Giving thanks for fruit and fruits

A single bunch of grapes to illustrate Thanksgiving!? Where is the usual abundance and diversity? A little hair-splitting and an impulse to be doubly grateful on Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving is a celebration of reflection and gratitude, a feast of fruits. It is celebrated all over the world at different times, due to the different harvest periods. People in the northern hemisphere generally celebrate Thanksgiving in October and November.

In Christian churches, Thanksgiving is easily identified by mostly full churches and unusually lavish altar decorations. Even fruits that do not grow in the region are found in the churches on that day: clusters of grapes, which symbolise the vine. Those who know their Bible are aware of the connection: “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing” (John 15: 5).

Growth in nature and in people

Fruit is the image for growth, harvest, and yield. Bearing fruit is also an image for the growth of the new man. Baptism requires that we put on the new man: great things must develop through faith in Christ (Colossians 2: 2–3, 3:2–9). God makes this process possible with the gift of the Holy Spirit, which gives birth to a new and virtuous life in man.

“But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection” (Colossians 3: 14). This is not about human love—which can bring about amazing things—but about more: divine love. This love has been poured out in the hearts of man through the Holy Spirit (Romans 5: 5). The Holy Spirit exhorts and inspires the believer.

The fruit of the Spirit

And how should this divine love be manifested? “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law,” it says in Galatians 5: 22–23, listing the nine characteristics of the Spirit.

Even though Apostle Paul cites many characteristics in his letter to the Christians in Rome (which today are often willingly misunderstood as diverse kinds of fruits): it is not a basket from which we can pick our favourite “fruit” and then define our own personal priorities. In the original Greek it speaks about karpós, meaning the fruit or result of a thing or activity. And Bible translators and commentators all over the world knew and still know it today: nowhere does it say anything about the fruits of the Spirit; it is always the one fruit of the Spirit: the fruit of the Spirit, le fruit de l'Esprit, el fruto del espíritu, or fructus autem Spiritus.

Three times three virtues

One Spirit, one fruit. These are characteristics that appear together under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. This fruit is the nature and life of Christ, which must take shape in the Christian. In the epistle to the Galatians, Apostle Paul cites the catalogue of virtues, which is usually divided into three triads:

  • the triple development of love: the self-sacrificing, universal, benevolent love (agápē), a lasting and grateful joy that is independent of external elements (chará) and which defines one’s whole being, and peace which makes one calm and secure and which is given by Jesus Christ (eirenē).
  • the triple development towards the neighbour: patience that forgives, gives in, and resists provocation (makrothymia), active and benevolent friendliness (chrēstótēs), and sincere and non-calculating kindness (agathōsynē).
  • the triple development as a personal attitude: fidelity that promotes trust and reliability (pistis), wise and submissive gentleness (prautēs), and self-control beyond all carnal desires (enkrateia).

Not picking and choosing, but living it in its entirety

Finally, the term “fruit” requires that we do not pick and choose from the imaginary basket of fruits, but work on and develop all these different facets in equal measure. “The enduring presence of Holy Spirit within a human being also has profound and noticeable effects on one's earthly life: if the sealed believer gives the Holy Spirit room to unfold, divine virtues will develop” (CNAC 8.3.9).

Giving thanks for the fruit and the fruits

The celebration of Thanksgiving is an opportunity for us to give thanks to God. Our thanks includes both earthly and spiritual gifts. It is once again an opportunity to especially give thanks for the gift of the Holy Spirit.

However, Thanksgiving is also an opportunity to examine our own relationship with respect to earthly and spiritual gifts. Neither of these should just be consumed. When using what is at our disposal we need to be considerate and respect the needs of others. “Earthly and spiritual wealth enables us to do good works in Christ,” Chief Apostle Schneider writes for this year’s Thanksgiving celebration. The fruit and fruits received make this possible. “If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit” (Galatians 5: 25).

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Oliver Rütten
Thanksgiving, Divine service