Galatians 5:1 (NRSV)
5 1 For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
Galatians 5:13–25 (NRSV)
13 For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. 14 For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.
The Works of the Flesh
16 Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For 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. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, 21 envy, 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.
The Fruit of the Spirit
(Cp Col 3:12–13)
22 By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.
This week’s passage is one of my favorites as well as one of the most troubling. This is often the case. You see I truly want to live a life that reflects Christ, but I still struggle. At times I think I know what is best and everyone else is misinformed. Then there are other times where I am able to recognize that in a given situation there is not one clear cut answer, but many answers with varying outcomes that are acceptable in a given situation. This struggle I realize is a struggle within.
Paul, in the fifth chapter of Galatians, begins the closing arguments to this debate that he has been having in regard to the gentile need to become Jewish. Last week Paul said that the Law that was handed down to Moses was like the person that was placed over children to control and protect them. This individual was, for lack of better descriptions, a slave master. Their purpose was to rule over, to dictate, and to ensure the survival of the children. To the children this individual had to be obeyed, there were no other options because if anything were to happen to the children it was this individual that would be held responsible. The slavery image in this situation fails after a time because when the child matures they become responsible for themselves, and the Protector is no longer needed.
When Paul speaks of this he is saying that under the law we are held in bondage, unable to act freely. Our actions and decisions are dictated by others and those that live in this situation are not mature but children. Those that live in this way are not free. They live in a constant state of need. They need someone to tell them what is right or wrong. They need someone to let them know if an activity is beneficial or detrimental to their future. Some might consider this as being judgmental to the Jewish people. This is not the case, but I do want us to consider something. Within the Jewish traditions there are certain Rabbis that are considered authoritative. Their interpretation of the Law is considered the truth and any deviation from their interpretation is considered heresy. The people do not engage the Law itself but they engage the interpretation of the law, their views are directed to singular issues and because of this they are narrow. This however is not something that is restricted to the Jewish faith, in fact it is present in all cultures that have laws dictating human activity. At times it the views can be fairly liberal, in the sense that we have the liberty for self-interpretation, but at other times it can become authoritative.
“For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” This verse is one of my favorites in all of scripture. What Paul is telling us is Christ came to set us free from those authoritarian view, where right and wrong are determined for us. There is good reason for this, because situations are not always the same. If our views are narrowed by legalism we can look at a situation and miss the heart of what is going on. To illustrate this point; each of our streets have a speed limit, meaning someone somewhere determined that on a particular roadway a specified speed is safest. If we were to drive over that speed we would be breaking the law and could be faced with a fine. But are their times when it is acceptable to exceed the posted speed? Maybe your wife is in labor and you are trying to get to the hospital where the best care will be provided, the road is clear of traffic and she is screaming so you push the pedal down to drive faster. In an authoritarian culture that situation would not justify the breaking of the law. Life is filled with several gray areas, nothing is strictly black and white. There will always be areas that are an exception to the rule.
Freedom is why Jesus came. The freedom to live as individuals and communities according to our own self-determination. I love this verse. It speaks directly to that individualistic person within me. But there is a drawback to this. If we let people have self-determination what will happen? If we were to read the books of history in the Old Testament most of us would consider the reign of David as being the golden age of the nation of Israel. But this era of their history came after Israel rejected the rule of God and demanded a king like the rest of the world. In many ways the golden age of Israel from God’s perspective would have been during the book of Judges where God was their king and the people of Israel lived with self-determination. But there was a drawback when we look at the book of Judges, people got themselves in a lot of trouble, which is why they desired a king to fight for them. Jesus came to give us freedom so we do not have to submit to yokes of slavery anymore. Under Christ we are again living as individuals and communities with God.
This is wonderful, until someone has a different point of view. Some scholars believe that the trouble with Galatians was not that they desired to become Jewish but that because they could not live in unity under Christ. So to assist them in finding unity the missionaries that Paul opposed were teaching the law to assist them in living with one another. It is a very plausible explanation, but other scholars suggest that it was the missionaries that brought in the troubles. In either case the Galatians were fighting amongst themselves.
