February 26, 2019

Pre-Lent 2 - 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

Find Meaning in the “Theater of Pain”
1. The weaknesses of our bodies sustained by Christ’s strength
2. The weaknesses of our souls sustained by Christ’s grace

In a magazine on leadership, a pastor wrote about a story from his younger days in the ministry. He said that in his early 30's he began to experience sharp pain from migraine headaches. The thing about these headaches is that they became predictable, almost down to the very hour. The pastor remarked how the headaches would come during the month of May in every even-numbered year. They came on around 1:00 in the morning every other night and lasted about three weeks. Then they stopped until the next year. The pastor said he had four sequences of migraines that matched this schedule.

He went to see a specialist for more answers and to his surprise he found out that it was quite a common problem for young men in leadership roles. The specialist said that these incidents were marked by two commonalities – young men who were not at peace with themselves and had unresolved relationship issues. It turns out for the pastor that the relationship most unsettled was actually his relationship with God. When he took the time to draw nearer to God for his own personal faith, the physical pain subsided. When looking back on the problem, the pastor summarized his quest woth one question that needed answering: What does God want to teach me while I’m in the theater of pain?

That’s an interesting way to phrase the situation, but it’s also appropriate. We know God is loving. We know God is powerful. Why would He use pain to instruct? The very idea of our God connected to a theater of pain sounds absurd. And yet, the pastor learned the lesson and grew in his faith through it. The Lord used the pain to bless him, as He continues to do for so many others. Today, we explore that question for ourselves – how do we find meaning in the “theater of pain,” through another example, this time from the Bible and from the life of the Apostle Paul. We read from 2 Corinthians 12:9-10:

But he [Jesus] said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 

Paul was on the defensive here. He knew the Corinthians well. He helped establish the congregation. He lovingly admonished them in his first letter over a number of open and immoral sins. Yet, after all he had done for them, as a pastor, leader, and fellow Christian; near the end of his second letter here he was on the defensive. Paul was on the defensive because new teachers had entered the congregation. Paul called them “super-apostles,” or to put it another way, “teachers above and beyond.” He gave them this title because they spoke so much about their greatness. Paul was on the defensive because the Corinthians were listening to these false teachers and ignoring Paul. He was old news to them. He wasn’t relevant anymore. His message didn’t resonate with them. He wasn’t worth the time.

But the danger was that these super-apostles were not really apostles of Christ. Paul expressed his concerns for the Corinthians in this way, 2 Corinthians 11:3-4 But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. 4 For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted-- you may well put up with it!

Part 1

So, on the defensive, both for his ministry and for the faith of the Corinthians, Paul gets personal. He takes a page out of the playbook of these super-apostles and boasts about his accomplishments. If anyone wanted to measure Paul’s worth based on qualities, or things given to God in the name of the ministry, he had quite a resume. In 2 Corinthians 11, Paul doesn’t hold back in his experiences as an apostle: 

·       in labors more abundant,
·       in stripes above measure,
·       in prisons more frequently,
·       in deaths often.
·       From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one.
·       Three times I was beaten with rods;
·       once I was stoned;
·       three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep;
·       in journeys often,
o   in perils of waters,
o   in perils of robbers,
o   in perils of my own countrymen,
o   in perils of the Gentiles,
o   in perils in the city,
o   in perils in the wilderness,
o   in perils in the sea,
o   in perils among false brethren;
·       in weariness and toil,
·       in sleeplessness often,
·       in hunger and thirst,
·       in fastings often,
·       in cold and nakedness
·       besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches.  

When the world measures the value of a person’s faith, it’s always done in terms of what they have gone through. Within that system, Paul was an apostle of the highest order. Even the highly regarded super-apostles, praised for their accomplishments, couldn’t hold a candle to Paul. And yet, at the very end of Paul’s list he says this, 2 Corinthians 11:30 If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.

This was a lesson for the Corinthians, but also a confession from Paul. He didn’t want to boast. He wished he didn’t have to defend his apostleship – he had given plenty of evidence in the past to the Corinthians of his love for them, evidence that was so quickly forgotten. And he was concerned for the danger they were hastening after. So Paul did compare. He did boast. But, most important of all – he boasted of his weakness, because in His weakness the power of Christ was exalted.

