Galatians 5:1, 13-25
PRAY: Lord, we approach your throne humbly. Calm our hearts and our minds, that we may hear you Your word and see Your will. May the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts be pleasing to you. Amen.
A few years ago I was attending an outreach that my church was involved in, handing out meals and praying for people. At the end, we gathered around and talked a little and prayed to close the night. And one of the ladies that showed up, a sweet sweet lady, shared that she was actually feeling really down that day, she was just having one of those days and she needed to feel better...so she came to help with the mission because she knew that it would make her feel good. Everyone around nodded and chimed in with the appropriate “mm’s” of agreement as she told her story.
But what this woman said struck me as slightly odd and stuck with me for a few weeks. I didn’t want to overanalyze what she had said or how she had been feeling...but I had this tiny feeling gnawing away at me. Did she just say that she came to serve so that she would feel...good? Was I getting that right?
So here Paul is making a distinguishing statement, a very big one: “the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh...” I want to just let that sit for a bit before we dive into details about what that means. God’s will, where His Spirit leads us...it doesn’t typically line up with what our flesh wants. Pretty straight forward.
And then, in verses 19-25, Paul “boldens” his line for us, separating flesh from Spirit. He almost makes it easy to point to things and say this is a sin and this is not a sin. But we all know that we live in a world that is not entirely black and white...and, when it comes down to some topics, it would seem that neither is the Bible. And maybe, just maybe, this is one of those topics...sometimes.
Throughout his letters, Paul talks about envy and jealousy and anger, sexual impurity and idolatry, drunkenness, and stealing and even arguing...some things that we wholeheartedly jump into agreement with and some we don’t. But I actually don’t want to spend too much time with that today. We all know that there can be discussion after discussion after sermon after lecture and more discussion on what exactly some of those things mean, and there should be discussion on those things we do in the name of flesh.
But sometimes, that line between flesh and Spirit isn’t so clear...sometimes we accidentally blur that line. So, what happens when we do things that make us feel good in the name of God? Is there such a thing as fulfilling both the Spirit and the flesh at the same time? What happens when we start fulfilling our desires of the flesh...with church? It sounds a little backwards - maybe even a little impossible. Well, we’re human, which means we’ve found some way to take church and worship and servanthood and, from time to time, make it for ourselves.
Now, I want to be honest with you, I’m probably going to ask a lot more questions than I will make statements. Which means you will be left asking a lot more questions...but don’t run away! Questions are good. We need more questions.
Just before Paul really starts to define between Spirit and flesh, he refers to the new commandment Jesus gave: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” And he says that we are called into freedom, that for freedom Christ has set us free! Well, this is absolutely wonderful news! Why shouldn’t we enjoy that? Why shouldn’t we feel good about that? Can’t we worship and love and fulfill our call while feeling great about it? Absolutely! So what’s the problem?
Well, Paul warns us to not use our freedom for self-indulgence. Okay...what is self-indulgence? Where does it happen? When does it happen? Is it selfishness? Is it using our free time solely for personal enjoyment? Is it just things outside of Jesus and Bible study and church? Or is it being controlling with a vision? Is it giving because it makes us feel good? Is it singing a song because it makes us feel better, makes us feel worth something, makes us feel loved?
Is self-indulgence walking into a church and asking “what does this church have for me” instead of asking “what can I do with and for this church? What can I do for God in this place”? The church is a place we come to be fed and to be challenged... But to be fed and challenged for what means? To come back the next Sunday and be fed more and be challenged more? To be challenged in an encouraging way or for more topics for personal pondering? Or is it to have strength and to have knowledge and to have ability to go out and DO; to go out and LOVE.
A church represents many different things to many different people, just as God is many things to many people: a shelter for the homeless, safety for the broken, relief for the tired and weary, joy and comfort in times of hardship. And we ALL have been, are, or will be those things at some point in our lives and we all have benefited from the kindness and care and love of a church...but at another point God asks us to be a part of that.
He invites each of us to join Him in His work, to give back, to be the one to serve the tired and to help heal the broken, to be a family to the homeless. And that “point” may not be when we are feeling completely healed and renewed. It might not be the “best time” for our schedules. And it might not be very glamorous and energizing; in fact, it might be dirty and tiring. It might be frustrating, it might make us nervous, it may even put us in danger...In all honesty it may feel like it isn’t fulfilling the Spirit or the flesh! So why do we do it?
Joy through fulfilling our call as Christians and serving others is a very real thing. And it’s not a bad thing! In fact, it’s a wonderful thing- it’s a joyous thing!! Just like worshipping is a wonderful, encouraging and joyous thing. But we don’t worship because we need to be encouraged. Are we are called to feel better? Or are we called to worship because we worship a God who deserves to be worshipped-period- no matter what? Do we serve because it makes us feel good that we are doing our part? Or because we are called to serve- regardless of how it makes us feel, of how difficult it may be- because God asks us to take care of the poor, the widow, and the orphan?
