The Fruit of the Spirit in the Local Congregation


A Bible Study Of

Galatians 5:19-26



Larry D. Harvey, J.D.


Lesson 1

Do you ever find yourself giving a quick glance to the covers of the various magazines and tabloids that surround you as you attempt to check out of a grocery store?  Putting aside all of the headlines about the strange personal lives of celebrities, it seems that many of these influential publications believe that the public is always ready for a new list of questions that will clearly, accurately, and with great discernment point out the strengths and weaknesses of every aspect of the lives of the readers, including their relationships, employment, and propensities.  In fact, that situation is so prevalent that it is often the subject of humor in everything from comic strips to sitcoms.

 But, as I walk through my life as a member of a congregation of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, it seems as if I am constantly being encouraged, individually and as a member of my congregation, to undertake new inventories, assessments, polls, and studies of everything from personality traits, “spiritual gifts”, demographic attributes, desires, preferences, and opinions.  These tools are often offered in an atmosphere that suggests that this new effort will either make me a new person or invigorate the members of my congregation.

I assume that we all know and regularly hear the message, true to Scripture, that we each, as believers, are temples of the Holy Spirit, but, do we regularly hear that the local congregation is also the temple of the Holy Spirit, as is the Universal Church?  The believers within the local congregation are to be one, as the Persons of the Trinity are one. 

 So, perhaps we should ask whether or not we should be measuring the fruit of the Spirit of the local congregation.  There is nothing Scriptural about restricting the fruit of the Spirit set forth in Galatians 5:22 and 23 only to individuals.  Just as the fruit of the Spirit is to be manifest, obvious and visible in the life of a believer, it should be just as manifest, obvious and visible in the corporate life of the congregation.  The Apostle Paul writes to the congregations of the province of Galatia. He says that the acts of the sinful nature within the members of those congregations are obvious. But contrast such acts, he writes, with the fruit of the Spirit and you will see that those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified their sinful natures (Galatians 5:19-26).

 As we consider the fruit of the Spirit applied to the local congregation, it is important that we remember that the “fruit” is singular.  The local congregation can no more pick from the list the portions of the fruit it wants to do than the individual can.  The fruit of the Spirit really is like looking at a large lake, from various angles and perspectives and at different times, but the lake remains the same lake. So it is with the fruit produced by the Holy Spirit at work in the local congregation. 

The list presented by Paul is but representative of various aspects of the presence of the Holy Spirit.  It is not some all-inclusive list. In order to understand it, there is no substitute for looking at the original Greek words in order to grasp the depth of the words used.  However, for purposes of this study, I will use English terms that I feel most accurately convey the profundity, beauty and challenge of the original Greek language. 

According to your own personal definition, are you a “leader” in your local congregation?  If so, perhaps you should consider carefully the following questions as they apply to your unique and particular local congregation.

            Does your congregation clearly and visibly manifest love?         

The love we are looking at here is not the term used for family affection, or friendships, or romantic love, but the selfless love shown perfectly in the suffering and death for us by Christ Jesus.  As Martin Luther notes in his commentary on Galatians, the Apostle Paul really could have stopped the list with love.  If this form of love is truly manifest in the life of the congregation, everything else we could consider as evidence of the presence of the Holy Spirit will, by definition, also be present.  This love manifests itself as a reflection of the very nature and essence of God the Father and Christ Jesus; it flows out of His pure grace, undeserved by man

If His love for us is undeserved, and nothing can separate us from His love, should not your congregation also manifest a love that is undeserved and incapable of being affected by the sinful nature of the people served? Should not love clearly be the very driving force of all that your congregation does within itself and within the community?  Or is the love shown the kind that depends upon similarity, earthly commonality, convenience, or reciprocity?  Do new members find that your congregation’s love dissipates or even disappears after they have become members? Or does this love for them grow in maturity and depth as time passes?  Do members only embrace those who are safe to be with or do they embrace everyone whom God places into their midst?   Passages to consider:

Ro. 5:8 - 

Ro. 8:35-39 -  

1Co. 12:31 - 13:13;

2 Co. 5:14,15 -  

Eph. 2:4-7 - 

Eph. 5:1,2 -  

Col. 3:14 -  

Lesson 2

            Does your congregation clearly and visibly manifest joy? 

We are not speaking here of earthly, human happiness. Such happiness is really nothing more than good results under favorable circumstances. No, we speak about the joy that is grounded solely in that hope which derives from faith in Christ.  To grasp this joy, we hear the sweet voice of Christ speaking to His bride, the Church, instructing, exhorting, and refreshing her with His pure love.  It is a joy that is not shaken by tribulation and, if true, proves itself in the very midst of struggles and tribulation. 