Almost all of the ordeals that Paul mentioned dealt with his physical life. As Paul transitioned into chapter 12 he mentioned a specific physical ailment that he had. He doesn’t describe it in detail, other than calling it a “thorn in his flesh” and something delivered from Satan. Paul says he pleaded with the Lord three times to relieve this ailment, but the Lord chose not to. And in a direct message, Christ told him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.”

With everything that Paul endured as an apostle, we don’t know why he spoke most directly of this “thorn in the flesh.” He had been through a number of things that many of us will never experience. It might sound easy to say on the surface that none of these things should have been an issue for Paul at all. It might be easy to criticize him as if he didn’t trust in the Lord enough. But those responses are as incorrect as they are heartless. Paul wasn’t complaining that the physical problems are more important than spiritual. He wasn’t doubting God’s grace or strength. Rather, like all sinful and forgiven mortal humans, Paul felt the connection between his body and his soul.

Ultimately, all believers know what is most important in life, and all believers trust that nothing can take away the love of Christ that promises eternal life. But it’s natural to feel the pain of physical burdens too. What happens to our natural bodies has an effect of the status of our souls. And as children of God who trust that He works everything for the best in our lives, we ponder the same questions about finding meaning in the theater of pain. Paul tells us what he learned. His strength was found in His almighty and powerful Savior and that strength was displayed to its fullest extent in the moments where Paul suffered the most. By grace we can say the same.

Like Paul, you can boast in your weaknesses. Don’t be like the super-apostles. They tried to mask their weaknesses in the vanity of their own strength. But, that thin veil was sure to rip apart under extreme trial. What might your thorn in the flesh be? You don’t have to feel ashamed about it. Don’t worry if others ignorantly try to minimize your struggles. Only you will ever know the full extent of its effect. But also learn and accept the greater lesson by faith. Whatever you go through, God is stronger. You become a stronger person too, the greater your weaknesses are evident, not because of who you are, but because of who Jesus is. And so in any state, there is always hope in His name.

Part 2

God is in control and cares for our physical lives. He is able to use His almighty power to take away our problems. Yet, there is so much more to our relationship with God than just these simple points. And without a deeper understanding of God grace, as well as His power, we will never find an answer to that question of understanding the theater or pain. Remember, Jesus said no to Paul’s prayer of deliverance three times. Remember, Paul did not boast in his mission of deliverance being accomplished, but instead in his abundant weaknesses. And most of all, remember what Jesus said to Paul. “My grace is sufficient.”

Grace is not a gift for our bodies. It’s a blessing that applies to the soul. Grace is what changes our hearts so that we can say with Paul, “When I am weak, then I am strong.” Grace may not change any of the details of our physical lives. To the untrained observer, there may seem to be no change. And yet, grace moves obstacles that are insurmountable to our own efforts. This is part of the amazing miracle of God’s love in Christ. It defies observation just as much as it defies Satan’s ploys. It seems ordinary and insufficient but in reality it unlocks untold treasures of eternity. And so just as Jesus said, so Paul believed. “My grace is sufficient for you.” We’ve described grace to some extent. Let us move on to the second feature of that promise that defies expectation – Christ’s grace is sufficient. 

The thought of sufficiency means to bring an activity to completion, and not only to end it, but to complete it in the best way possible. This was the same word spoken by Christ on the cross, at the height of his physical and spiritual suffering – in the moment of being forsaken by His righteous Father, Jesus declared, “It is finished.” Literally, it is sufficient. Jesus completed the task that was necessary for the salvation of the world – in the fullest way possible and in the best way possible. He was the acceptable sacrifice. Through faith, our sufficiency flows from Christ’s. Just as the Father put His divine approval on Jesus as the payment for sin, so also Jesus now has the power to declare that His love and mercy is approved to cover your problems. No matter what you face, whether a pain of body or soul, you are made complete in Christ’s grace.

Now the third amazing aspect of this promise. My grace is sufficient for you. Here’s where we see more than just the power of God’s grace. Sure, it can cover any sin, it can erase any mistake, it can blot out any transgression, it can heal any disease, or bind up any broken heart. But, I propose this is where it means the most – that it for you. If Christ was not for you, nothing else would matter. Grace becomes tender and personal when we see that God promises it for you. That’s when we can finally lower our defenses and trust God, when we see Him as both divine Lord and merciful Savior, who knows and calls us each by name.

So, how do we understand the theater of pain that so often afflicts our bodies and souls? Paul’s answer is surprising but also spot on. When I am weak, then I am strong. Not because of any boast I can make of my life. But because my sufficiency is from Christ. When He says, “My grace is sufficient for you.” I can trust that, because He verified that promise with His own life.

