Do you ever open up your Bible, with good intentions to finally begin reading it regularly once again. And then your eyes hit a verse that makes you…. Question something you were once so confident of before? And all of the sudden reading the entire new testament doesn’t seem as exciting as it did a couple minutes ago? Anyone? Just me?
I think you might know the kind of verse I’m talking about.
This happens to me a lot, more than I’d like to admit. One verse will make me want to fist bump the writer and double underline so that I can whip out that verse next time I need to convince someone of my position on the latest culture war tempting us to use and abuse scripture in the most out-of-context way. Then the next verse will pierce that pride right on out of here because it’s…well…not at all what I was hoping, nor expecting, to follow.
Galatians 5, where the fruits of the spirit are listed at the end of the chapter, is a place where that might happen. There is a lot going on in this chapter and to be honest I experience intellectual whiplash every time I read it.
Which is why I want to be really candid with you for a moment.. Although I feel a really strong connection with the fruits of the spirit because I’ve prayed them by name over my son every single day of his life, I feel ill equipped to talk about this passage from a place of authority. So I’m not going to pretend like I know any more than you do. And I’m not going to pretend that one of the most well loved passages in the Bible for me makes me feel confident in my understanding of it. If we zoom out and read the entirety of Galations 5, the last few verses of this chapter seem much less clear than when you read them in isolation from the rest of the chapter, or even in isolation of the entire letter and its context.
Admittedly, I’m no Bible scholar. I’m, like you, trying to make the best sense I can of what the sacred text means to me and how I should live my life today. However, I am a conversation starter. I love what Rachel Held Evans would say about the Bible, that it’s not meant to be used as a conversation ender, but a conversation starter! And part of the conversations I want to have on here go beyond the parts of scripture that are easy to agree on and talk about. I want to talk about the hard things too.
I’ll spare you the whiplash of reading the entire chapter to you and just read you the last bit of it here. You’re probably familiar with the first part.
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.
I will tell you that these verses are sandwiched between a lot of talk about circumcision, and based off of commentary I’ve read, Paul is essentially communicating to the church of Galatia that there is no longer need for their legalism – all of their striving to submit to Mosaic law is in vain, because they have been set free from it. “For It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Paul writes in verse one. And then in verses 13 and 14 he said it again! “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.”
When I first turned to Galations 5, to freshen up on the context in which the passage about the fruits of the spirits were written, I was reminded about an often misunderstood word in our English translations of the Bible. Because that word is used 6 times in this short chapter.
Flesh. For most of my life I understood this word to mean our bodies – our human bodies, because they are partially made up of what we call flesh. And for a long time I understood my body to be inherently evil as a result of the way our English translations seem to demonize the flesh in the scripture. For example, in verse 13: “Do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh.” But did you know that the Greek word used here for flesh refers to the sinful nature of human beings and is often presented as a power that is opposite of the Spirit.
Flesh, in this usage of the word anyway, doesn’t even refer to our bodies but to our sinful nature.
So going back to the verse immediately following the fruits of the spirit “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” Does this mean that we have to crucify all passions and desires that reside within our body. I don’t think so. Can the passions and desires of our sinful nature be formed in our bodies? Sure they can. But just because a desire is of our body does not always mean it is not of God.
As I set out to guide us to become more aware of and loving of our bodies that God called good when he created them, I think it’s important for us to make this distinction.
There is a lot of sin in this world, and you and I did inherit that sinful nature. That is true. There is a lot of good left in this world too, and I believe that you and I can also embody that good – that we DO embody that good if we embody the Spirit.
What does it look like to embody this Spirit?
What I love about this list of fruits is that each one of these things is achievable. They are possible. Through the Spirit, which we all have access to if we desire it, they are possible. And what’s even better: The Galatians are not being called upon to work at being more virtuous, this is not a call to striving, no. Paul is summoning the Galations to walk in the Spirit and to be led by the Spirit. To submit to the Spirit.
Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.
Depravity may be all around us, but I don’t believe we have to live from a state of depravity. God has gifted us the Spirit for us to live from and walk in. We can walk in love. We can walk in joy. We can walk in peace. We can walk in patience. We can walk in Kindness. We can walk in Goodness and Faithfulness and Gentleness and Self-control. And when we walk this way, we will not bypass depravity, no. We will reflect the spirit and all of its fruits into a world desperately seeking love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
As for our desires and our passions, I believe that when we are walking in the spirit, we will be given desires and passions from God that are holy and right and good. And yes sometimes, those God-given passions and desires are desires of our bodies. And those too can be holy. Walking in and submitting to the spirit and inhabiting her fruits will help us to better discern and rightly order those passions.
And guess what? We can reflect these fruits in and with our good bodies, not in spite of our bodies, as God’s image bearers.
What is keeping you from experiencing God’s fruit?
What is stopping you from pursuing your God-given passions and desires?
What is inhibiting your ability to live more freely into who God created you to be?
I have good news for you, friend. Walking in the spirit does not have to be a desire-less and passionless life.
Now let’s respond to a kind and gentle and generous God using the practice of Lectio Divina, an ancient liturgical practice for praying the scriptures. It is a Latin phrase that means “sacred reading.” It is a way of praying and listening for the still, small voice of God speaking through gentle reading or listening of scripture. Lectio Divina has also been known as “listening with the ear of the heart.”
As you settle into a place of loving openness, in a posture or position to listen more deeply, I will read the words of Jesus from John 15 three times. After each reading, there will be a moment of silence.
In this first reading from John 15, listen for a word or a phrase that draws your attention.
In this second reading, consider how this passage touches your life today.
In this third reading of the scripture, consider if there is an invitation for you in this coming week.
Abide in me, and I in you.
As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine,
neither can you, unless you abide in me.
I am the vine; you are the branches.
Whoever abides in me and I in them, will bear much fruit,
for apart from me you can do nothing.
O Faithful God
Who Gives and Who Takes Away
Who forbids us from the Garden
And then plants Gardens in us
And through us
To cultivate and grow in this barren land in which we live
Help us to Love our neighbors as we love ourselves.
Help us to experience your Joy and to sling it far and wide
Grant us Peace and the courage to make more of it where there is not
Give us Patience as we discern which of desires and passions come from you, God
Help us to be Kind, even when we have to say hard things
Remind us of our inherent Goodness, through you, so that we live into that Goodness more each day
May our Faithfulness be tenacious
And our Gentleness be a gift to someone who needs it, even if that someone is ourself
Give us the strength to have Self-Control for the sake of your glory
I ask these things of you, O God, so that we can partner with you in passionately pushing back the darkness and depravity with your glorious love and light.