Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 5, verse 22

It's been a while since I've updated the Galatians Journal. I've been busy with a project (which is a very good thing).

Galatians 5: 22 “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,”

Paul now shifts gears. After his list of “vices,” the “acts of the sinful nature,” he now contrasts that with the “fruit of the Spirit.” The metaphor of God’s people bearing fruit was not new (see, e.g., Isaiah 27:6, Hosea 10:1 & 14:8). But this is a perfect picture of how the miraculous transformation of a living relationship with Christ – being truly born again – works . Paul contrasts the “acts” of the sinful nature (or “works” as translated in the King James Version in 5:19) with the concept of the “fruit” of the spirit. Fruit is something that is produced by the tree because of its nature, in the natural course of the tree’s life. The tree doesn’t strive to produce fruit – it just happens, because that is what the tree was designed for, it’s what the tree does, indeed, it’s what the tree IS!!. Paul is emphasizing that it’s the believer’s nature that has been transformed – made new at a foundational level – in Christ (see 5:24). Its fruit “of the Spirit” because it’s the Holy Spirit dwelling in the believer that produces righteous, “Christian” character traits as opposed to the mere moral discipline of trying to follow the law. As briefly discussed at the end of the entry on the previous verse (5:21), Paul’s arguments throughout this letter (indeed, in ALL of Paul’s letters) clearly lay out the premise that justification by faith does not result in the ability to sin as we please ,because God is bound to always forgive us (see Romans 6). The Holy Spirit, living inside the believer, produces the Christian virtues – the “fruit of the Spirit” – in each believer’s life.

“love” The Greek word here is “agape.” This is unconditional love, love that does not seek return or reward. It’s the highest, noblest form of love.

“joy” This could also be translated “gladness.” But it also implies greatness in joy and gladness, as the word itself in the Greek can be used as an adverb, meaning “greatly” or “enormously.” The joy that comes through the Holy Spirit is deep and over powering.

“peace” The original Greek work here has many meanings, just as “peace” in English does. It can be used to describe peace between nations, as in the peace that follows a war. That would imply exemption from and freedom from the rage, havoc, and fear that comes with war. The reality of the concept that life is a spiritual battle means a relationship with Christ brings an oasis in that battle. It also means a peace between individuals – the Holy Spirit fosters healing in relationships. It implies safety, security, and prosperity, because true peace makes and keeps things safe and prosperous. The peace of Christ, the “fruit” of peace, is the tranquility of our soul knowing and being sure of our salvation through the promise of Christ, not fearing God’s retribution because we have a relationship with Jesus and a sense of contentment with our lot in life here and now.

“patience” The King James Version translates this as “longsuffering.” In the literal meaning of the original Greek, there are two concepts. First is constancy of character, “patience” in the sense of endurance, consistency, steadfastness, and perseverance. It’s not giving up or giving in when the going gets tough. Second is the concept of “longsuffering,” that is, the ability to endure unfairness and wrongs, forbearance, patience in dealing with the faults of others, slowness in getting angry, and not feeling a need for revenge. It’s the ability to forgive, and continue to forgive, even when the other person fails to change or recognize they’re doing wrong.

“kindness” The KJV translates this as “gentleness,” and the original Greek literally means moral goodness and integrity. It also means being kind, benign, and yes, gentle. Proverbs 15:1 speaks of a “gentle answer turning away wrath.” The transformed character of a Christian doesn’t avoid confrontation, but wisely uses “kindness” in the fruit of his or her life to deal with issues, rather than the corresponding “acts of the sinful nature” such as “fits of rage” or “discord.” (See 5:20)

“goodness” Both this and the previous word could be translated as “goodness,” or “kindness,” but they’re different. The previous word implies a gentle approach to contention, and right behavior and ethical reaction in the face of wrongdoing. The meaning of this term is literally “uprightness of heart.” This is the essence and nature of moral goodness, and implies benevolence and selflessness. It would appear that the fruit of “kindness” is aimed at dealing with those who are opposed to us, or have an issue with us, or who need moral guidance. The fruit of “goodness” seems to aimed more at those who need help, at charitableness, and laying down our lives for others.

“faithfulness” The KJV translates his as “faith,” and that is the essence of the word. First and foremost, it is conviction of truth – truth involving one’s relationship to God, and the trust and passion connected to the belief in that truth. If is the absolute conviction that God exists, that He created the world, that He rules the world, and is our provider and the giver of all good things. It is the absolute conviction that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and the only means of salvation in God’s Kingdom. In a more general sense, it means fidelity of character – the transformed Christian life is one of consistency and reliability. The fruit of “faith,” or “faithfulness,” therefore, means we are consistent in what we believe in, rely upon, and exhibit as behavior. It means others can rely on that consistency – rely on the fact that we have been changed, and are walking with Christ. They can rely on our word and morality, and rely on our loyalty and friendship. The fruit is shown in our faith in God and his Word, and his work in the body of Christ – and in how others can have faith in the “faithfulness” shown in our lives!!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 5, verse 21

Galatians 5:21 “and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. “

Paul concludes his list of specific examples of “acts of the sinful nature” here.

