Fruit and Gifts of the Holy Spirit by Craig Keener
The fruit of the Spirit is produced by the Spirit working in us; it expresses God’s character, his heart, especially in relationships. As this fruit grows, we are increasingly conformed to Christ’s image. God’s seed in us (cf. 1 Pet 1:23; 1 John 3:9) grows the fruit of his character within us. We may welcome this growing by distinguishing between the fruit of the Spirit and the work of the flesh (Gal 5:19-23) and so choosing to sow to the Spirit rather than to the flesh (Gal 6:8). The work and the credit, however, belong to the Lord.
Like the Spirit’s fruit, the gifts of the Spirit are also the Spirit’s work within us. These gifts empower us as individual members of Christ’s body to share with other members of Christ’s body. But because these gifts are for building up Christ’s body, and express our functions as members of his body, they, like the Spirit’s fruit, help us reflect the image of Christ. When we function together as Christ’s body, as his body we together reveal his image. Like the seed, the body members share the spiritual DNA of the one whose body we are. Whereas fruit reveals God’s character in each of us, gifts reveal Christ’s character in us especially corporately.
The fruit of the Spirit shows what God can do in us, and the gifts of the Spirit show what God can do through us. In both cases, it’s God’s work and he should get the glory (or again, in modern Western language, the credit).
If one had to choose, the fruit would be more important than the gifts, because in Galatians 5:22-23 (the passage that specifically articulates the fruit of the Spirit), the key and ultimate fruit is love (cf. the context of 5:14). In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul reminds us that the gifts (ministries to one another) without love are worthless (13:1-3), and that the gifts are partial and will be supplanted or fulfilled by what is complete when Christ returns. By contrast, love endures forever (13:8-13). We need gifts right now to build one another up, but when Christ returns we will no longer have this need.
Rating fruit above gifts does not diminish the present importance of the latter. The purpose of the gifts is to build up Christ’s body. Thus they offer a concrete way to express Christ’s love to one another. What can we offer to others more than Christ’s own work through us? We often think of gifts in a corrective context especially because we are thinking of Corinth, where Christians were abusing some gifts. Yet Paul lists gifts also in Romans 12:6-8 and (in a different sense) Ephesians 4:11 (cf. also 1 Peter 4:10-11), just in terms of mutual edification.
The two verses that frame 1 Corinthians 13 remind us how gifts are valuable when used in love: we should pursue the gifts that most build up the body (1 Cor 12:31; 14:1). Thus we do not say, “I value love, so I don’t need spiritual gifts.” Rather, we say, “I can serve others in love by pursuing the gifts that will build them up, and by sharing the gifts Christ has given me.”