Let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another. (Gal 5:26).
So often we are blinded by our own traditions and culture. I think this is true when we talk about the fruit of the Spirit. Most of us have at one time or another memorized the fruit of the Spirit in Gal 5:22-23 and have even sung them in a song during Sunday School as children.
But my guess is that most of us, when we think of the fruit of the Spirit, think of them in a very individualistic way. Paul lists nine of them. The fruit includes things like joy, peace, and faith. When we ask ourselves if the fruit is evident in our lives we are tempted to say that the answer is yes if we feel a sense of joy regardless of our circumstances, or if we have a feeling of peace when we think about what God has done for us. If we are walking by the Spirit, we are able to have “faith” that God will do what He has promised to do for us and that there is nothing to worry about. We don’t have to be anxious for anything.
The reason this is the case is because in the West we think of things in an individualistic way. We are prone to think about our spiritual lives that way as well. As individuals we want to know how we are doing spiritually. The fruit of the Spirit is a way we can measure these things.
However, when we look at the discussion of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5, it seems clear to me that this is not the way we should look at it. Very simply, as a believer, the fruit of the Spirit is not about me. It is about others. Specifically, the fruit of the Spirit is seen in my life in how I treat others, not in how I feel.
The nine things Paul lists are: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance. Even a quick glance at them shows that they deal with how we relate to others. Do we love others? Are we at peace with others? Are we longsuffering, gentle, good, and meek in our relationship with others?
But even the others deal with how we deal with others. The word “temperance” means to have self-control. To get along with others are we willing to exercise self-control by giving up our rights for the good of others? The word “faith” can also mean faithful or reliable. Can others rely on me? When it comes to “joy,” that joy can come from the fact that others around us are doing well in their relationship with the Lord (Phil 4:1). The Spirit can produce joy in me as a result of the believers around me.
In other words, the fruit of the Spirit is evident in how I interact with other believers. The Spirit wants to produce in us an attitude of love and service towards other Christians. It is not about us, it is about them.
When we look at the context of Gal 5 this becomes very clear. The section where Paul talks about walking by the flesh and the Spirit begins in verse 15. Paul tells us the problem. He writes, “But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another.” Clearly Paul is concerned about how the believers in Galatia were treating one another. They were fighting with each other and therefore were not loving and at peace with each other.
Then, Paul concludes the discussion with the same idea. He tells these believers, “Let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another.” (v. 26). Don’t be arrogant towards another. Don’t fight with one another. Don’t be envious of each other.
If we want to know if we are walking by the Spirit and if the fruit of the Spirit is evident in our lives, the first place we need to look is how we treat other believers. We need to ask the Lord to transform us into people who love the believers around us.