Posts Tagged ‘Agapé’

Paul’s Prayer for Believers, Part Two

Paul’s Prayer for Believers, Part Two

© C. O. Bishop 9/27/17 Cornell Estates 10/15/17

Philippians 1:9-11

Introduction:

Last time we were together, we began looking at the kind of prayer Paul offered for his fellow believers: and the very first thing we saw, was his heartfelt thanksgiving, partly that they had been the recipients of God’s Grace, and partly that they had been participants in the work of evangelism and discipleship with Paul. He went on to say how much he missed them, and recognized that it was God’s love that stirred his heart toward them. They were his brothers and sisters in Christ, and, on top of that, they were his dear friends.

So, when he prayed for them, his prayers were in earnest, and they were aimed at God’s very best blessing appearing in their lives. He did not pray for their physical or financial well-being at all, it seems, which is interesting, because they had all the same needs that we have today. We can learn from this passage, and others like it, what our priorities in prayer ought to be.

Priorities in Prayer

9 And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment;
10 That ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ;
11 Being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God.

It is important, throughout the epistles, to see what the “prayer-list” of the various Apostles contained. It does not seem to bear much resemblance to ours, usually. Paul does not pray for us to get a raise, or get over the flu, or anything like that. There is nothing wrong with either of those, by the way, but in terms of priorities, I think we should see what is on the collective “list” of the apostles.  On this particular “short-list”, the Apostle Paul prays:

  1. That our Love may abound more and more,
  2. In Knowledge (Greek, epiginosko), and
  3. in all Judgment (Greek aesthesis),
  4. That we may approve things that are excellent;
  5. That we may be Sincere (from “eilikrinea”—“clarity, purity, sincerity”) and
  6. without offence until the Day of Christ,
  7. That we may be to the Glory and Praise of God.

Seven little items…all of them having to do with personal and corporate growth in the Grace and Knowledge of God. Notice that the first three on the list are the foundation for growth, while the remaining four are the result of the first three.

Foundation for Growth

I like the fact that the very first thing on Paul’s “list” is the same as the first thing on Jesus’ list (“A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another…”). Over in Galatians, Paul confirmed the point Jesus had made in the Gospels, that Obedience to that “Law” would cover every other law.

It is also interesting to see that he points out the need for increase—for growth—Yes, we are perfect in Christ, but as a practical matter, there is a need for us to grow in that relationship. When a new mother declares her newborn baby “perfect”, she is not saying that she does not expect that child to grow…only that this is her perfect child and that she is eagerly anticipating watching that growth. God has declared your new nature to be perfect, (Ephesians 4:24 says it is created after God (in His likeness) in righteousness and true holiness.), but He urges us to grow in our relationship with Him, and, thereby, in our relationships with those around us, whether believers or unbelievers.

Three key elements needed for that growth include:

  • Love (Agapé,) as an over-arching life principle,
  • Knowledge: our personal knowledge of God and knowledge of his written Word, and
  • Judgment (Wisdom): Godly discernment and good decision-making.

The Agape Love is the motivation to do what is most profitable for the other person, the recipient of that Love, regardless of how it affects oneself. Jesus demonstrated this Love, by enduring the Cross for the Human race.

Knowledge and Wisdom are closely linked, but are not the same: One can know God’s written word intimately (even as an unbeliever) but be utterly lacking in the wisdom required to correctly interpret and apply it in one’s life. It is just a “piece of literature” at that level, and unlikely to bear fruit. But in fact, this “knowledge is not even a matter of just knowing facts, but rather, the “epiginosko” knowledge, which means an experiential, ongoing relational knowledge, as in, knowing a person completely, because of a long-term committed relationship.

On the other hand, given some knowledge, God can bring conviction, and turn knowledge into wisdom; thus, over a period of time, producing genuine discernment and good judgment.

Evidence of Change

The result should be that our beliefs begin to change in other areas as well. Beginning with the change of belief, by choice, to trust the shed Blood of Jesus as my only hope for salvation, and having placed my dependency therein, I am free to see the whole world differently, as well.

