As in the previous verses Paul set out the evil things characteristic of the flesh, so now he sets out the lovely things which are the fruit of the Spirit. Again it is worth while to look at each word separately.
Love; the New Testament word for love is agape (<G26>). This is not a word which classical Greek uses commonly. In Greek there are four words for love. (a) Eros (compare <G2037>) means the love of a man for a maid; it is the love which has passion in it. It is never used in the New Testament at all. (b) Philia (<G5373>) is the warm love which we feel for our nearest and our dearest; it is a thing of the heart. (c) Storge (compare <G794>) rather means affection and is specially used of the love of parents and children. (d) Agape (<G26>), the Christian word, means unconquerable benevolence. It means that no matter what a man may do to us by way of insult or injury or humiliation we will never seek anything else but his highest good. It is therefore a feeling of the mind as much as of the heart; it concerns the will as much as the emotions. It describes the deliberate effort–which we can make only with the help of God–never to seek anything but the best even for those who seek the worst for us.
Joy; the Greek is chara (<G5479>), and the characteristic of this word is that it most often describes that joy which has a basis in religion (compare Ps 30:11; Rom 14:17; Rom 15:13; Php 1:4; Php 1:25). It is not the joy that comes from earthly things, still less from triumphing over someone else in competition. It is a joy whose foundation is God.
Peace; in contemporary colloquial Greek this word (eirene, <G1515>) had two interesting usages. It was used of the serenity which a country enjoyed under the just and beneficent government of a good emperor; and it was used of the good order of a town or village. Villages had an official who was called the superintendent of the village’s eirene (<G1515>), the keeper of the public peace. Usually in the New Testament eirene (<G1515>) stands for the Hebrew shalowm (<H7965>) and means not just freedom from trouble but everything that makes for a man’s highest good. Here it means that tranquillity of heart which derives from the all-pervading consciousness that our times are in the hands of God. It is interesting to note that Chara and Eirene both became very common Christian names in the Church.
Makrothumia (<G3115>); this is a great word. The writer of First Maccabees (1Macc 8:4) says that it was by makrothumia (<G3115>) that the Romans became masters of the world, and by that he means the Roman persistence which would never make peace with an enemy even in defeat, a kind of conquering patience. Generally speaking the word is not used of patience in regard to things or events but in regard to people. Chrysostom said that it is the grace of the man who could revenge himself and does not, the man who is slow to wrath. The most illuminating thing about it is that it is commonly used in the New Testament of the attitude of God towards men (Rom 2:4; Rom 9:22; 1Tim 1:16; 1Pet 3:20). If God had been a man, he would have wiped out this world long ago; but he has that patience which bears with all our sinning and will not cast us off. In our dealings with our fellow men we must reproduce this loving, forbearing, forgiving, patient attitude of God towards ourselves.
Kindness and goodness are closely connected words. For kindness the word is chrestotes (<G5544>). It, too, is commonly translated goodness. The Rheims version of 2Cor 6:6 translates it sweetness. It is a lovely word. Plutarch says that it has a far wider place than justice. Old wine is called chrestos (<G5543>), mellow. Christ’s yoke is called chrestos (<G5543>) (Matt 11:30), that is, it does not chafe. The whole idea of the word is a goodness which is kind. The word Paul uses for goodness (agathosune, <G19>) is a peculiarly Bible word and does not occur in secular Greek (Rom 15:14; Eph 5:9; 2Th 1:11). It is the widest word for goodness; it is defined as “virtue equipped at every point.” What is the difference? Agathosune (<G19>) might, and could, rebuke and discipline; chrestotes (<G5544>) can only help. Trench says that Jesus showed agathosune (<G19>) when he cleansed the Temple and drove out those who were making it a bazaar; but he showed chrestotes (<G5544>) when he was kind to the sinning woman who anointed his feet. The Christian needs that goodness which at one and the same time can be kind and strong.
Fidelity; this word (pistis, <G4102>) is common in secular Greek for trustworthiness. It is the characteristic of the man who is reliable.
Gentleness; praotes (<G4236>) is the most untranslatable of words. In the New Testament it has three main meanings. (a) It means being submissive to the will of God (Matt 5:5; Matt 11:29; Matt 21:5). (b) It means being teachable, being not too proud to learn (Jas 1:21). (c) Most often of all it means being considerate (1Cor 4:21; 2Cor 10:1; Eph 4:2). Aristotle defined praotes (<G4236>) as the mean between excessive anger and excessive angerlessness, the quality of the man who is always angry at the right time and never at the wrong time. What throws most light on its meaning is that the adjective praus (<G4239>) is used of an animal that has been tamed and brought under control; and so the word speaks of that self-control which Christ alone can give.
Self-control; the word is egkrateia (<G1466>) which Plato uses of self-mastery. It is the spirit which has mastered its desires and its love of pleasure. It is used of the athlete’s discipline of his body (1Cor 9:25) and of the Christian’s mastery of sex (1Cor 7:9). Secular Greek uses it of the virtue of an Emperor who never lets his private interests influence the government of his people. It is the virtue which makes a man so master of himself that he is fit to be the servant of others.
It was Paul’s belief and experience that the Christian died with Christ and rose again to a life, new and clean, in which the evil things of the old self were gone and the lovely things of the Spirit had come to fruition.
Barclay’s Daily Study Bible (NT).