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Galatians 5:24-6:10 – Taking Care of Others

Paul now picks up his theme to use our freedom in Christ to love and serve others that he started in verse 13. If you think about it, his whole discussion on the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit is really a parenthesis in his main thought process.  His main thought is to help us understand how Christ’s work and freedom are leveraged to serve others but along the way he takes a detour to explain that there is a fierce battle waging within us that could divert our focus from serving others.  Having dealt with that he now comes back to his main idea – loving and serving others.  Let’s take a look.

If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.  Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. 

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. 

Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. 

But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor.  

One who is taught the word must share all good things with the one who teaches.  Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.  For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. 

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.  So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. (Gal 5:25 – 6:10)

There are a few words and phrases that stand out in this passage.  I’ve underlined them above and share some brief thoughts on what they mean to us.

Restore – The expectation is that we would actively work to bring a person ensnared in some sin back into freedom from sin and “mend” whatever is causing them to sin.  Our focus is to be on loving others instead of being boastful about our own holiness.  When we realize that everything we are comes from the Spirit, then we can approach the others with a humble, gentle attitude.  We can come alongside to encourage and support instead of to condemn and shame.  Isn’t that what Jesus did?  Unfortunately, we think of the word “spiritual” as meaning holy or saintly and so we quickly disqualify ourselves from even attempting to confront another person in sin.  I think Paul is simply contrasting the person who is living out of the flesh as described previously and the person who is living, or trying to live, by the Spirit.  So “spiritual” here simply describes our mindset, not how “sinless” we are.

Bear – We can help carry the burdens of others as they face difficult life situations, a death of a loved one, illness, broken relationships, hardships of any kind, helping them carry the load, bringing comfort and support to them.  We help by supporting others, not by trying to run their life for them.

Test – Paul’s instruction is not to compare yourself with others but stand on your own work.  In other words, we evaluate ourselves against our own calling and not in comparison to others.  We can never do a fair comparison anyway.  We don’t know what God has called them to and we don’t know what struggles they have had to overcome.  We can’t possibly say we are better, more righteous or more mature than someone else.  When we do we either see ourselves as better than them and so become conceited or we take the opposite approach and think of ourselves as deficient and unworthy.  Either way is wrong.

Share – Share your time, money or resources with the leaders and teachers of your church so that they are not lacking.  The “God is not mocked” and the” sowing and reaping” principles are tied directly to supporting our teachers and leaders.  In other words, if we don’t share with our teachers we are mocking God.  If we don’t share with our leaders we are sowing to the flesh and not the Spirit.  These are sobering words.

Persevere (not grow weary) – We get tired of doing “the right thing”, of giving ourselves and not getting anything in return, investing in people or churches and not feeling appreciated, effective or valued.  The key phrase is, “in due season”.  We are such impatient creatures, wanting everything now.  But Paul’s encouragement is that there is a time, a harvest time, in which we will see the reward for our labor.  The promise is that we “will reap.”  It is guaranteed; the reaping of the harvest is assured.  We have to hold on to that promise, and not give up.  We may not know exactly what “season” we are in or long it will take to get to the “due season,” but it is coming.  Of that we can be sure.  Giving up is not why Jesus bought us the freedom to live guilt-free, but to love and serve knowing that a crown of glory awaits us.

This whole passage is really an appeal to take care of one another and to care about each other.  It is the way Paul expects us to walk by the Spirit and demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit as we live out His priorities.  The “walk” and the “fruit” are not lived out in isolation but in community.  That’s how do life and church – together.

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Galatians 5:22-23 – The Fruit of the Spirit

We set this verse to music and teach it to children.  We pull it out every time we joke that we need more patience, but have we ever really looked at the Fruit of the Spirit in the context of the entire letter to the Galatians to understand what Paul is really getting at?  Honestly, I doubt it.  Let’s do that now.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.  (Gal 5:22-23)

There is a danger in isolating this passage on the “fruit” from the rest of the letter.  This passage is still connected with Paul’s argument against legalism (hence his statement “against such things there is no law”) and his introduction of our freedom in Christ in 5:1, 13.  Placing our faith in Christ for righteousness results in freeing us from guilt, shame and condemnation.  I am freed to pursue a life of serve to others through love (vs 13).  And the fruit is a product of our walking in that freedom.  The fruit rests on the mercy and grace of God.  It draws us into worship whenever we see evidence of the fruit expressed in our lives, knowing that we did not manufacture it from our own goodness.  Freedom allows us to focus outwardly towards others instead of fretting whether we have done enough or whether are “motives are pure.”  Freedom allows us to “give ourselves a break.”  We rest on the faithfulness and grace of God to be confident enough to call Him “Father.”  That is all the evidence we need – to know that we are His and He is ours.  The fruit of the Spirit is the evidence that we have embraced the freedom that Christ has given us.