  • I can now approve things that are excellent. Paul points out to the Roman believers (Romans 1:32) that the unbelieving heart not only is itself given to sin of every kind, it gives its approval to those who also pursue the same sorts of sin. (Consider this: Why are the most popular movies always those centered upon themes of immorality, treachery, rebellion, self-will, violence, theft, etc.? )
    It is because all of us, by birth, are those who feed on sin, and that sort of story feeds our old sin nature. But according to this verse, with my new nature, and, by the Holy Spirit, I am capable of separating myself from my old “haunts”, as it were, and approving good things: righteous things, and things that are pleasing to God, as well as being a blessing to those around me. It will likely result in a change in my speech patterns, as well as my interests, and my desires, so that my new nature, more and more, is what makes itself evident in my life.In my flesh, this was not a real likelihood, because, though I might agree, academically, that such things were “good”, I would privately feel that they were “boring”, and I would yearn for the old “hog-wallow” of sin, because that was what I really approved of, regardless of what I might have said.

    My new nature feeds upon God’s Word and yearns for the presence of God, and the fellowship of other believers. So, the fact is, yes, I can now approve the things that are excellent.

  • I can be sincere. The old nature does not have the capacity for sincerity…only the appearance of it. Jeremiah 17:9 states that the heart (the unregenerate heart is implied) is “…deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.” Ephesians 4:22 states that the “old man…is corrupt (actually, ‘being corrupted’… the word is a present continuous verb) according to the deceitful lusts.”As an unbeliever, even when I intended to “do something good”, it was always for an ulterior motive—to be seen as a hero, or to gain some sort of social approval. It was never, ever, simply to be obedient to a Holy God. Such a thing never entered my mind, and if it had, I would have rebelled against the very idea. Submission to a Holy God was utterly repugnant to me. Self-centeredness was my only mode of operation, even if I tried to prove otherwise. I wanted to be seen as honest, unselfish, and “good”, but, in reality, I was completely the opposite. I was deceiving myself.

    But today, something has changed: I have a new Ephesians 4:24 says my new nature “…after God (in the likeness of God) is created in righteousness and true Holiness.” Notice that the new nature, or “new Man” as the KJV words it, is a created thing…this is not the Holy Spirit, but a new Creation: a new Me.

    The Holy Spirit is God…He is not a created being. But this new creation, the new Me, the new nature, the new man, is capable of genuine Christ-like motives and is, by nature, sincere: pure, transparent.

    There is sometimes a little confusion over this word—the Latin root for the English word “sincere” is “sin ceros”…”without wax”, and I remember being taught that the ancient potters would place their wares in the sun, to warm them, thus demonstrating that there were no wax-filled defects in the glaze. That is true, and all very fine, but the New Testament was not written in Latin: it was written in Greek. The word here means pretty much what we mean by the word sincere in English: “devoid of deception, pure, transparent, honest.” The Latin “sin ceros” was an entirely appropriate translation, as that glazed earthenware pottery, warmed by the Mediterranean sun, would certainly demonstrate the honesty of the potter or tradesman. It was a means of demonstrating honesty, purity, and transparency. That works for me. It’s just that for years I thought that the original word was “sin ceros”…and it is not: the root is “eilikrinea”—“pure, honest, clear”. And that pretty well describes the character of the new creation…the new nature of a born-again individual. Transparent: no hidden agenda; no “murky”, dark behavior.

  • I can be without offence. This sounds like a tall order, because there is always someone who is offended by some But the issue is that I personally am not to be the cause of someone else sinning. Particularly, that no one reject Christ because of me. If they are offended by the Gospel, then that is a different matter. Jesus warned us ahead of time that the Gospel would cause an offense. But we are not to cause the offense.Remember in Galatians we read that the nine-fold fruit (singular) of the Spirit is Love, Joy, Peace, Longsuffering, Gentleness, Goodness, Faith, Meekness Temperance. Those sorts of behaviors do not cause an offense against either the Law, or another individual. We question whether we can actually live that way: Paul makes it clear that we can…but that it takes practice to become consistent in it.

If even our enemies can find no real fault in us except that we are Christians, then probably we are “without offense”. But, if there are other things that are causing others to think evil of the Gospel because they see those things in our lives, then we need to repent, and change our ways.

Is self-righteousness an issue? Pride? Gossip? Complaining? What sorts of things might we be doing that make us a bad testimony of God’s Grace? Those things are what must be changed.

Repentance means “turning around”…going the other way…doing what ought to be done instead of the wrong we have been doing.

  • We begin the cleanup with confession: Admit to God that those things are sin.
  • Repair the damage in relationships by apology if called for—righting wrongs that can be righted…admitting to the wronged individual that we were wrong to have mistreated them.
  • Then we DO the things that God calls for, treating others kindly, not talking behind their backs, not secretly despising them, but praying for their salvation and blessing from God. Be a blessing to them.

