Today’s blog stumbles across some teaching of St. Paul which is much more relevant than it initially appears.
The Works of the Flesh
16 Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh.17For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want.18But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law.19Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness,20idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions,21envy,* drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.<!– 22 –>
The Fruit of the Spirit
22 By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness,23gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.24And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
For Paul the word “flesh” designates the controlling power of human self-assertion, self-absorption and self-interest. Of course individual people make individual decisions but they are influenced and sometimes possessed by the spirit of “self-ishness” generated by those who are closed to God and their neighbour. Paul speaks of the works of the “flesh” as he speaks of the “works of the law”: these are actions produced by human beings who are enslaved to what Paul calls “elemental spirits.” Although people may imagine that they are free, even their frivolity becomes a grim labour.
In contrast, those who have opened themselves to God’s love, through Jesus Messiah, are open to the divine goodness, which does not possess them, but feeds and encourages them so that their lives become fruitful in love, joy, peace and the other fruits of the Spirit. We should notice that many of the works of the “flesh” are just as non-material (envy, for example) as the fruits of the Spirit. The difference is that the evil is exacted from enslaved people, whereas the good grows freely from the lives of those who are open to the Spirit.
All too often selfishness is depicted as freedom, and unselfishness as subject to bothersome controls. Paul exposes this error: to be self-centred, he argues, is to be a slave; but when people turn away from themselves towards God and their neighbours, they are liberated by God’s Spirit and enabled to grow in goodness. As always Paul’s teaching deserves close attention especially when it seems most foreign to us. In this case I would suggest that it illumines the whole history of liberal economics over the last twenty years. An ideology which promised national prosperity and personal satisfaction by means of unlimited (unlimited by any social morality!) economic growth has enslaved millions of people to ever – increasing and stultifying work schedules, while enticing others into acts of criminal folly which have destroyed their own enterprises along with the labours and savings of ordinary people all over the world. They made a desert and they called it freedom.
In contrast, the socially responsible economies of the Scandinavian countries have shown modest growth. Paul’s thinking, it seems, might fruitfully be applied to economics.