A sermon on Galatians 5:13-26 by Rev Richard Keith on Sunday 9 June 2019
In Galatians chapter 5 Paul wrote, “You, my brothers, were called to be free.”
It reminds us that the gospel is a message of freedom. It is good news announcing that in Jesus Christ God sets us free. We were prisoners to hate and selfishness and fear. On death row under the judgment of God, waiting for our sentence to be carried out. But that judgment has fallen on Jesus. In his life and in his death Jesus entered our prison cell. He was one with us in our misery and pain. Taking upon himself all that is part of our common life.
And by the power of his risen life he burst through our prison doors. He stands outside in the joy and hope of God’s eternal life. And he calls us. He summons us to follow him into freedom. Into the freedom of love instead of hate. Into the freedom of hope instead of fear. Into the freedom of life instead of death. This is the gospel. It is God’s declaration that all the prisoners taken in his war against sin may leave their cell and return to their true home.
You, my brothers and sisters, yes you, are called to freedom. To enjoy life in all its unlimited possibilities. To achieve your true potential as sons and daughters of your creator. To eat from the table of the Lord his magnificent bounty without cost. And to drink deep from the fountain of living water that is yours without price. Everyone else wants to sell you something. Everyone else wants something in return. But your heavenly Father only wants to give.
It is here, at this very point, that the values of gospel clash with the values of the world. Because the world preaches freedom too. The world cries, Set yourselves free from religion. Set yourselves free from middle class morality. Do whatever you want and do not make yourselves a slave to anyone. The world promises freedom. Freedom from responsibility. Freedom from consequences. But all it delivers is bondage to our own small minded urges. It’s like a prison cell with the latest 60 inch flat screen TV so we can sit there and watch all the reality television that we want and pretend that we are free. But while the world promises, God delivers. Not the illusion of freedom. But its reality. The freedom of the life of Jesus Christ by the power of his Spirit.
Paul wrote in Galatians 5 verse 13,
You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature. Rather, serve one another in love.
This is the freedom of the gospel. It is not a freedom to do whatever you want, to squander God’s gifts on our shortsighted goals, and on our self-centred desires. But it is the freedom of the life that we were created for. To serve one another in love.
In verse 14 Paul reminds us that the way of love is the fulfilment of the law. The law is not a way of impressing God. It is not a way of justifying ourselves. It is the way of love from the law itself, “Love your neighbour as yourself.”
In verse 15 Paul warns us that the opposite way is the destruction of community.
If you keep on biting and devouring each other watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.
What love builds, the sinful nature tears down. What love includes, the sinful nature shuns and excludes. What love helps and heals, the sinful nature wounds and breaks. The way of the sinful nature is a prison without walls, leading to isolation instead of community. Its only commandment is the law of the jungle. Kill or be killed.
In verses 16 to 18, Paul tells us that the way of love, the way of Jesus, is made effective in our lives by the Spirit of Jesus. The Spirit who led Jesus’ ministry. The Spirit who gave him power in word and deed. The Spirit of Jesus is the fuel that gives power to the way of Jesus in his followers.
Live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.
These two powers are at loggerheads. By the Spirit Jesus cast out demons. By the Spirit Jesus healed the sick. By the Spirit Jesus raised the dead. And by his Spirit Jesus casts out the sinful nature from our hearts and brings to life his way of love.
In verses 19 to 23 these two very different ways are set in stark contrast.
The acts of the sinful nature are … sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery, idolatry and witchcraft, hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissension, factions and envy, drunkenness and orgies.
This is not a life that is free, but a life that is out of control. Like the car on the freeway weaving in and out through the other cars at 150 kms an hour. Doing whatever he wants, the driver thinks he is free. But he can only drive that way because everyone else is keeping the rules. Get every driver to drive the same way with no respect for the other drivers, and the result isn’t freedom, but madness. Every intersection is a lottery. Everyone wants to drive 150 kms an hour, but the end result is grid lock.
Imagine this is the way of living applied not just to driving, but to every aspect of life, our eating, our playing, our working, our family, our neighbourhood, our church, and you have pictured the way of the sinful nature. It is not freedom. It is madness. It is not life. It is death. And everything it thinks it loves, it destroys. For those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Compare that to the fruit of the Spirit. Love. Joy. Peace. Patience. Kindness. Goodness. Faithfulness. Gentleness. And self-control. Now that is the life worth living. It is calm. Reliable. And good. It is disciplined, not by the straight jacket of morality, but by the purposeful intention of doing what is right and fair for all and not just for yourself. It is about being faithful and dependable and kind. It is firm without being harsh. Honest without being offensive. Good without being soft. And brave without being brash. This is what Jesus died and rose to life for – that the life of sin may be put to death and that his life may be born in us. Giving us an example to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, who did not seek his own good, but the good of others, who did not pursue his own goals, but the goals of his Father. It is the way of the cross that not only saves our life but also shapes our life. A life of freedom found in the service of others. A way of service motivated not by fear or by hope of reward, but by love. It is our highest calling. Our deepest obedience. And our own greatest good. Because I have always found that when I am turned inward on myself and I only care about my own feelings and desires, I make myself miserable wondering if I am happy yet. But that true joy only comes when I forget myself and lose sight of my own desires, leaving me free to enjoy the privilege of being a child of God and a fellow traveller with others in the journey of life. Helping and being helped. Encouraging and being encouraged. Loving and being loved. Serving and being served.
I feel sorry for a lot of people. I feel sorry for people who don’t have baby blue eyes. But the people I feel sorry for most are those who give and give and give until they have no more, but they cannot receive. They would do anything for someone else. Their last dollar. A kidney. Their own selves. But they cannot bear to have someone else do something for them. I don’t know why. Maybe they are too proud. Maybe giving is their way of keeping score to see who is winning in life. Maybe they’ve been hurt and they are afraid to open their hearts to others. Maybe their fierce independence is the only thing that keeps them going. But it reminds me of the saying, that the empty cup never quenched anyone’s thirst. And they have emptied themselves for others until they have nothing left except their exhaustion and their resentment. It is only the cup that receives and is full that quenches the thirst. And it is only the heart that is filled with the love of God that overflows with love for others.
So it is important to remember that the Scripture does not say, “Serve until you drop.” But serve one another in love. Not in guilt. Not in some warped inner need. Not in pride, knowing that others aren’t half as good as you. But in love. Looking outward, rather than inward. Finding joy in not looking after your own interests, but in losing sight of yourself. And having the grace to let others serve you. Giving and receiving so that your cup is always full. Blessed in order to be a blessing.