Lectionary Commentaries for June 30, 2019
Third Sunday after Pentecost

from WorkingPreacher.org


Gospel

Commentary on Luke 9:51-62

Amy G. Oden

We’ve all felt it. The rise in our gut when someone rejects our most cherished beliefs.

We recognize the need to justify our views, prove we are right, defend our faith. But we don’t stop there. We also have the impulse to attack — to show how that person is wrong, misguided, even unfaithful. If we have structural or institutional power, we may move to shut them down and “command fire to come down from heaven and consumer them” figuratively if not literally. If we have military or political power, we may use it to harm and punish. We saw the violence of this zeal two weeks ago from Saul in Acts 9.

It’s no surprise, then, that James and John seem eager to punish the Samaritans for their refusal to receive Jesus. They appear pretty confident, offering to command fire to come down and consume these knuckleheaded villagers. And certainly, there was precedence (2 Kings 1: 10-12) for calling down fire. Add to that their previous argument about who is the greatest (verse 46), maybe James and John are simply eager to project their own authority.

Cycles of reactivity

These responses will sound familiar to contemporary audiences. In the church and the world, we see similar reactivity to disagreement or perceived slight. It is timely to focus on these few verses (verses 54-56) as Jesus checks the reactive and violent impulses of his committed disciples.

Lest we distance ourselves from this kind of reactivity, invite congregants to revisit their FB feed or Twitter exchanges exclaiming against other viewpoints or heralding their own. As a preacher, you likely have examples from your own examination of conscience: We may be quick to “like” a political opponent getting what’s coming to them. Our outrage at others’ ignorance or hard-heartedness is proudly proclaimed. We may aggressively police the doctrinal purity of other congregations in our own communions (again, re-visit Acts 9).

You will know relevant examples from your own context. You will have to resist the very temptation described here, that is, to ascribe these violent tendencies only to those on “the other side.” It is easy to see these baser impulses in those whom we already judge as wrong. Instead, help your congregation see the insidious nature of these impulses in ourselves and our own worldview. Otherwise, the finger-pointing will continue.

Triumphalism

Triumphalism is a powerful and dangerous drug, closely tied to self-righteousness. It feels so good to be right! To win! To know that God is on our side! Yay us! Boo everyone else! Endorphins pump through our bodies, creating a high we want to sustain.

Our Christian history demonstrates that triumphalism is our besetting sin. It is a subtle and short step from rejoicing in the good news of Jesus Christ to attacking those who will not share in it. Our history shows that when we have the power to harm others we consider outside our circle of triumph, we are likely to use it. And Jesus will have none of it.

Jesus’ answer is to rebuke his disciples and then instruct them to get on with the work of the gospel. “They went on to another village.” Jesus won’t let James and John stop to argue or entrench themselves there. This isn’t a contest to see who wins. Jesus says: move on! He will give this instruction again in the next chapter.

Next, Jesus details further demands upon his followers. When his disciples want to finger-point, Jesus instead requires them to examine their own life commitments, calling all who follow him to order their priorities so that their lives are radically free to follow him (verses 57-62).

The Pivot

As a preacher, you can offer this very practical pivot as a strategy for today: when we are tempted to focus on how right we are and how wrong others are, pause and pay attention to this impulse as a red flag. The impulse to attack tells us that, according to Jesus, we must do a full 180-degree pivot, turning our gaze from “the other” to examining ourselves instead. We must ask: To what am I attached today that keeps me from following Jesus fully and freely?


First Reading

Commentary on 1 Kings 19:15-16, 19-21

Brian C. Jones

Elijah, once described as “a hairy man, with a leather belt around his waist” (2 Kings 1:8) is an imposing presence in the dynastic histories of Israel and Judah.

What he prophesies, comes to pass. He declares a three-year drought and ends it with the famous contest with the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel. He outruns a chariot. He is fed by birds and angels. He raises from the dead a widow’s son. Twice he calls fire down on a contingent of soldiers. And he doesn’t die but ascends to heaven in a fiery chariot, the mantle of his authority and power tumbling down upon his disciple Elisha. Wow!

