August 4, 2013

First Things First in the Fellowship - August 4, 2013

To  DOWNLOAD an MP3 of this message, first right click here then choose "save link as" or "save target as". Older audio is removed to conserve server space, but is available by request.


A couple of months ago we began a study of Paul’s letter to the Galatian Christians. Today we’re going to close our study of the book of Galatians with a look at the last chapter of that book.
Now, if you haven’t been here to hear about the Galatian congregations, the story is pretty simple. Paul started these congregations on one of his mission trips.

Some kind of a medical problem caused an extended stay in the Roman province of Galatia. While Paul was there, he told people about how a man named Jesus made it possible for people to know the true God. This Jesus made it possible for sinful, broken humans to actually commune with the Holy God because this man took away the sins that had separated God from man. Paul told the people about how in Jesus, God the Son had become human, and had offered himself to suffer hell in the place of sinners. In summary, Paul told them the Gospel message. Through Jesus, we stand forgiven of all our evils.

Now, as Paul communicated this message, followers of Christ grew and formed congregations. And then, apparently as Paul’s medical problems were alleviated, he moved on. But he continued to communicate with these groups of Christ followers that were living in Galatia.
The book of Galatians that has been preserved for us to read was written by Paul as a response to some troubling news that he heard about the Galatians. Apparently some new people had come into contact with the congregations there and were leading them away from faith in Christ.

These new teachers were advocating a “different gospel”. Instead of simply trusting in Jesus for the complete package of forgiveness that he offered, these new teachers said that full forgiveness was something that a person had to earn for themselves. They said that forgiveness was earned by, yes,  trusting in Christ, but also through observing certain religious ceremonies. In other words, these new teachers were saying that Jesus didn’t do enough to save sinners, and that sinners must add their own religious devotion to obtain forgiveness from God.

Paul’s letter to the Galatian Christians is a call for them to return to Christ. To abandon the idea that we can earn forgiveness by our actions, and to trust in Jesus alone for eternal salvation.
In chapters one and two Paul scolds the Galatians for so quickly deserting Christ and turning to this new, and false, gospel of salvation by works. He defends the true Gospel and his own ministry by showing that this message of his wasn’t something he learned from ordinary religious teachers, but a message that was given to him by the risen Jesus himself.

In chapters three and four Paul proves from the Old Testament that forgiveness of sins cannot be earned. No human being, Paul says, will stand before God on the last day and be declared holy because of their own words and actions. But all who trust in Jesus for forgiveness are clothed with HIS righteousness, and will be considered as holy as the Son of God because of their faith connection to him.

In chapter five Paul moves on to speak about how the Gospel of Jesus doesn’t give the Christian license to sin, but instead the forgiveness that comes through Christ frees us from the fear of punishment, and moves us to live lives that conform to God’s will. Since the Gospel makes us spiritually alive, we then live our daily lives to him—serving our Savior God instead of listening to our inner sinful desires.

In talking about how the Christian lives on a daily basis, Paul eventually gets around to how the Christian will live in the context of the church. How we treat our fellow Christ followers. How the Christian lives and moves in the fellowship is what Paul deals with in the final chapter of Galatians, chapter six.
Now, as we’ve been studying through this book, we’ve been using a theme to help us through. The theme has been, “First Things First”. The idea is this, that when we come to believe in Christ, he becomes our head, we become his body. And with Christ as our head, the Spirit of God begins to shift our priorities. We begin to change, putting God’s ideas and ways of living first.

In the back of the sanctuary here at redemption we have a small sound mixer, or a sound board. On this soundboard there are all kinds of little dials and slides that determine what sounds are pushed forward, and what sounds are muted back. The whole idea of the Christian life and putting “First Things First” is like those dials and slides.

Imagine each area of life has it’s own cluster of slides on this board. We can decide for ourselves which ones we will push up, and which ones we will slide down. But God has his own prescription for which ones need more volume, and which ideas, habits, and behaviors need to fade away.

In this last chapter of Galatians, God uses Paul to describe how we should set our soundboard at church, and everywhere that we interact with the followers of Christ.

