But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23
Those Galatians. I should be sorry that they gave Paul so much trouble, but instead I’m grateful because of the excellent letter he wrote to straighten them out. All 3000 plus words of it are wonderful to study in depth. But I’m finding myself nestled into chapter five, where Paul explores the wild new territory that Christians live in. We don’t live in the land of the law, with rules about every little thing hemming us in tightly. We live in the Spirit, a place of genuine freedom. Living there is at once much easier and immeasurably harder than life in the old country. The burden of the law is gone, but faith working through love is quite demanding in its own way.
Take, for instance, Paul’s statement that “the entire law is fulfilled in one statement: Love your neighbor as yourself.” In the land of the law, how to treat your neighbors was lined out in excruciating detail, and though there were lots of lines, as long as you kept within them, you were good to go. The situation is vastly different in Freedomland. We are to walk in the Spirit, and act accordingly. So how do we love our neighbors? Walking in the Spirit means going by principles, generally, rather than rules. That means that as a practical matter, we have to work out “how to love” on a case by case basis. That takes a lot of effort. So…what? Do we just scrunch up our try-harder muscles and try harder? Thank God, no, because we’ll inevitably fail.
Paul gives us some meaty, no-nonsense help. He says, “walk by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.” Then he lists the works of the flesh, an unsavory list indeed. Take a look at it in verses 19-20. Some of those ‘works’ are a good description of how even Christians fail to love each other sometimes. (Perhaps you’ve never experienced strife, jealousy, selfish ambitions or dissensions at your church? If you say you haven’t, I say you will. But I digress.) That list serves as an initial check. If we try to love our neighbors by our own efforts, in the flesh, those fleshly “works” are going to bubble up and tempt us to very unloving attitudes and actions. We don’t want to succumb to any of those temptations, but that’s our tendency, even when we try hard, when we walk in the flesh. But in the land of Freedom, we walk in the Spirit, and have His power dwelling in us, an unconquerable force for good.
If walking in the flesh produces that awful list, what does walking in the Spirit produce? Paul tells us in another great list in verses 22-23, which he calls the fruit of the Spirit. I wrote it out at the top of the page for you.
There’s a marvelous difference in the two lists, beyond the obvious these-things-are-bad and these-things-are-good. It’s this: in naming the first list, Paul uses “works,” while in the second he uses “fruit.” Now works and fruit can be synonyms in both English and Greek. We use the phrase “the fruit of your labor,” meaning the result of your work. The Greek word was used the same way.
Here’s the cool thing. Though the Greek word for works (ergon) just means the work you have done, or things you set out to do, fruit, (karpos in Greek), actually has at least three facets of meaning, all of which shed light on the fruit of the Spirit list. The three facets of meaning are:
• One: actual fruit, the natural growth from various plants. Jesus uses this meaning in John 15 to teach us about abiding in the Vine and bearing fruit, though of course it’s metaphorical fruit.
• Two: the fruit of one’s loins—your children, the natural outgrowth of a loving marriage.
• Three: the fruit of your labor, the result of your work, similar to the meaning of “works” in Paul’s first list.
Consider the first fruit of the Spirit, love, according to these meanings. We can and should attempt to love each other. We should work at it (meaning three). We must consciously decide to love people, even our enemies.
But love is the natural fruit of living in the Spirit (meaning one). So we should check…do we successfully love others, the good, the bad and the ugly? If not, alarm bells need to go off. Are we really living in the Spirit, abiding in the True Vine? If His power is not flowing through us, by means of a genuine relationship with Christ, nourished by prayer and Bible reading, we can in no way expect to bear the fruit of love.
The church is the Bride of Christ, and love is one of her children (meaning two). Here we can do a broader check: is our church loving toward its own members, visitors, and the community outside? If there is a real lack of the fruit of the Spirit in the church we attend, perhaps it is not really part of the Bride of Christ. Maybe we should look for a real church. Or maybe we should stay and tell the people next to us about Jesus.
Read through that list of the fruit of the Spirit slowly, meditatively, on your knees with your heart and the nastiest corners of your soul opened to God. I’m doing this, begging Him to help me never to walk in the flesh anymore, to move wholly into Freedom, and to bear the fruit of that land for His glory. I’ll be at it for a long while.