Sunday sermon 2 August 2015 – Freedom to serve one another in love

Readings: Galatians 5:1; 13 – 26


A church secretary spent her vacation at the beach. As she sunned herself, a little boy in his swim suit approached her and politely asked her a series of questions. “Miss, do you believe in God?” The woman was taken aback a little but said she did. Then the little boy asked, “Do you go to church every Sunday?” The woman told the boy that she went to church every Sunday and even worked at the church during the week. The little boy persisted with his interrogation and asked, “Do you read your Bible every day?” The woman told the boy she read her Bible every day. The boy nodded his head, seeming satisfied with her answers and then he said: “It that case, will you hold my dollar for me while I go for a swim?”

That’s a trust issue – isn’t it? How do you really measure the virtues of a stranger? Over the years we’ve often listened to peoples’ stories – loaned them money – and never heard from them again.

What virtues are deemed to be most important in the Christian faith? What are the key signs?

We’re back in Paul’s letter to the Galatians this week. You will remember the background – how other missionary people had gone around the churches in the area trying to persuade them (as Gentiles) to be circumcised and follow the requirements of the first testament or old covenant.

Paul makes it clear that going back to circumcision means going back to the whole old covenant: Gal 5:3  Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law.

Being in Christ takes us to a new level:  Paul wants us all in Christ to be one faith family of the new covenant – with no distinction between Jews and Gentiles, or any other differences, as in Galatians 3:25-29:

Gal 3:25  Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.

Gal 3:26  You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus,

Gal 3:27  for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.

Gal 3:28  There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Gal 3:29  If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

In chapter 5 which is a highlight in the letter, Paul unpacks his ideas of freedom:

Gal 5:13  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.

Gal 5:14  The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbour as yourself.”

Gal 5:15  If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

Love creeps in here in these two key passages. (The first we missed in the reading today).

Gal 5:6  For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

Gal 5:13  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.

Faith – faith in Christ, dying with Christ, and being raised up to new life through the Spirit leads to this sense of belonging to this family by which people know we are Christians by the love shared in the community.

There was a great song in the 70s sung at churches and on church camps, that went like this: We are one in the spirit, we are one in the Lord (x2) and we pray that all unity may one day be restored, and they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love, and they’ll know we are Christians by our love. (Ironically the music was taken out of the music book LIVING PRAISE because the owner of the tune had not given permission for it to be published.)

Years ago I preached about this love – quoting William Glasser who said that what our basic need in life is to love and to be loved in a dependable relationship. (Bennie)

To know that you’re loved, that is very freeing. It also constrains us to act. Love constraining – because there is love I help.

I used to teach teenage boys each year about the different kinds of love in Greek and Hebrew – especially that unconditional love of a mother who gets up when children have earache at 2.00am the morning. Or especially when they are sick and there’s heaps of cleaning to do – literally.

A parent would not get their bible out and say – well there’s nothing here in the Bible that says I need to do anything. A parent doesn’t look up the relevant Law from Parliament – to see if you have to get up and help your child. You just do it!

Love constrains us. Listen again to verse 14 to 16:

Gal 5:14  The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” (Lev 19:18; Mark 12)

Gal 5:15  If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

Gal 5:16  So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.

It seems that the Galatians were really at odds with each other. Verse 15 hints at even physical conflict. And the default setting from our flesh – translated as “sinful nature” (NIV) – are acts of the flesh:

 Gal 5:19  The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery;

Gal 5:20  idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions

Gal 5:21  and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

The new covenant’s default setting is not as straight forward – because the flesh/sinful nature manifests in acts that are impulsive, and almost automatic – because they are largely all about us and our hedonistic sinful setting. These are vices.

The virtues are more challenging. Someone put it like this: “Love is the key. Joy is love singing. Peace is love resting. Patience is love enduring. Kindness is love’s touch. Generosity is love’s character. Faithfulness is love’s habit. Gentleness is love’s self-forgetfulness. Self-control is love holding the reins.”

 They are fruits. The trees – that’s us – require serious attention and nurture, and large quantities of love that never counts the cost.

Some kids stories to end today:

A group of professional people posed this question to a group of 4 to 8 year-olds, “What does love mean?” The answers they got were broader and deeper than anyone could have imagined.

“Love is when you go out to eat and give somebody most of your French fries without making them give you any of theirs.”

“If you want to learn to love better, you should start with a friend who you hate.”

“When you tell someone something bad about yourself and you’re scared they won’t love you anymore. But then you get surprised because not only do they still love you, they love you even more.”

“There are two kinds of love. Our love. God’s love. But God makes both kinds of them.”

“Love is when your puppy licks your face even after you left him alone all day.”

“You really shouldn’t say ‘I love you’ unless you mean it. But if you mean it, you should say it a lot. People forget.”

“When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different. You know that your name is safe in their mouth.”

“Love is when someone hurts you. And you get so mad but you don’t yell at them because you know it would hurt their feelings.”

“Love is what makes you smile when you’re tired.”

“Love is what’s in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen.”

And my favourite one of all: “God could have said magic words to make the nails fall off the cross, but He didn’t. That’s love.”

The fruits of the spirit:

Gal 5:22  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,

Gal 5:23  gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Gal 5:24  Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.

Gal 5:25  Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.

Let’s cultivate these shall we.



About robinpalmer

I am a Presbyterian Pastor living and working in Browns Bay on the North Shore of Auckland in New Zealand. We moved here at the end of March 2011 after spending five years in Wellington the capital city. I am passionate about what I do - about communicating and writing. I also enjoy my counselling work, especially with young people.

Posted on August 18, 2015, in Sunday Morning Sermons and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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