I once assembled an entire apartment’s worth of furniture from IKEA in one day. When I was done, I sat on a sofa I had built, propped my legs on a table I put together, and wrapped my arm around a grateful woman. With a deep satisfied sigh I thought, “There’s nothing like enjoying the fruit of my labor!”
And that is truth – an important lesson we all learn about working hard. Unfortunately, this truth sometimes stumbles us when we encounter Paul’s teaching in the fifth chapter of Galatians:
We see this list of fruit and naturally think – if I can accomplish those things I will feel satisfied and God will be so pleased. I once heard a sermon in which it was suggested that we should be “fruity Christians” – because if we are not laboring to demonstrate the Fruit of the Spirit then no-one will be interested in us or the Gospel message.
There is, however, a problem with that line of thought. If the Fruit of the Spirit is a list of behaviors we’re expected to demonstrate to show that Christians are nice people – then we are doomed. We can’t live up to it.
The funny thing is that is smack-dab in the middle of Paul’s teaching about freedom in Christ. He is talking about our inability to keep the law (which he calls a yoke of slavery) and that Jesus Christ is our only hope of righteousness. Why would he tell us to throw off our yoke of slavery and then give us a new list of impossible standards? He wouldn’t do that!
In Paul tells us what we are expected to do: “walk by the Spirit.” He then goes on to tell us that when we are led by the Spirit we can expect to experience the Fruit of the Spirit. They are fruit – the results – not a list of commandments.
And they are not the Fruit of our Labor, but the Fruit of the Spirit. All we do is submit to the Holy Spirit. He will do the labor for us; producing in us the very things we cannot do for ourselves. This is very satisfying for us, and immensely attractive to others.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, (ESV)
5:1 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
2 Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. 3 I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. 4 You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. 5 For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.
7 You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? 8 This persuasion is not from him who calls you. 9 A little leaven leavens the whole lump. 10 I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view than mine, and the one who is troubling you will bear the penalty, whoever he is. 11 But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed. 12 I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!
13 For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.
16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. (ESV)
16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. (ESV)