in the New Testament. It covers a pretty wide range of natural products, not quite the same list used in modern botany textbooks or your neighborhood produce section. It includes fruit grown on trees (Matthew 12:33) like fig trees (Matthew 21:19). It covers grapes, the fruit grown in a vineyard (1 Corinthians 9:7). It can even describe a grain like wheat (Matthew 13:26). It even appears as a description of a baby when Elizabeth greets Mary by exclaiming, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” (Luke 1:42.
That literal meaning easily transfers over to figurative descriptions of spiritual realities. John the Baptist urged his hearers to bring forth fruit worthy of repentance (Matthew 3:8). Jesus taught that you could discern genuine disciples by their fruit (Matthew 7:16-20). The natural outcome of a life devoted to sin produces “fruit” much different from a life freed from sin and united with God (Romans 6:21-22).
What are the core concepts conveyed by this imagery of fruit?
- Fruit is the natural product of something that is alive. You don’t get apples by carving them from wood and hanging them on a tree. The tree produces them spontaneously.
- Fruit ripens at a natural pace. You can water the plant and provide fertilizer, but you can’t do much to make oranges ripen a month early.
- The quality and quantity of fruit is determined by the quality of the tree. As Jesus said, “Every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit” (Matthew 7:17).
- The type of tree determines the type of fruit. Pear trees produce pears, not plums.
The New Testament talks about several different kinds of fruit. Paul hoped to produce some fruit by visiting the church in Rome – possibly new converts or more mature believers (Romans 1:13). He told the Philippians that he planned to engage in fruitful labor as long as he remained alive (Philippians 1:22). In one case, the fruit of the Gentile churches was a large offering to help the needy brethren in Judea (Romans 15:28). Hebrews 13:15 says that the fruit of thankfulness is a sacrifice of praise offered in worship to God. It’s quite a variety of fruitfulness!
However, we are interested in the kind of fruit that Paul describes in Galatians 5:22-23. In this passage, we are not talking about converts or contributions; we are dealing with character. A 9-item list of character qualities fleshes out the details, and w can make several observations as we prepare to look more deeply at this cornucopia.
- Like any fruit, these qualities aren’t manufactured by human techniques. They are the result of natural growth powered by the tree or vine. The power comes from the Holy Spirit, and these traits will develop gradually as the Spirit works in us.
- Fruit develops at its own pace. As my pastor often says, “You can’t become holy in a hurry.”
We have a part to play in actively seeking God and dealing with anything that hinders our relationship with Him. But only the Spirit changes us on the inside.
- The word “fruit” in Galatians is singular, reminding us that the real fruit is Christ-like character, which displays all these qualities. We don’t have the option of picking one trait and ignoring the rest.
Jesus underscored the central truth in the Upper Room when He told His disciples, “I am the vine, you are the branches; the one who remains in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:7). If you want the fruit, stay connected to the vine!
You can supplement this study by looking at two related words:
- Akarpos – “fruitless” (Matthew 13:22; 1 Corinthians 14:14; Ephesians 5:11; Titus 3:14; 2 Peter 1:8; Jude 12.
- Karpophroeō – “to bear fruit” (Mark 4:20; Romans 7:4-5; Colossians 1:6, 10).
You can jump immediately into a study of the first parts of the “fruit of the Spirit,” because we have already written studies on those two words.
Love – agape – https://ezraproject.com/agape-and-phileo-multi-level-love/
Joy – chara – https://ezraproject.com/chara-joy-to-the-world/
Next week we will move to the next character quality: peace. It’s one that we sorely need these days!
©Ezra Project 2023