The Academic Fruits of the Spirit

By Donald Opitz

Photo by C. C. License at Flickr courtesy of J. Salmoral: While there is some overlap, the gifts of the Spirit that are listed by Paul (Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 4) display a considerable range. Add to those lists the gifts of craftsmanship given to Bezalel and Oholiab for the making of the tabernacle (Exodus 31), and a picture of God's lavish and diverse generosity is revealed. I am convinced that the college years ought to be a time for students to discern and develop the gifts that they have been given. Unfortunately, educational institutions are generally designed to provide a common education, not gift discernment and distinctive opportunities for each peculiar student -- like you.

Instead of developing an approach to education based on gifts, let me make a more modest proposal. Let's imagine an approach to education based on the fruit of the Spirit. There is really only one passage that employs this phrase, the fruit of the Spirit, and that is Galatians 5:22. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The Holy Spirit wants to produce these attributes, these virtues, in every believer. Can you imagine academic work with these virtues in full view -- where our studying is done for the sake of love, and it is done with joy, and pursued patiently and kindly with others? And I don't imagine that these are the only virtues that the Holy Spirit is interested in producing in us.

Recently I was talking to some students, and we were trying to imagine a different list of the fruits of the Spirit, one that Paul might have written (in our imagination) for an academic community. No doubt the fruits listed in Galatians 5 apply, but what other virtues do students need to develop in order to honor the Lord of learning? We came up with a couple, and perhaps you will be able to imagine a couple more.

Humility. People who think that they know everything are not prepared to learn anything. Good learning doesn't begin until one becomes a student -- curious, open, teachable.

Industry. Learning isn't like falling off a log. Granted, we do learn a great deal quite effortlessly. But by the time college rolls around, most of what we are trying to learn requires a good bit of effort. Good students work hard.

Collegiality. Good students not only work hard, but they work together. A number of qualities need to come together for you to become a good partner in the learning process. Humility and industry, along with kindness and gentleness seem like a good start. But I imagine that you can have these qualities and still be a bit of a loner. Being collegial first requires this -- valuing your partners.

Wonder. Too much learning is merely instrumental -- to get a good grade, a good job, a little prestige. And much learning is certainly instrumental -- to solve a problem, to reach a goal, to benefit a community. These are more selfless goals. In my experience, however, learning comes alive when it is not merely a means to an end. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom -- or so the Proverbs remind us over and over again. Awe and wonder before God, and in the playfield of all that God has made, adds a depth and richness to learning. Sadly, much about our own education has wrung the wonder right out of us. It isn't too late to find it again.

It may seem strange to think about the connection between the Holy Spirit and academic work. I don't think this connection is at all strange. In fact, I think that God's Spirit loves to connect people to truth, and to the one who is the source of truth and wisdom and knowledge (John 14:6; Colossians 2:3).


This reflection first appeared at The Outrageous Idea of Academic Faithfulness. Donald Opitz (Ph.D., Boston University) is associate professor of sociology and higher education at Geneva College in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania. He is the author of numerous articles and has worked as a pastor as well as a campus minister.

9/30/2009 4:00:00 AM
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