Spirit and the Flesh
Part 1: Fulfilling Christ's Law of Love
By Bruce L. Gerig
Those who are able to attend the Christian GLBT & Others Fellowship Group’s semimonthly Tuesday evening meetings at the LGBT Community Center in New York know that we recently began a series of discussions on the “Fruit of the Spirit,” given in Gal 5:22-23, which follows another list of the “Works of the Flesh” which Paul describes in 5:19-21. This article serves as a kind of introduction and background for this series. Paul had visited the Roman province of Galatia in central Asia Minor (now Turkey) ca. 48 A.D., during his first missionary journey; and in spite of fierce Jewish opposition he had founded three new churches in the south, in the cities of Antioch (in Pisidia), Iconium and Lystra (Acts 13:14 - 14:23).1 However, he received news not too long afterward that things there had deteriorated into a hornets’ nest; and so ca. 49 A.D. he wrote the churches a circular letter (to be passed around among them), which is known to us in the NT as Paul’s epistle to the Galatians. Here his usual introductory note of praise for the recipients of a letter is missing and instead, after a short salutation, he warns the Galatians that they “are turning to a different gospel” and he condemns those who are trying “to pervert the gospel of Christ” (Gal 1:6-7, NRSV). In fact, fundamentalist Jews had come from Jerusalem into the Galatian churches (cf. Acts 15:24) decrying that Paul’s gospel set aside God’s rules for behavior given in the Torah (the Law of Moses), like following a kosher diet and being circumcised (Gal 2:11-14, 5:2-6); and they claimed further that Gentile Christians needed to add these works to really be saved.2 So, here in one of Paul’s most passionate letters, he emphasizes the truth that “a person is justified [LB: ‘become(s) right with God’] not by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ” alone (2:16, NRSV). Not only this, but Paul sets forth a remarkable “Magna Carta of Christian liberty” (Boice3) or even “…of humanity” (Jewett4) in Gal 3:28, which nullifies all social distinctions that divide people: whether Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female. To this may also be added the examples: of rich or poor, mainstream or minority race, ‘straight’ or GLBT, the prim-and-proper or motorcycle crowd, etc. - for all who put their faith in Christ Jesus receive God’s grace (undeserved favor), and all are made “one [CEV: ‘equal’] in Christ Jesus” (3:28). What an amazing grace! How contrary to that impulse found in rule-lovers among God’s people who fight all of the time for ‘works’ that they think need to be done (usually by others) to earn God’s favor (cf. Gal 2). However, Paul was not only troubled by Jewish legalists in his Galatian churches, but also Gentile libertines, radicals who held that in Christ they were set free from all moral law and so could do whatever they wanted (a view called “antinomianism”5). The book of Galations is almost entirely about freedom; and yet in the last section (5:13 - 6:10) Paul clarifies what he means by ‘freedom in Christ’6 and he does this by contrasting two ways of living, one ‘in the flesh’ and the other ‘in the Spirit.’ The first path cares little about others but is self-conceited and self-indulgent, with believers even who “bite and devour one another” (5:26,13,15, NRSV), while the second path leads to serving others, following Jesus’ commandment to “love your neighbor [LB: ‘others’] as yourself” (Mark 12:31, NIV).
Of key importance, then, are the two lists of sins and graces that Paul gives, the first including 15 “works of the flesh” (5:19-21) and the second 9 “fruit of the Spirit” (5:22-23). Those reading the King James Version will note two additional sins added to the first list, “adultery” (moicheia, Strong #3430) at the beginning and “murders” (phonoi, #5408) after “envyings.” However, since these Greek terms are not found in the most reliable ancient manuscripts, scholars now agree that they were added later, probably to bring Paul’s list more in line with Jesus’ list of vices recorded in Mark 7:21-22 (Matt 15:19); and so these two words are omitted from most modern translations.7 Some interpreters believe that these two lists derived mainly from Greco-Roman catalogues of vices and virtues that were popular in Paul’s time, going back to Zeno the Stoic philosopher (Longenecker).8 Others feel that they were more influenced by Jewish lists of Two Ways, as are discussed in the Dead Sea cave scrolls (Matera).9 However, very few of these lists comment on love at all and Paul’s emphasis on love and on the indwelling Spirit sets his virtue list in Gal 5 apart from the Greek noble qualities and from Jewish common morality (Witherington).10 Also, it should be remembered that Paul is writing this letter to address a very specific situation in his churches (cf. Gal 5:15).