We have no part in producing the fruit.  The fruit belongs to the Spirit.  Another way of saying “fruit of the Spirit” is “the Spirit’s fruit.”  It shows possession.   Paul did not tell us to produce fruit.  Instead he told us to walk by the Spirit, to be led by the Spirit, to use our freedom to love and serve others, to focus on Christ and His work, to abide in Christ.   The fruit that the Spirit then produces is evidence of our conformity to those principles.  The fruit is evidence that the Spirit is in control.  The fruit is not evidence of our effort or holiness or even righteousness, but instead it demonstrates our willingness to give the Spirit reign in our lives.

In his Gospel, the apostle John tells us to abide in Christ, to remain in constant and nurturing closeness to Him.  In this way we grow in maturity, hear His voice, obey His voice and receive His life.  The fruit is produced as we maintain that relationship with Him.  That is the Spirit’s mission in our life: to continue to point us back to that abiding, that relationship.  Focusing on having “the fruit” is the wrong goal.  The goal is to be more like Jesus.

The fruit of the Spirit is a unit, one whole, not individual entities. The Greek word for fruit is a singular noun.  It is like saying that an apple has a skin, core, pits, etc.  You cannot describe an apple as just skin. The Spirit works in us to produce all the characteristics of His fruit, a fruit that can be described as having the characteristic of love, joy…etc.  We cannot say that the Spirit is producing patience in me but not gentleness.  I don’t think it is correct to say that I have 5x more peace than goodness.  The Spirit is working to produce all aspects of this fruit at the same time.  Perhaps some are more evident, perhaps some are hidden until called upon by certain circumstances in our lives, but by seeing the fruit as a whole we can take courage that the Spirit has not overlooked something as He works His fruit in our lives.  He did not forget to put “faithfulness” in the grocery cart of our life as He ambles through the produce section.  He is working to ensure that we bear much fruit, fruit that has a striking resemblance to Jesus.

Galatians 5:19-21 – Works of the flesh

I confess that this will a hard post to write.  We hear lots of teaching on the fruit of the Spirit but almost never hear a sermon on the works of the flesh.  It is too uncomfortable and we fear alienating people.  So we let things slide – unless it is sexual then all hell breaks loose.  The problem is that hell already has broken loose in most of our churches.  Remember the big picture here that Paul introduced in verse 13: We are to use our freedom in Christ to love and serve others.  The works of the flesh only serve ourselves.  So let’s take a closer look.

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Gal 5:19-21)

I already mentioned that the works of the flesh are self-serving.  Basically it is an “I do what I want” attitude, yielding to any thought or desire I may have.  It is a way of thinking and believing that keeps God at arm’s length.  It is fundamentally saying that I don’t trust God to take care of me so I will take care of myself; “I have to make my own plans or figure out my own life or find comfort and peace in something other than God.”

To make it easier to sort through this list, I’ve grouped the desires of flesh into four categories.  Let me touch briefly one each one.

Sexuality – sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality:  These address our basic identity of who God made us to be and how we conform to His goals for sex and marriage.  By rejecting God’s principles of healthy sexuality we also reject Him and instead live according to the dictates of our fleshly desires.

Spirituality – idolatry, sorcery:  We want to set up our own rules for what is considered spiritual or supernatural.  If we define the terms and define who or what god is, then we can control him.  We determine how we will live in relation to the spirit world.  But idolatry doesn’t necessarily refer to spiritual matters.  Anything that takes the place of God, anything we give allegiance to, can be an idol: money, fame, work, leisure, etc.  An idol can be the thing that we believe gives our life ultimate meaning.

Relationships – enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy: The fleshly person wants to be supreme and so wants others to cater to their wishes.  That sets up a conflict in all our relationships; each person wants to be in control and won’t yield to the other.  It’s interesting to me that this is longest list.  I think it points to the deeply broken approach we have in dealing with others when all we care about is ourselves.

