New Testament Week 38: “The Fruits of the Spirit are Love, Joy, Peace…” – Galatians

This week we are studying the epistle to the Galatians. Galatians is a very important piece in the canon of letters. It is very likely the earliest letter that Paul wrote; happening around the same time as the first general conference of the church was held. As a quick reminder, the conference was wholly dedicated to whether gentile converts needed to be circumcised and follow other tenants of the Law of Moses to be full members of the church.

At the conference the church leaders, particularly Peter, Paul, Jacob the brother of Jesus, and John, agreed that gentiles could join the church without those conditions. We learn about subsequent friction between Paul and Peter in this letter. I think it is important to see that conflict, cultural traditions, and biases are part of leading a church and they are not always easy to solve. We learn from inferences later in other letters that Paul and Peter work together very well for the benefits of all saints, so it would not be fair to say that Peter and Paul were working against each other, even though they may have disagreed.

I think we can learn important lessons from this in our own lives. We can disagree with people but still work together for the good of the Lord.


– The Law is what trains us to follow the Spirit.

– When we have the gospel it gives us liberty, but we cannot use that for ourselves, but to serve each other.

– Recognizing the Spirit can be hard, but the fruits of the spirit are charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.

Context and Timeline:
– Paul uses the term apostle to mean many things. In the first part of Galatians he is using it to refer to his special witness of the resurrected Jesus Christ.

– In most of Paul’s letters he follows his introduction with praise to the saints and churches in the area, but in this letter his follows the introduction with a strong rebuke.

– Arabia would have meant the area directly east and south of Jerusalem, covering the entire Arabian Peninsula.

– James is actually Jacob, and he was Jesus Christ’s brother.

– Syria and Cilicia would have included both Antioch (Christian Center) and Tarsus (Paul’s hometown).

– Pillars is a reference to the leaders of the church.

– Cephas is Peter.

– Peter likely left the meal, not because it was forbidden for Jews to eat with Gentiles, but because he was still likely eating kosher diet and the food would have been considered unclean.

– Judaizers were Christian Jews who believed that it was necessary to follow the Law of Moses in its entirety as part of Christian fellowship and salvation.

– Mediator is a title ascribed to Jesus Christ, specifically in regards to sinners and their separation from the Holy (God). Jesus and His atonement is how that gap is bridged and his mediation is what provides the opportunity for salvation, but we still have to agree to the terms (faith, repentance, covenants).

– Schoolmaster can also be translated as a guardian, meaning that the Law is what protects us as we learn how to follow and become tuned to the Spirit. The Law is still important after that, but our faith and relationship with the Spirit more important.

– Paul was not a fan of astronomical calculation of religious days, months, seasons, and years which were all common among Jews and Pagans.

– Longsuffering = Patience and Self Control, Goodness = Generosity.

– 6:11-18 were written by Paul’s own hand, the rest by a scribe and in what Paul calls “large letters” this could indicate that Paul had trouble seeing.

History around Epistle:
Galatians is very likely the earliest letter from Paul that we have in the Bible. It was written between 49-50 AD and was sent as a missive to a collective group of converts, which Paul calls “the churches of Galatia.” There is debate over who these churches were, but it seems likely it was the churches established by Paul and Barnabas when they journeyed through Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe (Asia Minor). The letter was written shortly after the conference of the church when gentiles were allowed to be full members without circumcision and following other kosher standards. The circumstances around the letter are not perfectly clear. However, it seems the churches have had some of the same problems as other churches, with other voices claiming that Paul is not authorized by God and that the saints should not listen to him. In the case of the Galatian saints, those preaching against Paul, called “Judaizers” in modern times, were demanding that Gentile saints be circumcised and follow the Law of Moses for fellowship and salvation.

This is Paul’s first written argument surrounding faith and the Law, many years before his sermon on “Justification” and so it is interesting to see the beginnings of his feelings and the way in which Paul taught on the subject.

The letter also shows a window into the conflict that Paul, Peter, and other traditional saints had over changes and growth of the church. I think we can learn much from the letter in that regard.

