Blog Archives

Sunday sermon 9 August – Paul to the Galatians (final)

Reading: Galatians 6:1-15

Sermon notes (especially indebted to Tom Wright’s commentary)

Galatians is a rough ride – if you are the kind of person who favours peace at all costs. We’ve seen that Paul has serious issues with people who pervert the Gospel in any way. He is direct, explicit, and confrontational in every sense as he takes these Galatian Christians on. Paul the Pharisee is equally zealous as Paul the Christian preacher.

And of course we have as a result some of the most profound passages in the New Testament. Let me remind you of some of them:

Gal 1:3  Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, Gal 1:4  who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, Gal 1:5  to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Gal 1:8  But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! Gal 1:9  As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!

Gal 1:11  I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. Gal 1:12  I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.

Gal 2:20  I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Gal 3:1  You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. Gal 3:2  I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Gal 3:3  Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?

Gal 3:22  But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe. Gal 3:23  Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. Gal 3:24  So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. 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.

Gal 4:4  But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, Gal 4:5  to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Gal 4:6  Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” Gal 4:7  So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.

Gal 4:19  My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, Gal 4:20  how I wish I could be with you now and change my tone, because I am perplexed about you!

 Gal 5:1  It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

Gal 5:5  But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope. 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 5:11  Brothers, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished. Gal 5:12  As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!  (we missed that one!)

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

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.

Gal 5:22  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, Gal 5:23  gentleness and self-control. 

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. Gal 5:26  Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

The closing verses – chapter 6

In the last chapter of Galatians, Paul reveals his pastoral heart again. Freedom from sin comes through Christ. But this is not freedom to do anything you like! We are slaves of God – and we are set free to serve another. We are not without obligations – we need to be honest with each other too. We are to correct others who do wrong:

Gal 6:1  Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.

The restoration should be gentle! That is one of the fruits of the spirit – gentleness. And by the way “restoration” here is a word that would have been used to set a broken bone straight so that it can heal with the best possible outcome.Gal 6:2  Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

6:2 – our last week of preaching on Galatians – verse 2 is gold – what is the law of Christ? Transformed Torah? Reformed and Lutherans differ on this. Christ transforms the law to take away its ability to curse (Reformed). Love of neighbour is fulfillment of the law – pun on the Law of Christ (Lutheran). He doesn’t unpack it – just puts it there. No second letter to the Galatians.

Galatians 6:1-6 is about God’s intention for us to ensure the well-being of the neighbour – (and climaxes in v15 – new creation is the key (see below)).

One commentator put it like this: Verses 1-6 allow Paul to say more about what the life of people who live by the Spirit looks like. The list of virtues we saw in 5:22 are really all about relationships and how we manage life together.

Do you remember them from last week? “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.”

The baptized, those brought into ancient people of God in a new way are to fulfill a new law –  that of Christ, by bearing one another’s burdens.

Paul describes the radical mutuality of such a life. Assist one another and evaluate only yourself. Do what is given you to do on behalf of your neighbour, as God on behalf of God’s people did what needed to be done for them.

By exhorting his hearers not to grow tired, Paul reminds us that this is indeed a hard way to live. (Sarah Henrich)

Listen to the next verses 6 to 10: – life in the spirit is practical: and financial!

Gal 6:6  Anyone who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with his instructor. Gal 6:7  Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Gal 6:8  The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Gal 6:9  Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Gal 6:10  Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

Tom Wright translates this passage in a helpful way: 6 If someone is being taught the word, they should share with the teacher all the good things they have. 7 Don’t be misled; God won’t have people turning their noses up at him. What you sow is what you’ll reap. 8 Yes: if you sow in the field of your flesh you will harvest decay from your flesh, but if you sow in the field of the spirit you will harvest eternal life from the spirit. 9 Don’t lose your enthusiasm for behaving properly. You’ll bring in the harvest at the proper time, if you don’t become weary. 10 So, then, while we have the chance, let’s do good to everyone, and particularly to the household of the faith. Wright, Tom (2002-03-22). Paul for Everyone: Galatians and Thessalonians (New Testament for Everyone) (p. 77). SPCK. Kindle Edition.

Another commentator puts it like this: (Elizabeth Johnson) What this means is clear – Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow,” Paul says (6:7). Our way of life will have its natural consequences. If we “sow to the flesh,” led by self-seeking desires, we will reap the only thing the flesh can produce—corruption. If we “sow to the Spirit,” led by the Spirit and investing in what is eternal, we will reap eternal life from the Spirit (6:8).

