Galatians 3:15-22 – Law and Grace

Brothers and sisters, let me take an example from everyday life. Just as no one can set aside or add to a human covenant that has been duly established, so it is in this case. The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ. What I mean is this: The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise. For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on the promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise.

Why, then, was the law given at all? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come. The law was given through angels and entrusted to a mediator. A mediator, however, implies more than one party; but God is one.

Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law. But Scripture has locked up everything under the control of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe. (New International Version)

If the Apostle Paul were living in our day, I’m pretty sure he could have his own reality show, if he wanted. Paul is a terribly interesting man. Within church circles, his adventures are legendary. 

One of the most interesting things about Paul is his piercing intellect and flawless rhetoric. Today’s New Testament lesson has Paul taking on a Galatian heresy. Maybe we could call it “Law and Grace: SFU (Special Faith Unit).”  

The folks who were holding to the law were reminded by Paul that the promise to Abraham was a contract or covenant made by God that was binding, permanent, and divinely ratified. The law, on the other hand, was not – it was designed to be in effect for a specific amount of time, temporary, and only bound the people of God until the promise was fulfilled in Christ.

So, why in the world was there a law to begin with if it is no longer in effect? 

Paul said the law was added because of transgressions. It was as if God’s people were precocious and disobedient little children who needed some firm boundaries and rules in order to keep them safe and lead them to the time when they would grow to maturity. 

My friends, stop thinking like children. Think like mature people and be as innocent as tiny babies.

1 Corinthians 14:20, CEV

With the arrival of adulthood, there is no longer any need for the law.

The law was never designed to be permanent. So, when Christians cling to a rules-based faith, they are showing their immaturity. They need to grow up and embrace the permanent reality of living in the Spirit. 

Although you should have been teachers by now, you need someone to teach you an introduction to the basics about God’s message. You have come to the place where you need milk instead of solid food. Everyone who lives on milk is not used to the word of righteousness, because they are babies. But solid food is for the mature, whose senses are trained by practice to distinguish between good and evil. (Hebrews 5:12-14, CEB)

We must press on toward spiritual maturity, not being simpletons who embrace the law as if it were the actual faith itself. Instead, we need to pursue an adult faith – one which is thoroughly permeated and bathed in grace.

Grace is the permanent and pervasive reality that governs everything Christians are to do and say. Grace cannot be earned, only accepted, not achieved, but only given by God. 

Until we can grasp this fundamental truth of Christianity, the Christian life will never make sense. Only until we release our expectations of rules and let go of our orienting around law will we discover the liberation of a grace-filled existence.

Jesus said, “In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.” (Matthew 5:48, MSG)

We spread the message about Christ as we instruct and teach everyone with all the wisdom there is. We want to present everyone as mature Christian people.

Colossians 1:28, GW

The believer’s task is to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus. That happens not through the law but by grace – utilizing the God given gifts of faith, hope, and love.

Gracious God, you saved me through Christ alone by faith alone. Now help me to live by grace alone as the highest and greatest truth operative in the universe and in the kingdom of God. Amen.

Ephesians 4:7-16 – Be Mature

Christ has generously divided out his gifts to us. As the Scriptures say,

“When he went up
    to the highest place,
he led away many prisoners
    and gave gifts to people.”

When it says, “he went up,” it means that Christ had been deep in the earth. This also means that the one who went deep into the earth is the same one who went into the highest heaven, so he would fill the whole universe.

Christ chose some of us to be apostles, prophets, missionaries, pastors, and teachers, so his people would learn to serve, and his body would grow strong. This will continue until we are united by our faith and by our understanding of the Son of God. Then we will be mature, just as Christ is, and we will be completely like him.

