Adversity shook the apostle Paul's fruit tree, but the Galatians benefited from the fruit that dropped off.
Paul apparently became ill while visiting the Christians in Galatia. He suffered from some non-specific bodily illness. (Galatians 4:13) He went into detail about what could have been a chronic illness in the twelfth chapter of Second Corinthians. Because of the context, we can speculate he might have had a severe, miserable eye problem, perhaps painful, disfiguring to the extent that the people to whom he ministered were compassionately distressed.
Because of this malady, it seems he was forced to change his missionary itinerary to stay on in Galatia somewhat longer to recover. He referred to the problem as his “thorn in the flesh” not a cross to bear—a distinct difference. It must have been no small thing because he prayed intensely to be healed.
God denied his request for healing but answered him in a more excellent way. (2 Cor. 12:7) and gave him specific attitude instructions to live out. Paul took advantage of the change in plans to preach the gospel instead of indulging in a pity party. "...It was because of a bodily illness that I preached the gospel to you..." And he used the occasion to teach about the fruit of the Spirit in chapter five. Whoever or whatever shook his witness tree, the kind of fruit that dropped off was determined by what fruit Paul had been growing.
Spiritual fruit doesn’t suddenly appear in our lives overnight like Jack’s beanstalk in the fairy tale, as do the gifts of the Holy Spirit for ministry which are given by the Spirit's appointment. Fruit grows gradually from bud to blossom to full mature fruit throughout our lives as it does in nature. It is the fruit of our Christian character. To progressively “bear fruit and more fruit and much fruit" is the will of God for His children.
Early fruit is usually tart, not sweet since it isn't ripe. It hasn't matured to be mellowed by time. The seeds contained in the premature stages are not fully developed either, so they can’t reproduce in a normal way. The longer the fruit remains on the tree connected to the flowing, vital sap of the tree, the sweeter it becomes. Fully mature fruit should be the sweetest in nature and in our lives.
Eventually the fruit has to separate from the tree. It must either be picked, dropped when it becomes ripe, or someone or something has to shake the tree to dislodge the fruit.
A bodily illness or other affliction or adversity, even our aging process, can shake us up and result in fruit falling from our tree. That fruit can be good or bad. Hopefully, we’re spending a lifetime developing good fruit.
How about when I become ill or suffering from some adversity? What kind of fruit am I dropping around me for others to pick up? The nine godly fruits Paul listed? Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control? Or rotten apples of complaining, questioning God, impatience, a cantankerous attitude and all the opposites of the Galatians' fragrant, nourishing fruit?
Fruit is not borne for the tree's benefit but to nourish everyone else. The fruit I drop has the potential of reproducing our Lord's character in the lives of others—my family, friends, my caregivers, if I am ill, or those with whom I rub shoulders in the public square or during common events of life. These all expect to see Jesus in me especially when I am hurting, miserable with my growing weakness, suffering, losing control over normal aspects of my life through aging, or when I suffer bodily indignities through tests or medical procedures or caregiving.
Who is shaking my tree? Let's not give the Enemy too much credit. On the contrary, God may be using such happenings to shake my tree and dole out my fruit. The shaking may be in fulfillment of God’s plan for others to witness the life of Christ through me. As others “eat the fruit” that drops from me through my patient, loving, long suffering, joyful attitude during my times of hardship, others are built up and encouraged and God has received the glory.
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