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Liberated From Legalism pt 23 [10-10-21]

October 10, 2021

Galatians 5:13-15

"Liberated from Legalism"

Here's something from the worship bulletin from the funeral service of a wonderful Christian woman who died last month. Her family wrote:

God calls us to be {servant} Christians. Mom lived her life this way and was always giving to everyone around her. Use her life as an example of how to live our lives. Next time you start to get upset or question the world around you, pray immediately for God to lead your actions and give you opportunities to show God's love to the world. Showing God's love to everyone would be the best way to honor mom's life. We love each and every one of you, just as mom did. May God bless your lives as we continue to show the world God's love.

That was beautifully put. And it's exactly the point…the huge point…Paul makes in these few verses in chapter 5.

Here's the main point of Galatians 5:13-15:

Through Love Be Servants of One Another.

The logic is simple:

  1. "For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters."

  2. "Do not use your freedom as an opportunity of the flesh." Negative command.

  3. "But through love serve one another." Positive command.

If we don't do these things, we will self-destruct. If we do these things, we will fulfill the law. That's where true joy is found.

Here's what I mean when I say if we don't love others as we have been loved, we poison ourselves. Paul brutally lays this out in 1 Corinthians 13:3:

If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Paul simply builds on what Jesus said in John 15:13:

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.

How do we love others? How do we love not only family and friends, but

also those with whom we sometimes or oftentimes disagree? How do we love our enemies? We love them the way Jesus loved us…sacrificially…with servant-minded love. Which is why Paul says, in 1 Corinthians 13:3, that you can do all kinds of things that look like love, and even lay down your life, but if you are not truly motivated by servant-hearted love, you can be lost forever.

The place to start is with meeting people's needs. Jesus is deeply aware of and concerned for the needs of people. Both physical and spiritual. He demonstrated this during his short three years of public ministry. He demonstrated it not only through his actions, but also in his parables and teachings. People across the political spectrum work to follow Jesus' example. Whether it's protecting unborn babies or feeding the hungry or ministering to those in prison or providing tutoring help for children struggling to read or filling Christmas boxes for Operation Christmas Child or helping people pay for their utilities…the list goes on and on…we follow Jesus' example of concern for the needs of people.

Here's Paul's point in 1 Corinthians 13 - "If I give away all I have, and if I

deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing." - you can fight for poverty programs or the unborn or any other types of godly good acts, but if you don't have a heart of love, then all those things are meaningless. You can go to hell in spite of doing so much good. Neither godliness nor righteousness can ever be equated with a political agenda or a social justice agenda if they don't flow out of a heart that loves as Jesus Christ loves. Christianity is always and primarily about a power that radically changes hearts.

Here's something I don't want you to write down:

"I am saved by faith regardless of whether I love people or not."

As we saw last week, "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love." Here's what you might want to write down:


Over and over and over again, Paul says the good we do can never earn

God's favor or blessing or love. The good we do is an expression of the

love of God that is in our hearts. "Through love serve one another."

So what does that look like?

Here's where it gets fun.

Paul makes a distinction between fullness and emptiness.

The works of the flesh are all about emptiness. When Paul talks about "flesh" he's not talking about our physicality. He is talking about the unspiritual life of the whole person. That "flesh" is not free. A person of the flesh is always seeking something to fill its emptiness. They use their own power to find meaning and purpose. To say, for example, that you need someone to complete you is to say you are a gaping hole of spiritual or emotional need and you will drain the other person to make yourself whole.

Run, do not walk, from anyone who brings that to a relationship. That's why the old movie line, "You complete me," is creepy and barfy.

The flesh grasps after anything and everything to fill an emptiness which only Christ can fill. So when Paul says, "Do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh," he means don't turn back from the freedom you have in the all-satisfying Christ. Flee from the emptiness of trying to make yourself whole.

Instead, through love, serve others. When we are full in Christ, love flows out of our lives in a symphony of service. As Martin Luther put it:

"The Christian must take {on} the form of a servant…serve, help, and in every way deal with your neighbor as…God through Christ has dealt…with you."

We find our freedom in servant love.

So, how is servant love expressed? Paul states its full expression in verse 14: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."

