Daniel E. H. Bryant
First Christian Church, Eugene, Oregon
We come at last this morning to the
conclusion in our series on Paul's letter to the Galatians.
Don't worry if you haven't been here for all of that, there's
still plenty to take in this morning.
We have seen in the previous weeks how Paul refutes those who
are advocating adherence to the law, or the Torah, and a Jewish
way of life in this new Christian fellowship. And, it appears
that there are those that are posting 10 commandments in those
churches of Galatia, heaven forbid :). Let alone schools or the
courtrooms. You know, who could be against God's law? It's kind
of like Mom and Apple Pie -- of course, we're all for it. And
yet Paul calls such the yoke of slavery from which Christ has
set them free. What Paul calls 'from the bondage of the law'.
Once again for the sake of clarity, I must emphasize that
whenever we read these texts, please, please, please, do not
repeat the mistake of so many of our Christian siblings over the
centuries of turning this into a polemical argument against
Judaism. Paul intended nothing of the sort. First of all, no
practicing Jew today would recognize Paul's portrayal of Judaism
(or the law) in this text. Secondly, as I've noted repeatedly in
this series, Paul is not in dispute with leaders of the
Synagogue, he is in dispute with competing leaders within the
church. And third, and this is the critical point, the problem
is not the application of the law by Jews for Jews, but by
Jewish Christians for Gentile converts into the faith.
And so the question, then, is for us, and for all of Christendom
for the next 2000+ plus years: would we, or would we not, be
beholden to the law?
And given that it has been Christians, not Jews, which have
enforced their understanding of quote "God's law" in a myriad of
ways upon masses of people, often in very oppressive ways (ever
since the days of Constantine), it would seem that Paul's
fundamental message that we are free in Christ -- not only from
the bondage of sin but also from the bondage of law -- has been
lost somewhere along the way. So whether we're talking about the
Crusades of the 11th and 12th centuries, or the Inquisitions
beginning in the 15th century, the Salem witch trials in
Massachusetts in 1692, the opposition to the abolition of
slavery in the 19th century, or women's suffrage in the
beginning of the 20th, or the civil rights movement in the
1960s, the gay rights movement in the 1980s, the marriage
equality movement today, whatever the case -- "God's law" has
been used as a weapon against advocates of freedom, justice, and
equality for the last 1000 years.
And the great irony, and tragedy, is that Paul saw it coming.
This use of "God's law" to punish and oppress people, and he
tried to establish within this new Christian tradition a
different way of being in the world, based in the freedom that
we have in Christ from such law.
And he describes what that new freedom looks like, with it's
ethic of love as the most essential principle in place of the
rule of law in the text for this morning from the fifth chapter
of Galatians, verses 13 to 25:
For you were
only do not
whole law is
summed up in
that you are
16 Live by
I say, and
and what the
if you are
led by the
works of the
[As if this
I am warning
you, as I
those who do
the fruit of
There is no
25If we live
us also be
Now, Paul, of course, is not opposed to
the 10 commandments, or anything else in the Torah. Rather his
point is that if you live by the Spirit of Christ, and the law
of love, the rest will come naturally.
And of course, there is a potential problem here that Paul
clearly recognized, that some will not be able to handle this
this new freedom, and will abuse it. And we see this clearly in
his correspondence with the Corinthians. Where folks got a
little carried away. Kind of like that story of the prodigal
son, leaving home, no longer under those rules of his father's
household, runs amok and engages in all kinds of things he
should not. And so that happens in Corinth, and probably a few
other places. So, Paul elaborates on what life in the Spirit
looks like, and tells us first of all that it does not mean you
can do whatever you want -- that's not what this new freedom
I had a friend in sixth grade who came up with this brilliant
philosophy of life. He said, "If it feels good, do it". By the
time he got into 10th grade, he was so strung out on drugs, he
dropped out of school. You see, Paul is clear: freedom which is
self-serving is not from God. Freedom in Christ means, first and
foremost, to serve one another in love.
