Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!
Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.
Sunday, June 26, 2016
Love Your Neighbor as Yourself - June 26, 2016 - Sixth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 08) - Text: Galatians 5:1, 13-25
This morning we continue with our reading through Paul’s letter to the Galatians. The points which we have touched on so far have been that Paul is an apostle and that he has “proven” his claim as an apostle and he has shown that as human beings, according to our spiritual nature, that is according to the order of redemption, we are all equal in God’s eyes, equal as sinners and saints. This morning Paul addresses the issue of what it means to be equal as sinners and saints in God’s eyes. Coincidentally enough, as we will be celebrating the freedom we have, at least the freedoms we still have as a country next week, Paul addresses the issue of our freedom. What does it mean to be free? What does it mean as a Christian to be free? Does being free mean that we can do whatever we want, whenever we want, and however we want? Of course, Paul’s question of freedom is a question of spiritual freedom and really does not seem to affect us in the United States because we are free. We do have the freedom of religion, or I would suggest we have what has become for too many the freedom from religion. The situations we face are much less dire than in other parts of the world. The situation we face are, such as when we are put into a situation such as: You are with several of your friends and they start talking about someone else, what would you do? Would you join in the bashing of that person, would you walk away, or would you tell them that what they are doing is wrong? That is the tough situation we face. But what about the scenario of being awakened in the middle of the night and being asked if you are a Christian, knowing that if you answer yes it means prison and maybe death? What does it mean to be free? What does it mean as a Christian to be free?
The first verse of our text sets the context of our text. In the first verse Paul tells us, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal. 5:1). Paul’s words sounds awful strange. Why would anyone want to make themselves a slave again after tasting freedom? To help us understand what Paul is saying, we need to understand what he means by the freedom of the Gospel. The freedom of the Gospel is the forgiveness of sins or freedom from sin. Remember, the Gospel shows us our Savior. The Gospel tells us that we are forgiven. The Gospel reminds us that Jesus died for all our sins, even those which we have yet to commit. But, the freedom of the Gospel is not a license to sin. In other words, just because we know we are forgiven, even for those sins which we have yet to commit, that does not mean that we can go out and sin. We might compare it to our prayer being something like, “Lord, please forgive me because I am going to have to tell a white lie to stay out of trouble.” The freedom of the Gospel is not a license to sit on our grace and not do anything. Complacency is not a sign of faith but is a sign of faith refusal.
As human beings, we need something in our lives. Really, we need a god, whether the god we make our god is the one true God or any other god, we need a god. In essence we need to be a slave of something or someone, that is just our human nature. The freedom of the Gospel means giving up being a slave to sin and instead becoming a slave to Jesus. To say that in the words of our text, the freedom of the Gospel means giving up trying to save ourselves by our own good works and leaning only on Jesus’ work on the cross for our salvation. And the freedom of the Gospel means becoming a slave to Jesus, giving our lives to Him, responding to His good gifts and blessings with our works of service.
The context of our text reminds us that the freedom of the Gospel really means giving up freedom. The imagery that Paul uses is that the Law is like a yoke which is placed on oxen so they can plow a field. The Law is a yoke of slavery hung around our necks. We must do this and that according to the Law. The Gospel has set us free from the “have tos” and “don’t dos” of the Law. Yet, when the Law is thrown off, that does not mean that we can do whatever we want. It is like when a person becomes an adult in our world, when a person turns eighteen or twenty-one, that does not give a person license to do whatever he or she wants, rather it makes a person responsible for himself or herself. The new freedom seems to be lost in a new responsibility. If that responsibility is abused it could cost freedom and imprisonment, thus you give up your freedom to be enslaved.
To make sure that we understand what he is talking about, Paul outlines what is the fulfillment of the Law. Remember, the Law tells us what we are to do and not do. You might think that the fulfillment of the Law would be something like always not doing what you are not to do and always doing what you are supposed to be doing. But, Paul tells us that the fulfillment of the Law is to love your neighbor as yourself.
How can that be, that the fulfillment of the Law is to love your neighbor as yourself? Well, if you can love your neighbor as yourself you will not be “consumed by one another,” to use Paul’s words. If you can love your neighbor as yourself you will not steal from your neighbor, you will not lust after your neighbor’s spouse, you will not want to kill your neighbor, nor hurt or harm your neighbor, you will not want to defame your neighbor, nor will you want to covet anything that is your neighbors. Instead, if you love your neighbor as yourself you will want to do whatever you can to help your neighbor.
