But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. – Galatians 5:22-23
The academic world can be cut-throat, competitive, and harrowing. The constant pressure to publish, to win grants and to achieve tenure are just a few of the tensions that weigh on academics every day. What does it look like to manifest the fruit of the Spirit in such an environment? Is it even possible? It must be acknowledged that the Christian life is often messy, and what the fruit of the Spirit looks like will vary from person to person. Nevertheless, here is one way to think about God’s fruit in an academic setting:
Love. The Greek word for love here, agape, as you may have heard means “unconditional love” or “unconditional acceptance.” The problem with the competitive nature of the academy is that everything worthwhile is based on performance and is conditional. Student grades are based on performance, as well as tenure reviews, research grants and papers accepted for publication. And indeed, these things must be based on performance for the university to function. But that doesn’t mean our attitudes and acceptance of people need to be based on their performance. Agape in this context might mean refusing to judge someone if they lose a grant, continuing to befriend people even if they aren’t performing well in their department, or taking special time with a student who is failing to see what’s behind their poor grades. The important thing is that we don’t give in to a social hierarchy that is, very unfortunately, often the way academia works: it is the faculty with the large grants, the most published papers and the notoriety who get the most attention. Jesus didn’t give into the social hierarchies of his day. He manifested agape by giving equal attention to the rich and the poor, the insiders and the outsiders. And we should give equal attention to the Nobel laureates and the adjunct faculty among us, the well-performing students and the struggling ones.
Joy. The Greek word for joy is chara, and it is often noted that, biblically, joy is not based on circumstances, but rather closeness to God. God himself is full of joy, and being full of him means being full of joy. In Acts 16, even though Paul & Silas are beaten & flogged, they are praying and singing hymns with their feet fastened in the stocks. That’s chara.
And we can have chara even in the midst of dark circumstances, if we are rightly related to the Lord. Is it possible to have joy even when a paper is rejected for publication for the fifth time? Even when the tenure review didn’t go well and it may not be possible to return to the university? Even when we are lambasted in a committee meeting for not pulling our weight in the department? Yes, but only if we are surrendered to the Lord, and trusting him that no matter what is happening, he is in charge of our lives. To surrender means to wave the white flag, to give in to whatever God’s plan is, to whatever he wants. Chara flows from him, not from anything happening in our careers.
Peace. The Greek word for peace here is eirene, and it’s often a translation of the Hebrew word shalom. According to James Boice’s commentary on Galatians, the word eirene here not only refers to peace between us and God (Rom 5:1) and peace of mind (Phil 4:6-7), but also peace between people: peace at home (1 Cor 7:12-16) and peace between Jews and Gentiles (Eph 2:14-17).
Manifesting eirene in a university setting would include being at peace individually with God regardless of whatever circumstances are pressing upon us. And being at peace with others around us. It’s been said that peace is not the absence of conflict, but the correct handling of conflict as it arises. Manifesting eirene in an academic department would include refusing to talk about people behind their backs but going directly to them to discuss any problems that arise. It would include a gracious demeanor with people who disagree with us, and a refusal to let petty comments bruise our egos. Living in eirene means experiencing the peace God himself has, and God has no ego to bruise, no fear of losing control, no need to prove himself to others. Living in eirene would also mean reaching out to faculty and students of races, ethnicities or cultures different from our own (Eph 2:14-18). It would mean making an effort to understand why others speak and act the way they do, with a refusal to make quick judgments.
Only God’s presence, God’s Spirit, can give us these qualities, of course. They are literally impossible to manufacture on our own. But as we learn to lean into surrender to him, we will find ourselves increasingly manifesting God’s fruit. And we will increasingly see his fruit in the university.
What would it mean to grow in the fruit of the Spirit in my academic life today?
Oh Father, Every good and every perfect gift comes from You, the Father of lights who does not change like shifting shadows. We pray that You would root us and ground us in Yourself, so that we would be steady, rooting ourselves in Your faithfulness and bearing the fruit of Your Spirit. Thank You. In Jesus’ Name, amen.
For Further Study
James Montgomery Boice, “Galatians,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol 10. (Zondervan, 1977).
Note: Part of both the Scholar’s Compass series and a series on the fruit of the Spirit in academia. Part 1.
About the author:
Mark is on staff with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship in Manhattan, Kansas, where he ministers to Faculty at Kansas State University and surrounding campuses. He has been in campus ministry 25 years, 14 of those years in faculty ministry. He has a Master's degree in philosophy and theology from Talbot School of Theology, La Mirada, CA, and is passionate about Jesus Christ and the life of the mind. Mark, his wife and three daughters make their home in Manhattan.