This is how we learn to be “without offense.”

  • Finally, I can be to the Glory and Praise of God. The result of all of the above should be that our lives begin to bring honor to God. That people watching will have to conclude that something genuine is going on in our lives, and that either we are wonderful people (we are not, and honesty demands that we say so) or that we serve a wonderful God. The former is not true, the latter most certainly is.

We want to live in such a way as to be a blessing to all around us, not a cause for cursing. We hope that even those who are enemies of the Gospel know that we can be counted upon to tell the truth, to share, and to treat others well. Doesn’t this open us up to people taking advantage of us? Yes, of course, it does! So, we have to be wise, as well. We have to be discerning about how we share, and how we help. Do we always give freely? What about when we can see that the money will not go to the perceived need, but rather, to buy alcohol or drugs? Might we not be better to give food or clothing, in that case?

This is where Wisdom and Judgment come into play. We do not want to be enablers to those who are continually making destructive or self-destructive choices. We do not want to help others to sin. On the other hand, wisdom often tells us to keep our foolish mouths shut, sometimes, and allow God to teach a person, instead of injecting our own thoughts into the existing mess.

But, when a person seems to be open to the Gospel, wisdom tells us how to present the truth to them in a non-judgmental way, so that they can make a clear choice regarding God’s Grace. We are to be a light in the darkness of this world. That light is to be characterized by three things:

The Love of God, the Knowledge of God, and the Wisdom of God, all flowing through us to produce the Light of God…not our own light, but only His light reflected in our lives.

Lord Jesus, open our hearts to your Spirit, and change us into your likeness, so that we can reflect your Light and Love in the dark world around us.


Christian Living And Relationships, Part Two

Christian Living and Relationships (Part Two)

© C. O. Bishop, 5/20/16 THCF 5/22/16

Romans 12:3-11

Introduction:

We began looking at the practical outworking of our new relationship with Christ, two weeks ago, reading and considering Romans 12:1-3. We saw that we were to submit ourselves to God, as living sacrifices; daily making the choice to live for Him: to serve God, not self. It isn’t easy; which is why it is called a “Living” sacrifice: it can never just be a “done deal”—we always have to either renew that choice, or fail to do so.

Those verses, telling us how we can be transformed by the renewing of our minds, and how we can avoid being pressed into the mold of the world, are based upon our individual relationships with Christ. A proper relationship with Him in a growing, ongoing bond of love, will result in a changed life. It also results in changed relationships with other people, as we saw in Ephesians 4:1-6; another passage where Paul begs us to walk worthy of the vocation to which we have been called. We are to maintain unity with one another, and forbear (tolerate) one another, learning to love and appreciate one another, just for who each of us is in Christ.

Here in Romans we are reminded of some of the gifts of service that believers are given by which to be a blessing to one another, and we are told in what spirit to use each of them.

What does “Christian Service” look like?

For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.

One of the more obvious dangers in Christian service is the temptation to serve in the same spirit as do those of the world. We desire human recognition, and like to feel appreciated. Many times churches create titles and “jobs” within the church organization, so that a person feels proud to do the job they have been assigned. But this practice establishes boundaries, and territories, and effectively divides the body. Everyone is thus encouraged toward “self” expression, and “self” fulfillment, “owning” the ministry, and can easily forget who the head of the body actually is. Paul caution us to “not think more highly of” ourselves, but, rather, to think soberly.

I have known of communities where deacons, for instance, attach that title to their name, and actually introduce themselves as “Deacon So-and-so.” Many pastors do the same thing, and in many circles they are expected to do so. Then we invent honorifics to go with the title, or even supplant it—the “Right Reverend so-and-so… your excellency…your Grace”… do you see how that feeds pride?

The fact is, I don’t need a title, or a “territory”. I can sit and listen to someone else teach, and take careful notes, so as to actually learn from their teaching; and I will be perfectly happy. I have no need for the limelight. I would be happy to serve from the back pew, and have frequently done so. I have taught because I was asked to teach, and, since I keep getting asked to continue teaching, I conclude that this is what I am supposed to be doing. I also do it, even in private, because that is my gift—it is simply what I do.

The result seems to be that folks get fed, and understanding increases. I don’t need an “office” or title, to do any of that. If it is the job—the gift—Jesus gave me to do, then I will either do it, or fail to do it. I am given to believe that my gifts are in this area, and when I pray, “Lord, I just don’t know what to do!” the immediate answer is “Feed my flock!” So, by faith, I press on. If He gives me a different job, or assignment, He will let me know it.

