Galatians 5:1 completes the crescendo of the first four chapters with a roaring call to freedom. “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” Yet this does not mean that Christians should do whatever they please, gratifying their own sinful desires and neglecting those around them. On the contrary, Paul explains, “For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another” (Gal. 5:13). Christians are free in Christ from slavery to this world and its power, including the Law of Moses. Yet in this freedom, they should choose out of love to serve one another with humility. Such “slavery” is not bondage, but an ironic exercise of true freedom in Christ.
The Spirit of God, given to Christians when they believe the good news of Christ (Gal. 3:2–5), helps us to live out our faith each day (Gal. 5:16). Those who “live by the Spirit” will reject and be safe from the “works of the flesh,” which include “fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these” (Gal. 5:19–21). Parts of this list sound all too similar to life in many workplaces—strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions and envy. Even seemingly religious practices such as idolatry and sorcery have real manifestations in the workplace. If we are called to live in the Spirit at all, then we are called to live in the Spirit at work.
Paul specifically warns us against “self-indulgence” in the name of freedom (Gal. 5:13). Instead, we should choose to “become slaves [or servants] to one another.” At work, this means we are to assist our coworkers even when we are in competition or at odds with them. We are to confront fairly and resolve our jealousies, angers, quarrels, dissensions, factions, and envy (see Matt. 18:15–17), rather than nurture resentment. We are to create products and services that exceed our customers’ legitimate expectations, because a true servant seeks what is best for the person served, not merely what is adequate.
Work and the Fruit of the Spirit
We often think of the fruit of the Spirit, described in Galatians 5, in the context of church life. But when we apply it to our work, it can give us a fresh perspective, and have a transformative effect on our workplaces.
Love can transform our view of other workers (colleagues, customers, managers, etc.) as image bearers of God rather than objects of utility in the course of our work. Love can transform our view of work, recognizing the value it brings to others and the world. The book Theory R Management illustrates the transformation that comes to the workplace when people are treated with love, dignity, and respect....
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The Spirit of God is not, however, simply a divine naysayer who keeps us out of trouble. Rather, the Spirit at work in believers produces new attitudes and actions. In agriculture, fruit is a delicious result of long-term growth and cultivation. The metaphor “fruit of the Spirit” signals that God cares about the kind of people we are becoming, rather than only what we are doing today. We are to cultivate “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Gal. 5:22–23) over the course of a lifetime. We have no reason to believe that this fruit is meant only for relationships among Christians in our churches and families. On the contrary, just as we are to be guided by the Spirit in every facet of life, so we are to demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit wherever we are, including the places in which we work. Patience in the workplace, for example, does not refer to indecisiveness or failure to act urgently in business matters. Instead, it means a freedom from the anxiety that would tempt us to act before the time is ripe, such as firing a subordinate in a fit of anger, berating a colleague before hearing an explanation, demanding a response before a student has time to consider, or cutting a customer’s hair before being completely sure what kind of style the customer wants. If the fruit of the Spirit seems to have little to do with work, perhaps we have narrowed our imagination of what spiritual fruit really is.
The first part of Galatians 6 employs a variety of work-related words to instruct Christians in how to care for others in tangible ways. Christians are to be generous to others as we “bear one another’s burdens” (Gal. 6:2). Yet, lest we be overtaken by pride and imagine that our work on behalf of others excuses poor work of our own, believers must “test their own work” and “carry their own loads” (Gal. 6:4–5).
The analogy of sowing and reaping allows Paul to encourage the Galatians to focus on the life of the Spirit rather than the flesh (Gal. 6:7–8). Sowing in the Spirit involves purposeful effort: “Let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith” (Gal. 6:10). Christians are to labor for the common good, in addition to caring for their fellow believers. Surely, if we are to work for the good of others, one place we should do it is in the workplace.
In his closing remarks, Paul reminds the Galatians of the center of the gospel, which is the cross of Christ: “May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal. 6:14).
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