I want to be up-front with you this morning that this weeks sermon prep was weird. For starters, beginning with last Sunday nights “Super Bowl Halftime Show” through about late Tuesday night with the closing of the polls in New Hampshire I was in bed sick as a dog.
While it felt like the flu honestly it may have been the unhealthy mixture of Coldplay, Bruno Mars, and Beyonce that did me in… I mean really… Though great artists individually, let’s be real… No playlist has “Uptown Funk” following “Paradise.”
What also made this week strange was that heading into my study I had every intention of quickly running through verses 10-15 so that we could really dive this morning into the later half of chapter 5, which marks a sort of crescendo for the book of Galatians.
And yet, as I kept chewing on this text, it became clear there was just to much packed into these verses to simply skim through them. Once again that’s no big deal minus the fact I’d already spent two days prepping for a passage I won’t get to this morning!
Beyond that… The direction my study ended up taking took an unexpected turn I was not exactly prepared for. Yes, on February 14th I totally tripped up and fell rather unwillingly into a Valentine’s Day message - which to be honest makes me gag! I hate Valentine’s Day.
The year was 496 AD and the Pope had a problem. Though Christianity was the religion of the Empire certain pagan holidays were still being practiced and celebrated. One such holiday occurred mid-February and was known as Lupercalia, a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus the Roman god of agriculture and one that commemorated the caring of Romulus and Remus (the founders of Rome) by the she-wolf Lupa.
In an elaborate procedure a goat would be sacrificed and its hide cut into stripes. These pieces would then be soaked in blood and gently slapped on women and crops hoping to yield fertility (birth and harvest). What was the Pope to do? While the people loved this holiday, it’s pagan themes were obvious. His answer… Christianize the holiday!
So beginning in 496, February 14th was to be forever known as “St. Valentine’s Day!” Here’s the irony… Though St. Valentine had already been commemorated by the Church no one exactly knew why! The Pope at the time is actually on record as saying concerning Valentine that while his “name is justly revered among men” tragically his “acts are known only to God.”
Interestingly enough what the mystery surrounding the life of St. Valentine allowed was the development of all sorts of legends. Let me share with you two of the most accepted…
One legend contends that Valentine was a priest who served during the third century when Claudius II outlawed marriage for young men deciding that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families. Valentine, realizing the injustice, defied Claudius’ orders and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. When his actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that Valentine be put to death.
Another legend suggests that Valentine was a priest who helped young Christians escape the harsh Roman prisons, where they were often beaten and tortured. According to the legend, after being imprisoned himself, Valentine fell in love with the daughter of the prison master and would express his love by sending her letters (“Valentines”). Before his death, it is alleged that he wrote her a letter signed “From your Valentine.”
Though likely these stories are nothing more than fables, it is true Valentine’s Day quickly came to represent love and was seen as a day of romance. While I always thought this sappy holiday was the creation of Hallmark, Pajama Grams, Build-a-Bear, 1-800-Flowers, or the Restaurant Association of America we instead have the Roman Catholic Church to thank!
What is love? Is love a magical force like the kind that brought together Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan in Sleepless in Seattle, You’ve Got Mail, or the classic Joe Versus the Volcano? Or is love something deeper and more tangible like the love the slow-witted Forrest Gump always demonstrated towards the unstable and destructive Jenny (Robin Wright Penn)?
The truth is that love is two very different but interrelated things we struggle to define and yet ironically articulate with two common, cultural phrases, “I’m in love” and “I love you.”
On one side of the coin, this phrase, “In love” serves to describe a very real, chemically-induced, physical experience when a personal connection triggers the release a cocktail of adrenaline, dopamine, and serotonin into the limbic system of your brain (where you process feelings). For example, when I say, “I’m in love with Jessica” I’m indicating the fact that Jessica triggers a very real, tangible, experience of feelings and emotions in my head.
That said… When love exists as purely an act of biology it is unsustainable. The reason this is the case is that this euphoric feeling within the brain can’t last forever without the brain becoming numb to the increased levels of adrenaline, dopamine, and serotonin. After about 8 months the brain will begin to restrict the release of these chemicals naturally.
Note: This explains why in the “Tom Hanks / Meg Ryan Alternate Universe of Romantic Comedies” they have to keep getting back together in movie after movie. Because of the natural laws of love they will always be trapped in a Groundhogs Day of B-movies.
You see whoever it is that triggers these reactions in my brain cannot indefinitely trigger them. It’s why people who break up or get divorced often say, “I’m no longer in love with _____.” What they’re saying is that since that person is no longer providing this feeling they need to go out and find someone else who can. It’s the same reason people cheat.
Which sadly also explains why cheaters are rarely one time offenders and why second marriages end in divorce an astounding 75% of the time. You see if love is nothing more than a feeling - a pleasure, monogamy is impossible.
And yet (while love is an emotion), on the other side of this coin, this phrase, “I love you” describes not a feeling (though it can be manifested by one), but instead an activity based upon a free-willed decision. Love in this context is a verb. It’s active.