All the gifts have this in common: they don’t need “titles”, or honorifics; they just need a willing heart. But we each have different gifts, though all the believers are part of that one Body of Christ. That is the source of Unity—our position in Christ. But each of us has something to offer. Each of us can choose to be a blessing to those around us, but it will be done in different ways. Many years ago, a teacher told me, “If I go to church to be a blessing, I will almost always come home blessed. But if I go there to get a blessing, I can frequently come home empty and sour.” The Agapé love always seeks to bless those around it…not to receive a blessing. But the result is that it is always blessed.

For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office:

So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.

Notice it says that we are members one of another. We are not just “employees of the same company—co-workers”; we belong to one another. We are truly part of a select brotherhood, because we are born from above, of the same Father. We are one body, and, though we may feel somewhat alienated from one another at times, due to sin, we really are one.

All of us know what it means to “hurt all over”, because of an injury or illness. I have actually heard of people who endured a fairly small injury (a mashed finger or the like) but who then went into shock and died…the whole body responded to the injury of one member so drastically that the body shut down completely. In contrast to the physical body, that mutual care will not shut us down; it will empower us, but we are to have that sort of deep compassion and care for one another, so that if one member is hurting, it is a concern for all. And, if one is blessed, it is a joy to all, as all are invigorated by the goodness of God, seen reflected in another person’s life.

What is a Prophet?

Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith;

When we consider the New Testament gift of prophecy, we must remember that even the Old Testament word does not mean a “teller of the future”, but a spokesman for God; a mouthpiece for God. In Exodus 4:12, God told Moses, “…go, and I will be with thy mouth and teach thee what thou shalt say!” That is pretty much the definition of a prophet, through all the ages. In the early days, it frequently (but not always) involved “fore-telling”. In fact, when we use the word “prophecy”, or “prophetic,” we usually mean “the telling of the future”. But all the word really means is being “a mouthpiece for God”.

As far as I can tell, a person who simply gives the clear meaning of scripture and can tie it all together, so that the listeners can see it all as God’s Word, not just a collection of disconnected pamphlets by forgotten writers, is a good teacher. That would be one who is gifted to teach. But if they are also used of God to bring a corrective message, or a message of encouragement, or a message from scripture that builds up the believers for the work of service, then they are functioning as a New Testament prophet.

1st Corinthians 14:3 states that “he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort.” That is the definition of a prophet’s job, in this age. The Old Testament gift of foretelling the future seems to have pretty much disappeared by the end of the book of Acts. We are told nothing further about it in the epistles, at least. Even false prophets are not warned against in the epistles, so much as false teachers.

A prophet, then, must have the faith to pursue God, personally, and absorb the Word of God, and learn the will of God, as revealed in Scripture. The prophet has to have the faith to see God’s will in black and white, and be able to declare it firmly, though humbly, knowing it to be true, because Jesus says so. “Let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith.” This is Paul’s message to the prophets in the New Testament Church.

What is “Ministry?”

Or ministry, let us wait on our ministering: or he that teacheth, on teaching;

Ministry means service. The Greek word, here, for service, is “diakonia”. The companion word, “diakonous” is where we get the word “deacon”, in English. It simply means servant. We disdain the word servant, as if it is a “low-caste” calling, to which no one should be relegated. But God calls it a gift, and a high, holy calling. It is interesting to learn that the root of the word “menial” which we really don’t like, is exactly the same as that of the word “ministry” which we claim to love. Jesus taught this lesson in John 13, doing a menial task (foot-washing) that was ordinarily relegated to the lowest servants, in order to demonstrate the principle of ministry to his disciples.

Every believer is called to this life of service, but some are gifted beyond others, and can throw themselves into any task without reserve, as it is their joy to serve. There are no restrictions as to who can serve God: anyone can serve, but not all at the same tasks. He chooses our tasks. There may be human restrictions of a practical nature: a life-guard, for example, is in a position that absolutely demands that he or she be a very strong swimmer, and specifically trained to work in deep water to bring a struggling or injured person to safety. A church pianist must be someone who has endured the discipline of learning to play the piano well enough to accompany singers, in any key needed. There are many other human limitations, and we recognize them; but anyone can serve, and there are innumerable ways in which to do so. If you have a heart for service, God will give you an avenue in which to serve faithfully. And faithfulness itself is worthy of reward. God says, “Well done, thou good and faithful Servant!”

