Today’s passage contrasts life in the Spirit and life in the flesh in very clear and practical ways. It does this by presenting us with a list of behaviors that flow from corrupt desires and then following these with another list consisting of the fruit of the Spirit.
It is a very simple passage, really, and it is this simplicity that drives its point unerringly home: we have to make a choice between the two.
One way to approach this passage might be to make two columns on a piece of paper. At the top of one write, “Works of the flesh”. At the top of the other write, “Fruit of the Spirit”. There are some obvious comparisons.
Is my life characterized by love (fruit of the Spirit) or by enmities, strife, and division (works of the flesh)?
Is my life filled with joy (fruit of the Spirit) or envy (works of the flesh)?
Do I find myself patient (fruit of the Spirit) or angry (works of the flesh)?
Are my relationships marked by peace (fruit of the Spirit) or do I find myself quarrelsome (works of the flesh)?
You get the idea. Next I might pick one and develop it more fully. For example, I might go with “is my life characterized by love or enmities, strife, and division?” What would it look like in my life if I did a better job loving? Do I believe the best of others? Do I have long term intimate relationships? How’s my marriage (if I’m married)? How are my relationships with my kids (if I have any?) Are there any people with whom I spend quality time on a regular basis? In what ways is my life transcending self interest?
Or, if I am honest, do I have trouble with relationships. Do I find that I don’t have any close friends? Do I write people off? Do I have a pattern of leaving or withdrawing from relationships? Do I criticize and complain frequently?
My guess is that if you take some time to reflect on this passage in an exercise like the above, you will hear the Spirit speaking loud and clear.
But will you? Will I? Really?
Because if we don’t, the flesh has spoken even louder. The flesh has won the day.