“and envy” There is apparently only one word that is equivalent to the original Greek here, and that is “envy.” But why the “and?” Only the NIV version includes it. Perhaps the original language implies this to be linked to the prior group of sins. Envy would obviously be at the root of selfish ambition, divisiveness, and factions. But there’s more. While the NIV, New American Standard, and Amplified Bibles all translate this as envy, the King James Version adds a second sin, an additional word to the list. So, just like in verse 19, there are 4 Greek words translated into three English words here. The KJV adds “murders” and that is indeed what the original Greek literally means. Why do the other translations leave this out? Not being a Greek scholar, I can’t say for sure. Obviously, murder is an act of the sinful nature, that would be so obvious as to go without saying. It would also seem to fit better tucked in amongst hatred, discord, jealousy, and fits of rage. Yet, this seems to be meant to intensify “envy.” The first murder in history was the result of envy (see Genesis 4: 4 through 8). This is more than just a desire to have something that belongs to someone else, or desire someone’s position, talent and the like. This is envy so deep that we want to kill the other person.

“drunkenness, orgies” The first word here simply means “intoxication.” The second word, “orgies” (translated as “reveling” in the KJV) is a special, specific word in the Greek that is tied to the worship of Bacchus, the Greek God of Wine, and it describes a feast or drinking party that lasts all night, involving music, dancing, parading in the streets with torches, sexual cavorting – in general, a loud, riotous revelry fueled by drinking. In a word, “partying,” as it’s understood in modern American slang, but this is over-the-top "partying" to be sure!

“and the like” A few verses back, I mused about whether this list might be conclusive – here it is obviously meant to be a list of examples, not a definitive list of sins. For other similar lists, see First Corinthians 6: 9-10; Ephesians 4:2 and 5:9, and Revelation 22:15.

“I warn you as I did before” In all of Paul’s letters, he emphasizes that this kind of behavior is unacceptable for Christians.

“shall not inherit the kingdom of God” Falling into or getting involved with one of these “acts of the sinful nature” does not disqualify us from salvation. Especially because this list includes sins that involve our thought life and emotions, the temptation in these areas are always great. But Paul is presenting and defining these “acts,” and then in the next few verses, compares them with the fruit of the Spirit, to emphasize that these are character traits more than they are individual actions. It is not in avoiding these acts of the sinful nature that we will get through – that is trying to obey the law all over again. But it is when we become a child of “the promise,” when we are changed and become a “new creation,” so that we no longer are known, in our character, by these traits. Plus, I don’t think the concept of “inheriting the kingdom of God” as that phrase is used in the New Testament, has anything to do with salvation. Paul only uses it to describe sinful behavior that will disqualify people from their “inheritance,” (here, and in First Corinthians 6:9-10 ) -- or to describe how the resurrection of our bodies in the next life will work (I Corinthians 15:50); James used it to describe how the poor get special consideration (James 2:5), and Jesus uses it, in the King James Version, to speak of the reward for those who use their talents well (Matthew 25:34). The Bible clearly teaches that there is a reward for good works that occurs in the judgment we will experience when as believers, we will eventually stand before God after we die and in the final judgment. In I Corinthians 3: 11-15, it states that we are judged for what we do AFTER we come to a saving relationship with God through the Promise. For the things that we do that emanate from our character as new creations, as the fruit of the Spirit, or the result of obedience, we receive a reward in the next life – in heaven. But if we continue to live selfishly, unrepentantly continuing to commit these acts of the flesh, Paul says in I Corinthians 3:15, such deeds will be “burned up, [we] will suffer loss, but [we ourselves] will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.” If we have become children “of the promise,” our nature should change and we no longer indulge in the acts of the sinful nature, or at least we have the power in our lives to now avoid them. That is really Paul’s point here. Paul is being specific, so those of us who become Christians who have known only the “acts of the sinful nature” can clearly understand that there will be an eternal consequence to stubbornly cling to this kind of behavior.

Galatians Journal: Chapter 5, verse 20

Galatians 5: 20 “ idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions”

Paul continues with his specific description of the “acts of the sinful nature” or “flesh.” The word Paul uses for “acts” in verse 19 is translated in the King James Version as “works,” which seems to play on the concept of “works of the law, as in “observing the law" (see Galatians 3:2). In the previous verse, Paul described all manner of sexual sin (summing it up in 4 words or terms in the original Greek, but translated as three English words in the NIV). He leaves sex behind in verse 19 and moves on to other matters.