What about Teaching?

Teaching, as we mentioned earlier, is the gift of being able to read, study and understand scripture, and to teach what it means, accurately, in keeping with the rest of the Word of God, so that the hearers are not just hearing, but understanding the scriptures, themselves. It was mentioned in the Old Testament as well as the New, and is a valuable gift, as well. A teacher does not necessarily have to be a leader, but an elder (overseer, pastor, bishop) has to be a teacher, as far as I can see. 1st Timothy 3:1-8 states some of the qualifications of being an elder, and one of them is “apt to teach”—able to teach. I do not think that this is just the ability to teach carpentry, or cooking, or mathematics, as, in the first place, those are not related to the work of God. It is also not just the rudimentary abilty that ALL people have, to transmit information. It is specifically referring to the spiritual gift of teaching that is vital to the health of a church. This, along with the gift of prophecy, is how the Flock is to be fed…and they are to be fed on the Word of God, not philosophy, or other bits of human wisdom. God’s Word is clean “sheep food.” That is all we have to offer. But how can we tell if we are gifted?

Teaching has not been accomplished until learning occurs. I teach several classes at work; each has numerous tests associated with it. Some of the tests are quite difficult. None of the tests could be passed by someone who has not received the teaching. So, my “report card” is “what percentage of my students can now understand and use what I taught…and are they doing so?”

A Bible teacher should grade himself or herself by the same standard: “Do my students better understand the scriptures?”, and “Are they better able to apply them than before?” It is much harder to tell, for sure, as there is no “sit down and take the exam” kind of test to apply. But I knew a woman (now home with the Lord) who taught “Good News Club” Bible classes in her home for many years, training little children to understand the Word of God. Her report card? Most of the deacons in her church, before she died, were men whom she had taught as little children, in her home. She had led many of them to Christ. That is a great “Report Card!”

Or he that exhorteth, on exhortation: he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that sheweth mercy, with cheerfulness.

Exhortation–Encouragement

Encouragement is a pretty vital gift, too—the ability to see a need in someone’s life, and strengthen them by drawing alongside and being a friend, or a helper, or to encourage them to make good decisions. Some people are a constant encourager to those around them. Some are not. We are all told to encourage one another, and those of us who do not come by it naturally have no excuse—we are still told to do it. But there are those who are gifted by God to be an encourager to other believers. Encouragement flows out of them wherever they go. They are a tremendous blessing to the Church. We so badly need encouragers.

Giving with Simplicity

Giving, obviously, requires having something to give. But I remember hearing about a woman who picked blackberries all summer, with the express intent of having enough to buy her daughter a student violin. How precious that violin was to her grown daughter many years later.

Giving can be done in a showy manner, making a spectacle of the gift—and that practice is condemned by Jesus. Or it can be done simply, privately, with no fanfare, no attention to the gift or the giver…just meeting a need. That is a blessing in itself. Seeing to the need of another person without regard to one’s own benefit is the simplest definition of Agapé Love. When we consider what Jesus did at the Cross, we see that he completely personified that love.

Ruling with Diligence

Not all administrators are diligent…and not all are gifted to rule. But it takes diligent work to do a good job of overseeing any sort of job, or group of people. Some people are gifted to do the job of administration, and can do an efficient job without damaging the people with whom they serve. Others simply want power, and cause offense, as they bully the others in their group.

This desire for preeminence is rooted in self-will, and has nothing to do with the gift of administration. The Love of God has to be the motivating power in every area of the church, but especially in those who rule.

Showing Mercy, with Cheerfulness

Mercy is a gift that goes along with service and encouragement. It is tremendously valuable, because it mends hearts, comforts the feeble and quiets the fearful. It is the Compassion of God in human form. The “Report Card” on this one is how it is received. If little children and the elderly are blessed when they are near you, and people are comforted by your presence, then perhaps you are gifted in this area. It is difficult to tell about and describe, but it is easy to see in others. God said that Mercy was more valuable, and acceptable to Him than sacrifice.

Love is the Conclusion

Let love be without dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good.

10 Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another;

11 Not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord;

Love– the Agapé love as well as its companion word phileo—brotherly love—is the key to all relationships in the body of Christ. Those two loves never lead to evil; only to what is best. So a person who is claiming to express agapé love, but is doing wrong, is faking the love for the sake of cloaking the evil. Paul says, love is to be without dissimulation—without fakery—no pretension.

