February 19, 2021
The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.
What does it mean to be a virtuous person? The pagan cardinal virtues of wisdom, courage, justice, and temperance could provide, at best, a sense of order and civility in the Ancient Near East and during the Roman Empire when Paul was writing. We might add tolerance and equality to that list for a 21st century, secular American audience.
But Paul’s list, while it includes the four pagan virtues in forbearance, self-control, goodness, and faithfulness, has a few more that seem superfluous even to the most egalitarian society. Love, joy, peace, kindness, and gentleness are unique to the fruits of the spirit. This is another reminder to the Galatians (and us) that believers are called to a higher standard in their relationships than their pagan counterparts. The just pagan may be wise and brave, but the Christlike man is also loving and gentle. The sinful nature must be governed to remain civil, but the spirit produces good fruit.