The problem is, we cannot love our neighbor as ourselves. We cannot fulfill the requirements of the Law. We cannot do what the Law says we are to do and we cannot help not doing what the Law tells us we are not to do. In our text Paul lays out the acts of our sinful nature. These are the things which we are prone to do, we simply cannot help but sin, it is natural and it is easy to sin.
We have an inner struggle. We have a struggle of our flesh, our sinful nature verse the spirit, our saved nature. It is a lot like those little cartoon characters of an angel and a devil sitting on your shoulder, one tempting you to do evil, the other telling you to do good, but it is not funny like the cartoon character.
The little devil, our sinful flesh wants us to sin. “Go on, have a good time, do whatever you want to do, do not worry about the consequences of sin,” and so we are egged on by our sinful human nature. The devil would have us believe that these are the things of freedom.
On the other hand, the new person inside of us, the redeemed person within, our spirit nature wants us to do right. Paul outlines the acts of living according to our spiritual nature. He calls them the fruit of the spirit. According to the spirit we are to show love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The devil would have us believe that these are the things of slavery.
So, what is a person to do? We can walk according to the freedom of the flesh, or better said, we can be slaves to sin, or we can walk according to the freedom of the spirit, or better said, we can be slaves to freedom. To walk according to the flesh we need no help, we can do that on our own, as a matter of fact we are pretty good at it and we do not even need any practice. To walk according to the spirit we need help. And we get the help we need as we make use of the means of grace.
Getting back to our original questions, What does it mean to be free? What does it mean as a Christian to be free? Does being free mean that we can do whatever we want, whenever we want, and however we want?
To be free and to be free as a Christian means that we are saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus. We are free from sin. We are free from fear of death, eternal spiritual death and yes even temporal physical death. We are free from fear of the devil because we know that he has no power over us. We are free to do the work which Christ has for us to do.
However, we are not free to go on sinning. But we are free, we are saved to do good. Our freedom brings with it the desire to do the good works that God would have us to do, even that He has prepared in advance for us to do. If we are not living in our freedom, doing the good works that God would have us to do, if we are not responding with our lives, to the freedom we have in the Gospel, then we are refusing the freedom of the Gospel and are re-enslaving ourselves to sin. In other words, if we are not living our lives, if we are not responding by giving of ourselves, then we are refusing God’s gifts.
This brings us back to the seeming catch twenty-two of our text. Remember, Paul says that the freedom of the Gospel means that we are free to be slaves to God. If we are not slaves to God, then we are slaves to sin. Which does not sound like much freedom, either way. We have the freedom of the Gospel and we live in that freedom, responding to that freedom, only as the Lord works good in us. Here again, as always, then, we are pointed back to God.
I began with two scenarios of freedom. One with what we might call political freedom: What if you were awakened in the middle of the night and asked if you are a Christian, knowing that if you answer yes it means prison and maybe death? What would you do? This freedom is what we enjoy to a great extent in this country. Paul is speaking about spiritual freedom. What if you are with several of your friends and they start talking about someone else, what would you do? Would you join in the bashing of that person, would you walk away, or would you tell them that what they are doing is wrong? Our freedom and slavery to God shows itself in resisting temptation and sin and walking in accordance with God’s Word, with His help, of course. This is true freedom.
Have you noticed that Paul’s writing is not always a nice, “how do you do?” letter. Paul purposefully sets up tensions in order to help us to understand ourselves and our relationship with God and each other. This morning we are reminded that our relationship with God is based on His grace, earned for us by Jesus on the cross. We are in relation to God by His grace. We are outside of that relationship as we chose to follow someone or something other than Him. Paul uses the imagery of slavery. Just as a person can be the slave of only one other person, at a time, so we can have a relationship with only one god at a time. Our relationship with God is not so much our choosing as it is our being brought into a relationship by God Himself. Our choosing amounts to refusing or rejecting God’s gift of Himself and His Son. And, Paul points out that the relationship that we have can be seen in our actions. Do our lives show forth that we are slaves to sin, or slaves to Christ? My prayer is that our actions show we are slaves to Christ. I will conclude with Paul’s words from our text, “24And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” (Gal. 5:24-25). Then, in the spirit we will say together, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.