It seems to me that these particular sins have been woven into our culture as normal and we Christians don’t even notice them or identify them as sin.  They are simply part of who we are.  We are much more focused on sexual sin and everything else seems to get a slight nod.  But all these sins tear us down personally and destroy the Church.  When we quarrel and create factions or divisions within the Church in “the name of Christ to keep the church pure” we risk hurting the very people we claim to love and we demonstrate to the world that we are not different than they are.   But worse, we hurt the very people Jesus died to save.

Escapism – drunkenness, orgies:  When life beats us up and we don’t have emotional or spiritual resources within ourselves to deal with life, it becomes tempting to turn to drink to either hide or cover up the pain.  Or if we believe that there is no greater meaning to life then why not satisfy whatever impulses and desires we have, hence hedonism.

Finally, let us deal with the difficult statement, “those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”  According to John Stott’s comments on this verse, the Greek word behind “do such things” refers to the habitual practice of these fleshly works not the isolated lapse into sin.  In other words, Paul is making the point that those who habitually and deliberately live their lives in this manner are clearly not walking by the Spirit or giving themselves to Christ.  The two lifestyles being so opposed that the evidence does not allow us to conclude that these people are interested in living a Spirit-led life.  However, it is possible that a genuine Christian could sin and fall into one of these sin behaviors.  But by making the distinction between habitual and lapses, Paul gives hope to the Christian so they are not consumed with guilt.  I don’t think Paul is saying that it is okay to sin, that would be contrary to “walking by the Spirit”, but that we should not fool ourselves that we can live by the flesh and expect to receive the promised eternal life.

Well that was tough, but it is a reality that we need to face.  Sin is ever lurking at our door to destroy us.  Let us keep our eyes and ears open to the danger and turn to the grace and guidance of the Spirit to keep us safe.

Galatians 5:16,17 – Walk by the Spirit

Sometimes it is possible to so over-spiritualize something that we risk making it unattainable.  We place it out of reach and we excuse ourselves for not trying.  This is the danger with this next verse.  Last week we looked at the same verse as today’s post, but we focused on the battle with our flesh.  Today, we look at the way to win that battle.

 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. (Gal 5:16, 17)

“Walk by the Spirit,” even though this may sound easy, it is something many of us still struggle to make practical.  I know that walking means taking steps.  So walking by the Spirit means being in step with the Spirit.  So walking in the Spirit should entail keeping in step with the gospel of truth; reminding myself of what the gospel really is;  what Jesus did and the implications of that sacrifice.  If I keep that ever forefront in my thinking, then surely I would be aligning myself with everything the Spirit was sent to show me (see John 14-17).  It is certainly easier to meditate on the merits of Christ than to vaguely think about how to “walk.”

Paul didn’t say “walk with the Spirit” or “in the Spirit” or “next to the Spirit” or any other preposition, he said “by”.  Now it is starting to make sense.  The Holy Spirit’s mission is to point us to Jesus.  “Walking by” may simply mean taking our cue from Him to look for and at Jesus; taking our direction from the Spirit as we plumb the depths of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.  This seems much more practical and consistent with the rest of the letter and with the whole of the Scripture.  So the focus isn’t “how am I walking by the Spirit” but “how am I seeing Jesus today.”

It seems to me that this principle to walk by the Spirit is just another way of saying to stay close to Jesus, to spend the time to draw near to Him; to align our thoughts and actions with His thoughts and actions.  Here some other Scriptures that encourage us to do that.

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. (John 15:4)

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:16)

Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. (James 4:8)

Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.  (Colossians 3:2)

The bottom line is that walking by the Spirit is no more mysterious or mystical than spending time in Worship – focusing on Him, prayer – talking to Him and Scripture – reading about who He is.  These are the fundamental practices that Christians have engaged in for two thousand years.  It is something every Christian can do from the youngest to the oldest.  It doesn’t take great spirituality or great “faith.”  It is simply saying to the Holy Spirit, “Show me Jesus.” And He will.

The struggle with the flesh that we are engaged in is a struggle to keep our focus on Him and off of us.  It’s really no more complicated than that.  The flesh leads to death (Romans 8) because it is looking away from the life-giver.  The result of following the gaze of the Spirit as He points to Jesus is that we will look more and more like Him.  And as we look more and more like Him, the desires of the flesh will look less and less attractive.  We win!

