Week of Feb. 26: Live by Fruits of the Spirit; in God's love, we find freedom


 Lesson Scripture: Galatians 5:22 – 6:10
Background Scripture: Galatians 5:2 – 6:18
          As we conclude the lessons for the winter quarter, remember the focus of these 13 weeks. Each lesson has centered on some aspect of God’s faithfulness and our response of faith. From Genesis to Galatians, from Old to New Testament, our walk with God is always centered on God’s trustworthiness, and the confidence created in us to trust God absolutely – in everything! So faith is not a topic to be discussed. Faith is a divine attribute to praise, and a gift to receive graciously. Faith enables us to live at peace with God and one another.
          Fittingly, we end with a passage from Paul contrasting sharply the difference in life lived in the “flesh” and life lived in the Spirit. For us, the best translation of the word flesh is “sinful nature.” The background scripture vividly describes life dominated by the flesh. What an awful list of acts, which are too often a part of our human behavior!
          First, there are the obvious ones: sexual immorality, impurity, debauchery, idolatry, witchcraft. Then, surprisingly, there is a second group of sins: hatred, discord, jealousy, selfish ambitions, dissensions, factions, and envy (Gal.5:19 – 20). Each one affects the lives not only of the individuals involved but also of the entire community, including the community of faith. All sins are of the flesh, and each is as serious as another! Church people need to look closely at the second list. Ponder just how many board or council meetings are marked with these traits. How about the current political climate?
          Paul’s answer is the magnificent “Fruits of the Spirit” passage with which this lesson begins: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (5:22). In his book The Harvest of the Spirit, Tom Langford argues the nine virtues are all facets of the first: love. In fact, he states this clearly in his chapter headings:
1.      Love: Freedom’s Embodiment
2.      Joy: Love Released for Loving
3.      Peace: Love Expressing Its Depth
4.      Patience: Love Enduring over Time
5.      Kindness: Love as Thoughtfulness
6.      Goodness: Love Going Bone Deep
7.      Fidelity: Love as Persistent Presence
8.      Gentleness: Love as Tender Strength
9.      Self-Control: Life Shaped by Love
          If the book of Galatians is Paul’s defense of Christian freedom, the ultimate freedom is to be free from the downward pull of our human nature. Receiving the love of God in Jesus Christ is the only way we can be truly free. Recently Sam was asked to participate in a service remembering Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. His message was based on a quote from Dr. King: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness – only light can do that! Hate cannot drive out hate – only love can do that!”
          In Galatians 5:6, Paul says, “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” As James states it: “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:17). Paul always becomes practical in his pastoral letters to the churches. Theology is always balanced with actions. In some ways, as Paul concludes in Galatians 6, he gives us a foretaste of what he explains more fully in Romans 12. Here is how the Church should live so the world will see the distinctive lifestyle of Christians. We sing, “They will know we are Christians by our love.” Certainly our faith in Christ must be expressed visibly by how we love.
          Paul’s first practical admonition to the church deals with restoring a sinner to the fellowship with gentleness. As a parsonage family, we have seen just how quick some church members are to judge another. Instead of being gentle and loving, they seem to want to condemn and exclude. Paul makes it clear we must hold in tension both conscience and compassion. The church does not lower its standards but seeks to reconcile and restore fellowship. Paradoxical as that statement may be, it is the way of the Christ of the cross. To the woman caught in adultery he said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin.” From the cross he said, “Father, forgive them for they know not know what they are doing.”
          Regrettably, instead of forgiveness, the church finds fault and points fingers. Doing this, we overlook our own sins by shouting about the sins of others. Paul offers another way. He calls it burden bearing. We hold each other close and we hold each other accountable for our actions. We don’t ignore, excuse, condemn, scapegoat, or find fault. We help carry the load! The burden may be someone who has fallen in sin, or someone who is grieving, or someone who is lonely, or someone who is sick, or someone who is confused, or someone who has lost hope, or someone who is struggling with a decision, or someone who is bewildered by circumstances of money, job, or career. Burdens are many and they are heavy, but we are given strength in Christ to help lift them.
          Finally, Paul reminds the Galatians that there is an inevitable harvest coming. We reap what is sown. What is true in agriculture is true in the spiritual life. And a life of faith expressed in acts of love requires persistent patience. Every parent and teacher knows it takes time to see the results of your work with a child. So he tells us, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest, if we do not give up.”
          In Greek, the language in which Paul wrote, there are two words for time - “chronos” and “kairos.” Chronos is the time we mark by the watch and the calendar. Kairos is the time of significant and meaningful events. Kairos is the word Paul uses twice in the closing verses of the passage. Both in 6:9, “the proper time,” and in 6:10, “as we have opportunity,” we have a kairos moment – a God-given moment when time becomes alive with new possibilities. Seize such a moment! 
     Helen and Rev. Sam Rogers are a retired clergy couple. They can be reached at sandhrogers@friendlycity.net.