the works of the flesh, or the fruit of the Spirit

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit,you are not under the law.

The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

Galatians 5:13-26

The “works of the flesh” as pictured above (and this is a sample list) are evident to us everywhere nowadays, especially when we consider the national (US) political stage. This has always been true to some extent, but it’s especially the case now. And unfortunately it can spill over into the lives of followers of Jesus who act and react accordingly, sometimes even against each other.

Paul was facing a religious controversy, so to speak. It seems true that there’s no two issues on which people can get more hot over than religion and politics. And when you study history, go to war over as well.

The kingdom of God come in Jesus calls for its followers to be completely different, to live in another way entirely: the way of the Spirit as opposed to the way of the flesh. I think the NIV footnote here is correct concerning the Greek word σάρξ, translated “flesh”:

  1. Galatians 5:13 In contexts like this, the Greek word for flesh (sarx) refers to the sinful state of human beings, often presented as a power in opposition to the Spirit; also in verses 16, 17, 19 and 24; and in 6:8.

Unfortunately we in Jesus who have the Spirit can fall back into those old patterns and way of life. If we who live by the Spirit fail to keep in step with the Spirit, then we fall back into the ways of the flesh, and can become conceited and hateful toward each other.

Living by the Spirit is not simply shrinking back and becoming passive, even hiding. It’s our answer in Christ to what is all too common fare in the world. We in Christ must refuse to respond in kind, and that especially concerns our disagreements with each other. But even toward our enemies, our lives in our actions and words should be marked by “the fruit of the Spirit.”

This is not something we can produce on our own, but we’re responsible to yield control of our life to the Spirit so that the Spirit can bear this fruit in us. It’s up to us. Will we give in to the flesh and its demands? Or will we yield to the Spirit and endeavor to keep in step with the Spirit? There’s no middle ground, it’s either one or the other.

 

our struggle is not against people

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

Ephesians 6:10-12

God gives us his strength and “armor” to wage spiritual warfare no less. Never against humans.

This is far more important than we normally might think. We tend to evaluate problems in human categories. And actually we can gain knowledge and insight in doing so. And there’s no question that we can offend others. When we do so, we need to go to them and make it right, asking for their forgiveness. But when we have problems with people that are really not our fault, or just seem to be beyond the pale of what fault we have, we need to remember where our struggle lies.

For one thing, this will help us get our focus off the person. The problem does not really lie ultimately with them but with the spiritual entities in the mix behind whatever might be transpiring between us and them. We need to direct our attention against the real foe, which is spiritual.

And we do so in no less than the strength of God’s might, with no less than the armor God gives us in Christ through the gospel. Which of course is why we need to focus on that entire passage (Ephesians 6:10-20). Meditating on it with the view of putting it into practice. In and through Jesus.

God’s redemption of the broken spaces

We had a most interesting, informative series entitled “Finding Hope in Family Conflict,” specifically on the story of Jacob and Joseph from Genesis. Anyone would do well to watch/listen to them all. A great ending, so although best to watch/listen to each, if you want to get something of it as a whole and just sample one, “Week 7/Family Reunion” might be my suggestion.

What came home to me in the last one, is how Joseph chose not to react in his hurt with hate and additional hurt inflicted on others, but instead trusted in God, and put himself in a place where God could heal him, so that instead of hurting, he could be God’s healing presence to others.

In Joseph’s case, though he certainly had some blame, as we all do in any close relationship, he was really the victim of wrongdoing by his brothers. In our case, it could be either that we were victims, or that we were primarily to blame. And many of us have both. The question for us all: Do we believe that over time God can redeem that suffering for our good, and for the good of others? Even if we were the one to blame, we can at least pray, submit, and trust in God, that God can do a redemptive work in it. God does, and God did, as we see in this story in Genesis. All of that in and through Jesus.

 

handling differences

If some thought evangelicalism was in a theological flux a couple of decades or so ago, we could say that is all the more so now. Over periphery matters to be sure, but issues which can well undermine the gospel and our reading of scripture, if we don’t take care.

