Paul was apparently suffering from some kind of bodily illness. He was not specific about it when he wrote 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, it is speculated that Paul might have had a severe, miserable eye problem, perhaps painful, disfiguring, and chronic. He seems to have been forced to change his missionary itinerary and time 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 the apostle 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 fruit as it does in nature. We develop the fruit of our Christian character; it matures as a gradual process throughout our lives. 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 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 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. Mature fruit should be the sweetest in nature and in our lives.
Eventually, to accomplish the purpose of fruit bearing, the fruit has to be separated from the tree. It has to be picked, or dropped when it is ripe, 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.
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. They have the potential of reproducing our Lord's character in the lives of others.
Just as the fruit is not grown for the benefit of the tree, so our fruit is meant for others—for 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, even, or especially, to our enemies or those who oppose us in some way. These all need to see Jesus in us even when we are hurting with actual pain, miserable with our weakness, suffering, perhaps 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 to others.
Let's not be quick to blame the Enemy of our souls for all of our afflictions, sufferings, trials, and distresses. It is not necessarily he who is shaking our life tree and causing our fruit to fall to the ground. Let's not give the Enemy too much credit. He does have designs on us for harm, but God may be using such adversities to further His own plans for us, plans for good and not for evil.
We may feel that in adverse circumstances our witness opportunity is curtailed. That wasn't the case with the apostle Paul and it need not be so for us. On the contrary, the Lord may permit such harsh conditions to shake our life tree in order that our good 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 drops from us through our patient, loving, longsuffering, joyful attitude during our times of adversity, others are nourished, God has used us, and He receives the glory.