As we heard in last Sunday’s lectionary text from the first half of 1 Kings 19, the mighty prophet is gripped by fear and despair after his great victory at Mt. Carmel because of the death threats of Jezebel, the Sidonian wife of King Ahab and patroness of Baal and Asherah worship in Israel. He heads south, so despondent that he wishes he could die: “It is enough, LORD, now take away my life” (19:4). He ultimately arrives at Mt. Horeb (Sinai), the place of the covenant where the LORD commanded “No other gods before me,” where, with the commandment still ringing in their ears, the people made and worshiped a golden calf, a foreshadowing of the golden calves that Jeroboam’s installed at Dan and Bethel as focal points for Baal worship (1 Kings 12:28–32). The calves stood in Elijah’s and Elisha’s time, and beyond (2 Kings 10:29).

Perhaps Elijah hopes for divine guidance or consolation at Mt. Horeb, “the mount of God.” He feels alone, the sole champion of a lost cause, ready to throw in the towel. “I have been zealous and faithful; the people are faithless and deadly. I alone am left, and now they are seeking to kill me” (verse 14). The prophet sounds both pitiful and grandiose, but we should not judge him too harshly. Many of us have been to that mountain and recited our complaint.

Elijah-Moses parallels feature prominently in 1 Kings 19:

  • prophetic anger and condemnation of idolatry involving golden calf worship;
  • a 40-day/year journey in the wilderness sustained by food from heaven;
  • discouragement to the point of asking to die (Numbers 11:15);
  • a dramatic revelation at the mountain of God (Exodus 33:17-34:7).

Elijah is the “prophet like Moses” for his time (Deuteronomy 18:15), and Elisha will take up this role when Elijah is gone. Many of Elisha’s deeds will parallel — and surpass — Elijah’s.

Elijah’s victory at Carmel, journey into despair, and the theophany on the mountain set the context for this Sunday’s reading, and a sermon on the text should outline these events, especially if Isaiah rather than 1 Kings 19 was used on the previous Sunday. At this juncture in the story one might expect God to offer Elijah comfort and reassurance. The LORD responds instead by sending Elijah back into the fray.

God tacitly accepts Elijah’s letter of resignation and instructs him to anoint his successor. But the prophet has several tasks before he is swept up to heaven in a fiery chariot. He must return north and use his prophetic authority to rearrange the political landscape in Aram (Syria) and Israel by anointing two new kings, Hazael for Aram and Jehu for Israel. This is no small thing since this act will precipitate regicide and dynastic revolution.

Prophets are potent political actors whose words and actions sometimes instigate violence, a fact that the lectionary editors have obscured by omitting verses 17. Unexpectedly, it is Elisha, not Elijah, who later anoints Hazael and Jehu; see 2 Kings 8:7-15; 9:1-13. There is significant disarrangement of material in this section of the history. God subtly corrects Elijah’s “I alone am left” lament by noting that 7,000 remain in Israel who have been faithful to the LORD (verse 18, also omitted in the lectionary). The light has not gone out, as Elijah imagines. Despair confidently projects a calamitous future, but the calculus of despair overestimates human knowing and overlooks the power of God.

If Elijah still wrestles with despair and doubt, he doesn’t say so. He heads north to the wilderness of Damascus where he finds Elisha toiling in his family’s field behind a pair of oxen. Eleven other teams are plowing ahead of him, and he is bringing up the rear. We cannot identify Abel-meholah, Elisha’s village (19:6; possibly a region). It probably lay east of Beth-shean, near the Jordan. This is the region of Gilead, where Elijah also lived. Elisha’s position in the plow line may indicate he is among the least in his clan, eating everyone else’s dust.

Elijah throws his mantle over Elisha and walks away. The mantle is the symbol of Elijah’s authority and will be featured again when he ascends to heaven (2 Kings 2:1–12). Elisha recognizes at once what Elijah’s act means and runs after him, showing that he has accepted the call of discipleship. His immediate response brings to mind Jesus’s disciples dropping their nets and putting their hand to the plow without looking back or taking care of family duties (Luke 9:57-62).

Unlike Jesus’s disciples, however, Elisha asks to say farewell to his family. Elijah’s response is abrupt and puzzling: “Go back again; for what have I done to you?” What indeed! The Hebrew is terse and enigmatic, but the import seems to be, “Turn back. I have not coerced you. The choice is yours.” Elisha does turn back, but his actions make it clear that his commitment to his new vocation is absolute. He kills and cooks his oxen using their yoke to make the fire, and he provides a feast for the people. “I’m done here; love you all; good bye.”

