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The Most Powerful Demonstration of the Spirit

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:35

The Fruit of the Spirit is not compliance to rules, policies, and traditions.  In the Spirit we do not mark off boundaries against each other based on social or biological determination.  Those who preoccupy themselves with these as a test for membership and/or participation in the faith community are living by the flesh.  Rather, the fruit of the Spirit is love (Galatians 5:22), for “if you keep biting and devouring each other, watch out that you will not be destroyed by each other” (Galatians 5:15).  Take a deep breath and be free in the Spirit.  “For freedom Christ has set us free.  Stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1)  This is the appeal of Paul to the Galatian believers as some attempt to make the Gentiles into Jews as a condition for salvation.   

This study focusses on Galatians 5:22 by reading it in its literary and historical context and in the broader literary context of Paul’s letters.

First, it is important to understand that the religion called Christianity did not exist during the lifetime of the apostle Paul.  Neither Jesus nor his disciples sought to found a religion.  They were already part of a proud religious tradition, namely Judaism.  Jesus and Paul taught the Judaic Gospel of righteousness/justice-–the one which the prophets preached epitomized by the proclamation of Isaiah (“the spirit of the Lord God is upon me because he has anointed me, he has sent me to preach good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners….” Isa 61:1-2) and embraced by Jesus as his own manifesto (Luke4:18, 19).  The primitive church, which later evolved into a world religion called Christianity, rose up from the synagogue.  The Jesus followers were members of the synagogue for up until the last half of the first century; the gospel they preached was Judaic with the distinction that Judaic Messianic expectation finds fulfilment through the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth.  This was precisely why Jewish believers (including Peter at some point), demanded Gentile proselytization (full embrace of Jewish beliefs and practices). 

It is also very important to understand that Jews in general believed that only they were the heirs of God’s righteousness.  A non-Jew may become a partaker of that righteousness only if they become Jews.  This includes the all-important act of male circumcision.  Herein lies the heart of the Galatian controversy.  Circumcision itself is the signifier that one has entered into covenant with God and, thus, is now a member of the community of the righteous--the Jews.  It is this idea that Paul rigorously opposes in his letter to the Galatians (“We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners, yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law….”) and continues to develop in the letter to the Romans.  When he argues that law cannot justify a person before God, he is not speaking of universal principles of decency and justice which the sanctified conscience can discern (Roman 2:14-29); he is speaking specifically of those practices that make one a Jew, signified by the act of circumcision.

In Galatians, Paul characterizes the religious separatism as works of flesh which wars against the spirit,  creating strife among the community of believers (Galatians 5:16-25).  Paul makes the disclaimer that there is nothing wrong with being a Jew (Romans 3: 31), but he is saying there is nothing wrong with being a non-Jew either; for God is not God of the Jew only but also God of the Gentile (Romans 3:29-30).  The focus on traditions and practices that really have nothing to do with salvation--to the point where it divides community--is the fruit of the flesh.

Paul uses three synonymous phrases that signal the believer’s departure from the flesh and unity with the Spirit: “in Christ,” “in Lord,” “in Spirit.”  Each time he mentions this, he indicates the result or fruit.  Note the following examples:

  1. “In Christ…you are all one”-–“…no Jew or Gentile, no slave or free, no male and female.” (Galatians 3:28)  Circumcision (namely “the law”) gives only Jewish males direct access to God’s righteousness.  In Christ everyone has access.
  2. “In (the) Lord, woman is not independent of man or man independent of woman…all things come from God (1 Corinthians 11:11-12). Tradition places one group of humanity as head over another and marks off unnecessary boundaries.  The fruit of being in (the) lord is to acknowledge only one head--God, and the interdependence of all.
  3. In the Spirit there is no hierarchy of gifts or capabilities; there is only one body (1 Corinthians 12-14).

The apostle Paul teaches that the flesh concerns itself with the things that perish – tradition, dogmas, biological structures, social/cultural inclinations, power and control over others.  The Fruit of the spirit however is Love….(Gal 6:22).  Paul continues to define what love is, following on the teachings of Jesus. “Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another…love your neighbor as yourself” (Romans 13:8, cf. Marl 12:31).

Walking after flesh results in community dysfunction which is the problem over which Paul agonized with the churches of his ministry. The Corinthian believers were in turmoil, divided over all kinds of practices and issues.  In the midst of struggling to help them understand the life of the Spirit by which we all live peacefully in our differences, Paul writes the profound love statement: 

Though I speak with the tongues of mortals and of angels, and have not love, I am a noisy gong and a clanging cymbal.  And if I understand all mysteries, and all knowledge…and have not love, I am nothing.  If I give away all my possession, and if I hand over my body…, but I do not have love, I gain nothing.

To love is to do to others as you would have them do to you (Matthew 7:12).  This is the only command that Jesus leaves with his disciples: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”(John 13:34)  Love is the essence of the spirituality by which we mindfully abide in the very presence of God: “…this is his commandment that we should…love one another….  All who obey his commandments abide in him and he abides in them.”(1 John 2:23-24)  “Whoever does not love abides in death.”(1 John 2:14b)

Having the “right” doctrine, is not in and of itself a fruit of the Spirit.  The insistence on being “right” is a fruit of the flesh - the heart of the dysfunction that Paul addresses in 1 Corinthians. “But as for prophecies, they will cease, as for knowledge it will come to an end.  For we know only in part, and we prophecy only in part….” (1 Corinthians 13:8-9).  In this finite existence, no one can claim to know and understand it all.  When experience evolves from flesh/materialism towards a deep spirituality we begin to understand how to walk together in love in spite of our different ways of being and understanding.

When we walk by Spirit the outward flesh has no significance beyond its ability to enable us to live our best life.  This is the new humanity in Christ/Spirit.  We stop marking off boundaries against each other based on racial, cultural, biological or any other difference.  To be in Christ, to walk by the Spirit is to become blind to the fleshly things of this world particularly our cultural norms, and bodily forms the focus on which hinders full fellowship of all in the community of faith.  In the life of the Spirit we become fully conscious that our particular ways of dressing, or eating, or worshiping, our race, gender, or nationality and carefully worked out dogmatic and hierarchical structures, do not recommend us to God.  It is Christ alone who writes that recommendation with his own blood.  It is this profound unity in diversity that becomes the most powerful demonstration of the fruit of the spirit. 

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:35

 

 

 

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