By Mark Scott
Jesus taught that good trees bear good fruit and bad trees bear bad fruit (Matthew 7:18). Christian freedom allows believers to bear fruit like healthy bushes and trees. Christians are to live in moral excellence. But this is not so we can look at others with moral smugness, but rather so we can serve others in love.
When we are led by the Spirit (Galatians 5:18), living by the Spirit (v. 25; 6:1), and keeping in step with the Spirit (5:25), we live in holiness. This is because the Holy Spirit has more of us with which to work. Boyce Mouton said it well: “The Holy Spirit will not manifest himself until we deny ourselves.”
Holy Living Produces Good Fruit
Paul was a list maker. Today’s two lists stand in stark contrast. The first is called the acts (works) of the flesh (while flesh can mean “human,” here it means fleshly, earthly, or worldly). The list is composed of 19 ugly vices. They cover the range of human depravity.
Sexual sins (sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery), worship and spirit world sins (idolatry and witchcraft), emotional sins (hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy) and self-destructive sins (drunkenness, orgies) are all addressed. Then, as a catchall category, Paul included and the like. People who spiral downward with these ugly vices in a habitual way will not be able to inherit the ultimate kingdom of God.
In contrast to the works of the flesh is the fruit of the Spirit. How much we should make out of the fact that Paul lists nine of them but calls them singularly fruit is hard to say. Technically they are not “fruits” plural. The qualities are viewed collectively and may be the fullest expression of the Christian experience in a virtue list. They have vertical and horizontal dimensions to them—expressed to God and to others. Maybe the key is to notice the first and last quality of this fruit—love and self-control. Typically to Jewish lists, if the accent falls on the first and last qualities, then the qualities in the middle will follow naturally.
One thing is for sure—there is no law (no definite article with law here) anywhere that could stand opposed to those great qualities. People who have embraced the cruciform life have put to death the works of the flesh (passions and desires) and are staying in sync with the Spirit. The people who produce this fruit will not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.
Holy Living Cares for Others
Before Paul gave his final warnings and benediction (Galatians 6:11-18) he gave several practical imperatives in machine-gun style. There are at least seven major ways Christians care for others. First we restore (“mend” or “put back together”) believers who have been caught in a sin. This is so delicate of a task that it must be done with great humility and introspection. Secondly, we carry each other’s burdens. When we do this we demonstrate that we understand the law of Christ (a very interesting phrase in light of the use of law in this epistle).
Thirdly, we humble ourselves and test ourselves (“put to the test and become approved”). When believers use themselves to measure themselves (2 Corinthians 10:12), they will always come up short of God’s intention. Fourthly, we actually help others when we carry our own load. This is not a contradiction of verse 2. A burden of sin is different than a load of personal responsibility.
Fifthly, we share physically (money) with those who
have taught us spiritually (instructor). This is only right
(1 Corinthians 9:14). Sixthly, we do not dupe ourselves. We cannot contradict the law of harvest. We reap what we sow. Finally, we keep doing well to all people. We take care of the church and take care of the world. Such a free person in Christ realizes that holy living is a high calling.
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri.
Based on International Sunday School Lesson, © 2012, by the Lesson Committee. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.