Galatians 5:16 – The War is On.

Now we get into the nitty-gritty of living practically the realities of what Paul has been teaching.  Since we have, in deed, been justified by faith and not by works, since we have obtained righteousness through the work of Christ and not though our own effort, how are we to live in that truth and how are to love our neighbor as Paul encouraged us to do in the previous verses?  These next two verses set the stage for us to understand and live the truth of the gospel.  Here Paul points to the reality of our struggle with the old sinful nature and he gives us the key to gain the upper hand in this struggle.  Once we understand these two verses the rest of the chapter becomes clear.  In this post I will briefly touch on the struggle.  Next week I will explore Paul’s instruction to “walk by the Spirit.”

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. (Gal 5:16, 17)

Even as new creations in Christ, as born again persons, we still carry remnants of the old sinful nature, the flesh that sought to be independent of God and opposed to Him.  And yet the Holy Spirit still fills us, instructs us and leads us.  It is this paradox that we live in and which Paul addresses here.  The flesh still wants to exercise control over our lives.  We are tempted to go back to what was comfortable, to what seemed to make us happy, or at least, gave us a sense of control over our lives, but that is the opposite of what the Spirit does.  He wants to take control of our lives and decisions, to bring us into true peace and comfort, to show us what true happiness is.  But, we think, what if what the Spirit says is hard or uncomfortable or brings us pain? Or what if He is messing with us?  We hold back a little.  We try to have it both ways – a little flesh and a little Spirit.  And we are neither fulfilled nor happy in either world.  It feels like a “two steps forward and one step back” life, or more often “one step forward and two back.”  So we beat ourselves up and promise to try harder, only to face the same conflict.

And yet that same conflict is the evidence that the Spirit really is in our lives, speaking to us and guiding us.  If it were not true, there would be no conflict, no war of Spirit and flesh.  We would simply live by the desires of the flesh without regard to the things of the Spirit. But that is not what we do, we don’t easily yield to the flesh.  We struggle against it by the Spirit.  The war is on.  One of the schemes of the devil is to convince us that the battle is lost because we are tempted, because we see the desires of the flesh rise up.  That is not true and we need to reject that thought immediately.

I may be distressed by the battle I see going on in my life and sometimes I see more defeats than victories, the point is that the war is on and I am an active participant in that war.  John Calvin wrote, “… though the sons of God, so long as they groan under the burden of the flesh, are liable to commit sin, they are not its subjects or slaves, but make habitual opposition to its power. The spiritual man may be frequently assaulted by the lusts of the flesh, but fulfill them, — he does not permit them to reign over him.”

We should not be surprised, distraught or discouraged when we see sin rise up in us.  It is part of our current reality – the Kingdom of God is now and not yet, it is here but still coming in its fullness.   The hope and encouragement is that we are not stuck in our old sinful nature.  The promise stands that we are now able by the freedom we have in Christ to live in the fullness of the Spirit-led life and do battle with our old nature.  The hope is that there IS hope.

Galatians 5:13-14 – The Focus of our Freedom

There is a danger in doing what I am doing.  By focusing each week on a few verses at a time, I risk losing the big picture – the message of this entire letter.  We look so closely at the bark on the tree that we forget we are surrounded by a beautiful, expansive forest.  This is especially true as we launch into the remainder of this letter.  Starting here we get a very practical application of the truths Paul has been explaining previously.  The freedom Christ won for us is now put to the test in our daily lives and it starts with understanding the bigger picture of God’s purposes.  God has always focused on building a People, a Church, not just a bunch of individuals.  So we need to keep this in mind as we move forward.

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Gal 5:13,14)

Remember that the definition of freedom I am using is freedom from a guilt-ridden conscience (see my previous post Freedom from Guilt).  In other words, because we are free from the curse of the law we no longer have to fret over our inability to meet God’s demands or be “good enough” for Him.  When we do sin, we don’t have to try to make it up to Him or vow to try harder but we rest on Christ’s sacrifice that makes us clean, whole and accepted.  But, Paul implies, can’t that lead us not to try at all!  Since we are righteous in God’s eyes through Jesus and we can add nothing to it, then couldn’t we do whatever we want without fear of losing our salvation?  Can’t we sin with impunity?