It’s something I’m choosing to demonstrate towards another person relatively independent of that person. And in this sense love (an act of the will and not a feeling) becomes a much deeper, lasting thing. For example… No one could ever question Forrest’s love for Jenny, because even when she hurt and betrayed him he still actively loved her.
This morning I want to put all my cards on the table and say that if your love for your spouse is nothing more than a chemical reaction in your brain (if it’s simple biology), then you will act like an animal and it will be impossible for your relationship to sustain the test of time.
That said… If (in understanding that lasting love is an activity of your will that transcends how you feel) you’re actively trying to love your spouse in your own strength (if it’s simple biology), then you will also find it impossible, frustrating, and counterintuitive. Understand… The only way you can love others (your spouse) is through God’s Amazing Grace.
Let’s get to our text… Paul opens Galatians 5 with the command to “stand firm in the liberty by which Christ has made us free” knowing that it doesn’t take much to “entangled us again with a yoke of bondage.” He says, “A little leaven” is all that’s needed to “leaven the whole lump.” His point… A little corruption in our thinking has the ability to corrupt everything.
Which then explains why Paul asks these Galatians, “Who hindered from obeying the truth.” Notice Paul affirms the fact that legalism (while not only proving detrimental to one’s spiritual life and obedience) does not grow naturally in the life set free by Jesus! He says in verse 8, “This persuasion does not come from Him who calls you.”
Please keep in mind, legalism as a foreign weed unnatural to the Christian life has to be introduced to our ecosystem for it to exist at all. In a sense Paul emphasizes this fact in order to explaining how it is we’re to “stand firm in the liberty…” Be careful who you allow to sow into your life… Who you give the authority to teach you the things of God! Charles Spurgeon once said, “If you remove grace out of the Gospel, the gospel is gone.”
Paul continues by saying… Galatians 5:10-12, “I have confidence in you, in the Lord, that you will have no other mind; but he who troubles you shall bear his judgment, whoever he is. And I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why do I still suffer persecution? Then the offense of the cross has ceased. I could wish that those who trouble you would even cut themselves off!”
It would seem from the context that Paul is addressing another one of these fallacious rumors that had been circulated by these false teachers hoping to add credibility to their Gospel-distortions by claiming that Paul was also “preaching circumcision.” To his defense he points to his suffering at the hands of the Jews as being evidence of the contrary.
This statement “then the offense of the cross has ceased” affirms the true reason Paul “suffered persecution.” This word “offense” in the Greek is “skandalon” from which we get our English word “scandal.” The word refers to “any impediment in the way that causes one to stumble” and is literally descriptive of the “movable stick or trigger in a trap.”
Why is the cross such a deal breaker? The cross tells the world there is a righteous God who will judge humanity for sin. The cross reminds the world that no amount of self-sacrifice can ever justify. The cross illustrates that salvation required God go at it alone. Concerning the powerful nature of Calvary A.W. Tozer observers, “The cross stands high above the opinions of men and to that cross all opinions must come at last for judgment.”
As Paul closes this particular section, he can’t move on without relaying a few thoughts to whoever is was peddling this Gospel distortion in Galatia. Not only does he warn that this person “shall bear his judgment,” but Paul makes it known that he “could wish that those who troubled these Galatians would even cut themselves off!”
Though it’s safe to assume by telling these men to “cut themselves off” Paul is making it clear he didn’t want them to be fruitful or able to reproduce, I think he’s making a profound point by taking their own theology out to its logical extreme in order to show its inconsistency.
Since circumcision was one of the “legalistic works” these false teachers were requiring of these Gentile believers, Paul may be sarcastically saying, “If God is pleased with circumcision then why not show God your full devotion by going all the way!”
Galatians 5:13-15, “For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another!”
For the last two chapters Paul has been contrasting grace and law with the specific intention of hammering home the practical results of each of these two opposite approaches.
Now, in the hopes of nailing down his point once and for all, Paul points out that the greatest difference between receiving God’s favor (Grace) or yearning to earn God’s favor (Law) is ultimately how we end up treating one other as a result.
Notice, Paul says, “For all the law is fulfilled in one word… (Leviticus 19:18) You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” What’s interesting about this particular reference is what’s already assumed… That you first “love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul.” The operative word is “fulfilled” which means “to render full” or “to carry into effect.”
What Paul is saying is that a right relationship with God will immediately and naturally impact the way you treat your fellow man. In a sense Paul is presenting the way we treat one another as a litmus test for whether or not we’re right with God. It’s brilliant reasoning.
The irony of legalism (and the reason we know it fails to make us right with God) is that it sets us against one another. Because our favor and status with God is merit-based, it’s only natural we begrudge those doing better than we are and find pleasure in those who aren’t! Anytime a church community is in disarray it’s a strong indicator legalism has taken root.
