The social situation addressed by the apostle Paul to the believers in Galatia is remarkably similar to conditions faced by us today. “The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like” (Gal. 5:19-21).*
Sexual immorality, idolatry, debauchery, drunkenness, etc., don’t surprise us; they are typical examples of worldly behavior. We’d never expect these behaviors to be demonstrated in the church. But hatred? Discord? Dissensions? Factions in the church? Surely not! While such behaviors may be present, they are often hidden from public view and rarely discussed in polite company.
In my rather limited life experience, I can’t remember when society (and the church) has been so roiled by discord, dissensions, hatreds, and factions—especially during the past four or five years. And thanks to social media, these conversations rapidly suck up all the oxygen in the room. Name any issue, and opinions cover not only the entire spectrum of liberal to conservative—they divide members, families, and friendships.
During the past several months I’ve read numerous books about the history of the United States. The record of factions, dissensions, and discord throughout its history surprised me. It seems that in every age, about nearly every social issue, many citizens saw each other less as patriots and more as traitors. The darkest episode was the American Civil War and its aftermath. From that time to this the United States has struggled to understand and deal with that sad legacy.
But enough about “them”; let’s talk about us.
To the believers in Galatia Paul not only catalogued “the acts of the flesh”; he also listed the “fruit of the Spirit” (fruit [singular], not fruits [plural]): “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. . . . Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (verses 22-24).
News flash: we’re opinionated (yes, we are). But we don’t have to be divisive and split into factions because of our deeply held convictions. Since our citizenship is in heaven, our opinions are less important than our willingness to reflect the character of Christ as demonstrated by the fruit of the Spirit.
The young adults in my local church have monthly GLOW dinners. Before the pandemic forced us into Zoom rooms, we’d invite eight or 10 young adults to share a meal and, while sitting around a communal table, have a conversation about a current issue faced by society and the church. Topics addressed during the past 18 months included racism, immigration, LGBTQ persons, the minimum wage, etc. To each issue we’d ask, “What does Christianity bring to this conversation?”
The idea was to create a climate where people are heard, where their opinions are taken seriously, and where they are valued as individuals regardless of their opinions.
The apostle Paul’s imperative to the believers in Galatia has implications for our conversations as well as for our behaviors: “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit” (verse 25).
* All Bible texts are taken from the New International Version.
Stephen Chavez is retired after serving the church as a pastor, writer, and editor.