How do we handle our differences? From my perspective I face those who affirm ordination of those practicing same sex intercourse, of course as long as they’re faithful to one partner, and with that gay marriage. On the other hand I face those who see “Creation Science” as being true to the Genesis account, and my acceptance of evolution as contradictory to that. Just two examples that are hot right now.

Everyone needs to be heard out, that is everyone should have their say. Let everyone make their very best argument, and then hold on to that. In other words try to put the very best construction on both intentions and what is actually said. We help neither ourselves or anyone else by not letting people have their full say as we attempt to understand them as fully and accurately as possible.

Perhaps two words come to the fore now, as I think about our spirit in handling differences, especially among us who are in the family of faith, but beyond that, as well. Forebearance and gentleness. Firmness too, in that, but those two should always be characteristic of us in our disagreements. The NIV 2011 in the Galatians 5 fruit of the Spirit passage interestingly substitutes forebearance for patience. I think that is apt since the patience that is called for is relational in that context. Along with that, gentleness is on the list as well. In Paul’s charge to Timothy (1 Timothy 6) this is evident as well; in conflict or spiritual battle he is to be gentle.

We likely won’t win an argument. But we may well be able to plant the seeds which will reap a harvest of righteousness later. And we need that input from each other. In our disagreements and in all of life.

the case for silence

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.

I have never been very good at this one. When I think something needs to be said for whatever reason, I am willing to say it and more often than not I do.

But what would it look like if one would simply remain silent? Not in a grudging kind of way, but in love, listening well to the other, or others. Carefully considering what they say. And then if asked, offering something in response while highlighting the point of agreement in the conversation.

For myself I think there is a good case when I disagree or see things differently to simply remain silent. When I do, I think if I do speak, the words might carry more weight and at least would be respected more. I also think it’s a point of humility to let others have their say and let the weight of their words have their effect. Perhaps they will and should win the day.

Silence is to be desired according to scripture (you can see that in more ways than one), but we often desire to speak our piece with the desire that that would end the conversation. But it won’t.

What we do need to avoid is to be quiet, but to fail to do so in love. We should give our full attention to others, to the other when we don’t see eye to eye with them. If we speak at all we do well to be slow to do so. Measuring our words, so that in and through God’s grace, his love and peace in Jesus might rule in our hearts in the midst of and even in spite of our differences. A tall order indeed. But part of our calling together in Jesus by the Spirit for the world.

God’s consolation

We live in a troubled world, and when we are committed to follow Jesus, we run into more trouble. Remember his words and the context:

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.

God’s consolation includes wisdom in knowing how to be as wise as serpents, yet as harmless as doves (again, Jesus’ words). We need that in this world, in fact it seems at times even in our relationships with other believers. It seems in our highly individualistic society, we’re hardly aware, much less committed to living as a body in unity in Jesus in this world. And yet the Spirit in us works to that end, while at the same time we’re told to make every effort to keep that unity of the Spirit.

Of course there will be spiritual battles out there. Perhaps largely under the radar- hardly known to us, once in a while- in our face.

God comes to us with wisdom and often with consolations. Sometimes, and maybe for some of us during some seasons, quite often, our perspectives are laden with fears about what might happen if we act faithfully. And sometimes we’re not sure just how to act to be faithful. Too often I’ve had it in my head in the past that this is plain like a science, but there’s an art to it as well. I’ve always thought it should be done in love, but sometimes just how to do it seems to have eluded me. Because it would not come across well when I did it, no matter how loving I tried to be, or at least humble in expressing it.

God brings consolation in the sense of wisdom over time. We want to be obedient, but not according to our understanding, but in the Jesus way. Submitting to him in every situation. Too often we think that we simply need to do something when within ourselves God’s work needs to be done. And for that to happen, we need to be open, to humble ourselves and listen, ready to repent and change. A change of heart, and then of life, of actions.

Of course inwardly we need to repent of any wrong we have inside or out which we’re aware of. And to pray the prayer of examen from the psalms that God would indeed search our hearts and know our anxious thoughts to see if anything offensive is in us, and then to lead us in the way everlasting. We need to take it slow in trying to correct a problem with another, and yet we need to be committed to that end.

God’s consolation. For us together in Jesus as his light of love even through us to and for the world.