Today’s readings (click below to open in a new tab/window):
Psalms 108; 150, Genesis 18:16-33, Galatians 5:13-25, Mark 8:22-30
Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia introduced the phrase “fruits of the spirit.” He wrote this letter to the mostly Gentile church because they had fallen under the influence of Jewish evangelists who were persuading them they needed to observe Mosaic law to be good followers of Christ. Paul reminded the Galatians that salvation through Christ leads to changes in attitude and behavior, not the other way around. Over the centuries some Christians have ironically twisted Paul’s insights into a new set of rules and subverted his intent.
Why are we tempted to treat Paul’s list of the fruits of the Spirit and the works of the flesh like a checklist of do’s and don’ts, as though we are wrangling a spot on Santa’s Nice List? It’s always easier to follow specific rules than to do the hard work of learning how to truly love our neighbor. So we substitute a (rather subjective and conveniently curated) list of virtuous activities and evil vices and convince ourselves we are good because we do or don’t do them. We are right back to living for the law, and a second-rate law at that.
Performing good deeds to prove the Spirit is within us is like laying a bunch of apples on the ground and hoping a trunk forms in the middle to raise them all up; they are just going to lay there and eventually rot. Instead we must open ourselves to the Spirit as saplings open to the sun. As we mature in its presence, the resulting fruits – love, peace, generosity, kindness, self-control, etc. – sprout naturally and abundantly. We will act in love and joy because they grow from the inside out.
One last, important feature of fruit: when someone picks it, the branch is not diminished but freed up to create more. Fruit left to rot on the vine does no one any good. Life in the Spirit is not self-centered, but generous. True fruits of the Spirit not only nourish us, they contain the seeds that create a cycle of faith and growth. Our best testimony is the fruit we bear.
Comfort: God’s love for you does not depend on your ability to follow arbitrary rules.
Challenge: Learning to love our neighbors as Christ teaches us to love them takes dedication and hard work.
Prayer: Lord, I will treasure and share the fruits your Spirit has trusted to me.
Discussion: What kinds of rules are important to you? What are not?
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