This attitude Paul addresses directly in verses 13 and 14.  God’s plan all along was to set us free, to allow us to breathe deeply his joy and mercy and grace.  Just as we say that we are “called to ministry” or “called to salvation”, so we are called to freedom.  It is an expression of God’s will for our lives.  It is part of the package deal.  But God has a greater plan for our freedom.  Just like everything else He does, His plan is not about me, it is not centered on me or designed simply to make us feel good about ourselves.  God always has a grander vision for us and for His Church.  He intended our freedom to be about loving and serving one another so that the Church, collectively, will be built up and can be the spotless, mature, glorious People that is given to Jesus as a wedding gift.  He will say, as Adam said, “this is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.”  So the freedom we receive and enjoy is not intended for self-gratification and self-indulgence, but it is freedom to find ways to build that glorious Church.  Because we know that we are ok with God, it allows us the space to focus outside of ourselves and bring others into that experience of freedom.

It’s easy to deceive ourselves that we are loving God, but loving your neighbor necessitates thinking outside ourselves and actually demonstrating our love for God through our love for others.  It means embracing our freedom to serve others.  It means expressing our gratitude to God by loving our neighbors.  True faith reaches both upward to God and outward to others in love.  If we think that we can have “faith” then live however we want is to miss the point and to demonstrate that we don’t have real faith at all.  It is like a married man saying, “I love my wife, but I also want to have adulterous affairs” and not see a problem with that.  We would say to that man, “Clearly you don’t love your wife like you claim.”

The freedom we have is bounded by our expression of love for Christ’s Church, for His people.  We may have freedom but love constrains us to live in a way that does not hurt or do damage to the faith of others.  Jesus the Master was also Jesus the Servant.  So also we must become servants to others to ensure their growth, maturity and freedom in Christ.

Galatians 5:7 – Running Unhindered

Last summer the road in front of our church was being torn up by the city to install a new sewer line.  And when I mean torn up, I mean that there was no road; large holes ready to swallow my car whole; mountains of dirty; a narrow, one-car winding lane around those obstacles provided tortured access to our church entrance.  Sometimes the road was closed from the south and we had to come in from the north.  Sometimes vice versa.  We received weekly updates on how to get to church.  To say that we were hindered would be an understatement.  I had this experience in mind as I read this comment Paul made to the Galatians.

You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth?  (Gal 5:7)

Paul casts the Galatian’s Christian journey as running a race and he poses a rhetorical question, “who hindered you?”  Paul was not the one hindering them. Certainly, the God who called them was not the one in the way of the disciple’s pursuit of Him.   It was the false teachers, they were the ones hindering them from running well, throwing road blocks in the way, slowing them down, weighing them down.  How? By distracting the disciples from the truth of salvation by faith alone; by adding rules, regulations and laws to the simplicity of the Cross; by burdening them with requirements that no one is able to keep; by taking their eyes off the finished work of Christ and turning them to their own accomplishments.

We often face the same challenge as these Galatian disciples.  We are running along the path of Freedom in Christ and bump into folks that say to us, “You’re not doing it right,” or “You need to have more faith,” or “you need to do ‘X’ to prove you love Jesus.”   We are made to feel that our simple faith in Jesus is not enough.  We need that “secret sauce” – some book, some practice, some rule or some teaching – to get to the next level.  Let me assure you, there will always be someone who will try to hinder your Christian walk, perhaps not deliberately or maliciously, but who will, all the same, place roadblocks in your way.   Instead of encouraging us to rest in the finished work of Christ, instead of pointing to the unfathomable grace of the Father, instead of depending on the indwelling Holy Spirit, we are told to “Try harder.”

But it isn’t always others who hinder us in our race.  Is it possible that our own sins, our own doubts, our own unforgiveness act as weights that tie us down and encumber us so that we are thrown off our game?  Do we sabotage ourselves?  If something or someone serves to hinder our race, we can be sure it is not God nor is it a test from God.  If it impedes our progress, if it burdens us with guilt, it is not the freedom which Christ gained for us.

Take a moment and ask yourself whether there is something you believe you have to do to earn God’s love. Think about those things you are doing or believing that seem like a heavy weight on your soul.  Reflect on the things that make you restless and rob you of peace.  Those are the hindrances that are keeping you from running into Jesus’ welcoming arms.  Cast them off!  Say no! Focus solely on Jesus crucified and nothing else.  Then run like the wind.