One of the most practical and straightforward lists in the Bible is found in Galatians 5. The listing of the fruits of the Spirit is commanded, but they are easier read than done. As a Christ-follower, these nine character traits should be things that are constantly being pursued and worked on. Teaching children what they mean and how to practice them can give them something to chew on as they grow in their Christian faith.
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Galatians 5:22-23 says, "But the fruit the Holy Spirit produces is love, joy, and peace. It is being patient, kind, and good. It is being faithful and gentle and having control of oneself. There is no law against things of that kind." (NIrV)
A good plan for teaching the fruits of the Spirit includes an explanation, scripture to back it up, real-life examples, and a challenge. Below is a breakdown of each fruit and a bite-sized way to train kids into making them characteristics to strive for in their daily lives.
Love is the first fruit listed, and perhaps it could be said that when love is displayed, the rest of the fruits will follow suit. Love is more than a feeling; it's an action. It's not just something to say; it's something to do. Mark 12:30-31 says, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. Love him with all your mind and with all your strength. And here is the second one. Love your neighbor as you love yourself. There is no commandment more important than these." The most important thing a Christian can do is to love God and love others. As kids learn more about love, they can learn to show love to family members and friends how they treat them. They can also learn to love people who aren't like them or don't get along. Remembering that everyone is created in the image of God can give kids the mindset to love no matter what. Challenge kids to pick out one person to say, "I love you," to and back it up by doing an action that shows it. Have them write it down on a small cutout heart as a reminder.
The second fruit of the Spirit is joy. Happiness is a familiar term, but teach kids that joy is so much more. Happiness is a fleeting feeling dependent on circumstances, but joy is something that stays with you even if you're not happy. James reminds the early Christians of this in chapter one, verse two of his book, "My brothers and sisters, you will face all kinds of trouble. When you do, think of it as pure joy." Even when struggles come, and you feel sad or disappointed, joy can still be present. That joy only comes from knowing Jesus. Sing the old classic "Down in My Heart." This oldie but goodie reminds kids that even Satan can't take away their joy. Challenge kids with this question: What is a situation that you might not be happy about but in which you can still keep joy in your heart?
Number three on the list is peace. It's a calmness that can be present in your life even if things around you are chaotic. It's the opposite of what is typically going on in the world around us. Kids can learn to tune that out and fill their hearts and minds with Jesus' present peace. Jesus spoke these words in John 16:33, "I have told you these things so that you can have peace because of me. In this world, you will have trouble. But be encouraged! I have won the battle over the world." Demonstrate peace by having kids sit quietly. Have them breathe in and out, thinking about quiet calm waters, imagining Jesus sitting next to them with his hand on their shoulder, helping them to forget about the craziness and replace it with stillness. Here's a challenge to assign. Tell kids to choose a specific time each day that they will go into a quiet place, maybe their bedroom or outdoors, and sit still, emptying their minds of school, homework, and activities; encourage them to just be still for a few minutes. See if they can do this for five minutes a day. Once they can accomplish their own peace, they can help others stay peaceful in situations as well.
Patience is the fourth fruit and one that most people, young and old, struggle with. It's the ability to wait for something even when it's hard, or you don't want to. Relate several examples to kids. You should be patient when you're waiting your turn to do an activity. You should be patient when you're waiting to get something special. You should show patience with a younger sibling who is annoying you. Proverbs 15:18 says, "A person with a bad temper stirs up conflict. But a person who is patient calms things down." What are some things that are difficult for your kids to be patient about? Talk through these. Remind them that a lack of patience can cause conflict and all kinds of trouble. Patience is hard, but it's doable! Challenge them to count to ten in their heads the next time they feel like lashing out at someone because of impatience. Calming down their hearts and heads can help them work on restraint.
Kindness is a popular thing right now. It's on t-shirts and posters, even in the secular world. Capitalize on this by sharing with kids that kindness is the fifth fruit of the Spirit. It comes from God. He is the Creator of kindness. The simplest way to define it is just by being nice. Kindness doesn't always come easy. It's often said that it's nice to do random acts of kindness. Instead, teach kids to do intentional acts of kindness. Think ahead on how they can show kindness. Matthew 7:12 states the Golden Rule, "In everything, do to others what you would want them to do to you. This is what is written in the Law and the Prophets." No one ever says they want to be treated with meanness! Treat others with kindness just as you would like to be treated. Do this activity to practice kindness. Give each child a piece of paper in your group and have them write their name at the top. Sitting in a circle, have kids pass their paper around. Each person in the group should write a short kind note about the child listed. When finished, every child will have a paper full of kindness to take home. Challenge kids to think about how this made them feel and to go out and make someone else feel this same way by writing and giving someone in their world a kind hand-written note.