Does your congregation manifest joy in the saving faith in Christ alone as the members experience visible success or struggles?  Does your congregation reflect the rejoicing with one another in any and all circumstances by reason of the oneness of their faith in the one Lord and Savior?  Or does your congregation become a place of discontent, distrust, and separation when things do not go as one or more may desire? 

Passages to consider:

Zech. 9:9 -

Luke 10:20 -  

Ro. 12:12,15 -  

Ro. 14:17 -

2 Co. 6:10 -  

Phil. 1:25 -

1Thess.1:6 -



Lesson 3

            Does your congregation clearly and visibly manifest peace? 

We live in a world that defines peace as the absence of conflict, but that is not a true definition of peace as presented in Scripture.  Scriptural peace is much more than an absence of war and conflict. It is rather a positive state of wholeness, soundness and prosperity, the state of a perfect relationship with God and our fellow men.  This peace is purely a function of the Gospel.  It is interesting that Paul places “joy” before “peace” in Galatians 5 in contrast to what he writes Romans 14:17. There joy follows righteousness and peace.  True joy, of course, really flows out of peace with God and the reconciliation we share with one another in Christ, that peace which itself can only be had by God’s grace. This is true regardless of how the words are positioned in Paul’s various lists. 

Does your congregation always look first to the reconciling work of God through Christ Jesus? Do members try to obtain peace by the use of Law rather than by the proclamation of the Gospel? Do the members try to obtain peace with one another by compromise, negotiation, vote or other manners of men?  Does your congregation really trust the power of the Gospel to restore peace and to unite?

Passages to consider:

Ps. 4:8 -

Luke 1:76-79 -  

Ro. 5:11 -  

Ro. 8:6 –

Ro. 14:17 -

1 Co. 14:33 -

Eph. 6:14,15 -

2 Thess.3:16 –



Lesson 4

Does your congregation clearly and visibly manifest patience?

Longsuffering may be a better translation of this term.  We cannot begin to examine our patience or longsuffering toward others without first looking to God’s longsuffering toward us.  His longsuffering is the foundation and reason for our patience toward others.  We are being recreated in His image. Longsuffering clearly reflects His essence. Whenever it is manifested it is always evidence that His Spirit is at work creating us anew in the image of God.

Does your congregation reflect longsuffering or are members merely biding their time before they react in anger or retribution?  Is the patience shown within your congregation that patience humbly learned from the God who is patient toward us?  Or are your congregation’s members patient because, in their arrogance, they look down upon others?   Is longsuffering and patience simply something they make themselves do if it is to their advantage? Or are they truly in Christ willing to suffer the faults and failures of fellow members patiently? 

Passages to consider:

Ex. 34:6,7 -

Num. 14:17-19 -  

Isa. 48:9 -  

Eze. 20:15-17 -  

Ro. 9:22-24 -  

1 Co. 13:4 -

2 Co. 6:4-6 -  

Eph. 4:1,2 -  

Col. 1:10-12 -

1 Ti. 1:16 -  

1 Pet. 3:18-20 –



Lesson 5 

Does your congregation clearly and visibly manifest gentleness?

Again, we begin with an understanding of the nature of God.  As applied to God, this term sets forth His gracious attitude and action toward us sinners, His forbearance and longsuffering which remain aimed toward leading sinners to repent. To be gentle really means to treat others in the same way God treats us. 

Does your congregation remain focused on leading people to Christ as they deal with their own sinful natures as well as the consequences of sin and the real potential for hurt that comes from contact with sinners?  Does your congregation reflect the belief that we well know we did not and never shall deserve His gracious attitude and work for our salvation?  Is it obvious that your congregation’s members strive to carry people in their spiritual, emotional, familial and physical pain to Christ crucified?  Or do they abandon people in their midst if it becomes unpleasant to deal with them? 

Passages to consider:

Luke 6:29,35,36 -  

1 Cor. 4:18-21 –

2 Cor. 10:10-6 -

Eph. 4:2 -

Eph. 4:32 –

Col. 3:12-14 –

2 Tim. 2:22-26 –

1 Peter 3:13-17 -



 Lesson 6

Does your congregation clearly and visibly manifest goodness?

This is apparently a difficult term to translate since several positive qualities come to mind when we consider the English term “goodness”.  Here we are really speaking of one particular quality.  Goodness means that one’s entire inner being has been energized and now expresses itself in active good.  It does not spare sharpness and rebuke to cause good if such is necessary and rebuking, correcting or chastising may display it.  Consider that Jesus Christ's driving out of the moneychangers in the temple (Matthew 21:12, 13) was a reflection of His goodness, not of His gentleness. 