We must stop acting like children. We must not let deceitful people trick us by their false teachings, which are like winds that toss us around from place to place. Love should always make us tell the truth. Then we will grow in every way and be more like Christ, the head of the body. Christ holds it together and makes all of its parts work perfectly, as it grows and becomes strong because of love. (Contemporary English Version)

The Body of Christ, without love as its skeletal structure, would be as ridiculous and silly as a boneless chicken ranch. 

The Apostle Paul, a concerned spiritual father, was encouraging the Church toward maturity, to act as adults in the faith and not like immature children.

Just as the physical body begins small, then grows and matures over time, so the spiritual body (the church) is to focus on incremental slow growth across the years so that it realizes maturity. And the consummate evidence of that spiritual development is strong bonds of love.

Ten days after the Lord Jesus ascended to heaven, the Day of Pentecost occurred. On that day, the Holy Spirit came upon the small band of believers and the church became a full-fledged phenomenon, growing and expanding. (Acts 2:1-47)

The gracious gifts of the Spirit are given to each and every Christian so that growth and strength will come to the Body of Christ through love. Each spiritual gift might be different from person to person, but every one of them is meant to be used in love for the benefit of the entire church.

Without any bones or skeleton, the church will be weak and ineffective. It might look like a church but will not be able to do anything in the world. 

For spiritual maturity to happen, it is necessary for every single Christian in the church to discover their spiritual gift, and then, use it in love to build up the entire Body. This is the God-ordained means of realizing a healthy functioning church. 

It may appear that you and I, as believers in and followers of Jesus, have the luxury of pursuing other interests rather than providing loving and gifted service to Christ’s Church. After all, church attendance, Christian mission and service are all voluntary, right? A volunteer can choose to sit out, right?

Uh-hem (clearing of throat). Wrong. That sort of thinking is based in the goofy notion that the Church is a voluntary society which we choose to become a part of, or not. It isn’t. The Body of Christ, the Church, the people for whom Christ died, was chosen by God – and not the other way around.

Before we chose God, God chose us. We can no more choose to decline Christian mission and service anymore than a physical heart or bodily organ can decide it needs to go do something else – as if they could simply leave the Body or just stop doing what they’re doing without consequence.

No, my friends, for the Body to function, it must work in concert, paying attention to the unique parts which keep it alive and thriving, while at the same time, maintaining the overall health of all the Bodily systems.

Bottom line: We need one another. Going off and continually doing my own thing or picking up my marbles and going home because I’m mad or frustrated, is what children do. When adults act like children, we rightly discern they are immature and need to grow up.

So, instead of lacking self-awareness or being pouty about my blog post, focus on the following questions:

What is your passion and desire for Christ’s church? 

What issues stir you emotionally? 

What group of people do you feel most attracted to reach? 

What area of Christian mission or church ministry would you most like to influence? 

Are there people whom you notice that others seem to ignore? 

Will you step out in faith and learn how God has wired you for ministry? 

Will you speak and serve in the name of Jesus through the enablement of the Spirit?

Loving God, I ask you to give me a heart of faith to trust the Spirit and the Spirit’s work in my life. I ask for a heart that desires the gifts of the Spirit for the common good of all persons. I ask you to help me be open to the gifts of the Spirit in others. I ask for jealousy of others’ gifts to be quieted in me. I pray that my gifts would build up the church. Most of all, I ask for the gift of love. Use me for the strengthening of Christ’s church, and for a positive influence in the world. Amen.

Proverbs 4:1-9 – Pay Attention to Wisdom

Listen, children, to a father’s instruction,
and pay attention so that you may gain discernment.
Because I hereby give you good instruction,
do not forsake my teaching.

When I was a son to my father,
a tender, only child before my mother,
he taught me, and he said to me:
“Let your heart lay hold of my words;
keep my commands so that you will live.
Acquire wisdom, acquire understanding;
do not forget and do not turn aside from the words I speak.
Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you;
love her, and she will guard you.
Wisdom is supreme—so acquire wisdom,
and whatever you acquire, acquire understanding!
Esteem her highly and she will exalt you;
she will honor you if you embrace her.
She will place a fair garland on your head;
she will bestow a beautiful crown on you.” (New English Translation)

Pay Attention to Instruction

Once, when I was a kid growing up on the farm, I was playing hide-and-seek with my brother and got lost in a cornfield. The stalks were taller than me, and I couldn’t jump up and try to see over them. I started to panic.

