The apostle Paul is not specific about the nature of his physical infirmity noted in Galatians 4:13, "...it was because of a bodily illness that I preached the gospel to you...." Because of the context, it is speculated that Paul might have had a severe and miserable eye problem, perhaps painful, disfiguring, and chronic, and he may have had to interrupt his missionary journey to stay in Galatia somewhat longer for his recovery. This may have been what he referred to as his “thorn in the flesh” for which he prayed to be healed three times.
God denied his request but answered him in a more excellent way. (2 Cor. 12:7) Whatever it was, Paul took advantage of the prolonged negative circumstances to preach the gospel instead of indulging in a pity party. Adversity shook his tree and the Galatians benefited from the dropping of his good fruit.
In his letter to the Church in Galatia, Paul teaches and demonstrates by his life what the Fruit of the Spirit is all about. That Fruit doesn’t suddenly appear, as do the Gifts for ministry given by the Holy Spirit. It grows gradually from bud to blossom to full fruit as it does in nature. We grow the fruit of our Christian character with all those fruits or virtues itemized in Galatians chapter five. They mature as a gradual process throughout our lives. To “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 not sweet because it isn't ripe, it hasn't matured. Time hasn't mellowed it; it tends to be tart. The seeds it contains in the early stages are not fully developed either, and so can’t reproduce in a normal, healthy way. The longer the fruit remains on the tree connected to the flowing, vital sap of the tree, the sweeter it becomes. In our chronological maturity our fruit should be the sweetest.
Eventually, to accomplish the purpose of fruit bearing, the fruit has to be separated from the tree. It has to be picked, or dropped due to its ripeness, or someone or something has to shake the tree. Whatever “fruit of the Spirit” God is developing in our lives is always meant for the benefit of others, not for ourselves. Others need to taste the fruit we are bearing.
Scripture often uses the analogy of a fruit-bearing tree and a faithful Christian. A bodily illness or other affliction or adversity 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 been developing good fruit.
We express through our attitude and temperament and character those godly virtues listed in Galatians: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. All those aspects of fruit are meant to affect and nourish everyone with whom we come in contact. Our fruit contains seeds which God has been growing in us for a lifetime that have the potential of reproducing our Lord's character in the lives of others.
Who are the others for whom our fruit is meant? Our families, our caregivers, if we are ill, or those for whom we care, our friends, those with whom we have rubbed shoulders in the public square or during common events of life, to whom we minister--even our enemies! These all need to see Jesus in us even when we are hurting with actual pain, miserable with our weakness, suffering, losing control over normal aspects of our life through aging, or when we suffer bodily indignities through tests or medical procedures. God uses such happenings to shake our tree and dole out our fruit.
We may view all of the above afflictions, sufferings, trials, and distresses as the fault of the Enemy of our souls to shake our life tree and cause our fruit to fall ineffectively to the ground. But let's not give the Enemy too much credit. God may be using those adversities to further His own plans for us. We may feel that in such circumstances we no longer have any witness opportunity. On the contrary, the Lord may permit such harsh conditions to shake our life tree so that our falling fruit may become accessible to others.
The shaking may not be a bad thing, but rather in fulfillment of God’s plan to show forth the life of Christ through us. As others “eat the fruit” that is dropping from us through our patient, loving, longsuffering, joyful attitude during our times of hardship, they are nourished and God has used us for His glory.