Elisha turned back, but it was only to, as it were, sell all, distribute the money, and follow his new master, as Jesus later invited the rich ruler to do in Luke 18:18-23. It would be unfair to criticize Elisha for his desire to say farewell. Elijah does not seem to do so. Jesus’ words at the end of Luke 9 alluding to Elisha’s turning back serve to emphasize the greater eschatological urgency of discipleship in Jesus’ time and not Elisha’s slackness.


Alternate First Reading

Commentary on 2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14

Sara Koenig

Elijah is one of only two people in the Old Testament who does not die; the other is Enoch, who walks with God and then is taken by God (Genesis 5:24).

This chapter in 2 Kings is where Elijah is taken up into heaven by chariots of fire. Ultimately, however, the passage is more about Elisha, about a disciple’s faithfulness to his leader, and about the passing of a prophetic mantle.

There is no mystery that Elijah’s departure is immanent, as the chapter begins with the announcement that the Lord is about to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind. This is the same Hebrew word, s?r, out of which God speaks to Job (Job 38:1, 40:6).1

Throughout this chapter, Elijah and Elisha are travelling: from Gilgal, to Bethel, to Jericho, across the Jordan River and back. The movement from Jericho to the Jordan happens in verses 3-5, not included in the lectionary. At each geographic juncture, Elijah tells Elisha, “Stay here, please, for the Lord has sent me” (2 Kings 2:2, 4, 6). Each time, Elisha refuses, responding with a vow that he will not leave Elijah.

Gina Hens-Piazza suggests that the lack of logic to the direction of the journeys means that “Elijah is testing the steadfastness of Elisha’s commitment to follow in his ways, no matter how mysterious the route.”2 In each of those four locations there are communities of prophets, so the specific geography may point to larger questions of prophetic leadership and succession than just that of Elijah and Elisha.

Twice in the chapter, those other prophets ask Elisha if he knows the information contained in the first verse, that “the Lord will take away your master from over you today?” (2 Kings 2:3, 5). Both times, Elisha answers, “Yes, I know, be still.” The text does not give any reason for Elisha’s last clause. It could be that he does not want to talk about Elijah’s departure; it could also be that Elisha is reluctant to face the reality known by the other prophets.

When Elijah and Elisha arrive at the Jordan river in 2 Kings 2:8, Elisha takes his mantle, rolls it up, and strikes the water, which parts for them. Elijah had used that same mantle to cover his face before coming out to encounter God (1 Kings 19:13), and threw the mantle over Elisha at his recruitment (1 Kings 19:19). Choon-Leong Seow notes the how the now-rolled-up mantle resembles a rod, similar to the one with which Moses struck the water in Exodus 14:16.3 The connection with Moses becomes even more obvious at the end of 2 Kings 2:8, which explains that the two prophets “crossed on dry land” (see also Exodus 14:21-22).

On the other side of the Jordan, Elijah invites Elisha to tell him what he might do for Elisha before he goes. Elisha asks to inherit “a double portion of your spirit” (2 Kings 2:9). This could relate to Numbers 11:25, when the spirit given to Moses is shared with others (see Joshua receiving the spirit of wisdom from Moses in Deuteronomy 34:9), but the language of “double-portion” also occurs in reference to the legal rights of inheritance for the firstborn (Deuteronomy 21:15-17). In the context, Elisha may be asking that he be the legal heir of Elijah’s prophetic vocation.

Elijah’s response, however, suggests that this might not be as simple as a legal right, instead pointing out that Elisha has asked a hard thing. After the disclaimer, Elijah explains that if Elisha sees Elijah being taken, then he will receive his request (2 Kings 2:10).

The two continue walking and speaking, when suddenly a fiery chariot with fiery horses appears, separates them, and takes up Elijah in the whirlwind (2 Kings 2:11). Fire has been a leitmotif in Elijah’s past ministry; he called down fire from heaven to consume the drenched offering in 1 Kings 18:38, and in chapter immediately preceding this one, he called down fire from heaven to kill two groups of a captain and fifty men (2 Kings 1:10, 12). 

As if in direct response to Elijah’s statement in 2 Kings 2:10 that Elisha will receive a double portion of Elijah’s spirit if he sees Elijah being taken, 2 Kings 2:12 begins with the words, “And Elisha saw.” He not only sees, but cries out “Father, father; the chariots of Israel and its horses!” In 2 Kings 13:14, King Joash will speak the same words over Elisha. It could be that Elisha is trying to put words to his vision; it could also be that this language foreshadows the number of Israelite wars in which Elisha will play a significant role. Elisha’s repetition of “father” is striking, emphasizing the closeness he felt with his prophetic master.

