We don’t normally do this, but over the next few weeks, as we look at this passage, I would like us to read these 2 verses together. Hopefully you will have this small section of Scripture committed to memory before we are done. It is small enough that even those us who are getting a bit older and having trouble with our memories can get it.
Here we go...
Galatians 5:22-23, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”
This is slightly different, patience instead of forbearance, that is simply a difference of translations. Forbearance and patience are similar in definition.
Next week we are going to start breaking these couple of verses apart, and looking at each piece by itself and how it connects and how to put it to work in our lives, but for today, I wanted us to look at context. What is going on around this verse? Why is Paul writing this verse to the church members in Galatia? These are nice character qualities to have, but why do they need to know them? Without understanding the context of Galatians we cannot really understand what these verses mean. This is true for any Scripture passage.
To get to this answer we have to go back and look at this from the beginning...
In chapter 1, Paul starts off in a very common letter-writing way. He greets the people, and you think things are going well when all of a sudden, just 6 verses in, you read, Galatians 1:6-7, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.”
The Letter to the Galatians is written because there are some troublemakers in the Church.
And these troublemakers have a couple of issues:
- They are attacking Paul’s apostleship-his right to preach the Gospel.
- They are attacking Paul’s explanation of the Gospel.
These troublemakers seem to have good standing...They have come from Jerusalem, where, and everyone knows this, the real apostles work. They are leaders in that church. They are Jews. But what has the most impact, they are good Bible teachers.
One of the stories they are really good at sharing is the Story of Abraham and God’s Covenant with Abraham...especially what has become the Jewish distinctive of circumcision. They tell the Galatian Gentile Christians that they are to place their faith in Jesus, but they must also submit themselves to the Jewish tradition of circumcision in order for their salvation to be complete. Because of this they became known as Judaizers. People who taught that in order to be truly Christian you had to accept Jesus and you had to keep the Jewish Law.
This sets up a bit of a battle for Paul. When you read the rest of Galatians, you get the feeling that Paul is angry. These people have come into the churches he started, and are spreading an understanding of the Gospel that is completely false. Paul is not self-conscious. He doesn’t mind others coming in to preach in those churches, but he will not stand by and watch as these people undermine the true nature of the Gospel message.
Take a look at some of these verses:
Galatians 2:15-16, “We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.”
Paul, the former Pharisee who killed others for straying away from the minutia of the Law, says, “A person is not justified by the Law, but by faith in Jesus Christ.”
Later in Galatians 3:23-25, Paul describes the Law as a Caretaker of children, “ Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.”
Just like a child will often be given a guardian until he is old enough to handle his inheritance, so the Law was given as a way to hopefully keep God’s followers out of trouble...out of sin. A simple reading of the Old Testament shows that it didn’t work for the majority, but it certainly kept a sizable group from going too far.
Paul is fighting for the heart of the Gospel
Paul isn’t just fighting over some doctrinal differences. He is fighting for the true nature of the Gospel. Paul knows that theology is absolutely important here...what they believe dictates their practice, and they are about to abandon the Gospel. A Gospel that is truly able to do what the Law could never do.
The Law was not able to make us truly right before God. Galatians 3:11-12, “Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God, because “the righteous will live by faith.” The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, it says, “The person who does these things will live by them.”
Or take Galatians 5:2-4, “Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.”
Here is the essential nature of what Paul is trying to get at...and it is as important for us today as it was the Galatians whom he wrote to almost 2,000 years ago...
It is all about Jesus and the Holy Spirit.
Our salvation starts and ends with Jesus alone.
It is not Jesus plus something else that brings our salvation.
It is not Jesus and being a good person that brings our salvation.
It is not Jesus and getting every point of moral code correct that brings our salvation.
It is not Jesus and having the perfect theology that brings our salvation.
It is not Jesus and doing this or that religious activity in the right way.
It is faith in Jesus. Paul is interested in what it means to have salvation and then to grow in our Christlikeness. So for Paul is starts with faith in Jesus and then receiving and being led by the Holy Spirit who is given to us because of our faith in Jesus. This is how we are saved and our relationship with God is restored by faith in Jesus, and this is how we grow by being connected to the power of the Holy Spirit.
