Adversity shook Saint Paul's tree, but the Galatians benefited from the dropping of his good fruit.
Paul was apparently suffering from some kind of bodily illness but he was not specific about it in Galatians 4:13. But he went into detail about his dilemma in the twelfth chapter of Second Corinthians. Because of the context, we can speculate that Paul might have had a severe, miserable eye problem, perhaps painful, disfiguring, and chronic.
Because of this malady, he apparently was forced to change his missionary itinerary and schedule to stay in Galatia somewhat longer to recover. He referred to the problem as his “thorn in the flesh.” It must have been no small thing because three times he prayed intensely to be healed.
God didn't even heal Paul in spite of his persistent praying. God denied his request but answered him in a more excellent way. (2 Cor. 12:7) Whatever the affliction was, Paul took advantage of the prolonged negative circumstances to preach the gospel instead of indulging in a pity party. "...It was because of a bodily illness that I preached the gospel to you...."
In chapter five of his letter to the Church in Galatia, Paul taught and demonstrated by his life what the fruit of the Spirit is all about. That fruit doesn’t suddenly appear in our lives as do the gifts for ministry given by the Holy Spirit. The fruit of the Spirit grows gradually from bud to blossom to full mature fruit throughout of lives as it does in nature. We develop the fruit of our Christian character. To progressively “bear fruit and more fruit and much fruit" is the express will of God for His children, but it doesn’t happen overnight like Jack’s beanstalk in the fairy tale.
Early fruit is usually tart, not sweet because it isn't ripe, it hasn't matured. Time hasn't mellowed it. The seeds contained in the early stages are not fully developed either, so they can’t reproduce in a normal way. The longer the fruit remains on the tree connected to the flowing, vital sap of the tree, the sweeter it becomes. Fully mature fruit should be the sweetest in nature and in our lives.
To accomplish the purpose of fruit bearing, eventually the fruit has to be separated from the tree. It must either be picked, dropped when it is ripe, or someone or something has to shake the tree to dislodge the fruit.
Scripture often uses the analogy of a fruit-bearing tree and a faithful Christian. A bodily illness or other affliction or adversity, even our aging process in our summit years can shake us up and result in spiritual fruit falling from our tree. That fruit can be good or bad depending on its condition while growing on the tree. Hopefully, we’ve spent a lifetime developing good fruit.
I can express through my attitude and temperament and character those godly virtues listed in Galatians: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Whatever fruit of the Spirit God is developing in my life is always meant to affect and nourish everyone with whom I come in contact, not for myself. My fruit contains seeds which God has been growing in me. They have the potential of reproducing our Lord's character in the lives of others—my family, my caregivers, if I am ill, or those whom I am helping, my friends, those with whom I have rubbed shoulders in the public square or during common events of life. These all need to see Jesus in me especially when I am hurting, miserable with my growing weakness, suffering, losing control over normal aspects of my life through aging in my summit season, or when I suffer bodily indignities through tests or medical procedures. God uses such happenings to shake my tree and dole out my fruit.
I might think that all of the above afflictions, sufferings, trials, and distresses are designed by the Enemy of my soul who is shaking my life tree and causing my fruit to fall ineffectively to the ground so that my witness opportunity is curtailed. I shouldn't give the Enemy too much credit. On the contrary, the shaking may not be a bad thing, but rather in fulfillment of God’s plan to distribute the life of Christ through me.
As others “eat the fruit” that drops from me through my patient, loving, long suffering, joyful attitude during my times of hardship, others are nourished, God has used me, and He receives the glory.