Then, I got my wits about me and looked straight up into the sky. Even though I was only seven or eight years old, I had looked up at the sky a bajillion times in my short lifetime. My dad had taught me how to read the sky and the weather above us. Fortunately, I had listened well and paid attention to all those times we looked up together.

I knew that the position of the sun in the bright blue sky would give me a fixed point of direction. Once I did that, I walked in the direction I was certain would take me out of the cornfield, trying not to let fear take hold of me. In no time at all, I was out. I lost the game of hide-and-seek. But I didn’t care.

Wisdom is personified in the book of Proverbs as a sage woman and a discerning counselor for whom we must hear and heed her advice. 

In the Old Testament, wisdom is the practical daily application of knowledge and understanding. It’s the ability to take the knowledge of God and use it in everyday life in a way that leads to human peace, contentment, and flourishing. There are two important aspects to wisdom. 

Pay Attention to Knowledge

First, the individual must possess some body of knowledge. If we are ignorant (without knowledge) then we have no ability to exercise wisdom. More than once, I rescued cousins and friends from the cornfield while playing hide-and-seek, because they didn’t have the same understanding of the sky that I did.

So, it’s absolutely imperative for us to actively seek understanding. It’s not going to simply drop into our lap. We must purposely strive to look up and see the Son, to view life from God’s perspective, and to put ourselves in another person’s shoes. 

To gain wisdom, we must become readers, listeners, and devoted learners. Why? Because without books to read, without spiritual directors to consult and listen to, and without adopting the humble posture of learning from others, we will never realize wisdom.

The telltale sign of one who fails to read, listen, and learn, is that they continually opine on everything with no evidence to back up their opinions, no insight into the human condition, and no grace in their language. In the book of Proverbs, such as a person is labeled the “fool.”

Pay Attention to Behavior

The second aspect to wisdom is that the individual must use the acquired knowledge to have good behavior and to live well. 

Knowledge by itself, apart from actual practical use, only produces puffed-up pride (1 Corinthians 8:1). The reason for accumulating understanding is to use it for the welfare of others, for the benefit of the common good. 

We have quite enough preening peacocks in this world who have answers for every earthly problem under the sun. This world needs much less of them, and more of those who seek the humility that comes from biblical wisdom. As the Apostle James in the New Testament once put it, we must be doers of the Word and not hearers only (James 1:22).

Wisdom is realized whenever there is learning that has come through both the head and the hands. Proverbs is a very good place to begin constructing a life of wisdom. Reading one chapter a day, for one month, will get you through the entire book. 

Make a wise plan to carefully go through Proverbs sometime this spring or summer. You’ll be glad you did. And so will those around you.

Pay Attention to Prayer

God of all wisdom, save me from pride and arrogance, and take me to the place where Christ’s humility is center stage, where I’m lifting up clean hands and a pure heart to you.

Spirit of discernment, take me to the place where I’m no longer looking with panic or anxiety at the cornfields and situations I face, but look up to you, where I can see clearly, and my decisions are flooded with your bright light, truth, and justice.

Jesus, teacher of all that is right and good, I submit to your instruction and humbly seek to live into your words and ways. I keep my ears open to receive your counsel, my heart open to receive your eternal wisdom, and my eyes open to see your risen and ascended glory.

Just, right, and wise God – Father, Son, and Spirit, the God whom I serve – know that I love wisdom. I desire it more than money, fame, or power. Help me to use biblical common sense, spiritual savvy, and Scriptural discernment so that I might learn the good and the beautiful. Amen.