We are to completely avoid evil, and see it as abominable, wherever it appears…but especially in ourselves; in our motives, and our thoughts, since that is where God is looking: God says he “is a discerner of the thoughts and the intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). We are to cling to what is good, without exception. Our love for one another must be pure, drawing us closer to one another and to Christ.
We should be most comfortable in the company of other believers, and give each other full respect and honor as children of God. In business and productivity, that Love should produce an excellent work ethic, as we recognize that we are serving God as well as our employer. If our spirit is right with God, it should produce a fervent love and worship for God, and a fervent desire to do His will and draw others to Him as well. Jesus said, “My food is to do the will of Him that sent me, and to finish His work.” (John 4:31)

These are the principles by which we are to guide our walk with God, our relationships with other believers and our relationship with the World around us. I trust that, as we meditate on this passage we can see it come to life in us, and transform us into the hands and feet and heart of Jesus, doing His work in this World.

Lord Jesus, change us into your likeness. Teach us to discern your will and search for ways to serve one another in Love. Make us the men and women of God that you have called us to be.

 


Learning to Live in Liberty

Learning to Live Free

© C. O. Bishop 5/11/15; THCF 5/17/15

Galatians 5:14-26

Introduction:

Paul has spent four chapters warning against Legalism, and stating the free position of the believer; a half-chapter introducing Liberty as a life-concept, and now is having to give the “directions and warning label” for Liberty.

Unlike the legalizers, he makes no apology for the Christian having the liberty. Quite the opposite: he warns us against letting anyone rob us of it. But he does warn against the danger of misuse—the danger of allowing “liberty” to cloak licentiousness. (Verse 13). So, one might ask, how do we strike a balance? How do we live in liberty, and still not fall into licentiousness? It would be easy to smugly say something like “self-control!” or “moderation!”, but that is not what Paul preaches; He preaches the living, breathing, walking, talking love of Christ. We are free in Christ!  That is a positional truth, and a “location” truth. “In Christ!”

There was once a short time in US history during which there were some states where slavery was permitted, and some where it was prohibited. It was critically important to an escaped slave that he or she should stay in a place where it was illegal to enslave another person…because in that place he or she was free! Were they safe? No, not completely, because the laws had not become federal, yet, and it was quite common for an evil person to kidnap such an endangered soul and take him or her back into a slave state. They lived in fear that they might be taken back into slavery. We would do well to think of that, ourselves: We are only safe and free in Christ.

Satan still desires to enslave us, though we have been permanently set free. He can do it either through legalism or licentiousness. Those are the twin traps into which he tries to lure all believers. Those are the two “ditches” on every road the believer walks. Both are deadly snares; traps that are really difficult to escape. So what does it look like to be on the road between the ditches…walking with Jesus, and not wavering into license or legalism? Paul says it is to be summed up in one word:

Love—Agape Love.

14 For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

If you know that your sin could result in someone else spending eternity in Hell, because they used your sin as an excuse to reject the Lord, shouldn’t that make you more conscious of your actions and words? Therefore, loving our neighbor with agapé love should be among our primary concerns as committed Christians. (Compare Leviticus 19:18)

Agapé love implies “Being committed to the good of the recipient of that love, without regard to the effect in one’s own life.” This is the kind of love—the only kind— that Jesus commanded; and it’s the kind He demonstrated at the Cross. It has absolutely nothing to do with feelings, but is entirely about doing. It is “commitment with shoe-leather”. It is doing what is best for the other person. Ironically, it is also what is needed for you! This is how you stay on the road where you belong.

This is how you walk with Jesus. He said in John 13:34, 35 “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” So, Paul is reiterating that the entire Christian walk is one of allowing the Holy Spirit to pour through us the Agapé love that is only available from God. That is our outreach to the lost around us, and our fellowship with the believers around us. That Agapé love is what it is all about.

15 But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another.

OK, so here is a big one: you may think, “Well, this person is already a believer, but they are frustrating me, or mistreating me, so I am free to ‘give them a taste of their own medicine!’”. No! This is precisely what He warns against! There is more damage done to unbelievers and to the credibility of the Gospel by “bickering believers” than perhaps anything else.

