In our Western individualistic culture we Christians tend to interpret the Fruit of the Spirit in individualistic fashion, as if this little passage sets out a set of goals for me to strive for and measure myself against.
As I read those words this evening, though, I remembered that Paul was writing to a church. The whole letter of Galatians is to the Galatian church(es). Paul is giving instructions and exhortations about how to be the church.
When you read the familiar words in that context and think about the Fruit of the Spirit as something addressed to the church corporately, they take on a more nuanced meaning. The application is different than the way we usually think about it.
But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! (Galatians 5:22–23, NLT)
There you have it. The church of Jesus is supposed to be exhibiting these characteristics because the Spirit of God is supposed to be alive and moving in her. We may be a bit squeamish about the Spirit if we are not charismatics, but the Spirit of Jesus living in his people, the church, is basic Christianity 101. The Spirit of God is trying to make us into the church he wants us to be. Paul has given a little snapshot of what that looks like in general.
Reread that list.
Now, think about your church.
Down through the years I have seen so-called Christians treat their brothers and sisters in ways that do not reflect this list of characteristics. I have seen churches treat unbelievers of various stripes in ways that do not reflect this list of characteristics. I have seen the opposite of gentleness and self-control emanate from the church. The opposite of love.
How would you say we, the church, are doing?