Elisha tears his clothes in grief, but picks up Elijah’s mantle (2 Kings 2:12-13). As he goes back to the river alone, he — like Elijah did in 2:8 — strikes the water, and asks, “Where is the LORD, the God of Elijah?” (2 Kings 2:14). The water parts, which could be an answer to his question. The God of Elijah is also the God of Elisha, who will carry his predecessor’s mantle throughout his ministry for years to come.


Notes:

  1. It also occurs in Jonah 1:4, 12; Amos 1:14; Isaiah 29:6, 40:23, 41:6; and Jeremiah 23:19, 30:23.
  2. Gina Hens-Piazza, 1-2 Kings. Abingdon Old Testament Commentaries. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2006, p. 234. In contrast, Choon-Leong Seow notes that there are a number of locations known as Gilgal, and since the two go down from there to Bethel, it is less likely that they started at the Gilgal adjacent to the Jordan (Josh 3-4). Instead, Seow proposes that the Gilgal in 2 Kings 2 is a site seven miles north of Bethel and on a higher elevation. “2 Kings.” New Interpreters Bible Volume III (Nashville: Abingdon, 1999), 176.
  3. Seow, “2 Kings,” 176.

Psalm

Commentary on Psalm 16

Joel LeMon

Psalm 16 is the prayer of one who has devoted herself entirely to God’s care.1 

The prayer of devotion begins with a petition for protection and a confession of dependence on God (verses 1-2). The psalmist then aligns herself with those who have also devoted themselves to God (verse 2). This faithful community stands in contrast to a violent community with a different set of allegiances (verse 3). After comparing these two groups, the psalm describes the many blessings that accrue to the one who seeks refuge in Yahweh (verses 5-11). 

The refugee

The only direct request in the psalm comes right at the start, an imperative verb: shamreni “Protect me!” This Hebrew word has a range of translations related to the act of keeping watch over someone or something and keeping them safe. Thus, in the first verse, the psalmist reveals her fundamental understanding of the nature of divine protection. For the psalmist to be safe means that God’s attention must remain fixed on her. This notion is in keeping with the logic of divine protection in the Psalms more broadly: God takes care of those whom God sees (see also Psalm 1:6; 10:11, 14; 80:14; 145:20; 146:9).

The psalmist has a role to play in getting God’s attention. She does so in two ways. First, quite simply, she calls out to God for help, claiming the status of a refugee (verse 1). Second, she proclaims her complete dependence on God (verse 2). She narrates her own confession of faith as way to underscore it: “I say to Yahweh: ‘You are my Lord. I have no good apart from you.’”2

In the confession, the psalmist recounts how she has claimed that Yahweh is “lord,” that is, the one to whom she owes allegiance and the one whom she obeys. This confession is also a powerful signal of her own agency. Like other types of vows, it is a speech-act that acknowledges, reinforces, and creates a relationship. These words cement the bonds between God and the psalmist.

Two communities

After the psalmist makes her confession of faithfulness to God, she acknowledges that there are others, who like her, have claimed Yahweh as their lord. They are “the holy ones in the land” (verse 3). That they are “noble” indicates that they have been blessed by God and benefited from God’s protection. The psalmist wants to be associated with this blessed community.

By contrast, the following verse describes a community marked by violence. The vivid imagery of “drink-offerings of blood” (verse 4b) suggests a community that has an entirely different orientation than the “holy ones” (verse 3). By choosing not to follow Yahweh, they choose the ways of destruction.

Their beliefs have an impact on their ethics. The psalmist claims fealty to a righteous God who protects refugees. Yet when a community pledges itself to other forces of power, violence results and relationships are destroyed. The psalmist wants no part of these communities and their rituals of violence (verse 4b). In fact, it may be that the psalmist is seeking protection (verse 1) because of the threats coming from this community.

The inheritance of the psalmist

Having described these two communities, the psalmist moves to a meditation on her own personal relationship with Yahweh (verses 5-11). These sections contain numerous first-person singular pronouns, at least one in every verse: “The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup” (verse 5); “I bless the LORD” (verse 6); “I have a goodly heritage (verse 7);” “I keep the Lord always before me” (verse 8); “therefore my heart is glad” (verse 9); “You do not give me up” (verse 10); “You show me the paths of life” (verse 11). These verses explore the dynamics of the relationship between God and the psalmist, including both claims about God and direct addresses to God.

