Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity
September 2, 2018
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO
In the name of + Jesus.
In Paul’s language, the distinction between the flesh and the spirit is a distinction between the old life of sins—the Old Adam as our catechism calls it—and the new life in Christ born of the Holy Spirit—the new man. The spirit of man (the new life) is only possible with the gift and work of the Spirit of God; you don’t naturally come by the spiritual life.
The flesh and the spirit are diametrically opposed. I say, follow the Spirit, and you will not do what the flesh wants. What the flesh wants is against the Spirit, and what the Spirit wants is against the flesh, because they are opposed to each other and so keep you from doing what you want to do. But if the Spirit leads you, you are not under the Law.
There is an inversion that happens. As a Christian, you have no law that condemns you. Everything is lawful. But if you do the works that are against the law, you will end up right back under the law where you began. On the other hand, to be governed by the Spirit means that there is no law against anything you do, because
There Is No Law Against the Fruit of the Spirit
Paul’s commentary on the works of the flesh is interesting. We’re accustomed to dividing the Law into Ten Commandments (even though the Bible never calls them that). But the Ten Commandments are a convenient summary of different ways to put the Law of love into action. They are not an exhaustive list of everything that is contrary to God’s will. Even though there are Ten Commandments, St. Paul gives 15 examples of works of the flesh; they are opposed to the Spirit.
Now, you know the works of the flesh. They are: sexual sin, uncleanness, wild living, worshiping of idols, witchcraft, hate, wrangling, jealousy, anger, selfishness, quarreling, divisions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, those who do such things will have no share in God’s kingdom. Let’s take a closer look at these 15.
Sexual sin. From the Greek, porneia, from which we get our words fornication and pornography. Better understood as prostitution, derived from a word meaning “to sell.” Related to slavery. The rebuke of porneia is as much about raising the dignity of women as it is about morals. Women are coheirs of the Gospel of Christ, not a lower class of citizen to be bought or sold like property.
Uncleanness. Akatharsia. The opposite of cathartic. It refers to cultic impurity, which we’re going to cover extensively in our fall adult Bible study on Leviticus that begins next week. It’s the state of complete separation from God and thus the realm of death and destruction.
Wild living. License, in this context, likely sexual license.
Worshipping of idols. Eidololatria. Idolatry. Service of idols. In many cases the service to idols was a sexual service, cultic prostitution, connecting this work of the flesh to the previous three.
Witchcraft. Pharmakeia, from which we get our word “pharmacy.” It has the connotation of magic and sorcery, but also of poison. Hermann Sasse wrote an essay showing that the “pharmacy” of the ancient world was abortion by taking a poison that would kill a fetus in utero. You might see how this would be a necessity for temple prostitutes to continue their trade.
Hate. Hostility as an inward disposition. Against fellow man, but most often between man and God. Its opposite is filia, or “friendship.”
Wrangling. Strife, discord, contention. In pl., quarrels.
Jealousy. Zelos. In a good sense, zeal. In a bad sense, jealousy. A consuming passion for that which is not yours. Which brings us to:
Anger. Thumoi. Literally, passions; anger or wrath. Noun form of the verb used in prior verses. The flesh desires against the Spirit and the Spirit desires against the flesh.
Selfishness. Used in Aristotle to denote “a self-seeking pursuit of political office by unfair means” (BAG, 309). Selfish ambition.
Quarreling. Aka, dissentions, division, disunity, contention. Party spirit.
Divisions. Haireseis, or, heresies; sectarianism. Irenaeus wrote Against the Heresies in the second century, and he was writing against gnostics who say that the body is evil, and that Jesus only appeared to be incarnate and suffer and die.
Envy. It speaks for itself.
Drunkenness. Methai. Related to ecstatic frenzy and mysticism. Prevents preparation for the Parousia, or Christ’s second coming. The world thinks the Gospel to be the invention of drunken men (see, Acts 2).