That doesn’t mean you won’t feel pain, or you won’t be touched by sorrow. Quite the contrary in fact. You might suffer more for being one of Christ’s. But, what it does mean is that you are complete, no matter how you might feel like your lacking. And it means you have a truth worth hanging onto – for eternity in fact. Amen.

February 20, 2019

Transfiguration Sunday - Exodus 3:1-6

Theme: The Significance of the Sacred
  1. God’s Reveals Himself
  2. A Departure not an Arrival
  3. Sinners are Sanctified
    Dear friends in Christ,

    Is anything sacred?

    Philosophers, theologians, historians, and many others have asked that question throughout history. The idea of something sacred holds much mystery and fascination for people. For religious people, the sacred is connected to the spiritual. Others doubt or question the sacred in this sense because the spiritual eludes our observation and understanding. But, no matter how we define the sacred, we all have it in some way. The simplest way to understand the sacred is what is in most important to each of us. What do you honor or value more than anything else? The answer to that question reveals what is sacred to you.

    Another reason people question this is that there are so many cheap things that are sacred. Money, possessions, power, control, and experiences are often what people hold dearest to their hearts – yet they are hollow of true holiness. The Bible doesn’t pose the question, “Is anything sacred?” Rather, it cuts to the point by declaring again and again that God is sacred. The Bible’s idea of sacredness in the person of God does not disappoint or leave us wanting more. It fulfills our lives. Today’s text from God’s Word is a glimpse into the sacred, as defined, described, and given by God Himself. We read from Exodus 3:1-6: 

    Meanwhile, Moses was shepherding the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian. He led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 Then the Angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire within a bush. As Moses looked, he saw that the bush was on fire but was not consumed. 3 So Moses thought: I must go over and look at this remarkable sight. Why isn't the bush burning up? 4 When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called out to him from the bush, "Moses, Moses!" "Here I am," he answered. 5 "Do not come closer," He said. "Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy ground." 6 Then He continued, "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." Moses hid his face because he was afraid to look at God. (HCSB)

    Part 1: God Reveals Himself

    The Transfiguration of Christ is an event about the sacred. What greater example is there in the Bible of Jesus displaying His glory and holiness? It was present both in His divine conversation with Moses and Elijah and also in His physical appearance. Here in Exodus, we see a similar display through the burning bush. And on top of this all, God Himself tells Moses, "Do not come closer," "Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy ground." Here we see the sacred. But what makes it so?

    First, we see that God reveals Himself. Even in religious contexts, the sacred is so often relegated to worldly things. We see this in the great religions of the world, with certain branches of Christianity notwithstanding. In the most popular religions of the world, the sacred centers on worldly things that are perceived to be special in some way. Things like: relics, shrines, pilgrimages, buildings, monuments, and even people (called saints) who are considered to be holy. Yet, no matter the pomp or circumstance these are still earthly things.

    Even secularists, who claim no official religious creed have their own versions of the mundane sacred. For many it is natural world. Beautiful and spectacular as it may be, yes, even the world itself is still worldly.

    The Bible says the truly sacred is about God revealing Himself, and it should be respected as such. It’s not that Moses’ removal of his sandals somehow made him holy enough to approach God. Instead, God was teaching Moses to be respectful of His presence. How does that play out in our lives? Well, God doesn’t show Himself in a burning bush. Jesus isn’t walking the earth anymore. To answer this in our lives, we ask again, the overarching question – How does God reveal Himself to us?

    The answer is clear and we have learned in from our youth – God reveals Himself in His Word. God tells us 2 Timothy 3:15 and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. (2Ti 3:15 NKJ) A subset of that revelation through the Bible is the Sacraments – Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. God gives special characterizations to these blessings which indicate that they reveal His presence to us. Therefore, we appropriately called them Sacraments, meaning “sacred acts.”  

    Part 2: More about a Departure than an Arrival

    The second aspect we see about the sacred is another Transfiguration theme. In the Scripture accounts for today we certainly see displays of God’s glory. But maybe you didn’t realize that we also see a theme of departure.   

    Our text here is pretty obvious. It comes from the book of Exodus, meaning departure. God is calling Moses here for the purpose of freeing His people from Egypt. The meaning of Moses’ call would be realized when Israel, as a nation, departed Egypt and returned to the Promised Land. Two weeks ago we read the account from Exodus where they crossed the Red Sea, what was perhaps the most dramatic event along the way home.