Does your congregation reflect the energy and character of active goodness, zealously affirming the truth, rebuking falsehood and seeking the eternal good of others available only in Christ Jesus?  Or is goodness defined in your congregation by some passive, quiet tolerance, making truth appear relative to outward peace and unity? 

Passages to consider:

Matt. 21:12-13 –

Ro. 2:5-11 -

Ro. 12:1-2 -

Ro.15:14 –

Eph. 4:17-24 -  

Eph. 5:8-10 -  

2 Thess. 1:11 -



Lesson 7

Does your congregation clearly and visibly manifest faithfulness?

Here we are not speaking so much about “faith in Christ” as about the sincerity we show in our dealings with others.  This is a difficult concept for us since we remain sinners even after we become saints in Christ. Faithfulness requires us to give all credit to others while placing our trust only in Christ Jesus. 

Does your congregation give greater respect to compromise, contract and appearances while never truly presuming the good faith, trustworthiness, and sincerity of others?  Do members trust the legal system more than the reign of Christ?  Does your congregation require people to prove themselves before they give them credit for what they have done?

Passages to consider: 

Matt. 23:23 -  

Ro. 3:3 -

1 Co 4:2 -  

2 Ti 3:10,11 -  

Rev 2:19 -



Lesson 8

Does your congregation clearly and visibly manifest meekness?

It is unfortunate that in English, meekness seems to denote a lack of courage, spirit, strength or the like. That is certainly not the concept presented here.  Meekness is a term of power. It points to someone who gets angry to the right degree for the right reason rather than never getting angry at all or raging without cause.  It is the demonstration of gentleness in power. 

Does your congregation reflect the power inherent in the concept of meekness?  Does your congregation show controlled power, the power under God’s control in response to false teachers and false teaching?  Or does your congregation seem to be angry with everyone while lacking any ability to present a reason?  Do members care about the right things according to Scripture or do they really only care about their own “territory”? 

Passages to consider: 

Ps. 45:6 -  

Matt. 5:5 -  

Mark 3:3-5 -  

1 Co. 4:21 -

2 Co 10:1 -  

Col 3:12 -  

1 Tim. 6:11,12 -  

2 Tim. 2:24,25 -  

Tit. 3:1,2 -  

Jas. 1:21; 3:13 -  

1 Pet. 3:4 -



Lesson 9

Finally, does your congregation clearly and visibly manifest self-control? 

We are speaking here of the mastery of oneself and the fashioning of one’s existence in the way God desires, as revealed in His Word.  That is totally opposed to the philosophy of one who really seeks to control everything else by one’s mastery over self.  The Biblical concept is focused inward while the philosophical concept is basically focused outward.  Such temperance, modesty and self-control will be seen in the entire life of the individual, the family and the local congregation guided by the Spirit of Christ. 

Does your congregation reflect the ability to avoid excesses?  Or does your congregation simply surrender to anything new or exciting?  Does your congregation show the discipline of an athlete in training or running a marathon? 

Passages to consider: 

Prov. 16:32 -

Prov. 25:28 -  

Acts 24:25 -  

Ro. 6:11,12 -  

1 Co. 6:12,13 -  

1 Co. 9:25-27 -  

1 Tit. 1:6-9 -  

Jas. 3:1,2 -

2 Pet. 1:5-9 -




As I conclude these thoughts, I am also drawn to a verse that speaks also to the local congregation: 

“Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, for each one should carry his own load.” Galatians 6:4

 Are we as leaders within a local congregation willing to “test” ourselves according to His Word without comparing ourselves or our local congregations to others?  Only then, as temples of the Holy Spirit, can we boast of our relationship with Christ Jesus and of our role as His instruments in the work of salvation.  Perhaps it is time to put aside, at least for now, the inventories, assessments, and the like that I mentioned early in this article and to look, without distraction, to His Word.  Only the Gospel works change in man, whether we are looking at the individual or at the local congregation. 

As a leader in your congregation, you are challenged to first test yourself to act according to that Word, by facing the Law and trusting the Gospel.  Always be mindful of the temptation to be as the Pharisee, who thanked God that he and his congregation were not like others.  It is only after you have so tested yourself that you can examine your congregation.  But your examination must be pursued in all humility and love.  Encourage your congregation particularly its leaders, to look only to the power of the Holy Spirit.  You are assured by the Lord that the Spirit is present wherever His Word is being taught in all its purity and the sacraments are being administrated as prescribed by Christ. 

Keep the balance between the individual and the congregation.  Remain open to the Spirit’s work and your congregation will discover many blessings.


 - Larry D. Harvey, J.D.



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