The sixth fruit of the Spirit is goodness. Kids know from a pretty early age that good and bad are opposites. These terms can be used to compare a lot of things. It's important to teach that God wants His goodness to overflow to His people. Christians should have the desire and try to be good. Not that you will ever be good enough, but you should strive for goodness. Galatians 6:10 gives a great reference to goodness when it says, "So when we can do good to everyone, let us do it. Let's try even harder to do good to the family of believers." When there is an opportunity, go for it. Show goodness to others, especially those who share your faith. Have kids imagine that they are contemplating a decision. In one ear, someone is whispering for them to make a good, right choice. In the other, the whisper of making a bad choice. Whose voice will they listen to? Remind them that the voice of goodness comes from God and is always the right choice. Challenge them to pray, thanking God for His goodness, and asking Him to help them have goodness in their hearts and actions.
Faithfulness is the seventh fruit. To be faithful means to be committed to something or someone. God is always faithful. Christ-followers should be faithful in their commitment to God and to their friends and family. Hebrews 11:1 gives a Biblical definition like this, "Faith is being sure of what we hope for. It is being sure of what we do not see." Talk with kids about things that you cannot see but still believe in. One example is the wind. You can't physically see it, but you know it's there. You feel and see its effects. The same goes for having faith in God. You can't see Him but can be sure He is real because of His thumbprints on your life. Share with kids the story of Naomi and Ruth from the book of Ruth in the Old Testament. Ruth chose to be faithful to Naomi, following her wherever she went, never leaving her side. Give kids this challenge: choose a good Godly habit that you can be faithful to for a week. You might read your Bible every day or pray every night before you go to bed. Stick with it.
The opposite of being harsh is the eighth fruit – gentleness. To show gentleness is to be kind and calm in the way you speak and act. Proverbs 15:1 gives a great reminder of how your speech can go one way or another. It says, "A gentle answer turns anger away. But mean words stir up anger." Sometimes kids feel like they don't have a lot of control over what is going on around them, but they are certainly in charge of the words that come out of their mouth. Remind them that arguing causes anger, but gentle conversations do the opposite. They can choose their words and actions to be pleasing to God. Have them think about how they would handle a newborn kitten or puppy. They would use easy touches and soft gestures. This concept can be applied to interactions with all people. Challenge kids to put this into practice by telling themselves to use gentle words the next time they begin to get into an argument with someone.
The ninth and final fruit is self-control. It's pretty self-explanatory – having control over oneself. Once again, kids often feel like their parents or teachers are always the ones in control, but they have plenty of choice in this matter. Many decisions are made each day use choose to do or not to do something. 1 Corinthians 10:13 says this, "You are tempted in the same way all other human beings are. God is faithful. He will not let you be tempted any more than you can take. But when you are tempted, God will give you a way out. Then you will be able to deal with it." This scripture cues the reminder that self-control is possible. You don't have to give in. Have kids picture a table full of their favorite foods, perhaps a candy buffet or cheese pizza for days. Then tell them to imagine they haven't eaten for a week, but they aren't allowed to eat any of this food, only smell it. How difficult would that be? Pretty hard! But God helps you do hard things. He gives the fruit of self-control, so you can stop yourself from doing something that will harm you. The last challenge is this: have kids pick one thing that they will use self-control for. It could be stopping them from being mean to a younger sibling. It could be putting a stop to back-talking parents. Talk through some ideas and have them pick one to put into practice.
It would be a lot easier if there was just one fruit to practice but having nine is a lot more work. The positive side is that putting them all together makes life a lot sweeter, just like a fruit salad. God lists these characteristics as both a challenge to live them out and a reminder that Christians should practice these qualities and make them daily habits. If you go to the store and pick up an apple, you expect it to look, taste, and smell a certain way. The life of a Christian is like the apple. There are certain expectations. Instead of colorful, crunchy, and sweet, the qualities of a Christ-follower are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Because there is no law against these things!