Reflection: Galatians 5: 22 – 23
These verses are obviously meant as a contrast to the earlier self-centered ‘deeds of the flesh’ (vv.19-21), and it is pertinent to remind ourselves that they refer to the concrete manifestation of the Holy Spirit. Although it is not an exhaustive list (v.23), Paul chose to focus on these representative nine in his altercation with the Judaizers’ legalism in the Galatian church. He encouraged the believers to be open to experience the fruit of His Holy Spirit and the freedom that has been given to them. Note that it is a singular ‘fruit’ and is also translated as ‘harvest;’ informing us that these graces are like a multi-faceted reflection of a single diamond, issuing forth spontaneously in Christian behavior, rather than the innate product of human observances of an external code of conduct. It stands to reason that the outworking of the fruit of the Spirit is too numerous to list, so I shall only mention an exemplary smattering.
The unfathomable redemptive Love of God which is utterly undeserved by mankind, is placed first as it reflects His very nature (2:20; 1 John 4:8), with no being, object or event able to separate His love from us (Rom 8:35-39). As believers, the Spirit of God has privileged us to experience together the breadth, length, height and depth of His love (Eph 3:18) and thereby enabling us to love and serve Him and one another (v.13; 1 John: 7-11).
The Joy that has its origin in the divine is always our strength (Neh 8:10), and is unperturbed by distress, misfortune and suffering (1 Thess 1:6). The inexpressible joy from the Spirit of God enables us to triumph over difficulties in our laboring in His Name, as exemplified by Paul’s own consistent testimony in his service for the church (Phil 1:15-18; Col 1:24; 1 Thess 2:19).
Like the Hebrew ‘shalom,’ Peace describes a positive state of bodily wholeness, serenity and tranquility, as a reference to God Himself being its source (Rom 15:33; Phil 4:9). The Spirit of God causes man to be perfectly related to Him and his fellow men, where the unity and bond of peace within His body is maintained (Eph 4:3).
God’s Patience or long-suffering is His first self-declared quality (Ex 34:6), steering Him to graciously restrain His wrath towards sinful humanity (Ps 103:8). Likewise, as those who have received His mercy, the Spirit of God will graciously bestow in us His servants, patience towards all men (1 Thess 5:14).
The ultimate Kindness of God to fallen man is His salvific response in the indescribable gift of His Son Jesus Christ (Eph 2:7), to lead us towards repentance (Ps 34:8; Rom 2:4). It is neither sentimental nor unprincipled, but is harnessed with a divine sternness (Rom 11:22). To those of us who have experience God’s redemptive kindness, the Spirit of God will clothe us with merciful kindness towards others (Col 3:12).
Goodness denotes a magnanimous kindliness that issues in practical generosity beyond the required normal justice (Eph 5:9), conveying God’s ethical benevolent goodness towards man. The Spirit of God causes us to do good for others despite negative reciprocity.
God’s intrinsic Faithfulness or fidelity is being referred to as Someone whose loyalty we may depend, whose word we can unreservedly accept (1 Cor 1:9; 2 Thess 3:3). When it is referenced to a person, the Spirit of God causes us to be trustworthy people in whom the unswerving and inflexible fidelity of Jesus Christ and the utter dependability of God become transparent through us (1 Cor 4:2, 17; 1 Tim 1:12).
In the Greek cognate, Gentleness and strength are related together, and this quality is particularly noted in the Lord Jesus (Matt 11:29; 2 Cor 10:1). It is a worthy grace as the Spirit of God causes us to be humbly submissive to God, and being gentle and patient in our dealings with others (James 3:13; 1 Pet 3:4).
God’s Self-control or temperance denotes the ideal in His self-mastery over His creation, possessing a gracious freedom in the purposeful expressions of His will, despite the presence of evil and the incorrigibility of man. This is invariably related to His mercy (Gen 8:21; Eph 2:4-7). In us, self-control expressed through the Spirit of God, quite apart from ethical and moral self-discipline, fashions our life in the way that God desires, working out His goal for each believer as testimonies of His grace (1 Cor 9:24-27; 2 Pet 1:6).
And there are no laws that speak against people who live this way (v.23).
The results of God’s supernatural reshaping and transforming of human life is a gradual process of internal growth, often beyond our immediate conscious self-knowledge. When we are in a vital relationship with God, the Holy Spirit works in conforming us to the image of Christ. The importance of this list of the fruit of the Spirit rest not so much in the individual virtues as in their cumulative effect, which means it cannot be simulated, but are somewhat interdependent. Each aspect of the fruit perfectly complements the others in the expression of the Spirit of God through us.