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Galatians 5b – The Structure of Galatians 5

Sometimes when you work closely with the details in the text you forget to step back and see the bigger picture stuff the author does.  In this case, it’s pretty clear that Paul contrasts the “works of the flesh” (5:19-21) with the “fruit of the Spirit” (5:22-23a).  That’s the heart of the passage in Galatians 5:16-24.

            Let’s imagine that the contrast of works of the flesh/fruit of the Spirit forms the center bullseye of this passage.  If we go to the next ring closest to the bullseye, we see another pair of verses that reflect each other (all Scripture in ESV):

5:18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

5:23b …against such things there is no law.

            Here, those who are led by the Spirit are not under the law (5:18).  And at the end of the “fruit of the Spirit” paragraph, Paul notes that against this fruit “there is no law.”  The concepts aren’t identical, as the former likely focuses on bondage to the Mosaic Law and the latter to the individual laws within the Mosaic Law, but the phrases are similar in nature by distancing the believer from the law in some way.

            When we go one more ring outwards, we see yet another parallel:

5:17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.

5:24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

            These verses reflect each other with the use of the phrase “desires of the flesh.”  Furthermore, the concepts in each verse mirror one another.  The first speaks of the opposition of the flesh and Spirit—the two cannot coexist.  Verse 24 speaks to crucifying the flesh with its desires—if God dwells within you, the other has already been crucified.  The latter certainly uses stronger language, but both demonstrate that God and fleshly desires are at odds.

            Let’s go one step further out:

5:16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.

5:25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.

            Both verses use the phrase “walk by the Spirit,” which is the key concept of this entire passage.  In 5:25, Paul uses the phrase “live by the Spirit” in parallel to this key concept.

            One final ring of that bullseye:

5:15 But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.

5:26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.

            Both these verses implicitly denounce the behavior of the Galatians.  It appears that they are not in step with the Holy Spirit, but instead envy and provoke and attack one another.  Paul wants them to consider their actions in light of the works/fruit analogy.

            Let’s put the bullseye together in a chiastic structure:

A. 5:15 – The Galatians’ sinful behavior

            B. 5:16 – “walk by the Spirit”

                        C. 5:17 – “the desires of the flesh”

                                    D. 5:18 – “not under the law”

                                                E. 5:19-21 – The Works of the Flesh

                                                E1. 5:22-23a – The Fruit of the Spirit

                                    D1. 5:23b – “there is no law”

                        C1. 5:24 – “the desires of the flesh”

            B1. 5:25 – “walk by the Spirit”

A1. 5:26 – The Galatians’ sinful behavior

            The effect of this chiasm is to draw the reader into the main contrast between works of the flesh and fruit of the Spirit.  Paul reiterates many of the key concepts of this letter in this section, even culminating some of them with this contrast.  The Galatians (and modern day believers) ought to take close inventory in our lives to see whether we are walking by the Spirit or giving in to the desires of the flesh.

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