Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.

Galatians 5:16-26

From the title you might think I’m a farmer with a street cart trying to get you to buy my patriotically grown product (whatever that might mean). But I assure you, this fruit is devoid of any jingoism or supposed conflation of Christianity and national pride. In fact, the fruits of the Spirit that Paul is speaking about transcend anything remotely isolationist, since it speaks of our belonging to a tribe of people that exist outside of national boundaries.

Often, when students head off to college for the first time, they are suddenly struck with the realization that no one is watching their every move; they are free from family, free from old friends, free from the people across the street, and their neighborhood pastor. Suddenly, they encounter the idea of freedom to do as they please, without the social repercussions experienced in a community that has placed expectations upon them from birth. And with that comes the possibility for acting on every whim, devoid of second thoughts and responsible actions; it comes with the possibility of a free for all.

In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul wrote that all things are permissible, but not all things are beneficial.1 He said this while discussing a similar set of free for all behaviors. But, moreover, in Corinthians, Paul continues that while all things are lawful/permissible, he will not be brought under the power of any of them. Those comments in the letter to the Corinthians share the same words as Paul frequently uses in the letter to the Galatians; Paul is saying that he will not become a slave to these behaviors. There is a fine distinction here between acting upon every whim of our desires and acting out of self-control and out of a spirit of love. If we allow ourselves to follow our innate desires, we may very well descend into behaviors that are driven by our addiction to them and our addiction to our own sense of self-worth and power. But if we moderate those behaviors, based in our love for God and our neighbor, then those behaviors will never dominate or enslave us; instead, our behavior will be tempered by our relationship with Christ, and with his children.

The important thing to remember, of course, is that these fruits of the spirit are a result of seeking God first in all we do, and not in seeking to fulfill our own desires. If we look at all the things Paul mentions in this passage, we see that all of them stem from some form of self-importance; every one of these behaviors can be traced back to the idea that we are more important than others, or that others have harmed or infringed upon the stellar specimen of humanity that is us.

And, just as in the last section, Paul is attempting to point people’s lives toward God, and not toward selfish desires and ambitions. He ends this section with the command that we should not become conceited, that we should not compete against one another, nor that we should envy one another. There is no reason to fear one another, to compete with one another, to envy each other when we all share in God’s promise to us through our belief in Christ. If we all have the same promise, then our lives should be tempered through the lens of that promise, the lens of seeking Christ’s work in this world. When we do this, we do not run the risk of becoming enslaved to these behaviors, but instead our behaviors are lived out through the lens of a shared goal and through our shared love of Christ and neighbor.

  1. 1 Corinthians 6:12

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