Sunday, December 8, 2013

Gordon Fee on the work of the Spirit

Gordon D. Fee on the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the people of God: The Fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:13-6:10).


Paul concludes this list by bringing it back into context: “Against such things as these there is no law.” This means something like, “when these virtues are evident among us because of the presence of the Spirit, Torah is an irrelevancy.” There is no need of Torah to say to people who by the Spirit are loving on another, “you shall not kill,” nor to say to those who are actively pursuing the good of others out of kindness, “don’t covet.”

This does not mean that reminders like this list are irrelevant—Paul himself is long on such—but that the need for Torah to “hem in human conduct because of the transgressions” (Gal 3:19, 22) has come to an end with the advent of the Spirit, God’s own way of fulfilling the promised new covenant. This is Torah being etched on the heart, so that God’s people will obey him (Jer. 31:33; Ezek. 36:27). Here also is the clear evidence that for Paul the elimination of Torah does not mean the end of righteousness. To the contrary, the Spirit produces the real thing, the righteousness of God himself, so that his children reflect his likeness.

Of equal importance, these are the fruit of the eschatological Spirit. In us and in our believing communities the Spirit is at work reproducing the very life of God, so that in our present between-the-times existence, we might live the life of the future, toward which we are walking. This is what lies behind Paul’s command in Philippians 1:27, where in a wordplay on the fact that Philippi was a Roman colony, whose free people were therefore citizens of Rome, Paul urges them “to live out their [heavenly] citizenship in Philippi in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” Picking up this same imagery again in 3:20 he says that “our citizenship is in heaven.”

God’s people in Philippi were in effect a “colony of heaven” in this colony of Rome. Paul’s point is that if people are to see what heaven is to be like, they should see it now in the way the heavenly citizens live their life together. Obviously, only the Spirit of the living God can pull that off! But that is what it is all about.

We need, finally, to return to the beginning. Pauline ethics has to do with walking—putting one foot in front of the other, if you will—and doing so in the Spirit, as we are led by the Spirit. Both Paul’s exhortation to the community in Ephesians 5:18 (“be filled with the Spirit”) and his instruction to Timothy in 2 Timothy 1:6-7 (“fan the gift into flame”) imply the need for a continual, ongoing appropriation. The Spirit’s presence is the crucial matter, but that presence does not automatically ensure a quickened, fervent Spiritual life. Both individuals and the church as a whole are exhorted to keep the gift aflame. One way of doing this is by mutual encouragement and growth in the context of community life, especially worship.

Gordon D. Fee: Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God; pg. 123-124 (emphasis GGM).