Turning to the first list of WORKS OF THE FLESH, it should be noted that in Paul’s letters he uses the Greek word sarx (lit. “flesh,” #4561) with a variety of meanings; and in Galations one sees it applied to: the whole physical body (4:13, KJV); the meat of the body, as opposed to the blood (1:16, KJV); the male genitals, as an euphemism for circumcision (6:13, KJV); and the fallen nature of humankind (5:17).11 In Gal 5:13 - 6:10, then, sarx refers specifically to “humanity’s fallen, corrupt, and sinful nature” (Longenecker),12 to that “inclination and tendency in the human person to live an existence completely and totally centered on the self” (Matera).13 “[A]ll human beings are fallen creatures … [in] every aspect of human existence” including the mind, heart, will, emotions and body, and social relationships and human institutions (Witherington).14 Even those who have been made a “new creation” in Christ, Paul notes, “groan” in their present “tent [bodily form],” waiting to be clothed with a new “heavenly dwelling” at the resurrection (2 Cor 5:17,2, NRSV): an immortal, beautiful, strong, and spiritual body (1 Cor 15:42-44, GNB).
Commentators going back to J.B. Lightfoot (1890) have noted that the “works of the flesh” in 5:19-21 divide into four groups, which Lightfoot described as having to do with (1) sensuality, (2) heathen religions, (3) conflict among people, and (4) drunkenness.15 However, Ben Witherington III (1998) goes further than other interpreters in situating these “works” in their first-century historical and cultural setting. He notes that the four groups include (terms in bold from the NRSV): (1) three SEXUAL SINS, of fornication (porneia = prostitution?), impurity (NKJV: uncleanness), and licentiousness (NIV: debauchery); (2) two SPIRITUAL SINS, of idolatry (NJB: the worship of false gods) and sorcery (NIV: witchcraft); (3) eight SOCIAL SINS AGAINST THE COMMUNITY OF FAITH, of enmities (NIV: hatred), strife (LB: fighting), jealousy, anger (NIV: fits of rage), quarrels, dissensions (NJB: disagreements), factions (REB: party intrigues), and envy; and finally (4) two SOCIAL SINS IN THE LARGER COMMUNITY, of drunkenness (REB: drinking bouts) and carousing (RSV: orgies).16 One can see here that Paul’s emphasis is placed on the third group, on sins which Christians commit one against another, which contains a larger number (8 sins) than all of the others (7 sins) added together. Also, it should be noted that these “social sins against the faith community” are usually plural in the ancient Greek, except for eris (“strife,” #2054) and zēlos (“jealousy,” #2205) which appear in the singular in some major manuscripts.17 Of course, all of these “works [NIV: ‘acts’] of the flesh” point to inner attitudes as well as to outward manifestations18 of a selfish life, which show little or no evidence of Christ’s loving Spirit dwelling within. It is no wonder, then, that Paul warns that such persons may not be welcomed into the final “kingdom of God” (5:21) in the age to come.19
Moreover, Witherington points to an alignment and contrast between the 8 social sins committed against the faith community and the 9 fruit of the Spirit (5:22-23), although he is not quite able to match them all up in pairs,20 partly related to the differing totals. Before deciding on this, it is necessary to look carefully at the Greek terms used here for the ‘social sins’ and for the Spirit’s graces, both at how they were used in ancient times21 and at how they have been rendered in various (twenty) English translations.22 The social sins include: (1) ENMITY (NRSV, and below) -- Echthrai (KJV: “hatred,” #2189) has also been also translated as “enmities” (NASB, Green, NRSV); and indeed the Greek word is plural. The noun echthros (#2190), related to this verb, means “enemy”23 and the Greek opposite of this was philos (#5384), meaning “friend.”24 An enemy is one who cherishes hostile thoughts, which then lead to hostile acts.25 The preferred translation here is: expressions of hatred. (2) STRIFE -- Eris (KJV: “variance,” #2054) appears singular in the best manuscripts, but plural in some others. Classical writers commonly used this word to refer to “strife” (cf. also Lamsa, NASB, NRSV), “discord” (NIV), and “wrangling” (JB), etc.26 To “wrangle” means to “quarrel angrily and noisily.”27 This points to a quarrelsome attitude, which erupts into strife and discord.28 The preferred translation here is: fighting. (3) JEALOUSY -- Zēloi (KJV: “emulations,” #2205) usually has been translated as “jealousy” (cf. NIV, NRSV, NJB), although the Greek word is plural. The basic meaning of zēlos (sing.) is “zeal,” and this term was used in ancient Greek to refer positively to a noble passion (e.g., “zeal for God”) as well as negatively to wanting what another possesses. The common denominator in all cases was an “intense feeling” for something.29 The preferred translation here is: expressions of jealousy. (4) ANGER -- Thumoi (KJV: “wrath,” #2372) has been most often translated as “anger” (Lamsa, Williams, NASB, LB, NRSV), although the Greek word is plural. The ancients used this word in a good sense referring to “courage” and in a bad sense referring to “fits of rage” (cf. also NEB, NIV, REB). Both exhibit an “outburst of passion,”30 although thumos may be more passionate and temporary than orgē, (#3709), “wrath.”31 The preferred translation here is: fits of rage.