“You were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love slaves to one another.” Freedom is a wonderful thing. Our nation is built on that very idea. We have this philosophical idea that if mankind is presented with a problem we will figure out a way to overcome. We can see it in our history time and again. Yesterday when we toured Deanna Rose Farmstead we went into their bank. In that bank they said, that in the timeframe represented in the park, the people had to come up with security technologies to protect themselves. So we had the opportunity to look at a cannonball safe, a safe that was said to be robbery proof. This was because it was round so explosives and other cutting devises were ineffective and it had a time lock so you one could not pick it. When people are given the opportunity they can come up with great ideas to overcome their problems. But there is a flip side to the ideas of self-rule. Why did the banks have to come up with security technology?
We have freedom, we can determine our future, at times people can use their freedom to infringe and exploit others because no one will stop them from doing so. Self-indulgence is why nations become more authoritarian. Self-indulgence is where my ideas and desires supersede the freedom of someone else. Again throughout history we have seen this occur. We have freedom in Christ, self-determination is important to God, but selfishness is in opposition to God.
Freedom is Godly, legalism is ungodly. Selfishness is opposed to God while selflessness is righteous. Paul goes on to tell us that the entire law can be summed up in one command, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Consider this. Paul is saying that for us to fulfill everything in the law, we need this attitude. If we live by this one statement we will not fall into self-indulgence because we are watching out for our neighbors with the same passions that we are protecting our own freedoms. This form of love is very important, it is the same love that Jonathan had for David, it is the same love that the Apostles had for Jesus. It is soul love or brotherly love. It is a love that passionately protects others as if they are your own flesh. But who is our neighbor? That is a question that the religious leaders asked of Jesus, because nothing that Paul or Jesus said was new. These concepts have been present in the life of faith and life with God from the very beginning. A neighbor according to Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan is anyone around you. If they live or visit our community they are part of our community even if they do not agree with us, and we should be passionate about their lives to the same degree as we are our own.
Do we love like that? Paul is not living in a utopian ideology he is very aware that problems will arise within a community. He even give a warning, “If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.” Humanity is passionate. We cannot help ourselves when we become excited about something we often grab hold and dive head first. In doing so we can lash out at those that seem to have an opposing viewpoint. We bite, we devour, we say things without thinking, and we hear things that were not really said. Be careful, Paul warns, protect the freedoms of all people and above all love them with the same love you have for yourself. Be careful not to consume or be consumed by others, Paul says, be careful because so often in our passions we forget that those that oppose us are just as loved by God as we are and have value to Him. They may be lost, they have views that differ from ours but they are loved and have value. If we are consumed or if we consume others they no longer participate in the community. Even if they remain in the fellowship they stop adding to it because others have broken their spirit.
So how do we live in a community with opposing views, with passionate people and different ideas? We live by the Spirit. If we seek the Spirit, we are entering into the lifestyle that Jesus demonstrated to us; the lifestyle of worship, prayer and service. Or as our mission statement states: Loving God, Embracing the Holy Spirit, and Living the Love of Christ with others. If we truly seek to live by the spirit we will take on this lifestyle because to live by the spirit we need worship to drive us to prayer, we need prayer to hear the Spirit, and when we hear and listen to the Spirit we will be called to live and minister with others. If we live in this way we can oppose the things that separate us from God because our lifestyle keeps us focused on God, our desire is to draw closer to Him instead of fulfilling the various desires of the flesh. And if we seek life with God we will begin to ask questions about how to show the love of Christ to those around us and He will show us.
Over the course of the years I have been here, I know that I am not and have not been perfect. I know that I have offended many, and I also know that I have defended many from bites. Unfortunately I am not perfect. I am human like everyone else. I have desires and needs, and sometimes those needs take me away from the things I feel I need to do for the church. If each of us were to examine our lives we could probably say the same. I personally needed to hear these words from God spoken through his apostle Paul. I need to hear that yes I am free in Christ. I do not have to live a life of legalism, but I still have a responsibility to others. As we enter into this time of open worship I would like us to consider a couple of these verses. First, “If, however, you bite and devour one another; take care that you are not consumed by one another.” Secondly, “By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.” Examine your life and our community in reference to these things and ask the Spirit to Guide you this week.