Do you remember that wonderful movie "Pay if Forward"? Kevin
Spacey plays a seventh grade teacher, challenges his students to
think of something that will change the world, and to put it
into action. The character played by Haley Joel Osmond does just
that, he comes up with this idea to 'pay it forward'. Instead of
doing something nice for a friend or someone in return for a
favor, to do it for someone completely different, who you don't
owe anything to. And it has to be something hard, that's not
easy, but something that really is significant. And then you
tell the person "Don't pay it back, pay it forward -- do the
same thing for three others".
And it's one of those simultaneously tragic, as well as a
feel-good, movies that pulls on your heartstrings. And now there
is a whole non-profit foundation called the "Pay if Forward
Foundation" that provides grants to schools and youth
organizations with their own 'pay it forward' projects. You can
look it up at
http://www.payitforwardfoundation.org/. Well, Pay it Forward
captures the Spirit of Christ-like freedom, to serve others in
And Paul also tells us what is freedom
doesn't mean: immorality, indecency, jealousy, all of those
things that are contrary to this kind of freedom. And such are
the results, Paul says, of human desire. And because we belong
to Christ, such desires have been crucified with Him.
It's a great concept. It's a good
argument. I think Paul probably has just overstated his case
just a little. You know what I mean? Making a claim that is
easier said than done. For Pete's sake (or Paul's sake), we're
human, after all. It's what it means to be a human being, and
becoming a Christian doesn't mean that we stop having all of
those feelings and desires and temptations. Even Paul confesses,
in Romans 7, that the good things that he would prefer to do he
does not do, and the evil things that he doesn't want to do, he
does! And that's a rather cryptic kind of statement that has led
to all kinds of speculation of what is this dark secret that
Paul is harboring, but I don't think we need to go there. I
think more likely, Paul is speaking of basic human nature and
the difficulty we all have of resisting temptations, both small
So if you struggle with temptations, selfish desires, join the
club. You know, it's part of being human. And most of the time,
I think, hopefully, we're able to resist such. Being a Christian
does not mean that we are exempt from that. What it does do is
it gives us additional means, an incentive, to face those
desires and resist those temptations in the name of the one who
had to face his own temptation before he could go about the task
of confronting the evil within the world.
So Paul is clear: spirit and flesh are two realities of human
nature, and life that is ruled by the flesh is much more apt to
get us in trouble than a life ruled by the Spirit. But I think,
rather than think of these things as opposites, or opposed to
each other, that we might think of them like a 'teeter-totter'
-- that has to remain in balance. And you can't neglect the
physical, or your body will go to pot, right? And you can't
neglect the spiritual, either, or your spirit goes to pot, so to
speak. But attending to both, the spiritual and the physical,
leads to a healthier life, better choices, keeping things in
So after giving us this list of human vices, Paul then speaks of
the virtues of the Spirit. Or, as Paul calls it, the fruit of
the Spirit. And it's quite interesting that fruit here is
singular. Whereas Paul speaks of "gifts" of the Spirit
elsewhere, here it's singular fruit. It's another way of saying
there is only one Spirit in which we are united, and here are
nine characteristics, or qualities, of that spirit.
And first on that list, not surprisingly, is love. And I think
that is quite intentional on Paul's part. He notes earlier in
this passage that love is the primary, most important sign of
the spirit. And the greatest gift, remember in that great
Chapter 13 of 1 Corinthians, is love.
Love is the expression of true freedom.
Not one virtue among many, but the sum of all. Without love, the
other gifts are empty, shallow, even false. The irony of this
love, is that we are called in Christ, in freedom, to do what?
Paul says to be slaves. Not just servants (we often translate it
as 'servants', you know, it's a nicer, softer version of the
word) but the word really is to be slaves to one another in
But the one big difference of this slavery, from all other
forms, is that it is mutual. There's no hierarchy of slave and
master. The slavery of love is based on equality, where each is
beholden to the other in a relationship of mutual love and
respect. Which is why, I think, we should, if we choose to use
the language of submission or be subject to (in Ephesians 5, in
talking about our relationships), we should only speak of being
submissive or being subject to one another or to God, and never
solely of wives to husbands, as people often put it. Which I
think is one of those bad ideas that John Shelby Spong calls the
'sin of Scripture'. And in fact, does not fairly represent
Paul's concept of marriage, where there is this kind of equality
in the relationship.
