I need to be fair to St Paul. I have often thought that Paul stuffed Christianity up. As he wrote his epistles often they seem to be rife with doctrine, rules and systems. But I now tend to think that it is our interpretations of Paul that have distorted the free flowing way of Jesus. What Paul did was use the language, idioms and metaphors of his culture and day to try to communicate the essence of what he experienced in Jesus. We have taken those "picture words", retained them and made them hard and fast "doctrine" and in so doing distorted Paul. Our task in reading Paul is to seek to understand the essence of his experience, to get behind his metaphors then transfer that experience into metaphors that suit our culture and age. So I am attempting to do that with "flesh" as he uses it in Galatians 5.
I argued in my previous post that in spite of what Paul seems to imply, "flesh" is not inherently evil. J B Philips translates "flesh" as "our lower nature". As I look at Paul's description of the "works of the flesh" I think that what he calls flesh is the "if-it-feels-good, do-it" attitude. This would apply to what he sees as sexual immorality. This would also apply to "party spirit" "envy" "dissension" etc. It is the attitude that is self-focused and does not think of the consequences long term for ourselves, other people, society or creation. It is therefore important to listen to what Paul has to say. I see this attitude so often. I will take revenge, pay back evil for evil, because it feels good. I will charge up private expenses on a government credit card because it feels good and I may get away with it. (like our politicians) I will drink too much, add incredible amounts to our national health bill, cause damage to my relationships, maybe even hurt others because at the moment "it feels good". I will endanger lives, cause havoc on streets with my boy racer car, because "it feels good". I will accept a ridiculously high salary even though I know there are many unemployed and it is essentially unfair inequality, because "it feels good". This "if it feels good, do it" attitude is rife in today's society and, I believe, is identical to the way Paul uses the term "Flesh" in Galatians 5.
Paul's anti-dote is two fold. He reminds them of the old command, "you shall love your neighbour as yourself" and calls us to commit to that. Secondly he says to be guided by "the Spirit", allowing things like "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control" to grow in our personalities.
Here is where I go back to the follower of Jesus being more aware. The follower of Jesus is committed to the golden rule and in their inner being is always measuring his/her actions according to this wider awareness. What are my actions doing to others? When this sort of self analyses is allowed room, the fruit of the Spirit grow. The mysterious movement, the Great Spirit, the inner voice (God) that is part of this world, is given room in our lives to grow better, more whole, more wholesome functioning human beings. All I can say is that it works! I have seen changes in people, and sometimes even in me.
Looking at what ails our families, our countries and our world, we need this sort of change. Legislation, politics and education wont do it. Some sort of inner commitment to a better way of life on the part of individuals will. It really is a deeper, "spiritual" issue, and as archaic and out of touch as the church often is, it still is the place where I can raise a flag in the midst of our world and say, "There is a 'spiritual' dimension to life and 'spiritual' issues to attend to."
I found this quote when tidying up my office today. I loved the film called "The War". This returned soldier had been deeply shaken by his war experience and was struggling to fit back into family life is talking with his son. The son had got into a fight with kids from another family who were picking on him. The father broke up the fight then later gave one of the kids some candy floss when they yelled abuse at them. The son demanded to know why he did it? They were nasty people..... Why give them candy floss? As part of the answer the dad said this.... "I think the only thing that keeps people truly safe and happy is love. I think... I think that's where men get their courage, that's where countries get their strength, and that's where God grants us her miracles. And in the absence of love Stuart, there is nothing, nothing in this world worth fighting for."
The old song said, "What the world needs now is love." I guess that's why I do the job I am in, in spite of our secular age and the many distorted forms of religion, I still think the way of the golden rule, (the way of Jesus) makes sense.