I have repeatedly been informed that the single most common reason for missionaries leaving their chosen fields of service is the fact that they and their co-workers were not getting along at one level or another. Sometimes they tried to hang on, and endured for years before they broke down, but the hard-heartedness that believers demonstrate toward one another (and the sins that come along with it) makes the worst possible testimony. How did Jesus say the world is to know that we are his servants? He said, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples….” How? Because we are constantly fighting against one another?  No! The Agapé love applied consistently between believers is the strongest testimony we can produce.

Unity as a Result of Agape Love

And how did Jesus say the world would know that He himself was sent by God? He said in his prayer (John 17:21) “…That they may be one…that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.” Unity in the Church is the other half of the testimony of the church. In fact, if you think about it, you can see that Jesus gave the World two means by which to judge the Church: Agapé Love, and Christian Unity. Whether we like it or not, we are being judged by the World, as directed by Jesus Himself, and…we are found sadly wanting. If we allow ourselves the luxury of anger, bitterness, or self-will, then what we demonstrate to the world is that the message of the cross is false, and/or that we ourselves are not the servants of God.

In fact, even when we want to do right, we find ourselves thwarted, either for the simple cause that it takes two people to be in unity and a loving relationship, but only one wants it; or, because in our human ability we simply cannot bring ourselves to be at peace with someone because they have hurt us badly, or we don’t trust them, or, conversely, that we feel guilty because we know that we hurt them.

Either trap can be fatal.

So… what is the answer? We agree that we can’t do it, so… Who can?

Only the Holy Spirit can do it

16 This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.

It is funny that we should say that we “can’t do it”…that is exactly what God says, too! God warned the Israelites that they could not keep his Law. Paul has warned the believers that they cannot please God in the flesh. God never has given us a difficult assignment; He has almost always given us an impossible assignment! The Christian life is not difficult, it is impossible… apart from the moment-by-moment control of the indwelling and presiding Holy Spirit.

Only God can live the life that his righteousness demands.  Jesus demonstrated God’s righteousness, as “God in the Flesh.” He fulfilled the righteous judgment of the Law upon us at the Cross, and His righteousness was imputed to us (deposited in our accounts) the moment we trusted in His finished work for our salvation. But we still somehow think we ought to be able to do in our flesh what even He himself did by the Holy Spirit. (Jesus pointed out that what he did he did by the Holy Spirit.)

17 For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.

This is a very important concept. Paul has laid out the problem in stark terms, not padding the truth at all. We still have a sin nature, but we also have a new nature. The new nature is a created being; completely obedient to God, and completely in harmony with the Holy Spirit. But we still have a will, and, even now, we can choose to submit to the Holy Spirit, and “walk” (day-by-day, step-by-step) with Him, or not. There is a war going on, and we have to choose, moment-by-moment, whose side we will serve.

18 But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law.

Remember that Paul made a similar statement in Romans 8:14 “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.”

If you are a child of God, you are not under the Law…and, by the Holy Spirit, it should become clear to all observers that your life does not need the constraint of the Law, because you are under God’s direct control.  If you insist on putting yourself under the Law, then you are defeating the purpose of God’s Grace. So, what is the “measuring stick”, so to speak? How are we to see the difference, day by day? Paul introduces two contrasting concepts; “works” (plural) and “fruit” (singular). He pairs them with two mutually exclusive persons; the old Sin nature of every believer and the Holy Spirit of God. He says that our old sin natures produce certain traits in character and behavior that are observable to any person watching, and rejectable by all, as well. Think about this: sins of the flesh, while a source of pleasure to unbelievers, are a source of condemnation from those same unbelievers when they are practiced by believers. Why? Because, for better or worse, the World holds us to a higher standard of righteousness, and it is always looking for ways to condemn us.

But if you walk in the Spirit, there will be nothing to condemn. Doesn’t that sound attractive to you? It does to me. I read in the book of Daniel that his 120-some worst enemies, who unanimously wanted him dead, could find nothing wrong with him except his relationship with the God of Israel. My friends don’t have to look very far to find fault with me. My enemies certainly can find cause to condemn me. And I yearn for the time when I will finally be freed from my sin nature, and can rest from the war between the flesh and the Spirit.

But I remember that Daniel was living that way in his normal human body, not in some sort of “exalted state”. He simply was unfailingly doing at all times exactly what he was supposed to do. There is no evidence of his ever having spoken unkindly, or having stirred up arguments, having made accusations, or anything else of a counter-productive nature. Ironically, though, in his recorded prayer, he identified closely enough with Israel that he said “…we have turned our backs on You…” (Not “they”, but “we”.)

What will it look like?