To begin with, let’s read…

Galatians 6:1-5 (ESV)

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load.
In examining God’s will for the Christian’s life, Paul looks both out and in. Looking out, Paul says that we should pay attention to our fellow Christians, putting their spiritual condition FIRST. When we see them caught in some sinful behavior it is our responsibility to do something about it. When we speak up to each other in order to correct and guide each other by our God’s Word, Paul says we are “bearing one another’s burdens”.

It’s great to help someone pay off a debt, or find a new job, or move into a new home, etc., but a God has a greater calling for us in Christ—to love each other’s souls. To watch over the faith of our fellow Christians, and as far as it is in our power, to prevent sinful behaviors from severing their faith connection to Jesus. Paul says that when we bear each other’s sin-burdens like this we are“fulfilling the law of Christ”. In other words, when we hold each other accountable and gently guide each other back to the forgiveness that we have in Christ, then we are truly LOVING one another. That is the so called, “law of Christ”.

We are to put the spiritual needs of our fellow Christians first.
But Paul also directs us to look inward here. When we look at our own service to Christ, Paul says that we are not to think too highly of what we’ve done for Jesus. When we Christians get arrogant it usually comes from two sources. Either we evaluate our own lives in COMPARISON to others, or we evaluate our lives on the basis of what others SAY about us. Paul says that both of these are a bad idea.

C.S. Lewis wrote a neat little book called the “Screwtape Letters”. The book is a fictional collection of letters from a senior demon to a demon in training. In one chapter the senior demon describes how to make the Christian’s time in the church pew serve the devil’s agenda. The younger demon is to encourage his charge to look at all the people around him and meditate on their faults and failings. This will prevent him from getting anything out of church. And, constantly judging others will prevent this Christian from doing any real self-examination.

This is what happens when we compare our lives with those of our fellow Christians. As sinful human beings we’re real good at justifying our own sins, and condemning others for theirs.

On the other hand, as sinful human beings we’re also real good at accepting praise for the things we actually get right. But we have the ugly tendency to inflate the goodness of those actions beyond what they deserve.

Again, Paul says, bad idea. Instead, when we evaluate our own service to Christ it aught to be done in a vacuum. In other words, we aught to evaluate ourselves on the basis of what opportunities and strengths God has given us, and what we’ve actually done with those. When we honestly do this, it’s hard to be arrogant. Which of us can say we’ve always spoken up for Christ when the opportunity arose. Which of us can say we’ve even seen each opportunity? How many of these have slipped by while were  focused on something  inconsequential?  

When we look inward at our own lives, we are to put God’s standards first, resisting the temptation to compare our lives to others, and ignoring the praise that may skew an honest look at our own goodness.

In verse 5 Paul says, “Each will have to bear his own load”. In other words, before God both COMPARISON TO OTHERS, and PRAISE FROM OTHERS has no weight. Only what we have done with what we have been given comes into play. That is, at least, when it comes to evaluating how successfully we have been conforming to our Lord’s will.

Thankfully, it is not our success in being more Christ-like that saves us from hell. What Christ did on the cross, in our place, THAT is what washes our sins away.
In verses 6-10 Paul moves on to another area of interacting with our fellow Christians.

Galatians 6:6-10 (ESV)

Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches. Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. 10 So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.
Here Paul speaks about how we interact with the Gospel message itself. When Paul says, “Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches”, he’s directing us to put the Gospel ministry first in our lives by supporting the teachers who teach it.

We put this into practical application when we pay our pastors and teachers. We don’t pay them by the hour, for how could we put an hourly value on the word of God? Instead, we simply supply what our called workers need so that they can keep leading us into God’s Word.

Again, Paul look both out and in. Looking out he says, the Gospel student should share all good things with his Gospel teacher. Looking in, Paul says, let’s make sure that we’re putting our efforts into planting Gospel behavior into our lives instead of planting the seeds of sinful behavior.

Paul imagines the life of a Christian like a field ready for seed. If we spend our energy following our sinful desires, we’re planting seeds that will grow up and fill our lives with corruption.

