“Spirit” → Wisdom → Virtue → Life
THE FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT’S MORAL TRAJECTORY is a reverse image of the trajectory associated with the works of the flesh: “flesh” → folly → vice → death; instead of the way of death, it’s way of life. Louis Martyn compares and contrasts these two opposing ways:
We have noted that the Spirit and the Flesh are like one another in that both are supra-human powers. Whereas, however, the Flesh is somewhat like the operator of a marionette, pulling certain strings to produce certain effects (erga), the Spirit is like a healthy tree or vine that continuously bears fruit, and this fruit forms a single unit (karpos is singular), even though several of its marks can be listed.1J. Louis Martyn, Galatians: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, Anchor Yale Bible (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008), 498.
Attempts at Organization
It’s common to subdivide these into groups of threes, because they fairly trip off the tongue that way. And there’s always a desire to discover an inner logic—or at least to impose one for the sake of order.
Martyn’s categories are a little too expansive and forced to be convincing:2Martyn, Galatians, 498.
- Love, joy, and peace representing the two great commandments (Deut 6:4–5; Lev 19:18).
- Patience, kindness, and generosity characterizing God’s Spirit (Rom 2:4).
- Faith, gentleness, and self-control standing in opposition to the vices (Gal 5:19–21).
But as you can see, the inner logic breaks down. For example, joy and peace don’t fit as well with the two great commandments as generosity and gentleness do; and patience, kindness, and generosity stand just as much in opposition to the vices as those included third in the list—indeed, more than faith does.
Lightfoot’s are marginally better but still reductionistic:3J. B. Lightfoot, ed., St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians. A Revised Text with Introduction, Notes, and Dissertations, 4th ed., Classic Commentaries on the Greek New Testament (London: Macmillan, 1874), 212.
- Christian habits of mind in their more general aspect: “love, joy, peace.”
- Special qualities affecting a man’s intercourse with his neighbor: “long-suffering, kindness, beneficence.”
- Principles which guide a Christian’s conduct: “honesty, gentleness, temperance.”
I can’t see that love, joy, and peace are any more general than long-suffering, kindness, and so forth; though I would grant that “more general” status to love itself. It seems like love and peace should certainly control “a man’s intercourse with his neighbor” and “guide a Christian’s conduct.” Likewise, honesty, gentleness, and temperance should shape our relations with our neighbor. Once again, the inner logic for an outline doesn’t hold.
We could survey the outlines suggested in other commentaries, but you can see that would likely just multiply ad hoc efforts. I think Gerald Borchert is right when he concludes abandons the search for and outline and contents himself with a list. He admits,
This list of nine virtues resists ordering even more stubbornly than the list of vices, though it seems significant that most of Paul’s lists begin with or emphasize the virtue of love, undoubtedly the characteristic Paul prized above all others (cf. 5:14; 1 Cor 13:13).4 Roger Mohrlang, Gerald L. Borchert, Romans and Galatians in Cornerstone Biblical Commentary (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2007), 324.
Fruit of the Spirit vis-a-vis the Charismata
If for no other reason than their common source, we would expect a direct relationship between the fruit of the Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit. The former springs up in Christian living by the Spirit’s nurture, and the latter comes to us by the Spirit’s anointing. Every believer should display all of the former, but individual believers receive individual gifts as the Spirit distributes them by sovereign administrative choice.
Prayer for the fruit of the Spirit…
Father, I pray that you the fruit of the Spirit would blossom and ripen in my life. Amen.
- Why do you think I have the life-giving trajectory set out in this order? “Spirit” → Wisdom → Virtue → Life
- Would you see this as a seamless trajectory in your own life, or would you admit to struggling with one of the four items?