Galatians is split into 3 Sections:
Chapters 1-2: Greeting and Explanation of Events surrounding Gentile fellowship
Chapters 3-4: Discussion about the Law and Faith
Chapters 5-6: Fulfillment of the Law and the Spirit

Doctrinal Teachings:

  • Paul’s Authority is from God (Chapter 1)
    • Paul states unequivocally that he was called as an apostle by God the Father, and through Jesus Christ. Paul is frustrated that the churches in Galatia have so quickly left his teachings on accepting Gentiles into their churches, despite the agreement at the conference of the church they could become full members without living the entire Law of Moses. Paul does not seek to please people, or to try and convince God he is right. He is trying to convince people to please God. Paul knows the rigid side of the Jewish law, and even persecuted people for it, but his conversion is a witness that what he is teaching is from God.
  • Paul and Peter’s Conflict over Gentiles (Chapters 2)
    • Paul explains the full story of going to Jerusalem with Barnabas to plead the case for Gentiles.
      • After discussion, Peter, Jacob, and John all agree that Paul and Barnabas should take the initiative of the missionary work to the Gentiles and they would handle the ministry to the Jews. This conference was a key part of the early history of the church. Paul is very upset with Peter for caving to the pressure of the Jews in a dinner in Antioch after the conference. It gave the Jewish Christians there ammunition to persecute Gentiles, including Barnabas. Paul teaches clearly, and similarly to his audience in Romans, that righteousness cannot come by the works of the Law, but only by Faith in Jesus Christ.
      • If righteousness came through the Law then Christ died in vain, but He did not die in vain. We must die with him, by giving up our old selves and giving ourselves to Faith.
  • Covenants, Faith, and the Law (Chapters 3-4)
    • Paul uses Abraham and Moses to convince the Galatians that Gentiles are part of salvation, and not through the Law. The point of the Law was to be a guardian and schoolmaster for all of us. We sin and we transgress and we need guidance, and so the Law is the guidance, but it was also meant to remind us that we cannot live it fully and we need Jesus Christ
      • Paul taught that even Moses and Abraham were trying to point Israel to Christ in their teachings, covenants, and the Law. When we join the Body of Christ, we are no longer servants to the flesh, but children of God and “heirs” of what God and Jesus have to offer. Eternal Life and their glory. At one point the Galatians trusted and loved Paul. He is begging them to listen again and feel the spirit of the gospel.
  • Love and the Spirit (Chapter 5)
    • Through Jesus Christ we are made free from sin, from bondage, from fear, and from death. If we believe we are only saved through the Law then we have cut ourselves off from Christ and denied the need for Grace.
      • The Law (circumcision is the focus) is still important, but it is the perception of what saves us and others. We must use our freedom from Christ and the gospel to benefit others, to serve each other, and not as an excuse to sin and follow the desires of the fleshThe fruit of the Spirit is – charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no Law that speaks against these virtues.
  • Bear One Another’s Burdens (Chapter 6)
    • If we have friends of family who are struggling with sin or any kind of burden it is our responsibility to help them in gentleness. We must bear our burdens together to fulfill the new “law” of Christ that of faith and love. Trust those who teach the gospel of goodness and love, do not be deceived on either side. What we sow in this life is what we shall reap.
    • Do not trust those who teach only grace and the Spirit, do not trust those who teach only the Law. For neither is what benefits us, what benefits us is becoming new creatures in Jesus Christ. It requires the Law and the Spirit for that to happen.

Key Moment or Scripture: 5:13-22
13 For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.
14 For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
15 But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another.
16 This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.
17 For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.
18 But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law.
19 Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness,
20 Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies,
21 Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith

This section by Paul has always been one of my favorites. He reminds us that there are blessings that come from the gospel and faith. One of them is liberty. Paul understands that liberty, freedom from the law because of our faith and the gospel’s blessings, is not an excuse to selfishly benefit ourselves, or to ignore the law and do whatever our flesh desires. There is still no place for those who love sin and embrace it in the kingdom of God. There is a place, however, for those who seek the Spirit through their faith in Jesus Christ. They will live the law, and they will receive even better fruits from being tied to the Spirit.

The fruits of the Spirit are all the things we really want as human beings. Love is paramount, and it is what brings Joy. Joy is fulfilling relationships that we know last forever, giving and receiving and helping and being united. Peace, man that is just something I know we all need and desire. Longsuffering, (patience, endurance, faithfulness), those things make us a rock to other people and our ability to help them feel the Spirit increases. Gentleness (kindness, compassion, empathy) who doesn’t want that? Goodness and Faith? Of course those are the fruits we want in our lives. The Law keeps us safe, the Spirit helps us become something different. New creatures in Jesus Christ. We need the Spirit in our lives, and for it we need faith in Jesus Christ.

Final Thoughts:
Next week we study Ephesians. The people of Ephesus were Paul’s most beloved people. He lived with them for a long time and visited them a few times. One of my favorite scenes of the New Testament is when Paul bids them farewell, knowing he will likely never see them again. He really loved them so much.