“Idolatry” This literally means the worship of false gods. But even in the original Greek, the context goes beyond simply sacrificing to idols and false religions, bad as those concepts are by themselves. It also means avarice – an insatiable greed for riches; or an inordinate, miserly desire to gain and hoard wealth. This is beyond greed – it’s the worship of riches, an all-encompassing obsession with money. Obviously, in our modern age, ambition, a lust for power, and an obsession with popular culture would fit in here as well.

“Witchcraft” As with the word “idolatry,” there is more to the original meaning than the basic English translation can convey. Of course, this refers to sorcery, the magic arts, and other occult practices. But the first definition in my Greek lexicon for the original word is “the use of or the administration of drugs,” followed by “poisoning.” So, while gluttony and over indulgence aren’t specifically on this list, the things that lead to addiction – particularly drugs and other material that alters the consciousness or leads to serious health issues (e.g. tobacco, alcohol, overeating, other obsessions) could be covered here. The fact that the NIV pairs this word with the previous “idolatry” indicates how they work hand in hand – not just false religion linked with the occult arts being used to manipulate and control people, but also greed and obsession being twisted and amplified into societal forces that will also manipulate, control and destroy.

“hatred, discord, jealousy” The next three words are translated quite literally from Greek into English. The Greek word for hatred here is very strong – this isn’t just strong dislike, it’s downright enmity. “Discord” means strife, contention, or wrangling. It boils down to being argumentative, I suppose. “Jealousy” is interesting. It literally means “zeal,” that is, excitement of mind, ardor, or fervor of spirit. This could be zeal in a positive sense, but the stronger notion is a sense of fierce indignation, or punitive zeal. I suppose this is hatred with passion. The secondary meaning involves envy, contentious rivalry, and basic jealousy. It think it was Paul’s intent to emphasis the indignation part, as in “righteous indignation.” Its easy for anyone to allow offenses of all kinds to take root, and when we justify our hurts in our religiousness or self-righteousness, it turns to envious or hateful zeal. We can be our own advocate, or take on the offense of a friend of loved one, in a negative comparison or the desire for what someone has, their talent, or their position.

“fits of rage” The King James Version translates this as “wrath,” the New American Standard as “outbursts of anger,” the Amplified Bible emphasizes “ill temper.” The original Greek word here emphasizes passion – hot, boiling anger that comes in waves. The secondary meaning involves the “wine of passion” or “inflaming wine,” which either drives the drinker mad or kills him with its strength (implying a secondary connection for this kind of rage to alcohol or drug abuse, though such a connection for this kind of rage is obviously not necessary). This is truly the kind of anger that is so deep it leads to destruction.

“selfish ambition” The literal meaning of the original language here is to “electioneer.” That is, to put yourself forth in a conniving way – it implies all the intrigue of a hotly contested election. Thus, this is factiousness at its peak. The King James Version translates this as “strife,” the New American Standard says “disputes,” the Amplified says “selfishness.” It means a bit of, or all of these things. This is more than mere ambition in the sense of furthering oneself by advancing one’s career (although an over emphasis on that concept could lead to what Paul is talking about here), but seeing division and using it to your own advantage, setting things up with the sole purpose of advancing oneself. “Blind” Ambition, perhaps? Merciless ambition to be sure. This was an extremely rare word in Paul’s day. Aristotle used it to describe a self-seeking pursuit of political office by unfair or unscrupulous means. In other new testament letters, we are exhorted to avoid this mindset and not selfishly put our own ambitions forward. (See, e.g., Philippians 2:3, James 3:14). Selfishness and self-promotion are heart attitudes.

“dissensions” is translated in the King James Version as “seditions,” and it literally means “divisions.” The NIV translates this pretty accurately. This speaks to causing factions and divisions, driving people apart, a rebellious spirit that seeks anarchy and the overthrow of authority.

“factions” This is a more specific word than the previous one, yet it has many meanings and applications. It has three basic interpretations. It is an extremely violent word – it literally means to storm and capture something, like invading a city or country. It also means to choose, the process of choosing, or a choice. But the best translation of the original Greek for this word occurs in the Amplified Bible, which interprets this word as a “party spirit.” But we mean “party” as in political party, a group of people following their own tenets or beliefs. It also means any division caused among people based on opinion or belief – groups with peculiar opinions, heresy, or sects. Is this the spirit of denominationalism? Certainly the American church acutely suffers from this. Or dare I say, this speaks to the important underlying theme of this letter – that one must conform to a particular cultural or ethnic practice in order to acceptable to God and/or the congregation – in this setting (the Roman province of Galatia), it was Gentiles who needed to act or become like Jews in order to “fit in.” What does it take to be acceptable in our congregations? Do I expect others to be “politically correct” when it comes to denominational or local practice? Such a concept is the essence of “factions.”