    Inside this text we also see a personal exodus for Moses. Up unto this point he has tried to manipulate God’s plan in His life. He murdered and hid. He denied and doubted. But here the LORD was not going to have any more excuses. It was time for Moses to step out of his shell of self-reliance and trust God.

    The other themes of departure in the Gospel and Epistle accounts are not as easy to see, but they are certainly there. In Luke 9:31 we’re told what Jesus, Moses, and Elijah talked about; who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. You may have guessed that the Greek word for “departure” in these verses is literally “exodus.” Yes, Jesus was on the brink of His own departure when He was transfigured on the mountain. This exodus was His death on the cross. Ultimately, the exodus from Egypt was a picture of this exodus from Jesus. Time and time again throughout the Old Testament the prophets of God would remind the people how God delivered them from Egypt; not just as a history lesson, but as reason to hope that God would also fulfill His Messianic promise. When Jesus went to the cross, He delivered all people from sin, death, guilt, and shame. He departed this life so that we could all share in eternal life.

    And, yes, we also see the theme of departure in Peter’s retelling of the Transfiguration. 2 Peter 1:14-15 says, knowing that I will soon lay aside my tent, as our Lord Jesus Christ has also shown me. 15 And I will also make every effort that you may be able to recall these things at any time after my departure. Again, the Greek word for exodus. We see our lives in Peter’s. As sinners, we know that we all face death, if the world lasts long enough. We will go through that same departure that Christ endured. Yet, for the believer, as Peter confesses, this does not leave us in despair. Because Christ died on our behalf, we have hope that death cannot conquer us. We are content by faith, to “lay aside the tent” of our bodies, just as Peter did – because of our confidence in Jesus.

    You see, the sacred is more about a departure than an arrival. The sacred things of the world, the shrines, the relics, the holy places – they all have significance through those who arrive. Worship at the shrine. See the relic. Take a pilgrimage to the holy place. But, with God things are different. Holiness is not bound up in our ability to arrive. Instead, it’s about departure. First Christ’s, which paid for sin and gave me a place in heaven. And then my departure, when I leave this sad world to be in My Father’s house forever.

    Sinners are Sanctified

    So, we too, like Moses come before the Lord’s holiness with respect. We seek to remove the sandals of pride, self-righteousness, pre-conceived notions, and personal opinions. As 2 Corinthians 10:5 says, We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.

    But we also recognize the last point of our sermon – that holy ground sanctifies sinners. That which is truly sacred, namely revealed by God and focused on the departure through Christ our Savior, is able to redeem and restore fallen sinners like us. We respect and obey God, but we do not worry about whether or not we can come to Him. In Jesus we are given access because Jesus is the justifier of the ungodly.

    And with that cleansing, we are given new purpose in our lives. Take Moses as the example. Through this moment with God Moses became a new person. He wasn’t completely perfect to be sure, but he was changed. He was able to follow God’s will. He clung tightly to God’s revelation in power and in word. He led God’s people. He made intercession for sins in God’s name. Moses was changed. The Holy ground sanctified him through God’s presence, power, and mercy.

    The same thing could be said of Peter, James, and John on the mountaintop. They were sinful and foolish. James and John argued about being greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Peter didn’t know what to say on the mountain. He would obviously later deny His Lord and Savior in the most critical moment. But Jesus’ message to them was not one of failure but one of purpose. They were forgiven and cleansed of their sin and their lives were changed to serve and glorify God. That’s holiness in action. It has the ability to change a sinner’s life.

    And so, we come to ourselves. Is anything sacred? If you look at my life, if I look at yours, we probably can’t find much. We’re spiritually disgusting and dirty. We don’t deserve to approach God’s glory and we know it, even if we try to act differently sometimes. But like all the others, even we are forgiven and cleansed in Christ. He shows us the glory of God in the Word and Sacraments – things that seem ordinary and common on the outside but hold divine power and eternal blessings. He has atoned for our transgressions by offering up His life – the departure of His soul and body as well as the departure of His Father’s blessing because of our sins. Jesus was forsaken and despised on our behalf. But as surprising, joyful, and glorious as His resurrection from the grave was, so also our sanctification is surprising, joyful, and glorious. Holy ground is still here – wherever the unconditional grace of our Lord Jesus Christ is proclaimed. And on that ground all sinners find a haven from sin’s storms. Amen.