Tom Wright has this to say about these last verses:  I loved talking to people about the church and what it was doing: its worship, its life, its service to a wide community. People knew it was true, and they respected what we were doing. But when it came to suggesting that they give money, I found myself running out of words. Some people can do that easily, and I’m not one of them.

But I used to console myself by looking at how Paul went about it. The classic passage is 2 Corinthians 8 and 9, but the same thing that is true there is true here too: Paul manages to write about money without ever mentioning the word. Clearly the subject was as delicate in his world as it is in ours.

The result is the present little paragraph. Like the previous one, it has many wider applications, even though its central point is the quite specific one of financing the ministry and life of the church. Paul begins with a clear command, which most churches in the modern world studiously ignore: those who are taught the word should share ‘in all good things’ with their teacher. (By ‘the word’ here Paul probably means something wider than just ‘the Bible’, though the Bible remained at the centre of his message; he meant the whole gospel of Jesus, rooted in the Old Testament and worked out through the apostolic teaching.)

The natural meaning of this is financial, though gifts in kind are quite appropriate as well. It is perhaps because churches have often neglected proper payment of the ministry that the ministry itself, the teaching which could and should be building up the church, has sometimes been thin and unsatisfying.

This gives quite a sharp point to the verses that follow. The picture of ‘sowing’ and ‘harvesting’– a development in Paul’s mind, perhaps, from the fruit trees at the end of chapter 5 – seems to be tied also to the giving of money. We will come to the wider meaning later, but we should pause and reflect on this.

If church members ‘sow’ to the spirit, by giving solid practical support to the church’s ministry, especially in teaching and preaching, they themselves will in due course bring in a harvest.

If, however, they ‘sow to the flesh’, spending their resources on the numerous pleasures of ordinary life, then all they will have to show for it will be the corruption and decay to which everything in the world is ultimately subject.

Fine houses fall down. Splendid clothes wear out. The ministry of the word builds up people and communities, and the life they then have will gloriously outlast death itself.

So Paul is eager that the ordinary Christians in Galatia should ‘do good to everybody’ (general phrases like this were in regular use in Paul’s world, referring to financial contributions in civic and community life), especially to the family marked out by faith.Wright, Tom (2002-03-22). Paul for Everyone: Galatians and Thessalonians (New Testament for Everyone) (pp. 77-79). SPCK. Kindle Edition.

Final greetings in  11-15

After Paul’s personal few words (he would have had a scribe for the rest of the letter as he dictated it) he wraps things up:

Gal 6:11  See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand! Gal 6:12  Those who want to make a good impression outwardly are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ. Gal 6:13  Not even those who are circumcised obey the law, yet they want you to be circumcised that they may boast about your flesh. Gal 6:14  May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. Gal 6:15  Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation.

Gal 6:15  Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation. (no verbs)

This reminds us of 5:6 – 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.

Tom Wright’s closing lines on Galatians say this: Grace reaches out and embraces the whole world. The sign of that embrace is not a mark in the flesh, but the presence and joy of the spirit.

So it was in the first century; so it is now, in the church and world that still needs the message of Galatians. So it will be until faith is rewarded with sight, patience with the final harvest, and eager hope with fulfillment. (Wright, Tom (2002-03-22). Paul for Everyone: Galatians and Thessalonians (New Testament for Everyone) (p. 84). SPCK. Kindle Edition.)

Amen.

Sunday sermon 22 March 2015 – sheep and goats

Reading: Matthew 25: 31-46

Sermon

We are reaching the end of Jesus’ ministry in Matthew’s gospel – just before he faces his Passion. Chapter 26 verse 1 says this: When Jesus had finished saying all these things, he said to his disciples, “As you know, the Passover is two days away—and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.” (Matthew 26:1-2)

It’s a turning point. And it’s interesting that this last teaching – in Matthew’s gospel anyway – is this parable of the sheep and the goats.

Coming to New Zealand for us was a very interesting experience. I used to joke about it when asked whether I would consider ministering here: “Oh too many sheep” I would reply. “I’ve got my hands full already!”

And when we did arrive in Wellington, it was quite a while before we actually saw sheep. I remember my wife getting quite excited when it happened – on the way up the Hutt River Valley towards Kaitoke Regional Park – one of our favourites and the site of the set of Rivendell in the Lord of the Rings.

Sheep and goats.

This is a parable isn’t it? The comparison is in verse 32: “…he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.”

That’s about as far as the comparison goes. There is no other link – not even the tails up of the goats and tails down of the sheep (or is it the other way round?) give us anything to compare or relate to.

Here’s the fascinating thing. I mean you would want to be a sheep on that day would you not?

It’s time to resurrect my first song I taught the children here:“I just want to be a sheep, baa ba ba baa. I don’t want to be a goat, no no no no, cause goats have got no hope, I don’t want to be a goat.”