(5) QUARRELS -- Eritheiai (KJV: “strife,” #2052) is plural in the Greek and has been translated as “selfish ambitions” (NEB, NKJV, REB). Such selfishness leads to “disputes” (NASB), “quarrels” (JB, NRSV, NJB), and “rivalries” (Green). In ancient times it carried the negative meaning of “self-seeking,” “selfish ambition” and “selfish devotion to one’s own interests.” Indeed, selfishness has been called the “root-vice of all sin” (Burton).32 The preferred translation here is: quarrels. (6) DISSENSIONS -- Dichtostasiai (KJV: “seditions,” #1370), here in the plural, was often used in ancient Greece in a political context, pointing to a rebellion or revolt.33 It has been translated as “dissensions” (NASB, NEB, NIV, NRSV), “disagreements” (JB, NJB, CEV), “divisions” (Green), and “complaints and criticisms” (LB). One dictionary defines “dissension” as “intense quarreling or wrangling,” i.e., heated disagreements. 34 The preferred translation here is: heated disagreements. (7) FACTIONS -- Haireseis (KJV: “heresies,” #139), here in the plural, has been translated as “factions” (NASB, JB, NIV, NRSV, NAB), “heresies” (Lamsa, Green, NKJV), “party spirit” (Williams, Phillips, RSV), and “party intrigues” (NEB, REB). The English word “heresy” derives from this Greek word.35 This term points to a sect (or splinter group) that splits from the main body usually over differences in opinion.36 The preferred translation here is: splinter groups. (8) ENVY -- Phthonoi (KJV: “envyings,” #5355), here in the plural, has been translated widely as “envy” (RSV, JB, LB, NIV, NKJV, NRSV), but also as “envyings” (NASB, Green) and as “jealousies” (NEB, NRSV). In classical writing the term referred to “ill-will,” “malice,” or “envy.”37 This sin is probably mentioned last by Paul because it so often appears at the root of divisions and factions.38 The preferred translation here is: expressions of envy.
Looking at the 2 social sins against the larger community, which are added at the end of the list, we find: (9) DRUNKENNESS -- Methai (KJV: “drunkenness,” #3178), here plural in the Greek, points to more than “drunkenness” (NASB, LB, NIV, NKJV, NRSV, NJB), rather to repeated “drinking bouts” (NEB, REB, NAB). A man given to drinking was disqualified from serving as a bishop or deacon in the church (1 Tim 3:3,8; Titus 1:7), and drunkenness is perilous because it weakens a person’s control over one’s words and actions.39 The preferred translation here is: drinking bouts. (10) CAROUSING -- Kōmoi (KJV: “revelings,” #2970), here plural in the Greek, has been usually translated as “carousing” (Williams, RSV, NRSV) or “orgies” (JB, NEB, NIV, GNB, REB, NAB, NJB). Kōmos (sing.) was a natural companion to drunkenness;40 and, in fact, Komos was designated a Greek god, with his rites carried on, for example, in the Bacchanalian revelries.41 The preferred translation here is: orgies.
