Given the relational mess in Galatia, where people were in danger of "devouring one another" (Paul's phrase), Paul's letter to the Galatian community of Christians is understandably strong and hard hitting. He is angry, anxious, stressed out and seriously upset at the possibility the Galatian Christians will give up their freedom in Christ, start playing the safe game of rule-keeping and never learn the call of God to walk in freedom, be constantly led by and faithfully keep in step with the Holy Spirit, who purs the love of God into their hearts and calls to the risks of commitment and transformational discipleship.
Paul has no hesitation in using every rhetorical trick in the book, has no compunction about using arguments that are manipulative, persuasive, adversative and at times downright dogmatically assertive. At the same time his genuine concern for them, and for the truth of the Gospel of Jesus is couched in language of approach, with invitation to dialogue, but not to negotiation if that means compromise on the central principle of their faith in the faithfulness of Jesus, to empower, enable and ensure their freedom in Christ to live for God in the power of the Spirit.
It's against that background that we come across Galatians 5.22-23, that cluster of virtues called the fruit of the Spirit. Love, joy, peace,patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, self-control. Having enumerated earlier in chapter 5.16-21, and in graphic detail, the works of the flesh, and described the chaotic, destructive impulses that drive ambition, selfishness and uncontrolled egotism, he contrasts these with the fruit of the Spirit. And while each virtue refers to individual character and personal transformation, Paul is writing not to an aggregate of individual, but to a troubled community. The Fruit of the Spirit is communal as well as individual, social as much as personal, describes the ethos of the community as well as the inner climate of the individual.
These nine virtues, together the fruit of the Spirit, are not exhaustive. Paul lists precisely the virtues of Christlikeness that most fully contradict the in-fighting, factionalism, relational breakdown, competitive rivalry, nasty back-biting, self-righteous condemning, habitual hostility and serial offensiveness of people so sure of their own rightness they have no idea how wrong they are. Pride, arrogance, self-righteousness, anger and the desire for payback are forms of blindness to the other, and of deafness to the words and the heart of the other.
By contrast the fruit of the Spirit describes a disposition that is open, receptive, courteous, kenotic, disciplined by love, focused on peace, respectful of otherness, community building, relationally healing, intentionally generous, assuming the best, utilising an hermeneutic of trust rather than an hermeneutic of suspicion, and in all these senses, Christlike. Because only the one who can say Galatians 2.20:
"I have been crucified with Christ. I n o longer live, but Christ lives in me, and the life I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me".
And when that life is lived in us the fruit of the Spirit of Christ is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control. And as Paul says, no law achieves that, only the transformative presence of the crucified and risen Christ, active in the world, the church and our lives.
Going into 2014, the ninefold fruit of the Spirit would be a powerful and enlightening set of key performance indicators in a healthy church - how far are these Christlike dispositions evident in the ethos of the community, the inner climate of those who call themselves the people of God?