We are familiar with that expression. Even people who don't know it comes from Jesus have heard it. "Love your neighbor as yourself." Probably one of the most misapplied sayings of Jesus in the past 50 years or so. Our therapeutic culture has taken it to be an appeal to self-esteem. But that couldn't be wronger. Jesus understood that all people love themselves, in one way or another. The Bible knows self-centeredness. Love of self isn't the issue. Notice the way Jesus put it. He didn't say you shall love yourself as you love your neighbor. Jesus didn't have to command love of self. What he had to command, and what Paul reinforces, is love of self means the strong interest you have in your own health and safety and happiness must be extended to your neighbor. Love your neighbor as yourself.

In other words, use all the creativity and energy and determination to do good things for others that you use in doing good things for yourself. Care about what happens to others as much as you care about what happens to yourself. Think about it. As you look around this sanctuary, and as you leave this place and see people you know and even people you don't know, you are going to desire the same happiness for them that you desire for yourself. We are liberated from legalism in order to lovingly serve others.

Here's how that plays out in practical ways. Paul alludes to this in verse 15.

Aim for kindheartedness. In all things. That's challenging, right?

Here's why that's challenging. We all know people who are hard to like. I call them "EGR" people. That's where that heart overflowing with love comes in handy. Every family has a person like that. And if you don't know who that person is in your family, guess what? It's probably you. But that's okay. When you're here, you're loved. "EGR" given me has gotten me out of a few scrapes I've gotten myself in.

Relationships are challenging. So Paul says loving your neighbor as yourself will keep you from devouring one another. Let's face it, people don't always see eye-to-eye. We disagree at times. Sometimes we say things we ought not say. Sometimes we say things that need to be said. Sometimes we do what the Bible commands, speaking the truth in love. Sometimes we're less than elegant with our words. Sometimes we hold vastly different opinions in things that matter to us. You get my point. These are the tight spots where loving your neighbor as yourself has deepest impact.

I love how John Calvin summarizes verse 15:

How unhappy, how mad it is, that we who are members of the same body

should voluntarily conspire together for mutual destruction.

Or how about the way one woman, named Izzy, captures it:

"Always being offended is not a virtue - it is a sign of an idolatrous heart."

See the discipline it takes to love your neighbor as yourself? Biting and devouring one another is what happens when you give in to the desires of the flesh.

Make no mistake. None of this is about being disagreement-free or mistake-free in our relationships. It is about being free of the desires of the flesh. How do we negotiate and navigate our disagreements and mistakes?

Here's what that means. I am going to drop some advice and insight that is golden. Do with it what you will, but ignore it at your own peril.

In the spirit of Galatians 5:13-15, I encourage you to drop two phrases from your vocabulary.

Without getting into details, once, about four years ago, I said something

to someone about a personal situation that was neither mean nor judgmental. It was simply my perception of relational dynamics. Is that vague enough? I held no malice and it would not change decisions that had to be made moving forward. I basically said, "You need to understand this is how I see things."

Over the years, I've learned that sometimes people operate under the false assumption that pastors cannot speak assertively and directly. The response I got back was, "How dare you talk to me that way." The old how dare you.

What you need to know is that how dare you is born of an idolatrous heart. It speaks of self-centeredness. How dare you say something that I disagree with or that is critical of me. How dare you indicates that there is something so special about me that you have to watch what you say to me or around me. How dare you assumes the position that in all I say, believe, or do, I am above questioning or reproach.

Let the love of Christ that is in your heart push out any semblance of how

dare you.

The second phrase to deep six is shame on you. It's cousin is, you should be ashamed. You want a relationship or a conversation roadblock? Throw one of those into the mix. What those mean is, you should be ashamed that you disagree with me. Or you should be ashamed that you made a mistake or said something you wish you could take back. What kind of relationships would we have if we went around shaming others for things we excuse in ourselves?

In the place of how dare you or shame on you, Paul gives us the response of love. 1 Thessalonians 3:12 says, "And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you."

God has poured out on Covenant Church, for over 9 years, His Spirit of love. Most of us, most of the time, are living out of the words of Galatians 5:13-15. We are motivated to share life together out of the fullness of the joy which is in our hearts. We are abounding more and more in love for one another. What drives us forward in ministry to each other and our

community is absolute confidence in the love of God.

That is the fullness out of which we serve and love.


To the Glory of God Alone!

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