We turn then to the fruit of the Spirit. Although all of these words are in the singular, in this context and contrasted with the “works” of the flesh, one must view these as qualities observed in outward actions. These graces include: (1) LOVE (NRSV) -- Agapē (KJV: “love,” #26) is almost always translated simply as “love,” although this agapē is not natural love but rather a love that seeks to serve others and that is poured into the heart by the Holy Spirit.42 It reflects God’s agapē love, which is unmerited (Rom 5:8), great (Eph 2:4), transforming (Rom 5:5), and unchangeable (Rom 8:35-39) - the kind of love that sent the Son to die on the Cross.43 The preferred translation here is: a compassionate love, shown in serving others. (2) JOY -- Chara (KJV: “joy,” #5479) is almost always translated as “joy.” For the Greeks this meant something like “contentment,” the ability to find the golden mean (a middle way) between extremes, and so to be happy, or exhilarated. For Paul, however, this was not tied to shifting circumstances or ephemeral pleasures, but was generated by the Spirit and could be manifested even in unhappy circumstances.44 The preferred translation here is: a spiritual joy, shared with others. (3) PEACE -- Eirēnē (KJV: “peace,” #1515) is almost always translated as “peace,” although Peterson renders it as “serenity.” The Greeks viewed this as referring to the absence of pain in body and trouble in mind, while the Jews viewed shalom as pointing to personal wholeness and good relations with others.45 For the Christian, this meant more, pointing to a reconciled relationship with God through Christ.46 The preferred translation here is: an inner peace, spread to others. (4) PATIENCE -- Makrothumia (KJV: “longsuffering,” #3115) is usually translated as “patience” (NASB, LB, NIV, GNB, NRSV, NJB), although “longsuffering” (Green, NKJV) brings to mind the endurance that is often required. It is rooted in God’s “forbearance” extended to humankind (Joel 2:13, NRSV).47 Human patience defers to another, instead of expressing anger; and it refuses to pay back when a wrong is suffered.48 The preferred translation here is: a long-suffering patience. (5) KINDNESS -- Chrēstotēs (KJV: “gentleness,” #5544) has most often been translated as “kindness” (RSV, JB, LB, NIV, GNB, NRSV, NJB), although Peterson renders it as “compassion.” Although this can mean “goodness,” its constant meaning in the NT, referred to God, is “kindness.”49 The Greek (Septuagint) translation of Ps 33:9 (English order, 34:8) may be translated: “Taste and see that the Lord is kind [italics added].”50 The preferred translation here is: a gentle kindness.
(6) GENEROSITY -- Agathōsunē (KJV: “goodness,” #19) has most often been translated as “goodness,” (RSV, NASB, NEB, LB, GNB, NIV), but also as “generosity” (Williams, NRSV, NAB). The term for “goodness” is hard to define, in Greek and English; but in this context it must be viewed as a generous kindness shown to others, even a generosity directed toward someone who does not merit the action.51 The preferred translation here is: a generous goodness. (7) FAITHFULNESS -- Pistis (KJV: “faith,” #4102) has most often been translated as “faithfulness” (Phillips, RSV, NASB, LB, NIV, GNB, NKJV, NRSV, NAB), but also as “fidelity” (Williams, NEB, REB) and “trustfulness” (JB, NJB). While pistis can refer to a person’s response of trust toward God relating to his offer of salvation in Christ, here it undoubtedly carries the meaning of “faithfulness,” even as it is often used to refer to God’s faithfulness (1 Cor 1:9).52 The preferred translation here is: a reliable faithfulness. (8) GENTLENESS -- Praotēs (KJV: “meekness,” #4236) has most often been translated as “gentleness” (RSV, JB, LB, NKJV, NRSV, REB, NJB). The opposite of arrogance or self-assertiveness, praotēs referred to “gentleness,” “humility,” or “considerateness.” However, Aristotle saw a gentle person as one who is never angry at the wrong time, but is always angry at the right time53 - and so this term joins gentleness and strength.54 The preferred translation here is: a considerate gentleness. (9) SELF-CONTROL -- Egkrateia (KJV: “temperance,” #1466) has almost always been translated as “self-control.” The ancient Greeks valued keeping strong passions under control.55 Paul wrote of how an athlete in training practiced this (egkrateuomai, #1467), which should also be applied to the Christian’s spiritual race (1 Cor 9:25). On the other hand, a single person who could not practice sexual restraint should seek a companion (1 Cor 7:9).56 The preferred translation here is: a watchful self-control. In the end, the social sins that Christians in Galatia displayed seem naturally to align and contrast with the Spirit’s graces, in this way: (1) expressions of hatred vs. a compassionate love shown to others, (2) fighting vs. a spiritual joy shared with others, (3) expressions of jealousy vs. an inner peace spread to others, (4) fits of rage vs. a long-suffering patience, (5) quarrels vs. a gentle kindness, (6) heated disagreements vs. a generous goodness, (7) splinter groups vs. a reliable faithfulness, and (8) expressions of envy vs. a considerate gentleness. Then, the last fruit of the Spirit, watchful self-control, may be related to wine and sex and contrasted with the fourth group of “works of the flesh,” drinking bouts and orgies.