    February 6, 2019

    Epiphany 4 - Romans 13:8-10

    How to tell the difference between Legalism and Love
    • ·       Start with God’s Love 
    • ·       Test by God’s Word
    • ·       Recover through God’s Son 
    Romans 13:8-10 Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9  For the commandments, "You shall not commit adultery," "You shall not murder," "You shall not steal," "You shall not bear false witness," "You shall not covet," and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." 10  Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
    You might be surprised to learn about the context in which the verses of our text are situated. At the beginning of Romans 13 Paul spoke about Christian conduct in the public forum, especially with respect to secular leaders. By introducing the thoughts of verses 8-10, Paul demonstrates that the law of God has a bearing on how we live and interact in the world around us. The end of chapter 13 talks about the Lord’s final day of judgment, and serves as a reminder that we should all be ready by repenting of our sins and believing in Jesus.

    It’s a strange combination of themes in this chapter, but perhaps one that makes more sense than we may think. We live in a culture that discourages the inter-mixing of our Christian faith with regular life. We have been raised to keep church and state separate, and there are good reasons for this distinction. However, our culture has taken it to an extreme where Christians are routinely maligned and even persecuted for living their faith in Christ and being examples to the world of what God’s inspired Word says. Many of the commandments that Paul lists here are still considered by our society to good for all people to follow. Most, but not all. There are obvious areas in our nation where some of these commandments are blatantly disregarded, or even worse, the sins condemned in them are openly celebrated. It’s in those areas where we need to pay attention, because we will be threatened to suppress our faith.

    This lingering question of how to live as a Christian in a society that does not uphold God’s Word is a difficult one. At times it can feel like we’re constantly back-peddling from assaults against our faith. A major challenge before us as we witness to our world is that we aren’t perfect either. We, who claim to believe in and support these commandments, are just as bad as anyone else at keeping them. That’s a major problem. At the very beginning of our text, Paul tells us Christians to “owe no one anything except to love one another,” yet from the onset we cannot keep that single command, let alone the many others that follow.

    The world to which we witness is well aware of this also. It’s easy to point out the hypocrisy of Christians. We preach a moral standard from God, which we believe all people should follow, yet we can’t do ourselves. The technical term for such behavior is hypocrisy when it’s intentional. The more subtle, less obvious form is called legalism. Legalism is following the commands of God outwardly. It’s doing what is good, not out of love for others, but as a way to look better than others. Think of it as doing the right thing for the wrong reason. The Bible describes legalism as following the letter of the law, but not the Spirit; with spirit meaning either the proper intent or the very person of God who inspired and gives meaning to the Word (Paul used this thought twice in Romans). Legalism is hypocrisy, the very type of hypocrisy that we Christians are most susceptible to. And its presence in our lives is all too common.

    When Paul tells us to owe no one anything except love, legalism is the glaring blemish on our record. What he says in our text seems like a hopeless endeavor. No matter how hard we try, or how well we’re doing, there will always be some form of legalism that trips us up. But, the application of this text is not discouraging – when we see it in the proper way. True enough, if we focus entirely on our lives, our thoughts, our actions, our efforts, our goodness – we find no comfort. But, there is something greater here than legalism – there is love. Love from God and for sinners like us. Yes, even Christians and believers are still sinners, and therefore, yes, we need and long for the love of God. We see today, more than our own mistakes, the difference between legalism and love. We start with God’s love. We test by God’s Word. And we recover through God’s Son.

    Part 1: Start with God’s love  

    When we look at God’s commandments, we often feel burdened, defeated, and desperate. This is natural, because the law convicts us of our sins. The law is the impassable barrier between us and God. That is all true about the law and important to know. But, you can also look at the law from a different perspective. Not your own, but God’s. That’s what I want you to think about immediately today, because that’s the perspective that is given. In contrast to all the condemning notions of the law that we are so familiar with, Paul tells us that the law is about love. Love is the fulfillment, the summation of the law. This is God’s perspective. This is also how we can see the law by faith in Jesus.

