BY PASTOR GARETH on October 20, 2017
I’ve been remiss in my blogging duties for a few weeks. I’d like to offer a recap of the last TWO messages in our Galatians series in this post. In my next post, I will reflect on this past Sunday’s message with a reminder of the “homework” I gave you on Sunday morning.
In ways it was hard to separate out the last part of Paul’s letter to the Galatians because the themes of “love” and “service” run throughout chapters 5 and 6. The one flows naturally into the other and it is hard to imagine to two existing completely separate from one another. True love leads to acts of service. True acts of service are only done out of love.
Galatians 5 is perhaps one of the most well-known sections in all the New Testament, especially Paul’s teachings on the “fruit of the Spirit”. It is from this same section of the letter that we gleaned (no pun intended … I think), our theme verse for the whole series: “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit” (Gal. 5:25).
Paul has gone to great pains to show that the good news of the Gospel is that Jesus Christ, by God’s grace, does for the Galatians (and by extension, us) what they could not do for themselves. He has rescued them from their previous slavery to sin and opened the door for them to become members of God’s family through faith (and faith alone). There are no external requirements (as his opponent Judaizers have been telling the Galatians), such as circumcision or Sabbath observance that are necessary precursors to accepting the free gift of salvation by faith through the grace of God. The presence and experience of the Holy Spirit in the Galatians’ lives testifies to the reality of their acceptance into God’s family. In this section of the letter, Paul spells out what life by the Spirit really looks like for those who comprise the new Israel.
In Galatians 5:13-26, Paul contrasts 2 “spirits” if you will – the spirit of self-love (the spirit of this world) and the Spirit of God’s love. The spirit of self-love (that is, the “flesh” or “sinful nature”) promotes all sorts of unsavory and unspeakable characteristics in people that are self-directed and erode the foundations of the community. If you look at the list of vices in Galatians 5:19-21, there is not a single act on this list that does not take self as the primary object. Not only this, but if everyone practised everything on this list, it would be impossible for a true community to exist. Conversely, the Spirit of God’s love, bears fruit in our lives that are both other-directed and strengthen the foundations of the community. The Spirit of God’s love is ultimately modeled by Jesus (see Gal. 2:20), and is active in us as those who belong to Christ.
We do need to be careful, though, that we do not turn the list of fruit in Galatians 5:22-23 into a law (the very thing Paul was trying to avoid having the Galatians do). If we wish to see the fruit of the Spirit growing in our lives, we should not be trying to be more patient, kind, or joyful – although the intent is not in and of itself bad – but that we would become the kind of Spirit-filled people that God intends for us to be by his grace and power at work within us. Here the analogy of farming is quite appropriate. We can do everything we can to create the best possible conditions for a seed (or fruit) to grow, but we cannot make it grow – only God can. We have the same responsibilities with the fruit of the Spirit – we cannot make it grow, but we can foster the conditions so that the growth can happen. Jesus provides some insight into this with his teaching on the vine and branches in John 15:1-17. Our task is to “abide” in Jesus. The primary means through which we do this is prayer and the study of Scripture. We can do this both corporately and individually.
The natural outflow of the fruit of the Spirit of God’s love, as noted above, is a life of service to one another. Paul unpacks this in Galatians 6:1-10. Interestingly, Paul uses a lot of financial language to describe the relationships that should exist within the community of believers. If we are to take seriously Jesus’ key “addition” to Shema spirituality (see Deuteronomy 6:4-6) of “love your neighbour as yourself”, then we are to understand that the cultivation of that relationship with God (“love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength”) results in a life of service to others. As such, we help each other out (Gal. 6:1).
We “restore” a faltering brother or sister in the faith in an attitude of humility, recognizing that we just as easily could be them (Gal. 6:1). We have a responsibility to one another insofar as if one suffers, we all suffer, and if one succeeds, then we all succeed (see Paul’s “body of Christ” analogy in 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 and Ephesians 4:1-16). Our help, however, is not limited to ‘spiritual’ help only, but can also mean financial help (hence Paul’s use of many well-known financial terms of his day in this passage). But this is tempered, too, with the acknowledgement that we are all responsible for ourselves alongside our responsibility to help those who are struggling under a burden (Gal. 6:2, 5). We do so not so that we can boast about our own success or our contribution to another’s success but because this is what we are called to do as God’s people.
Paul ties this section and the previous one together by returning to agricultural imagery with the financial language still at the fore (6:6-10). In short, if you “invest” in your flesh (i.e. “sow to please the flesh”), your return will be short-term gain with long-term consequences. But, if you invest in the Spirit, your return will be well worth the wait. So what, then, are you investing in?
Paul concludes the letter with a personal plea and recap of the central push of the letter: remember that it is by grace alone through faith in Christ that you are what you are! Do not be tricked into believing you need to “do something” in order to be accepted by God. This is not at all about what you do, but about God’s Holy Spirit who is at work within you!
As those who “live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit”!!!