A recently heard a preacher say, “The price of a sin is never posted out in the open”. Sometimes we think of sin like it’s not connected to anything. Like it won’t have consequences if someone else doesn’t see it. But that’s just nonsense. Sin is poison. Sin is acid. Every sin has a consequence. Even if nobody sees it, it still destroys and eats away God’s will for our lives. Or to follow Paul’s image, each sin, though it lies invisible in the field will grow up into a noxious weed if left to do so.

The wisdom of the Holy Spirit teaches us to plant good seed instead. Often, doing the right thing goes unnoticed by others. Sometimes it even leads to judgment that comes from others. Sometimes it leads to some kind of personal loss. We file our taxes honestly, and don’t get as much money in our tax return. We hold our tongue from gossiping, and fail to get attention for a juicy story. But Paul says, Don’t worry! Doing the right thing is just like farming—you gotta wait for the good stuff to grow up before you get to harvest it. But the harvest WILL be yours if you don’t abandon the field.

Christians, let’s listen to what the Spirit says through Paul, and not grow tired of doing our Savior’s will. Eventually, we will see what is produced by planting to the Spirit. Maybe it’ll be the respect of others who see our quiet character. Maybe it’ll be the inner self-control that grows stronger when it is exercised. Maybe it’ll be the praise that comes from God in heaven when he says,

“Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord” (Matthew 25:23 NKJV).

Either way, when we put shoulder behind the Gospel message, or into cultivating Gospel behavior, we can expect good things to come from it. That is the promise of God!
In the final verses of Galatians, Paul revisits the main reason he began writing this letter in the first place—to counter the effects of the fake gospel of earning forgiveness from God, and to hold high the grace of Jesus, which is our only hope.

Galatians 6: 11-18 (ESV)

11 See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand. 12 It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh who would force you to be circumcised, and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. 13 For even those who are circumcised do not themselves keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh. 14 But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15 For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. 16 And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.
17 From now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.
18 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen.
Again Paul looks out, and in. When he looks out he sees the false teachers that had filtered into the congregations of Galatia. These false teachers were people who were not putting “First Things First”. They were Jews who wanted to be associated with the name “Christian”, but who didn’t want their more strict Jewish friends to persecute them for it. So they tried to mix the Gospel of free forgiveness from Christ with the work-righteousness teachings of Judaism. It sounds strange to our ears today, but they were telling the Christian men in Galatia that they needed to become circumcised if they really wanted God’s forgiveness. If these false teachers  could just win over the Galatian Christians, they could brag about it to others, and they could avoid persecution for being Christ-followers.

It’s a sad thing when people let the opinions of others paint over the clear Word of God. It’s a sad thing when people let fear of persecution lead them away from the grace of God.

That’s what Paul saw when he looked out at the false teachers in Galatia. But when Paul looked in to his own soul, he saw the faith that the Holy Spirit had worked in his heart by the Gospel of Christ. He saw a heart that had been moved to lift Christ up over all things. He expresses this fact by saying that as far as he was concerned the godless world was dead to him, and he was dead to the godless world. Christ was his boast! Christ was the source of his new spiritual life!

Paul couldn’t care less if the world judged of his personal faith, because he knew that God cherished and cared for him. Paul couldn’t care less what persecution came his way, because he knew that in Christ, his final destination was the Father’s house in heaven.

Let’s absorb Paul’s attitude and make it our own. We have the same great Savior after all. A Savior who put us first. We’re dirty, floundering, back-sliding sinners. But he put our sins on his holy shoulders, and declared us the Children of God. He put us first. Let’s revel in that grace. Let’s live in it each day, lifting up our successes to glorify God, and bringing our sinful failures to him to receive cleansing.

Let’s put first things first—and stand in the Gospel always.

Today we close our meditation on Galatians with the final words the Spirit inspired Paul to write. Words written both for the Galatian Christians, and for us…

“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers and sisters. Amen” (Galatians 6:18 ESV).

No comments:

Post a Comment