CALLED TO LIVE IN FREEDOM

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NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

by Dr. Robert R. Seyda

PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIAN CHURCHES

CHAPTER FIVE (Lesson XCIII)

Bruno the Carthusian (1030-1101), offers us the concept of relabeling the “works of the flesh” and “works of the Spirit.” Instead, he calls them “Faults of the Flesh” and “Fruit of the Spirit.” For me, it represents a weak attempt at poetry, and it does not measure up to the context and content of this scripture. Nevertheless, he goes on to say that the fruit nurtured by the Spirit is Love, love of God, and neighbor, from which flows joy and peace, et. al. So he also sees Love as the fruit from whose nectar all the other virtues flow in different varieties.[1]

Catholic scholar Thomas Aquinas (1226-1274), suggests that we understand “fruit” in two ways: First, as something acquired, for example, from labor or study and as something produced, as fruit generated by a tree. Second, as something that comes by way of the Spirit, not as something earned or acquired, but as produced.[2] In other words, sinful actions of the flesh come naturally, while the fruit of the reborn spirit appears supernaturally. Humans themselves supply the resources for their sinful actions, but only God gives the nutrients needed for the fruit. So, we cannot hope to produce any of this spiritual fruit by anything we do or accomplish. That would be like telling someone to stop breathing the free oxygen in the air produced by trees, and start making their oxygen so they can be independent and proud of themselves.

In another writing, Aquinas quotes Augustine, saying that the Apostle Paul had no intention of teaching us how many [works of the flesh, or fruit of the spirit] there are, but to show how to avoid the works, and seek after the fruit. In other words, Paul does not go on to list those virtues he mentions in other Epistles, just as he did not give an exhaustive list of the works of the flesh.

Aquinas then goes on to note that we can narrow all the virtues of the new-born spirit Paul lists here to Love, Joy, and Peace. That’s because these imply either the enjoyment of good things or relief from evil works, which things seem to belong to the notion of the produced fruit. Aquinas does not see the fruit of the reborn spirit as being contrary or on the plus side of virtues from the actions of the flesh. They are not of the same category. One is called acts and the other fruit.[3]

John Calvin offers his opinion. As he sees it, in the earlier part of this chapter, Paul condemned the whole nature of humanity as producing nothing but rotten and uneatable fruit. But he now informs us that all virtues, all proper and well-regulated affections, proceed from the Spirit’s influence, that is, from the grace of God, and the renewed nature which we derive from the Anointed living in us. It’s as if Paul said that nothing but what is ungodly comes from humankind; nothing but what is Godly comes through the Holy Spirit.[4] For certain, this gives us even more insight as to why having the influence of the Holy Spirit in our lives is so significant.

Puritan writer John Trapp (1601-1669) does see a comparison between what Paul is explaining as the fruit of the reborn spirit with the two olive trees on either side of the lampstand in the Temple. In Zechariah’s vision, two branches of the olive trees feed oil to the lamps.[5] It imagines that the two branches of the True Vine – the Anointed and the Holy Spirit pour out the golden oil of all precious graces into the candlestick – the Church. That golden oil is God’s Love. That’s why grace is here and elsewhere called the Fruit of the Spirit, a delightful fruit.[6] This illustrates that all the transformed fruit comes from one source.[7]

Puritan preacher Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) makes a valid point on the importance of these fruit of the reborn spirit in relationship to what Paul said earlier in verse eighteen. He told the Galatians that when led by the Spirit, they are no longer trying to work their way to heaven by obedience to the Law’s rites, rituals, and ceremonies. Paul then outlines in verses nineteen through twenty-one the effects sinful tendencies have on those who are not led by the Spirit. Paul lists fruit seen in the life of those who are led by the Spirit.[8] So we can see the progress from the New Birth through Sanctification to Service and ultimate Salvation.

Wesleyan theologian Adam Clarke (1760-1832) gives us his interpretation. As he sees it, both flesh – the sinful tendencies of the human heart, and spirit – the changed and purified state of the soul by the grace and God’s Spirit of God, represented by the Apostle as trees, one yielding healthy fruit the other rotten fruit. This type of fruit depends on the species of the tree. Wild seeds produce uncultivated trees that bear inedible fruit. In the same way, cultured seeds grow into cultivated trees that harvest edible fruit. Consequently, we have seen that the tree springing up from the sinful tendencies of the flesh yields poison fruit. The tree that grew up from the reborn spirit with its healthy fruit we will now look at.[9]

Clarke also assists us in seeing the connection between Satan’s seed and the Messiah’s Seed. What is so astounding is that Adam and Eve had choices of fruit from many trees in the Garden of Eden. This fruit would provide the nutrients they needed to be physically and spiritually healthy to live forever. All it took was one piece of fruit from one tree to bring them ruin and rejection from God.