So, what are the earmarks of the flesh-controlled life, and that of the Spirit-controlled life?

19 Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness,

20 Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies,

21 Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

I find it fascinating that the “works” (plural) of the flesh are listed seventeen strong, with an eighteenth item that is a “catch-all” phrase: “and such like”. The list is literally twice as long as that of the fruit of the Spirit, and the last item extends it to include everything that the human heart can imagine. And it is plural; if you are partaking in any of these, then you are in the flesh; it’s as simple as that.

But the next “list”, the fruit of the Spirit, is half as long, and is singular: it is not a “smorgasbord” from which you can choose what you would like to exemplify. It is a “nine-fold” fruit, singular; a fruit with nine aspects, or characteristics, and all nine aspects, or characteristics, have to be present or it is not the Holy Spirit who is producing it.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,

23 Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.

Notice that last bit? “Against such there is no law…?” Why is that even an issue? It is because the whole context of the book has been the separation of Law and Grace. If you are walking in the Spirit, the Law will have no effect on you because it does not touch the things of the Spirit. That is why the enemies of Daniel could find no cause for accusation in his life. He walked in the Spirit, and there was no cause for offense. There was literally nothing to condemn. I would love it if all my enemies found in me that same problem: nothing to condemn. But the honest truth is that my friends can find fault with me.

I did discover recently that a man I have known for 25 years, and of whom I had heard via the workplace “grapevine” (nice word for gossip) that he strongly disliked me, actually disliked me because I am a believer. That is a relief to know. I learned it, ironically enough, from another unbeliever. (He said the exact word used was “Bible-thumper”…which I guess is OK, but I do hope I did not cross some line and offend him by my words. If it is God’s Word that offended him, I am in the clear, but if I did it, then he may have had reasonable cause for offense.) I will probably never know for sure, but I don’t think we have ever had an argument, or any sort of cross words. We only worked together a short while, and I think I was always relatively friendly…but who knows? James says we all offend with our tongues. Looking forward, all I can do is to try to be vigilant to walk in the Spirit, so as to not cause offense, but, instead, to be productive for God.

This next verse is easy to miss, and nearly as easy to misread:

24 And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.

Please take note that this is past tense: Whatever the verse is about, it already happened. This is not a command to “get crucified”, or to “crucify the flesh”. It is a statement of Fact, that if you belong to Jesus, then the crucifixion is a done deal. We just need to learn to walk in the daily reality of that fact. God sees you as being permanently separated from your old sin nature. He dealt with your sin at the cross, and will no longer see you in your sins. In fact, that is what Romans 6:1-14 is all about. You are dead to sin (whether you believe it or not), and do not have to continue in it. In Romans he points this truth out and says that it is incumbent upon us to believe it and rest in that truth, taking shelter in the fact that we are no longer slaves to sin. Here in Galatians, he says we are to walk in that truth.

Conclusion:

25 If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.

This is an “it just makes sense” sort of statement. “Since you already have been saved, redeemed, resurrected and baptized into the Body of Christ by the Holy Spirit, and since, in fact, you are already seated with him in Heaven…doesn’t it make sense that you function by that principle as well? That you, in fact, allow Him full ownership in your life?”

And what would that look like if you did?

Paul’s final messages in Galatians are to tell the believers how to treat one another. But if the fundamental principle is confessed and agreed to, (that, since I am spiritually alive because of Christ and Him alone, and have been joined to him by the work of the Holy Spirit, not my own works) then it is a logical necessity that I complete the transaction and walk with him.

When I was first born again, something a friend said made perfect sense to me: “If I belong to Him, I ought to work for Him.” That stuck with me ever since. And, as I look at this verse, I realize that that is exactly what Paul says. If I belong to Him, it makes sense that I act as if I do.

Spend some time thinking this over: if you see that the fruit of the Spirit is pretty thin on the limbs, so to speak, then perhaps you need to confess that you are not walking consistently, and you need to allow God to work a full repentance—a turnaround—a change of course. “Walking” must become a continuous exercise of faith, not just a series of failures, in the flesh. Bear in mind that as a toddler is learning to walk, he or she falls down a lot. That is OK…success means getting up one more time than we fall down. Eventually we learn to walk in a stable manner.

Let’s look to God to teach us to walk with Him.

Lord Jesus, help us to see ourselves through your eyes, and to be sober about our strengths and weaknesses, our successes and failures, and to confess them for what they are, without excuses. Allow us to be healed by your Spirit and so to lead others to You.

Amen