I was reading this week through Galatians 5, and the fruits of the Spirit. Before the fruits, Paul lists the desires or the acts of the flesh. In Paul’s list are the usual suspects we might expect. These are all “obvious” – according to Paul. They include “sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred … drunkenness, orgies, and the like.”
Sitting in the middle of the above list (where I put the three dots), sits a subset of Paul’s list: “discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy”. This appears to be a cluster of related ideas. They are all actions that bring disunity and relationship breakdown.
Are all actions on Paul’s list equally evil? For us, discord is not that uncommon, or unusual. It’s not as bad as other sins. Yet for Paul, discord and jealousy and factions and envy are as obviously desires of the flesh as is sexual immorality, or idolatry, or drunkenness.
Now let us jump forward to the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness [and self-control]. Notice how these fruits are the opposite of discord, and factions and envy. Love, peace, forbearance etc. are all ways to relate and care for others.
The book of Galatians is about healing divisions between Jew and Gentile Christians, all are equally children of God. This is similar to Paul’s theme of the body being from one Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12. Christian freedom and love are about serving others as part of a unified body. When we live this way, it is a very powerful reflection of God.
Spiritual gifts are optional – you may or may not receive a gift. But bearing spiritual fruit is required of all – especially in this season.
Rev David Rietveld