God told these first humans: “You may eat from any tree in the garden. But you must not eat from the tree that gives knowledge about good and evil. If you eat fruit from that tree, on that day, you will certainly die!” [10] Later, it was Eve who explained to the serpent: “We can eat fruit from the trees in the garden. But there is one tree from which we must not eat. God told us, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden. You must not even touch that tree, or you will die.’” [11]

But then we read what God told the serpent after he successfully misled Eve to eat of the forbidden tree: “I will put animosity between you and the woman, and between your descendant and her descendant, he will bruise your head, and you will bruise his heel.” [12] According to early Jewish literature, when God warned the serpent that descendant “will strike at its head,” this was an allusion that the creation of Satan was simultaneous with the creation of woman. This is indicated by the first usage of the Hebrew letter ס “Samekh” in the Torah, which describes God as closing the surgical incision needed to remove a rib from Adam’s body.[13] The letter Samekh means: to “trust, rely on, prop up, and support.” It symbolizes an inner consciousness, a spiritual compass that keeps one on course by pointing in the right direction. When we combine all of this, we might say that from a Jewish point of view, God was telling Satan that when anyone he influences starts to go the wrong way, He will stomp on Satan’s head.

Now that Paul identifies the product developed by the seed of the sinful nature, he goes on to show the fruit produced by the grain of the spiritual nature. Therefore, this same hostility that God spoke of in the Garden is still alive today.

No doubt, this may have been on the mind of Jesus the Anointed when He spoke these words: “You will know them by their fruit. You do not gather grapes from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, do you? So, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruit.” [14]

Preacher Alexander Maclaren (1826-1910) gives his homiletical explanation of what we read here. For him, Paul is saying spiritual fruit, not spiritual fruits. English grammar defines the singular form “fruit” as an uncountable noun, so it has no plural form. In Greek, the noun used here is καρπὸν (“Karpos”) which is also an uncountable noun. It’s the same way we say “sheep” whether there is one or one-hundred. The point here, says Maclaren, is that we see that all this wide variety of graces of conduct and character, as though it is one. The individual fruit is not isolated graces, but all connected, springing from one root and constituting an organic whole.

We also note that the Apostle designates the product of the reborn spirit as fruit, in intentional and robust contrast with the sinful actions of the flesh, a grim catalog of dark, sinister activities which Paul lists before he shares this radiant list of sanctified fruit. The sinful lusts of the flesh have no unity and are not worthy of being called fruit. They are certainly not what a person should be busy producing when the divine Gardener comes to the harvest. So, Paul is contrasting a bruised and dying believer with rotten hand-made objects instead of the ideal believer of noble Christian character, and distinct and profound teaching as to how to attain it.[15]

W. G. Shedd (1820-1894) interprets evangelical faith as an act of both the understanding and the will. It involves a spiritual perception of the Anointed, and affectionate love for Him.[16] But faith is also a loving, and voluntary act of love is what Paul is saying here in verse six. Shedd also says that evangelical faith is a particular act that unites the soul to the Anointed. For this reason, it stands first in the order of the actions that result from regeneration. Repentance of sin, love of holiness, hope, patience, self-control, and other virtues are not acts by which the Anointed’s atonement for sin is laid hold of and made personal.[17] So love does play an important role in faith, because faith without love is determined as useless, as Paul told the Corinthians.[18] [19]

[1] Bruno the Carthusian: On Galatians, op. cit., (Kindle Location 2428)

[2] Aquinas Thomas: Commentary on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[3] Ibid. Summa Theologica, Vol. 2, op. cit., Question 70, Of the Fruits of the Holy Ghost, p. 766-767

[4] Calvin, John: Commentary on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[5] Zechariah 4:11-12

[6] Song of Solomon 4:16; 6:2; John 15:16

[7] Trapp, John: On Galatians, op. cit., p. 586

[8] Edwards, Jonathan: Remarks on Important Theological Controversies, op. cit., Ch. 4, pp. 347-348

[9] Clarke, Adam: Commentary on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[10] Genesis 2:16-17

[11] Ibid. 3:2-3

[12] Ibid. 3:15 – Complete Jewish Bible

[13] Tzror Hamor: by Rabbi Avraham Sabba, Vol. 1, Lambda Publishers, Jerusalem – New York, 2008, p. 95

[14] Matthew 7:16-20 – New American Standard Bible

[15] Maclaren, Alexander: Expositions of the Holy Scripture, Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[16] See John 2:20; 6:44-45; 2 Corinthians 3:14; 4:4; Ephesians 1:17-18

[17] See Ephesians 6:23; 3:17; 4:16; 5:2; Col. 2:2; 1 Thessalonians 3:12; 5:8; 1 Timothy 1:14; 2 Timothy 1:13

[18] 1 Corinthians 13:1ff.

[19] Shedd, W. G. T., Dogmatic Theology (Kindle Location 13587) Also see Julius Müller: Christian Doctrine of Sin, Vol. 1, pp. 166-117

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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