Paul is amazed how quickly the Galatians have turned from what is such a freeing understanding of the faith. Maybe is just seemed too simple for them. We have an idiom in our culture that says, “It’s too good to be true!” We say that when something seems way too easy. You can lose 50 pounds without exercise or diet...just take this pill! You can be rich just by taking this class.
Maybe connecting with God seemed way too easy.
It still seems way too easy. So we add all kinds of stuff. That is why some churches are very legalistic....people can’t be trusted to do what is right, so we have to make up some rules for them to follow. Some churches, maybe started out right, but now they have added so much ritual and baggage that people get distracted from the main thing.
Often a lot of our own religious guilt comes from believing that simply trusting Jesus and walking in the power of the Holy Spirit is just way to easy...there has to be something else.
The Galatians heard Paul’s message of faith in Christ and the working of the Holy Spirit in their lives, and thought, “This is awesome!” But when the Judaizers came they thought, “I knew it was too good to be true!”
So when the Galatians turn from the simple power of the Gospel...Paul gets upset. First because they are not just differing on a small theological point...they cutting at the very heart of the Gospel message. And second, they are leading people astray that Paul loves. So Paul, understandably, is angry.
A pastor friend of mine never told his kids not to cuss. He always told them, “Save your strong language for strong emotions.” I think Paul would have agreed. Paul in his writing is bold and sometimes irreverent. Many people in today’s traditional churches would have a problem letting Paul speak in their churches, because Paul has some hardcore language and illustrations.
I want you to hear what Paul says to these people who have come to his churches and undermined the freedom of the Gospel by “requiring” circumcision...Galatians 5:10-12, “The one who is throwing you into confusion, whoever that may be, will have to pay the penalty. Brothers and sisters, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished. As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!”
If cutting the tip off will make them holy, just imagine how righteous they will be if they cut the whole thing off!
Strong language for strong emotions because what is at stake is not just some small theological difference...it is the very heart of the Gospel.
True Faith Leads to Fruit
Galatians 5:1 Paul writes, “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.” And Paul means that...Freedom from the works of the Law. One of the accusation must have been, if you free people from the Law...they will just do whatever they want.
Paul knew the law can’t actually make us good. It can make us obey. It can make us guilty when we break it. It can even lay out consequences for when we break the Law. But law cannot change our heart. It cannot transform our character. Something has to happen deep inside of us for actual change to happen. To have actual transformation of character, something must happen inside of us, and that is the work of the Spirit.
Paul knew that our faith in Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, if it was real...if we had really accepted it...would show up in how we treat others.
Galatians 5:13-14 says, “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.”
The Law was powerless to change us, but the Holy Spirit has the power to change our lives so we can truly live a life pleasing to God in relationship with those around us.
The Law couldn’t do that. No law can do that. We live in a nation of laws. We create law after law after law, and all we have to do is look at the newspaper to know that laws don’t make people good. Good people obey laws, but laws can never make a person good. It has to come from inside, and that requires a change of heart; a transformation of our character.
As we look at the Fruit of the Spirit over the next few weeks, we are really looking at what God wants to bring about in our lives because we have placed our faith in Jesus Christ and allowed the Holy Spirit to work.
It is important for us to remember that, first, it is Fruit, and, second, it is of the Spirit. If we understand the analogy, fruit naturally grows on a healthy tree or vine. If we are following Jesus, and seeking, through His Spirit, to live the life of a disciple, then fruit will grow. If we spend time watering and cultivating the soil of our lives, we will produce healthy fruit.
But we also recognize these fruits as being of the Spirit. This means we cannot bring them about ourselves. We can do the work of the gardener, but no gardner can MAKE the plant produce fruit. We also have some measure of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control...because of the mark of God’s image on our lives, but we cannot live out the Fruits of the Spirit to the level God desires without the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
I would invite you this week to do a couple of things.
1. Read through the book of Galatians. If you can, read it all in one sitting and read it several times throughout the week. If you can’t do that, at least read a chapter a day. This will help us come at this passage with more understanding of the context of Paul’s writing.
2. Self-evaluate. How are you doing with each fruit of the Spirit? Spend time reflecting, ask God to help you grasp their meaning and to grow.