Up to this point in the letter, Sha’ul has focused on the dangers of legalism through both the admonition and the appeal. Now, Sha’ul brings in the balance and counters libertinism. We remind ourselves of Sha’ul’s central argument from Chapter (2:16). “Yet we know that a person is set right not by deeds based on Torah, but rather through … [the faithfulness of Messiah Yeshua]. So even we have put our trust in Messiah Yeshua, in order that we might be set right based on trust in Messiah and not by deeds based on Torah—because no human will be justified by deeds based on Torah.”[i] This is an absolute truth, but must be balanced by the truth that sin is slavery. Therefore, we who are free in Messiah must walk the path between the chasm on one side, thinking our works make us righteous, and the mire on the other side, of thinking that if we continue sinning that God no longer cares.[Read Gal. 5:13-26]
Love Your Neighbor
(Vs. 13-15) Messiah has set us free! free from the penalty of sin which is death, and free from the power of sin which is found in pain and woundedness. This does not mean that we will not die, or that we will not be hurt. But in the letter to the congregation in Corinth (1 Cor 10:13), Sha’ul will write, “No temptation has taken hold of you except what is common to mankind. But God is faithful—He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you can handle. But with the temptation He will also provide a way of escape, so you will be able to endure it.” Not only does Adonai provide forgiveness for sin, through the shed blood of Messiah, but He also provided the power to live a righteous life, by the working of the Ruach HaKodesh. In his letter to the Ephesians (2:16), Sha’ul writes that, “we are His workmanship—created in Messiah Yeshua for good deeds, which God prepared beforehand so we might walk in them.” We are called to “walk as [Messiah] walked” and to live that life by the power of the Ruach.
When Yeshua was asked what the greatest commandment was, He quoted two passages of the Torah (Deut. 6:4-5) and (Lev. 19:18). We prayed them at the beginning. The first is the Shema and the second Sha’ul quotes here. Every command in scripture can be organised into one of two categories, Loving God, or Loving People. Our calling as followers of Messiah, is to be like the one we are following. I know that none of us can do this on our own strength. And when we try, we end up going back into legalism and pride. However, when we bow the knee to Messiah, and humbly and continuously ask the Lord to purify our lives by the power of the Ruach, then we can look back and see how much he has changed us.
Walk by the Ruach
(Vs. 16-18) There are two phrases that I would like to focus on in the next couple of verses. The first is, “you will not carry out the desires of the flesh”, and the second is, “you cannot do what you want.” When we submit our will or what we want, to Adonai, then we find ourselves in the same place as Yeshua where He said, “Not what I want, but what you want.” This can be a difficult place, but it can also be a place of freedom. When the Lord asks us to do something, then He takes responsibility for the means, the process and the results. This is the place where we can ask anything in Yeshua’s name, and He will do it (Jn. 14:12-14).
We cannot serve two masters. We will either “love one and hate the other or we will stick by one and look down on the other.” (Matt 6:24) We must choose who we will give first place in our own lives. This is an ongoing decision. We continuously choose to follow the leading of the Ruach. We do not do this as a way to become righteous before God, but as apart of our new life in Messiah. We are no longer slaves of sin, but we have become servants of Messiah, Yeshua.
Deeds of the Flesh
(Vs. 19-21) The deeds of the flesh can be broken into four basic categories: (1) three sins of sensuality in the narrower sense (sexual immorality, impurity, debauchery); (2) sins associated with heathen religions (idolatry, witchcraft); (3) eight sins in which the element of conflict with others is present (hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, envy); (4) drunkenness and its natural accompaniments (drunkenness and orgies).[ii]
- Sexual Immorality or (porneia) originally referred to prostitution but came to mean any sexual sin in general. It is interesting that this first sin is contrasted by the first fruit of love. In our world today everyone wants love, but most do not want God. Therefore, they end up with unsatisfied desire or lust. We seek to fulfill these unmet love needs or deficits through counterfeit affections. These may start as personal and private, but the longings cannot be truly satisfied without God. Therefore, the longings grow.
- Impurity is an escalation of the previous sin and refers to habitual promiscuity. This also refers to moral uncleanness that separates us from God. In particular, it separates us from the source of love, that we are actually longing for.
- Debauchery speaks of the extremes of sexual uncleanness and perversion.
- Idolatry is the worship of foreign gods and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. Adonai sees this as spiritual adultery especially for the children of Israel because of the covenant that he had made with them.
- Witchcraft or (pharmakeia) not only includes the casting of spells, but also the use of drugs to induce visions and spiritual experiences. Whether it is a desire to escape pain or a desire to seek after the occult, drugs will always lead us away from Yeshua, who understands our pain, and has born our sorrows and griefs.
- Hatred includes hostility towards God and our fellow human. Baseless hatred was given by the Rabbis as one of the reasons that God judged Israel by the second Temple being destroyed.
- Discord is a sinful unwillingness to get along with others. Gossip sows discord and stirring up strife is often spoken against throughout the Scriptures.
