On the Day of Pentecost we celebrate God’s gift of the Holy Spirit to those gathered from all nations in Jerusalem (Acts 2). In reading this remarkable chapter in the New Testament, we encounter visible expressions of the power of God among the people of God: biblical preaching, hearing the Word, translating the gospel into our own languages, repentance, baptisms, new persons experiencing salvation, teaching the scriptures, deep community, shared meals, prayers, sacrifice, and the elimination of material need by the sharing among rich and poor.
I have been blessed, in traveling throughout the Florida Conference, to witness signs of Pentecost. I pray, with you, for a greater openness to the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in our own time, among our own people, and in our own churches. Pentecostal Christianity is less about speaking in tongues (glossalia) and more about the visible signs, or the fruit, of the Holy Spirit.
Later in the New Testament, the Apostle Paul lists the fruit of the spirit in Galatians 5. 22-23: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (NRSV). They are described by the apostle Paul as an alternative to the “works of the flesh” (Galatians 5. 19-21), within a larger passage about the obligation of the Christian to use freedom from the law as a means of service and love. Many biblical scholars interpret Galatians 5. 19-23 as a catalog of virtues and vices most likely derived from the primitive teaching (Didache) of the early church.
The fruit of the Spirit are not works or deeds that we accomplish, by our own efforts. Instead, the fruit (karpos) are virtues that God cultivates within us as we mature as disciples in the Christian life. While some commentaries distinguish the fruit of the spirit from the gifts of the spirit (1 Corinthians 12-14), there are many more similarities: the greatest spiritual gift is love (1 Corinthians 13. 13), and the first fruit of the spirit is love (Galatians 5. 22). The translation by Eugene Peterson of Romans 12. 2 in The Message, “love from the center of who you are”, captures the essence of the relation between a fruit and a gift of the spirit.
The fruit of the spirit are present in the life of a Christian, but they must always be understood as a gift to the body of Christ, the church. God places the fruit of the spirit within the Christian community. In the same way that the gifts of the spirit help us to describe the body of Christ, the fruit of the spirit assist us in understanding how God transforms the church apart from our human efforts. Ultimately, the individual and the community reflect the nature of God as these virtues are cultivated.
I wish you a blessed Day of Pentecost. I join with you in the ancient prayer---“Come, Holy Spirit”. I look for the signs that God is renewing our churches, one disciple at a time. And I envision the day when Pentecost happens again among us:
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common: they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time in the temple, they broke bread together at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” (Acts 2. 42-47)