Yet, what about the first two groups of the “works of the flesh”? Witherington observes that all of these 5 sexual and spiritual sins (fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry and sorcery), along with the final 2 social sins in the larger community (drunkenness and carousing), characterized the Gentiles when they gathered in their pagan temples to sacrifice to their gods, eat and drink too much, fall into debates and quarreling, and engage in sexual play.57 Paul even wrote to the church at Corinth, “[F]lee from idolatry. … Do not those who eat the [meat from pagan] sacrifices participate in the altar? … You cannot drink the cup of the Lord [i.e., partake of the Lord’s Supper] and the cup of demons too [who lie behind the worship of other gods].” (1 Cor 10:18-21, NIV) You cannot worship the true God and also the false deities of this world. The Galatians had come to believe in Jesus, but at the same time they could not resist the allure of returning to their former drinking parties and socializing and sex at the temple feasts. Along with eidōlolatreia (#1495; GNB: “worship of idols,” NJB: “worship of false gods”) in Gal 5:20, Paul also mentions pharmakeia (#5331; NRSV: “sorcery,” or NIV: “witchcraft”), which refers literally to the use of drugs in ancient religions to enchant (cast spells) or induce an altered state of consciousness.58 In addition (at the end of the list of the “works of the flesh,” 5:21), methai (#3178; KJV: “drunkenness,” NEB: “drinking bouts”) and kōmoi (#2970; KJV: “revelings,” JB: “orgies”) commonly accompanied the celebration of major feasts held to honor the gods-who-are-not. Especially at festivals for Dionysus (Latin: Bacchus), which were widespread in Asia Minor, heavy drinking and sexual activity played a large part.59 Records document that Bacchanalian rites in Italy in the early 2nd century B.C., for example, included drinking, feasting, dancing, loud music, sexual acts and couplings of all kinds, and even sometimes violence and bloodshed.60
Then, the first three “works of the flesh” in Greek are porneia (#4202; KJV, NRSV: “fornication,” Strong: “harlotry [prostitution61],” NIV: “sexual immorality”), akatharsia (#167; KJV: “uncleanness,” NRSV: “impurity,” REB: “indecency”), and aselgeia (#766; KJV: “lasciviousness,” NRSV: “licentiousness,” NJB: “debauchery”). Witherington notes that although porneia can refer to sexual sin in general (and in the NT it usually refers to “fornication,” or sex outside of marriage), its basic and original meaning was “prostitution,” including temple prostitution that went on in some pagan temples.62 Ebeling notes that it is “not by accident” that porneia and idolatry are mentioned here together.63 Longenecker explains that pornē (“prostitute,” #4204) most likely derived from the verb pernēmi, meaning to “sell [slaves],” since prostitutes were often bought as slaves.64 Scroggs holds that pornoi in 1 Tim 1:9-10, usually translated as “fornicators” (cf. NKJV, NRSV, REB), very likely points to “[male] prostitutes” - and this meaning should not be automatically dismissed from other references in the NT as well.65 It was normal practice at Greco-Roman banquets for the wives and children to leave early (if they came at all), so that only the men remained for the drinking party (symposium) and discussion which followed the meal, usually accompanied by sexual dalliance (flirting, play and coupling).66 Entertainment included flute-playing girls and high-class and common prostitutes. Also, Quintilian, a Roman writer (ca. A.D. 35-96), lamented: “I do not approve of boys sitting with young men” at banquets and drinking parties, because of his concern about the sorts of activities that went on there.67
It is especially interesting, in this regard, to look at the policy letter that was issued by the Jerusalem Council in 50 A.D. (Acts 15:1-29), to be sent to all of the churches. Recognizing Paul’s special ministry, the Jewish leaders decided “to impose on you [Gentile believers] no further burden than these essentials: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from fornication.” (v. 28-29, NRSV) A sacrificial animal was strangled with the belief that its breath would be transferred to the idol, while the shed blood appeased the deity. The eating of the roasted meat afterward was received as a gift from the god; and along with the meal came excessive drinking, prostitutes and sexual activity. Of course, anything connected with idols was “polluted” for the Jews (cf. Acts 15:20, NRSV; alisgēma, #234) or “ritually unclean” (GNB). Earlier, in 