Now, second, and perhaps maybe a little surprising in Paul's
list, is joy. The contemporary English version translates it as
"happy", which I think is a terrible translation. I like the
Contemporary English version in many ways, but I think that one
is just terrible. Joy is so much more than happiness. We had a
wonderful service for Jim Korth on Thursday. Died way too early
at age 71, well-known in the community. The church was packed.
There was joy in that service, the joy of what Jim had given to
his family and the community. The joy of his faith. But there
wasn't happiness. No one was happy about his death, but still we
could express that joy. Joy comes from a much deeper place. It's
long-lasting, whereas happiness is often temporary and
superficial. Joy rises above the human condition, allows us to
celebrate the goodness of life even in the midst of grief and
pain. That's the kind of joy I think Paul is talking about. It's
a gift of the Spirit.
The third characteristic of the Spirit is peace. And like joy,
peace also comes from deep within. It has been said we cannot
have peace in the world until we have peace within ourselves.
And that certainly is true. That's not to say we shouldn't
strive for peace in the world until we have peace in ourselves.
Because we would never get very far, would we? But the two are
deeply connected. And we neglect one for the sake of the other
at our own peril.
A psychiatrist, whose name I have
forgotten, wrote a book, the title of which I have also
forgotten :). Age is a terrible thing, but it's better than the
alternative :). In this book, he (may have been a she, I don't
remember that either :), whoever it was, this world-renowned
psychiatrist with a lot of authority, makes this correlation
between child abuse and suicide bombers. Very fascinating. And
that's why it stuck in my brain. Only those with deep
self-loathing and hatred of their parents are the ones that
become candidates for suicide bombers in their attempt to strike
out against that childhood, against that abuse they suffered,
and end up killing themselves and other innocent people along
with them. It's fairly well established that Adolf Hitler
suffered from the abusive parenting, an overbearing father. And
that partly explains much of his hatred expressed at so many in
Finding peace within ourselves is certainly one of the keys of
peace with others. And one of the chief attributes of God's
Paul goes on to name 6 more characteristics of the Spirit:
patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and
self-control. I'm going to exercise a little of the latter and
not go into each of those six. Praise the Lord :).
Some of these come naturally for us, and some are challenging.
And we probably each have one or two or three in those lists
that we struggle with. Let me suggest a wonderful spiritual
discipline: take each of these 9, and on 9 successive days to
focus on that quality. Maybe write it in your calendar, do
something to lift it up, keep it in front of you, focus on one
each of nine days. Make patience, or joy, or generosity, your
theme for that day and work on it. Putting into practice each
day. Do that for nine days, and if you come to the end of those
9 days and don't feel a greater sense of God's Spirit working
within you, proceed directly to the hospital. Do not pass go,
and go and check in and make sure you have a pulse, because
something is not working.
See, Paul's message to us is because the spirit contains not
some of these, but all 9 of these, the spirit by and of itself
is sufficient to guide us as followers of Jesus. And will
do much more to insure right-living, than living by the law, any
law, will ever do.
That's the spirit of Christ.
That's what it means to live by that spirit. This spirit
is our moral compass. It's that which enables us to live
in a culture with with values perhaps different
from those of our faith, and to be able to do that successfully.
And perhaps, just perhaps, if
we say it out loud, if we put it into practice, we can be such a
spirit-led community in Christ.
So I would invite you this
morning to do just that. I would invite you to put each of
those words in your own words and in your body, as you repeat
We are a community of love.
We are a community of joy.
We are a community of peace.
We are a community of patience.
We are a community of kindness.
We are a community of generosity.
We are a community of faithfulness.
We are a community of gentleness.
We are a community of self-control.
May it be.
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