Carousing. Excessive feasting, revelry. Think Fat Tuesday on Bourbon Street in New Orleans. Along with methai (drunkenness) related to the Dionysius cults. The opposite of the Lord’s Supper.
The works of the flesh are, at their heart, false, idolatrous worship. Such worship does not impart the Spirit of God.
On the other hand is the fruit of the Spirit. When I was in elementary school, I had to memorize these. I’ll never forget them. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The works of the flesh are found throughout the worship of the ancient world. But there is nothing analogous to the fruit of the Spirit, because there is nothing analogous to Christian worship. It’s something completely new. And it depends on the crucifixion of Jesus. The fruit of the Spirit grows from the tree of the cross.
The first distinction to recognize is that flesh produces works, but the Spirit produces fruit. Like a tree and its fruit, the qualities described here are spontaneous and natural, not forced under compulsion of punishment. Furthermore, they are conditions of the person rather than discreet works. These conditions govern every aspect of your (new) life. Let’s take a closer look.
Love. Agape. Of the three kinds of love the Greeks have a word for, agape is the most thoroughgoing. It’s unconditional, sacrificial love. It’s love that gives of self for the sake of the beloved. It’s the kind of love that drives you to the cross for the life of the world.
Joy. Chara. Deeper than a superficial happiness. Often used as a greeting and connected with persons.
Peace. On two axes. First, before God, there is nothing to fear for the sake of Christ. Peace is the first word He speaks to His disciples after He rises from the dead. He shows the marks of His crucifixion, and gives them the Absolution. That is peace with God. Second, peace between individuals. Harmony. Concord. Not just with fellow Christians, but especially with fellow Christians.
Patience. Makrothumia. If anger (thumia) is having a short temper, makrothumia, means being long suffering. It means not avenging wrongs done to you, or seeking to get even. It means giving God the time to act. This fruit is sorely lacking among God’s people in 21st Century America, where we are trained to get what we want when we want it. God will train us otherwise.
Kindness. Refusing to go on the attack. Kindness includes in writing and speech as much as it does in physical matters. Christians can speak so cruelly of others, but we are called to put kindness into practice. To be kind is to be meek and mild.
Goodness. Connected to righteousness and truth. It’s a general goodness of person and character. Such goodness does not come from doing good things. Rather, a person is made good by the Spirit, and being good, performs good works. Like a tree bearing fruit.
Faithfulness. Being faithful is being full of faith. Faith is not a work that you produce. It is a gift of the Spirit. He fills you with faith to believe the Word of God; and consequently, you become faithful person, holding fast to the confession of faith, such as is expressed in the Apostles’ Creed.
Gentleness. Its opposite, displayed in the Corinthian congregation, is disputatiousness, or arrogance. It means that you are quick to correct people whom you deem to be wrong, quick to get into arguments. This does not mean that Christians should not correct error, but they should do it with gentleness and respect. Because, after all, you might be the one who is erring.
Self-control. To have dominion over yourself. Self-control was a big part of Greek ethics—it’s what divided the nobility from the lower classes of human. But in the Bible, it is not self-control for the sake of being a better person, but for the sake of your neighbor.
Just as the Ten Commandments, or even Paul’s list of the works of the flesh, is not exhaustive of the ways to act outside of God’s will, so also the nine-fold fruit of the Spirit is not exhaustive of all the good that God gives by His Spirit, and which is manifest in the new life in Christ. For instance, the Samaritan leper in today’s Gospel came back to Jesus, rejoicing. Chara—joy; a fruit of the Spirit. But his joy also manifest itself in eucharistia—thanksgiving.
Fruit grows from trees, and so the fruit of the Spirit blossoms from the tree of the cross. There is no fruit, and there is no Spirit, if you are not firmly planted in the death of Jesus. “I am the vine;” says Jesus, “you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5). And in the words, of St. Paul: If we belong to Christ Jesus, we have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
In the name of + Jesus.
Jacob W Ehrhard