So, after Paul talks about self-indulgence, he calls us to become slaves to one another through love, just as Jesus commanded us. Loving can be fun; it can be fulfilling and exciting and adventurous. But it can also be difficult, it can be challenging, and sometimes we just don’t feel like it.
There’s a very popular book called The 5 Love Languages. And the book describes 5 general love languages that people have. Now, the book is actually for couples, but a lot of what is said really just appeals to who we are, personally, individually, at the core of our being; it’s about how we accept and give love. The 5 love languages are:
1) Words of Affirmation
2) Acts of Service
3) Gift Giving/Receiving
4) Quality Time
5) Physical Touch
So after you’ve read the book you take this quiz and it tells you what your primary, and possibly secondary, love language is. Now, most conversations I’ve had with people are “this is how I love” and “this is how you can love me” because that’s what the book focuses on and those are called our love languages. And as I was listing off these languages I’m sure most of you were putting yourself into one or two of those categories.
But I want to stop you for a second. If we act in the way we want to love somebody, then isn’t that a little easy? Not that that’s a bad thing. How we express our love for each other is a wonderful thing and the fact that we each do it in our own way, according to who we are, is beautiful. And it is wonderful to receive love the way someone wants to love us and sometimes it’s hard to receive love the way they want to love us.
But, I think, really, the things that we don’t think about doing, the things that are hardest for us to remember or to do...but are willing to do for someone...that is our TRUE love language. That is when we know it is not about us! A true love language is what you are willing to do despite yourself, despite your feelings of accomplishment or fulfillment. Despite our flesh. THAT is when we have become a slave through love- when time is short, when money is low, when tension is high......when we are willing to do what is hardest for us, no matter how small or big, to show someone that they. Are. Loved.
If you don’t know, siblings love to ask other siblings to do things, and, typically, it’s something they don’t want to do. Like, open the window when they’re both sitting equal distances from said window or go get the mail or do the dishes...well, I am the 4th of 6 kids and I became very familiar with conversations that consisted of the question “why?” and the response, “because” and, the ever intelligent retaliation “because why?” If it was not my responsibility, if it wasn’t my turn, why should I have to do it? Why would I want to do it? “Because why?” Well, the typical end-all response became “because Mom said so”. And I wanted Mom to be happy. Maybe sometimes it was a little out of fear ;) ...but mainly, it was love. And it was also the joy of knowing I had done something, even something as small as opening the window, for someone that loves me because they simply asked.
And sometimes it’s going to be hard to open that window or to make time or to give our tithes ...sometimes it might feel like a burden...and we ask ourselves over and over again “because why?”...
It is such a strange thing, at least to the world, to speak of freedom and slavery with such joy, with such responsibility, with such harmony. But in the Spirit, it makes perfect sense. When we act in the Spirit we do not have to be afraid of the question “why?” And we can respond with confidence, knowing that we are not serving our flesh, but acting as a slave through love for one another, through love for our God, through love for the one who gave His only Son for our freedom.
In any form of worship we need to ask ourselves are we worshipping because “He is” or because “we are?” Whether it be serving, giving, preaching, or singing- whether it be alone or with a significant other, with friends, or with strangers- whether it be inside the walls of a church or out on the street or in the very, very humid metros of Paris. Are we seeing the difference between acting out of saying “YOU ARE” verses “I AM”? Are you catching that? The difference between acting out of an attitude of “You are wonderful” verses acting out of “I am blessed”, between “You are loving” and “I am loved”. Are we seeing the difference between acting out of the truth of who He is verses how good what he has done makes us feel? Self-indulgence is an injustice to our identity of freedom through what this powerful, amazing, awesome God has done, and it can happen anytime and anywhere.
Saying yes to the gospel message and the freedom we are given is not a pass in this broken world we live in- it’s not always going to be candy and flowers. We will still get hit with the ups and downs of life. But in the hardship, in the chaos, in the midst of darkness, we can know that we worship a powerful, living, moving God- period. That is why we serve him and sing His praises and love our neighbor. And after all of who He is comes the fact that we are loved, that we are saved, that we are free.
Paul writes that the fruit of the Spirit contrast that of flesh. So, whether it be in our relationship with a significant other, a friend, a stranger, or with God...when we act in love, joy, peace, or patience it is in the Spirit. That when we act in kindness, goodness, faithfulness and gentleness it is in the Spirit. And when we act in self-control it is in the Spirit; for just as the Psalmist wrote: “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from You....”
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit....Amen
Endless verses tell us of who the God we worship is and that he should be praised because “He is.” But He is also a God who does, who acts, who moves. And He is calling us to act and move with His Spirit. “Now may the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in harmony [and freedom] with one another, that together you may glorify God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.