Galatians 6:7-10 – You Harvest What You Plant

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Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith. (New Revised Standard Version)

“You reap what you sow” is one of those famous (or infamous) phrases of the Bible. Some people have a visceral reaction to the statement because it was used in the negative sense to keep kids obedient. 

However. the actual context for the statement, while not excluding the need to avoid disobedience, is aimed much more toward the necessity of doing good works for others. 

In the Church’s and the Christian’s work of burden-bearing on behalf of those with crushing loads to carry, we are not to become weary as the walk goes on and on. Persevering in good works will eventually lead to a bumper crop of righteousness.

We don’t typically use the words “sow” and “reap” much anymore. We really don’t use very many agrarian metaphors anymore since most folks are no longer living on farms and working the soil. We’re likely more familiar with the words “plant” and “harvest.”

We understand that if we plant seeds in our garden, it will take some time for them to germinate, take root, break the ground, grow, and produce what we want from them. The same is true in life. To expect instantaneous results for the spiritual life is unrealistic; it just doesn’t work that way.

The main orientation of today’s New Testament lesson is patience and perseverance in the doing of good works. Although it might not seem, at the moment, that our labors are really making a dent at all, God is taking notice. The Lord sees each act of service.  Eventually, if we will keep up the slow, tedious, and often dull work of persisting in doing what is right, it will all pay-off in a harvest of righteousness.

Perhaps you have been struggling lately – wanting to see something happen that you’ve been working on or praying for. And it hasn’t happened yet. You’re ready for the harvest and are tired of waiting. 

There are times when I grow weary of having the same conversations with people over and over again. I sometimes grow impatient with impenitent people who only seem to think of themselves. Alas, welcome to the human race! 

God cares just as much, or more, about the process of planting and tending as the actual end of the harvest. In other words, the means of how we go about things are as important as the end result. To help us be accountable, we very much need the encouragement of others in our Christian pilgrimage through this life. 

Accountability is a humble willingness to accept the consequences of our choices, our words, and our behaviors. That is, we need to own our part in situations we’ve been in. It’s about taking responsibility (not for others and their behavior) for one’s self and making things right.

Now all discipline seems painful at the time, not joyful. But later it produces the fruit of peace and righteousness for those trained by it. (Hebrews 12:11, NET)

Honesty, integrity, wisdom, courage, forgiveness, and humility don’t simply fall out of the sky for us. A good and abundant harvest which can be shared with many requires patient and tedious work. These virtues, along with the fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control – need careful attention. Like a faithful and patient gardener, we must tend to them, keeping ourselves free of weeds, bugs, and critters.

As we daily tend to our personal garden, we pay attention to how we use our time; know and honor our limits; and remain open to change. We cannot control outside forces, such as the weather, but we can take responsibility for our own choices and the consequences which result from them.

We cannot care for others and do good works unless we have done the work of self-care. Doing good flows from being good, first to ourselves, then to others. We can only give what we have. If we have tended to our garden with care, then the bounteous harvest can be shared with many. But if we neglect our own garden, there will be nothing to give when the season of harvest comes around.

“Which of the commands is most important?” Jesus answered, “The most important command is this: ‘Listen, people of Israel! The Lord our God is the only Lord. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’The second command is this: ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’ There are no commands more important than these.” (Mark 12:28-31, NCV)

Caring for ourselves isn’t a luxury. We must give ourselves permission to do it. The way in which we talk to ourselves will eventually become the manner in which we talk to others. The care we learn to extend to ourselves will be the care we give to others.

If we sow and plant good things in our own lives, then we will reap a harvest of good works for others. So, let us do good, especially to our sisters and brothers in the faith.

Patient God, you have been waiting for several millennia to complete your work in this world. It is a small thing for me to keep doing your will with perseverance over the span of my own lifetime. I look to my model, Jesus Christ, who for the joy set before him endured the cross and reaped eternal life for all who would believe. Amen.