    When you start with God’s love, you can see the law as love in your life. From the very first verse we recognize how important this is. Paul writes, Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. When I think about myself in light of that verse, I have no hope. I am not completely blameless, that is, owing nothing. I have tremendous debts and obligations before the law. I also do not love in a fulfilling way. But, when I see this verse from the perspective of my Savior, Jesus, I have hope. Jesus assumed my debt and freed me from my obligations. I can truly be someone who owes nothing because of Jesus. Think of the parable of the unmerciful servant. In my life, I am unmerciful, not extending free forgiveness to others. Yet, Jesus comes into my life through His Word and forgives me of my much greater debt – free of charge! I owe nothing now, through Jesus, and I can show true love in light of the law. Because of God’s love for sinners, there is hope even here. 

    Consider the last verse as well. Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. If I only see myself in that verse, I have nothing. When I see Jesus in it, I have everything. Another way to learn this is by a passage like John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends.” The most common way that passage is interpreted by people is to think of service from person to person; like a firefighter, police officer, or soldier who literal puts their life on the line to save others. Self-sacrifice and love are inherently connected. However, in this verse, Jesus was speaking about Himself. He was describing love from God to people, the kind He would display just hours after He first spoke these words by offering His life on the cross. When we see Jesus’ love, as given by God the Father, we have much more hope that love is the fulfillment of the law. Focusing first and foremost on Jesus also curbs the desire for prideful legalism to enter our hearts.

    Part 2: Test by God’s Word

    It’s so important to always think of God, and what He does, first. But at some point, what God performs must apply to my life or it doesn’t mean anything for me. When it comes to using God’s love in my life – the next step beckons me to test by His Word.

    Here we see that God’s love is not generic and vague. God’s love fulfills the law. Sometimes we struggle to define love. What does it look like? Who can do it? How does it happen? There are so many differing answers to these questions out in the world. But God simplifies it and gives us one answer – love fulfills the law. If whatever thought, word, and action is being tested, if it doesn’t seek to fulfill God’s law it’s not love. Examples are given through the well-known commandments that are listed. But so many of life’s situations fall somewhere below these explicit commands and it takes knowledge and maturity in the Word of God to test things adequately. Because God lets us live in freedom and leaves many decisions to the individual, we don’t want to unduly shackle others with constraints that God Himself doesn’t give. Yet, we also don’t want to leave all matters of truth, morality, and justice up to each person to decide. Love fulfills the law.

    Paul used another word in verse 9 saying, “All the commandments are summed up in one thought – love your neighbor as yourself.” There can be no love without the law, and no law can be fulfilled without love. When we question what we should do in life, or what love really is – God would have us go back again to His Word. It’s our measure or rule for life. It will never change in what it has to say to each and every person in the world. And as we seek to be Christians who are mindful of God’s love for sinners, and as we desire that all people come to know and receive that love by faith in Jesus, we must use the Word of God.

    Part 3: Recover through God’s Son 

    What I’ve said so far is true, and it is a good summary of what Paul is teaching here. In order to show love and avoid legalism, you must be led by God’s love in Christ and you must continually go back to His Word of truth. That is all very true and very important to Christian faith and life. However, there’s something so important, so incredibly vital, that must also be said. The last step is to recover through Jesus.

    Why add this last step? Doesn’t it suffice to say, follow God’s love and God’s Word? That’s true, but this last step is so necessary because you will inevitably mess up the first two. There may be times where you succeed in keeping God’s grace a priority for your faith, and where you are faithful to His Word. But for every successful moment there will be plenty of accompanying mistakes along the way. No matter how strong your faith, no matter how faithful your confession, no matter how pristine your life is, no matter how confident a person you are – you will fail.

    Recover through Jesus. Like resting your body after a long day of work or an excruciating exercise – rest your soul in God’s Son. Rest assured, you’ll need it in life! This last step is so important because it’s often the life-long and well-established Christians who succumb to legalism. Jesus warned near the end of His life, And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold (Matthew 24:12). Lawlessness, especially that which leads to lovelessness, can happen to Christians much easier than we care to admit. And legalism is the vehicle that makes it happen. Legalism breeds under self-righteousness before God’s commandments. Legalism has the form and appearance of Godliness without the substance. And it’s a pitfall for many mature believers and disciples of God’s Word.

    Don’t try to go it alone – find recovery in Jesus. You may know the path. You may desire the sanctified outcome. You may mentally be in-step with God’s Word. But to defeat the sinful pride of legalism, you will always need more. And that is freely given through Jesus. He shows you what true love is. He has given you true love through the cross and by faith. And in those most desperate moments of failure he renews and restores you by that same love. Love is the fulfillment of the law. How blessed we are by God to be able to say and believe that as truth, because Jesus is our Savior who made it so. Amen.