While the pronouns stay constant, the imagery shifts rapidly. She employs language drawn from the realm of feasting and celebration (verse 5a) and compares herself to one who has received an inheritance of land, one that is good and bountiful (verses 5b-6). Yahweh also provides wisdom (verse 7) and at all times gives the psalmist surety (verse 8). Such confidence comes only through the knowledge that God is constantly close by. Yet it is not clear whether the psalmist is anticipating these benefits in her life or if these are benefits that are already realized.

This divine nearness has an effect on the whole person. Her “heart,” “soul,” and “body” experience the delight of being with God (verse 9). With such benefits of divine closeness, the psalmist cannot imagine how death could ever touch her (verse 10). 

Connections and theological implications

A version of Psalm 16:8-11 appears in Acts 2:25-28, Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost. Attributing these words to David, Peter sees them as a prophecy of Jesus’s death and resurrection, that Jesus “was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay” (Acts 2:31).

This interpretation is possible in part because the psalm seems to reflect a relationship between the deity and the psalmist that is marked by mutual faithfulness. It is also notable for the way the psalm presents an unwavering confidence in deity’s power to provide and protect based on divine intimacy. God is at the psalmist’s right hand (verse 8), and the right hand of God extends blessings to the psalmist forever (verse 11).

Such closeness seems to indicate a special relationship. Yet this in fact the very type of relationship offered to all who seek refuge in God. The psalm puts no limits on who can take up the prayer. Like the psalmist, any of us can say to YHWH, “you are my Lord.” Male or female, in antiquity or in the present. The good news of Jesus Christ is that all can seek refuge in God, as they turn away from violence and turn toward to blessed community who also seek God. The advent of Jesus Christ indicates that the horizon of God’s protection and care extends even beyond the experience of death (see verse 10).

Additionally, when we assume the voice of the psalmist, we put ourselves in solidarity with all of those who need protection, all who would say to Yahweh, “you are my Lord.” The psalm gives us a new identity with through a relationship with God and a new solidarity with any who would turn to God for refuge.


Notes:

  1. Given the historical and social context of Ancient Israel, it is reasonable to assume that most, if not all, of the book of Psalms was written by men. Yet the first-person singular pronouns (in English: I, me, my) found so frequently the Psalms are not marked for gender in Hebrew. This grammatical ambiguity creates an openness within the Psalter, such that people of all genders can hear their own voice in the words of the psalmist, whether or not the psalm was originally written by a man. Thus, when speaking about the psalm in sermons or Bible studies, it is generally appropriate to refer to the psalmist with pronouns of any gender. There are special reasons to consider that the speaker in Psalm 16 is a woman. See the thorny text-critical issues in verse 2 discussed in the footnote below.
  2. The NRSV “I say to the LORD” utilizes Septuagintal traditions for this translation. The Masoretic Text, by contrast, suggests the following translation at the beginning of the verse: “You say / you said (’amart) to YHWH.” The “you” here is marked for gender, namely, feminine singular. As such, one could conclude that someone is instructing a female petitioner to make the specific confession of trust, “You are my Lord.” Whether one follows the Masoretic Text or the Septuagintal traditions, the rhetorical effect is similar. Setting the confession of trust apart as a quotation highlights its importance for establishing the relationship between the psalmist and the deity.

Second Reading

Commentary on Galatians 5:1, 13-25

Amy L.B. Peeler

Paul’s message must have struck many as anarchism.

He seems to toss the law aside as a headstrong teenager disparages authority. In this chapter he begins to correct this misread by portraying the indentured nature of true freedom, a freedom that exists outside of but at the heart of the law.

Fighting words

Paul may have claimed to be all things to all people (1 Corinthians 9:22), but he did not win friends and influence people through flattery. He pulls no punches in proclaiming the truth, and Galatians, this section in particular, may be him at his most provocative. Previous to Galatians 5, Paul has waged one of the most intense exegetical arguments in all the New Testament. After a series of seven Scriptures (Galatians 3), he draws attention to Abraham’s family to categorize some of his fellow Jews as the descendants of Hagar. It is that messy story and the shocking way he tells it that casts its shadow over his call to freedom in verse 1. The identity of the slave and the free person might just be surprising.