- Jealousy can be a positive virtue which we usually call zeal, but in this context, it refers to an intensely negative feeling of resentment toward another person.
- Fits of Rage is fairly explanatory, but it would be good to note that all of these sins are not one-off events but are ongoing continuous problems that we refuse to repent for.
- Selfish Ambition indicates self-seeking or working for our own personal gain at the expense of others. This is truly the opposite of love. Ambition, like many of these other sins, can be a good thing, but not at any cost, and especially not at the expense of others.
- Dissensions is an interesting one. It refers to sedition in a political context, but here it probably refers to manipulating others to advance our own agenda.
- Factions or (haireseis) is the same root as the word heresy. This is an escalation of the previous one, and includes a group of people deliberately separating themselves from the Body of Messiah. There is a link back to Korah, who stood against Moses in (Num. 16).
- Envy is not just wanting what someone else has, but includes an ill-will toward that person because they have something that you want. Therefore the Early Fathers called envy on of the seven deadly sins as it quickly leads toward murder.
Lack of Self Control
- Drunkenness is a lack of self-control when it comes to the drinking of alcohol which inversely mirrors the fruit of the spirit. There are many things that are wrong in certain contexts and right in others. Yeshua’s first miracle was to turn water into wine, however, this is balanced by Sha’ul saying, “do not get drunk on wine, for that is recklessness. Instead, be filled with the Ruach (Eph. 5:18).
- Orgies is an escalation of the lack of self-control, but also included the revelling that was a part of idolatry. We may think that as a nation and culture we have progress beyond those before us. However, all these sins are just as prevalent in our society as they were in Sha’ul’s day.
While some of us may fall into these sins occasionally, Sha’ul is specifically saying in Vs 21, that those who go on habitually doing these things will not inherit the Kingdom of God. All of us were called from a life of sin. But we must not stay there. We are called to “Be holy as He is holy.”
Fruit of the Spirit
(Vs. 22-26) But … This word brings us hope. Unless the Ruach of Adonai worked in our lives, there would be no hope. But now we have hope.
The fruit of the Spirit can also be broken up into several different groups: The general habits of mind (love, joy and peace), the special intra-personal or relational qualities (patience, kindness and goodness), and personal internal characteristics (faithfulness, gentleness and self-control).[iii]
Habits of Mind
- Love (agape) is the fruit that that is grown in our lives, all the rest are characteristics of love as we saw in (1 Cor 13). God is Love, and it is only natural that the more time we spend with the source of Love, the more we become like Him. While agape is sometimes called “God’s kind of love, this is not a good description. Agape refers to a love of the will, a choice to prefer someone. Yeshua demonstrated this in the Garden of Gethsemane, when He said to Adonai, “Not my will, but Yours be done.”
- Joy is a state of rejoicing regardless of the circumstances. Yeshua, for the Joy set before Him, endured the cross. Happiness comes from the word happenstance and is only based on lucky circumstances. Joy can be found by acknowledging that this life is temporary and that Yeshua has conquered the enemy, won our victory, and remembering that we will rule and reign with Him.
- Peace includes completeness and Sha’ul would have been thinking of the Hebrew word Shalom. Peace, like Joy is not based upon circumstances, and can be experienced in spite of very trying times. All of these qualities are reflections of God’s character.
- Patience is long-suffering without complaining and without the thought of vengeance against the other person who is causing the suffering. God is “slow to anger” (Ex. 34:6) and asks us to reflect his character. It is not one of my strong points, but I am getting a lot of practice with 4 children.
- Kindness denotes goodness and honesty and a concern for the well-being of others.
- Goodness is a synonym of Kindness, but also includes generosity.
- Faithfulness is a quality of obedience, dependability and reliability regardless of the circumstance. We know that without faith, it is impossible to please God, and faithfulness is a reflection of our covenant-keeping God.
- Gentleness is the opposite of being easily provoked. It is a recognition that all people desperately need mercy, regardless of their age. Gentleness is sometimes translated, meekness. Meekness includes the concept of a velvet covered gauntlet; strength covered in softness.
- Self–Control is fairly self-explanatory, but there are a couple of things I would like to point out. One of the number one reasons for depression, is when we have indulged in enjoyable things to the point that they are no longer enjoyable. Suicide statistically seems to be relegated to the wealthy who have lost enjoyment and satisfaction in the good things of life. Self-Control, especially with regards to entertainment and self-gratification, brings us to a place of thankfulness.
The application is simple to understand, but not always easy to implement. We need to “seek first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness.” We are followers of Yeshua, and therefore we seek to follow is halakah or way of walking. We choose to rely on the power of the Ruach to help us when we feel weak. And we continue to trust in the provision that Adonai has given us in our Messiah, Yeshua of Nazareth.
[i] All Scripture quotations are taken from the Tree of Life (TLV) version unless otherwise noted.
[ii] The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Rev. Ed., Vol 11, Robert Rapa, pg. 628.