Of course we teach the children about following Jesus as good little sheep – but we seldom talk about the eternal punishment awaiting the goats. Eternal punishment! Unlike their time-out in the corner etc.

Some thoughts came to mind this week. Here they are.

  • Okay it’s just a simile about separation.
  • This will happen at the end of things? Yes/no?
  • The sheep and goats will coexist (as they often did grazing together) – which means that the sheep and goats are in the church together? Right?
  • Does that mean that some of you are going to the eternal fire! Right?

Well I don’t know. Have a word with the person next to you and ask them – is it you? Will it be you? What do you think of this parable?

(Pause for discussion.)

(That sounds like the last supper and Jesus trying to root out his betrayer – and they all say “is it I Lord?”)

HOW DO YOU READ YOUR BIBLE THEN?

  • Is this the last judgement?
  • Is the judgement based on ethical behaviour – and not faith or a lack of faith?
  • I thought we were saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2 says after all: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast (vss 8-9).)
  • So do you think Paul wrote Ephesians before Matthew wrote Matthew?
  • Did Paul even know what Jesus taught on this matter?

Well it’s more complex than that really. This parable or story is I mean.

  1. For one thing, the righteous in the account and the goaties have no idea when they did or did not do the right thing by Jesus – or to Jesus, when they were doing these things to the least of his brothers – or in the case of the goaties NOT doing these things. This needs some further thought.

Both reply to the King/Judge – “when did we do this/when did we neglect to do this”. They didn’t have a clue. (See verses 37 and 44)

Mat 25:37  “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?

Mat 25:44  “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

The sentences seem to mean the same – but they don’t of course. The first means that they could not make the connection between the good they did and Jesus. They are “righteous” – and the Son of Man knows this – because they have been doing these important acts.

The second is an excuse. As Bonhoeffer has pointed out – an excuse for doing nothing. It’s almost as if they are saying – “now it’s not our fault if we couldn’t identify you” – a bit like the undercover boss programmes on TV. “I’ve I’d known it was the boss in disguise I would have behaved differently.”

  1. Secondly, who are the intended recipients of these acts of mercy and kindness? The least – Christians only, or the least – all created people. What are the chances of the Christians being hungry, thirsty, a stranger needing hospitality, needing clothes, sick and needing help, and in prison and needing some love and care?

Surely the Christians should be employed, wealthy and self-sufficient? When you listen to first world Christians and how scathing they can be about the unemployed who are on benefits, you would assume that we are all prosperity cult members.

And prisoners – nah Christians stay out of trouble. Yeah Right!

In our western arrogance we often see these people (especially unemployed and in jail – maybe not so much the sick) as those people over THERE!!!! – To whom we can give a few dollars on line. Which I do to of course. If you haven’t given something to the people of Vanuatu, then I reckon you could be in trouble here!

Commentators and New Testament students debate as to whether the people we should be helping here in Matthew 26 are family (church family) or simply all created people who land in trouble.

Calvin says – focus on the church, but remember it also applies to others!

Like Paul in Galatians:

Gal 6:9  Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

Gal 6:10  Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

THE RIGHTEOUS

When Jesus refers to the righteous – he’s talking about people who have responded to faith – chosen to follow him – and do his will!

The trail goes back to the earlier verses in Matthew’s Gospel.

Mat 12:47  Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.”

Mat 12:48  He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?”

Mat 12:49  Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers.

Mat 12:50  For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

He has this family identified by obedience really!

Go back further in the Gospel and you find this:

Mat 7:15  “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.

Mat 7:16  By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?

Mat 7:17  Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.

Mat 7:18  A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.

Mat 7:19  Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

Mat 7:20  Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.

 Mat 7:21  “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.

Mat 7:22  Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’

Mat 7:23  Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

Mat 7:24  “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.

And of course we go to another simile (comparison using the word “like” or “as”).

Building your house on the rock is about building your life on the WORDS of Jesus! (I remember preaching on that right here!)

The bottom line in this account is that the king is the Judge.

And we will give account.

And when we follow Jesus we should be doing Jesus stuff.

And the key identifier is probably this one thing: mercy.

Matthew 5:7 reminds us: Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

And Luke 6:36:   Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

It has no meaning – this Christian faith – if we are unchanged. Selfish. Like goats with our tails in the air so proud of ourselves – when we should be like sheep with our tails between our legs (or down anyway) because it’s not about us really.

So there it is.

Don’t end up with the devil and his angels. If you can’t get the idea of fire in your head, then listen to Jesus words to the reprobates: V41 – Depart from me….

Amen.