The indirect object is given pride of place in the first sentence of Galatians 5, putting emphasis on freedom. As a dative the word could be translated several ways, but in all these nuances Paul is claiming that the Galatian believers already have been released by the work of the Jewish Messiah. Paul instructs them to stay put in that freedom, and not be caught all over again in the yoke of slavery. As the story of Hagar may cause them to reflect, no one would want to return to enslavement having been released from it.

In between this imperative and the resumption of the lectionary text in verse 13 stands some of Paul’s most intense fighting words. The cost of enslavement is exceedingly high.

He avers in an almost oath-like statement that if they become circumcised, Christ is of no benefit to them. If they take that route, they have to keep the whole law; and since the path of righteousness laid out by the law and the path of righteousness laid out by Christ are mutually exclusive, they cannot travel on both. Switching to one will mean a departure from the other.

He is hopeful for his addressees however. They haven’t yet fallen from grace, and he is confident they won’t. They simply need to excise those who are arguing for righteousness by the law. If the Galatians don’t excise them, Paul wishes they would excise themselves.

It makes good sense why these verses do not appear in the lectionary. They speak of a very specific manifestation of a problem, circumcision, and they show Paul’s anger. If a congregation is open to deeper teaching in another kind of setting, these passages invite theological wrestling with the possibility of a fall from grace, as well as demonstrate the passion with which Paul railed against a corruption of the gospel.

Free slaves

Just as he does in verse 7, in verse 15 he goes back to their beginning. This must be a common rhetorical strategy of warnings as the author of Hebrews does the same, namely issues strong worries followed by comforting praise of previous behavior. When they were called, that call came for freedom. Just as was true with the dative in verse 1, the preposition epi  used here demonstrates incredible flexibility. Whatever the preposition indicates about freedom (as foundation or aim), it is clear that they now have it. They are currently free.

Freedom is a tempting thing. It could easily be used to serve one’s self. “Flesh” could indicate one’s body (Galatians 1:16; 2:16, 20; 4:13, 14), or one’s negative behavior (3:3; 4:23, 29). Whether it be for bodily/emotional realities or vice, one’s freedom shouldn’t be self-serving.

Paul is seeking to avoid a pendulum swing here to anarchy. Freedom as opposed to the law does not mean freedom with disregard to the law. He claims that to live in freedom in this Spirit-led way is to fulfill the whole law. It is summed up in this phrase from Leviticus 19. Sitting between such universal commands as the prohibition against murder and such particular rules as the prohibition against mixing fabrics, Paul’s appeal complicates any simple categorization between the ceremonial and moral law. The wide focus of all the laws in Leviticus remains on the love of others in the community. If they don’t heed his admonition and use their freedom selfishly for their own flesh it will result in the harming of the flesh of others. Such cannibalism will certainly lead to mutual destruction. The imagery again is not for the faint of heart.

Instead of this destructive fleshly focus, Paul advises a Spirit-focused life. The two are mutually exclusive. The flesh has its desires and the Spirit has other ones. Interestingly it is not a contrast between passion and no passion, but different kinds of passion. These kinds of passion are set against one another. The sad result is that one’s will and one’s actions are often opposed.

Vice and virtue

His readers might have supposed then that their return to the law would be the way to avoid vice and pursue virtue. But Paul says they have already made their mutually-exclusive choice. They are led by the Spirit and are not under the law.

One could certainly do a study of the vices in the list, but I am not convinced that such pointillism was Paul’s intent. The list opens  with the indiscriminate “whichever” and closes with the generalizing statement “and similar things like these.” Such statements indicate that this list is not exhaustive, they are simply examples of negative behavior.

Moreover he says that the works of the flesh are clear for anyone to see, and that he has taught them about these things before. Those whose lives are characterized only by the flesh will not inherit the kingdom. This point is not presented as a major controversy. It should be obvious to them who have been rescued from slavery and who has not.

When one is walking in the Spirit fruit comes, including love, joy, peace, patience, kindness goodness, faith, gentleness, and self-control. Again, the list is worthy of individual or group study. He states that the there is no law against such things, suggesting like verse 14 that life of the Spirit is congruent with the heart of the law.

For those who have been released by Christ, Paul’s major concern is not that they will fall into these Kingdom-excluding sins. That problem has already been taken care of for them by crucifying their flesh with Christ. Nor is his worry that they won’t be able to do good. Life in the Spirit makes walking in the ways of the Spirit possible. Be who you already have become, he is saying. His concern is that they might forfeit this vice-denying, virtue-embodying Spirit-led freedom for an enslavement to rather than a fulfillment of the law.