2 Maccabees 6:4-5, the Jewish writer connected revelry, debauchery, prostitution, and sexual intercourse with sacrificing to idols in the pagan temples (cf. also Rom 1:18-32).68 The fact that Paul nowhere in his letters independently mentions the restrictions on eating strangled meat and bloody meat further suggests that these were viewed together with sacrificing to idols and engaging in orgies as all part and parcel of the pagan temple scene. Probably prostitution (fornication) was listed first in Gal 5:19-21 because of sex’s undeniably strong allure. However, Paul tells the Gentiles believers in no uncertain terms that, having turned to the true God, they must NOT return to the pagan temples with their idols and prostitutes.69
In contrast to the destructive “social sins” (items 6-15 of the “works of the flesh”) stand the delightful FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT, which includes: “love, joy, peace, patience [KJV: ‘longsuffering’], kindness, generosity [KJV: ‘goodness’], faithfulness [NEB: ‘fidelity’], gentleness, and self-control” (Gal 5:22-23, NRSV). The singular word “fruit” (karpos, #2590) in the Greek along with the verb “is” reveal that there is really only one basic fruit here (love), while the other virtues should be viewed as different “flavors” of this (Morgan).70 Or, Christian love may be compared to white light that when passed through a prism breaks up into a spectrum of beautiful rainbow colors (Williams).71 Or, like the rich, delicate taste of a fresh fruit salad is the sweetness of “love” in the full display of its graces (Moore).72 Yet, the Greek language had a range of different words for “love,” including erōs (not in the NT) referring to romantic or erotic passion, philia (#5373) referring to feelings of close attachment to a friend, philanthropia (#5364) referring to a love for humankind, storgē (not in the NT) referring love between family members, and agapē (#26).73 The last word in secular Greek was applied to divine love which humans sought, and in the NT it was applied to the distinctive love that God has expressed toward his Son (John 17:26) and toward humankind,74 seen so wonderfully in the verse “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16, NIV) Actually, erōs, philia and agapē were often used interchangeably in secular Greek and in the Septuagint (various kinds of love overlapping as they often do); however, Paul raises agapē to the highest peak of Christian graces.75 In his classic statement in 1 Cor 13 Paul notes that its expression is superior to any of the special “gifts of the Spirit” (tongues, prophecy, wisdom, great faith, etc. - cf. 1 Cor 12:7-11,27-31); and even the greatest sacrifices (giving away all of one’s possessions or martyrdom) are worth “nothing” if they do not flow from love (13:1-3). Then Paul gives another agapē list (13:4-7, NRSV), noting that this love is “patient … kind … [and] not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” In the end, the greatest of all human (and Divine) virtues is “love” (v. 13); and so Paul concludes with: “Pursue [agapē] love…” (14:1a). Yet it should also be noted that just as God’s love can only be perceived in the action it has prompted (supremely in the giving of his Son), so human love can only be known through the action it produces; so in essence agapē refers to “an unselfish love, ready to serve” others (Vine).76 At the same time, the term “fruit” presupposes life, cultivation and sustenance (John 15:1-17); and, as in a natural garden, there can be no spiritual “fruit” without Divine “cultivation” (including the difficult things given to us in life) and also God’s “sustenance” (gracious daily provision). How else, in fact, could this “fruit” be generated in our present frail, fallen human form, except through the dynamic life of the Spirit?77
Yet, how is one to face a situation where there is ill will, jealousy, anger, quarrels, and the like? How does one make agapē love real and practical? Paul ends his letter to the Galatian churches with the prayer “May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers and sisters. Amen.” (6:18, NRSV, italics added) This “undeserved favor” on God’s part is rooted in his gift of the Son, who “gave himself for our sins…” (1:4). As Paul writes to the Ephesians, Put away all bitterness, wrath, anger, wrangling, slander and malice, and “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you [of your sins and failings].” (Eph 4:31-32, NRSV) As forgiveness of our sins may be said to be God’s greatest gift to us, so FORGIVENESS is another aspect of agapē love that is often needed in our dealing with the human wrongs and insults that we receive, even from other Christians. It is striking (and utterly unnerving) that the Lord instructed us to pray to God in the Lord’s Prayer to “forgive us our debts [GNB: ‘wrongs’], / as we also have forgiven our debtors [GNB: ‘the wrongs that others have done to us].” (Matt 6:12, NRSV)
