Sermon: 7th July 2019

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Galatians 6:1-16

  • 6:1 My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted.
  • 6:2 Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
  • 6:3 For if those who are nothing think they are something, they deceive themselves.
  • 6:4 All must test their own work; then that work, rather than their neighbor’s work, will become a cause for pride.
  • 6:5 For all must carry their own loads.
  • 6:6 Those who are taught the word must share in all good things with their teacher.
  • 6:7 Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow.
  • 6:8 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.
  • 6:9 So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest-time, if we do not give up.
  • 6:10 So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.
  • 6:11 See what large letters I make when I am writing in my own hand!
  • 6:12 It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh that try to compel you to be circumcised–only that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ.
  • 6:13 Even the circumcised do not themselves obey the law, but they want you to be circumcised so that they may boast about your flesh.
  • 6:14 May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
  • 6:15 For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything!
  • 6:16 As for those who will follow this rule–peace be upon them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.

So now here’s Pl at the end of his letter to the Galatians – a letter which he seems himself to now be writing – see there in v11 – ‘cos often he got a scribe, a handwriter to do the writing, which Pl wld dictate to him. Now he’s writing it himself for a simple reason, probably. It’s not that the scribe had a day off; it’s not that he ran out of money to pay him; it’s simply this: what Pl had to say here was v. imp’t & he wrote it himself as proof that he was indeed the author. Y’see there were people going around claiming to have letters from Pl & the other apostles & they wld sell them to churches, to make money. & they were teaching all sorts of nonsense. So Pl’s writing these words as a kind of signature, to confirm that it’s indeed him & not some confidence trickster.

& the theme is once again: how do we live out the Xan life as a f/sh’ of His people? What makes a gp of Xans into a true, loving f/sh? I believe that what he has to say is every bit as relevant to us today as it was to them, nrly 2000yrs ago. & essentially he says this: you have the HS to help you; so live, walk, act w. the Holy Spirit’s leading.

In v2 he says s’th’ which seems to be contradicted in v5: bear one another’s burdens there in v2 & all must carry their own load. What he’s getting at is this: when we have burdens – the word suggests s’th’ much more demanding & heavy than usual – we shld be able to look to others for help; but on the other hand, when we have our own load, well we shld be able to contribute to the f/sh’ in some way, by doing some of the work. Elsewhere, writing to the Ch’ at Rome, Pl spoke of the Church as being like a body. If the arm isn’t working, the fingers are not much use. Likewise, toes aren’t very helpful if the legs are immobile. We depend on ea other & if others aren’t doing their bit, if others aren’t carrying their load, as it were, it makes the task for ev’body else much more difficult, if not impossible, to carry out. I’ve been in Ch’es where a sm number of faithful people are expected to do all the work. As a rslt, they end up burdened; they get cheesed off, tired out & despondent: ‘cos some people weren’t carrying their own load, & no-one stepped up to bear their burdens with them…

Of course, you might be thinking that this sounds v. idealistic, but that human nature isn’t like this. & you’d be right; human nature isn’t like this. That’s why God has given us a spiritual nature instead; a nature inspired & empowered by the HS. & the Ch’ is meant to be different from the world; the Ch’ is meant to be a model for the way that God wants people to live together. Y’know when people saw the early Ch’ – the Ch’ a little after the Apos Pl’s lifetime – when they saw it, they said: “See, how those Xans love one another” – & that was one reason why the Ch’ grew from being a bunch of uneducated & weak fishermen & farmers into the major religion in the western world.

‘Cos ultimately – & please hear this well, ‘cos in many ways it sums up so much of what Pl has to say in his letters – ultimately the Christian life is not so much about what you believe – altho’ that matters; it’s not so much what you do – altho’ that matters also; no, ultimately it’s about who you are.

So how do we do respond to that then, you may well ask? Well, we have to do what they did: you have to go with the flow of the Spirit and that flow is a tidal wave of grace. You won’t be the same person after grace washes over you — you’re a changed person. A new creation has taken root in yr heart now and you are being changed; & part of that is what we looked at last week – growing the fruit of His Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience & so on. Who you are is changed. I believe you can look at me now & you compare the Eric of today to the person I was 40 yrs ago &, by the grace of God & the work of the HS I am radically, deeply changed. & God is not finished with me yet! Now ea of us needs to do the same: seek out the changes God wants to bring in our lives, in our character, in our behaviour. Then, we’ll become the people God has called us to be.

That’s what Pl is saying; & that’s why he ends his letter with the slightly odd words: peace be upon the Israel of God. That’s you & me; that’s the Ch’. Js didn’t come to replace Isr; rather he came to graft us in, to bring us in; so we are the Isr of God; His people.

BUT – & this is imp’t – this doesn’t happen on its own. We aren’t robots controlled by God. It requires effort & above all, discipline. v16 there is kinda weak in translation – it says “As for those who will follow this rule…” The Gk word Pl wrote was actually στοιχήσουσιν – stoichēsousin – which means to walk like soldiers do, in formation, w. discipline & with a united purpose. If you want it in more accurate terms, it shows that Pl puts the indicative before the imperative; he says: “Now, thru X., this is who you really are – not by yr own efforts, but thru X’s death on the cross and the work of the HS – this is who you are, so now as a consequence of that, this is what you need to be doing, this is how you shld be living.”

But as we do this, Pl recognised there are obstacles in the way & he outlines some of them: v1: take care that you yrslvs are not tempted. & in v3: if those who are nothing think they are s’th’, they deceive thmslvs & v4: all must test their own work… rather than their n’bour’s work. If you want that put in blunt terms, he means: “stop playing games w. yrslvs & others by trying to be one-up on them.” You know what I mean, don’t you? In AMS, where we live, there are those people who always have the latest car: if their n’bour or friend or colleague buys a Tesla or a BMW, they need to buy one too; in the school where I was chaplain 20,30 yrs ago the children all competed with ea other in getting one fashionable type of jacket, called Nevica & it was really funny ‘cos they hated wearing school uniform but they all wore the same jacket! & in Ch f/sh’s there are the people who think that they are spir’ly superior to others – & they do enormous damage – that’s what Pl is saying here in vv3&4. 

As a preacher, it’s lovely to hear that people appreciate a sermon & my temptation wld be to believe that I’m a better preacher than the next guy. & Ministers do that, believe me, they do that. & Pl’s response to this; wh Pl has to say to people who think that they’re better than the next guy is v. simple: v14: the cross of the Ld Js X… Js died for me & in comparison to that amazing, wonderful fact ev’th’ I do, all that I am, my v. v. best sermon I ever preached is like nothing. & as v3 says, we are nothing in comparison to Jesus.

 …which brings me to the last pt & which leads us into the celebration of Communion, v14: the cross of our Ld Js X., by which the world has been crucified to me, & I to the world. There are 3 deaths here: the death of Js, thru which our sins are forgiven – the Lamb of God, given for us. 2ndly, the death of the world’s influence on me, so that I am no longer competing & comparing myself w. others, & seeking the material things which many people strive for. & 3rdly my own death, the death of the old, unspiritual me whom I need to leave behind now, now that I follow Js. Those 3 are all bound tightly together, for Js died so that I might live; & in order to live in X. I need to die; the old, fleshly person in here needs to die.

So as we share together in this Lord’s Supper, let us pray for a deeper awareness of those w’ful truths & let us commit ourselves to the discipline of X.’s way & let us open ourselves to the living, all-changing power of the HS w/in us. AMEN

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