It’s why Paul says, “If (literally, “since”) you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another.” His point is that the unloving environment legalism had fostered in these Galatian churches was evidence something had gone awry! Where’s the love?
In contrast to this toxic environment produced by legalism, Paul says, “For you… have been called to liberty” (you are right with God because of His grace) it’s then only natural you “through love serve one another.” “Brethren, this is not the community grace produces!”
Note: The power of grace is not only experienced in the way it transforms my view of self, but grace is made evident in the way it then changes my heart towards others.
This explains Paul’s exhortation “not to use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh.” The word “opportunity” in the Greek is “aphormê” meaning “a place from which a movement or attack is made.” The word literally refers to “a base of operations.”
Paul’s point is that since my “liberty” is “Christ-centric” it will then refuse to be “me-centered” by instead being “others-focused.” Consider… Q: What did Jesus use His liberty and freedom to accomplish? A: Love and serve God and his fellow man.
Before we look at how grace influences love, it’s important you first understand the concept of reciprocation. As we’ve noted grace is a powerful thing for it does in the life of a person what the law proved unable to accomplish… Grace changes a person’s behaviors because it transforms that person’s motivations!
Understand… The tangible power of grace exists in the simple reality that everything in the Christian life is designed to be a reciprocation of a work of God, meaning the power for the Christian life rests solely in Christ’s work and not mine!
Though the law demanded I live a life of obedience to God, how often I found myself frustrated, sorely inadequate, and by in large unable. And why was this the case? Because I was left to my own strength because my motivations were driven by law, not Gospel.
Think about it like this… The quickest test as to whether or not you’re operating in the power of the Grace is to simply ask yourself “why am I doing __________?” The answer to this question reveals your motivations, highlights the source of your strength, and will therefore determine whether that activity is ultimately sustainable.
I serve God. Why? Because He first served me.
I worship (exalt) God. Why? Because He first exalted me by making me a son and heir!
I lay down my life and die to self. Why? Because He first laid down His and died for me.
I forgive others even if they don’t deserve it. Why? Because He forgave me when I didn’t.
I’m generous. Why? Because He’s generously given me all that I have.
I demonstrate mercy to those who deserve my wrath. Why? Because He demonstrated mercy towards me when I deserved nothing but His righteous indignation.
I care for the downtrodden. Why? Because when I was at my lowest Christ stood by my side.
Why should I be patient? Why should I show grace? Why should I be faithful? Why should I prefer the needs of others? Why should I be a witness to the world?
Keep in mind… If the “why” behind any spiritual activity finds its motivation as being anything other than a reciprocation of God’s work in your life brought forth by His grace, it becomes evident that activity is being driven by a Gospel-distortion, rooted in law, leading to bondage, which will only “hinder” your spiritual experience and end in frustration and failure!
Examples of Motivations Driven by Legalism… Seeking to please God, demonstrating devotion to God, being holy before God, earning points with God.
Friend, I’ll repeat… When your motivation for righteous-living becomes anything other than a reciprocation of a work of God, your spiritual life will be stifled because you’re being robbed of the essential power for righteous-living! Since the entire Christian life is built upon reciprocation, it’s therefore only logical that the power for righteous-living is now found in Christ’s work, not yours.
You see when you’re struggling to do any of the things I mentioned (living the Christian life) the remedy isn’t to find some deeper power or motivation within yourself (the answer isn’t knuckling down, manning up, or developing a greater discipline - the lies of legalism), rather the remedy is to return again to God’s amazing grace (the source of spiritual power).
This is why things like studying the Bible, prayer, worship, attending church are so vital to the Christian experience… Each present a mechanism by which your life can be supernaturally influenced by God in order to manifest a reciprocating, Godly action.
You read and study God’s Word. Why? Because a greater knowledge of God leads to greater faith in and love for God, which then naturally results in a life that is now more in tune with and dependent upon God. We go through God’s Word with the desire that God’s Word would go through us and effect a reciprocating change - Godliness! D.L. Moody, “The scriptures are given not to increase our knowledge, but to change our lives.”
Why do you pray? To tell God what’s happening? To instruct God as to the best way He should be acting as God? To give Him unsolicited counsel? Or do you pray with the intention that the time you spend with God fosters an alignment of your heart with His?
Friend, if you’re actively trying to love people in your own strength (if it’s simple biology), then you will find it impossible, frustrating, and counterintuitive because you’re robbing yourself of the only power by which you can truly love - A reciprocation of God’s amazing Grace.
I hope you know your entire spiritual existence began in a simple and singular reality that “He first loved you” which then enables you to “love Him” as response. And yet, this reciprocal work doesn’t stop there… You should love others as a reciprocation of God’s love for you!
I love God. Why? Because God first loved me. I love my enemies. Why? Because when I was His enemy God still loved me. I love my spouse. Why? Never forget the answer to that question of “why” reveals your motivations, highlights the source of your strength, and will determine if your love will indeed last!
In John 13:34-35 Jesus told His disciples, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
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