Yancey writes in his book What’s So Amazing about Grace? that “The very taste of forgiveness seems somehow wrong. Even when we have committed a wrong, we want to earn our way back … to crawl on our knees, to wallow, to do penance…”78 Elizabeth O’Connor notes, “Despite a hundred sermons on forgiveness, we do not forgive easily, nor find ourselves easily forgiven. Forgiveness, we discover, is always harder than the sermons make it out to be. We nurse sores, go to elaborate lengths to rationalize our behavior, perpetuate family feuds, punish ourselves, punish others -- all to avoid this most unnatural act.”79 Most ethicists would agree with the philosopher Immanuel Kant, who argued that a person should only be forgiven if he deserves it. Yet, the word “forgive” contains the word “give,” which like “grace” has that maddeningly quality of being undeserved, unmerited, unfair. Wrestling with the command to “love your enemies,” Deitrich Bonhoeffer, while being persecuted in Nazi Germany, concluded that it is this very quality of “the extraordinary” that sets the Christian apart from others. The gospel of grace begins and ends with forgiveness.80
Yet, while it seems unnatural, forgiving brings very pragmatic benefits: Forgiveness alone can halt the cycle of blame and pain, breaking the chain of ungrace (unforgiveness).81 In fact, the most common Greek word for “forgive” (aphiemi) means to “send forth, send away,”82 to hurl away, free oneself.83 “Think of all the squabbles Adam and Eve must have had in the course of their nine hundred years,” wrote Martin Luther. “Eve would say, ‘You ate the apple,’ and Adam would retort, ‘You gave it to me.’” Forgiveness does not settle all questions of blame and fairness, but it does allow a relationship to start over.84 In fact, as Lewis Smedes points out, “The first and often only person to be healed by forgiveness is the person who does the forgiveness. …When we genuinely forgive, we set a prisoner free and then discover that the prisoner we set free was us.”85 Forgiveness also loosens the stranglehold of guilt in the perpetrator. Justice has a rational kind of power, but grace is different: unworldly, transforming, supernatural.86 Smedes also makes the striking observation that the Bible portrays God going through progressive stages when he forgives, much as we humans do. Somehow God had to come to terms with these creatures he desperately wanted to love, and so he rediscovers humanity by removing the barrier created by sin. He came to earth to know what it would be like to live among us, to be tempted to sin, to have trying days. He surrendered his right to get even, choosing instead to bear the cost in his own body. Then, he revised his feelings toward us. Forgiveness was not easy for God either. “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me,” prayed Jesus (Matt 26:39, NIV), contemplating the cost - but there was no other way.87 To understand the fruit of the Spirit, then, we must turn our gaze back to Jesus, whose love, forgiveness, and service to others shows us the way.
FOOTNOTES: 1. Witherington Gal 1998, pp. 2-13. 2. Matera, pp. 193-94; Radmacher, p. 1514. 3. Boice, p. 409. 4. P.K. Jewett 1975, p. 142; quoted in Edwards, R.B., “Woman,” ISBE, IV(1988), p. 1095. 5. Matera, pp. 194-95; Cross & Livingstone, “antinomianism.” 6. Boice, p. 492. 7. Longenecker, p. 248, notes a,d. 8. Ibid., pp. 250-52. 9. Matera, pp. 208-09. 10. Witherington Gal 1998, p. 407. 11. Cf. Matera, p. 192. 12. Longenecker, p. 264. 13. Matera, p. 196. 14. Witherington Gal 1998, p. 377. 15. Lightfoot, p. 210. 16. Witherington Gal 1998, p. 397. 17. Longenecker, p. 248. 18. Betz, p. 283. 19. Bruce, p. 251. 20. Witherington Gal 1998, p. 402. 21. Cf. Boice 1976, pp. 495-500; Betz 1979, pp. 283-88; Bruce 1982, pp. 246-55; Fung 1988, pp. 253-73; Longenecker 1990, pp. 252-65; Matera 1992, pp. 198-205; and Witherington Gal 1998, pp. 397-411. 22. KJV 1611, Lamsa 1933, Williams 1937, RSV 1946, Phillips 1956, NASB 1960, JB 1966, NEB 1970, RSV2 1972, LB 1976, NIV 1978, NKJV 1982, GNB 1983, NJB 1985, Green 1986, NRSV 1989, REB 1989, CEV 1995, NAV 1995, and Peterson 2002. 23. Fung, p. 257. 24. Longenecker, p. 255. 25. F.F. Bruce, in Fung, p. 257. 26. Longenecker, p. 255. 27. Webster’s New World College Dictionary, “wrangle.” 28. Fung, p. 257. 29. Longenecker, p. 256. 30. Ibid., p. 256. 31. Fung, p. 258. 32. Longenecker, p. 256. 33. Fung, p. 258. 34. Webster’s New World College Dictionary, “dissension.” 35. Bruce, p. 249. 36. Longenecker, p. 257. 37. Ibid. 38. Witherington 1998, p. 401. 39. Fung, pp. 259-60. 40. Ibid., p. 260. 41. Witherington Gal 1998, p. 399. 42. Ibid., p. 408. 43. Boice, p. 498. 44. Witherington Gal 1998, p. 409. 45. Longenecker, p. 261. 46. Witherington Gal 1998, p. 409. 47. Matera, p. 203. 48. Fung, p. 267. 49. Longenecker, p. 262. 50. Bruce, p. 253. 51. Fung, p. 268; Bruce, p. 253; Matera, p. 204. 52. Longenecker, p. 262. 53. Boice, p. 499. 54. Fung, pp. 269-70. 55. Longenecker, p. 263. 56. Bruce, p. 255. 57. Witherington Gal 1998, p. 391. 58. Ibid., p. 398. 59. Ibid., pp. 398-99. 60. Myer, pp. 81-82. 61. Strong, #4202. 62. Witherington Gal 1998, p. 398; cf. also Boice, p. 496. 63. Ebeling, p. 258. 64. Longenecker, p. 254. 65. Scroggs, pp. 119-20. 66. Witherington Gal 1998, p. 399, n. 32. 67. Quintilian, Institutio Oratio, 2.2.14f; in Witherington Cor 1995, pp. 191-95, esp. p. 193, n. 29. 68. Witherington Acts 1998, p. 461. 69. Ibid., p. 463. 70. G. Campbell Morgan, in Wiersbe, p. 14. 71. Raymond Williams, in Kenneson, p. 37. 72. Moore, p. 53. 73. Longenecker, p. 260; Vine, III, p. 22. 74. Turner, G.A., “Love,” ISBE, III(1986), pp. 174-76. 75. Ibid., p. 176. 76. Vine, III, pp. 21-22. 77. G. Campbell Morgan, in Wiersbe, pp. 10-12. 78. Yancey 1997, p. 86. 79. O’Connor, 1987; in Yancey 1997, p. 86. 80. Ibid., pp. 88-90. 81. Ibid., p. 96. 82. Vine, II, p. 122. 83. Yancey 1997, p. 96. 84. Ibid., pp. 97-98. 85. Smedes, 1993; in Yancey 1997, pp. 99-100. 86. Yancey 1997, pp. 100,103. 87. Smedes, 1983; in Yancey 1997, pp. 106-07.
Betz, Hans D., Galations (Hermeneia series), 1979.
Boice, James M., “Galations,” Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. X, 1976, pp. 407-508.
Bruce, F.F., The Epistle to the Galations (New International Greek Testament Commentary), 1982.
Cross, F.L., and E.A. Livingstone, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 2nd ed. 1974.
Ebeling, Gerhard, The Truth of the Gospel: An Exposition of Galations, 1985. Trans. from the German, 1981, by David Green.
Fung, Ronald Y.K., The Epistle to the Galations, 1988.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (ISBE), ed. G.W. Bromiley, vols. I-IV, 1979-1988.
Kenneson, Philip D., Life on the Vine: Cultivating the Fruit of the Spirit in Christian Community, 1999.
Lightfoot, J.B., Galations, 1890.
Longenecker, Richard N., Galations (Word Biblical Commentary), 1990.
Matera, Frank J., Galations (Sacra Pagina Series), 1992.
Moore, Beth, Living Beyond Yourself: Exploring the Fruit of the Spirit, 1998.
Myer, Marvin W., ed., The Ancient Mysteries: A Sourcebook, 1987.
Radmacher, Earl, et al., eds., Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Commentary, 1999.
Scroggs, Robin, The New Testament and Homosexuality, 1983.
Strong, James, Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible…, with Hebrew/English and Greek/English dictionaries, 1890.
Vine, W.E., An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, four vols. in one, 1940.
Webster’s New World College Dictionary, 4th ed. 2002.
Wiersbe, Warren W., comp., Classic Sermons on the Fruit of the Spirit, 2002.
Witherington III, Ben, Acts of the Apostles: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary, 1998.
Witherington III, Ben, Conflict and Community in Corinth: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians, 1995.
Witherington III, Ben, Grace in Galatia: A Commentary on Paul’s Letter to the Galatians, 1998.
Yancey, Philip, What’s So Amazing about Grace?, 1997.
BIBLE TRANSLATIONS: Contemporary English Version, 1995. Good News Bible, 1983. Green, Sr., Jay: The Interlinear Bible, 1986. Jerusalem Bible, 1966. King James Version, 1611. Lamsa, George: Holy Bible …from the Aramaic of the Peshitta, 1933. Living Bible, 1976. New American Bible, 1995. New American Standard Bible, 1960. New English Bible, 1970. New International Version, 1978. New Jerusalem Bible, 1985. New King James Version, 1982. New Revised Standard Version, 1989. Peterson, Eugene: The Message, 2002. Phillips, J.B.: Letters to Young Churches, 1956. Revised English Bible, 1989. Revised Standard Version, 1946. Revised Standard Version, 2nd ed. 1972. Williams, Charles: The New Testament, 1937.
© 2008 Bruce L. Gerig
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