It is time that we get back to our old friend, the book of Galatians, and pray that we might glean from this powerful little book the lessons the Lord has for us this morning. We’ve taken a four week break from our study of Galatians as we journeyed through the Christmas season with the prophet Isaiah. I hope all of you had the opportunity to study Isaiah 9 with us during the month of December. It was a wonderful four weeks for me as I had the opportunity to come to know the real Gift of Christmas in a deeper and more comprehensive way. Jesus is the gift that endures throughout the ages, the One who transcends all Christmas fads, the Gift that outlasts all of the greenery, tinsel, and bows. He is the Gift that truly keeps on giving and the One who is the“Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and the Prince of Peace.”He has come to free us from the bondage of the Law and break the shackles of sin that have held us captive.
Jesus has not only come to set us free from the taskmaster of the Law, but He has come to free us from ourselves and our propensity to seek “self” first. He has come to transform us from people whose predisposition is selfishness and greed so that our greatest desire is to bless the Lord as we live our lives in service to the Lord and others. He has come to free us from our wants, to loose the chains of envy, and to stir within us a passion to become a servant. In our Scripture for today we are going to take a look at Galatians 5:13-15. Won’t you turn there and let’s begin our study.
13You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. 14The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 15If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.(Galatians 5:13-15 NIV)
Freedom is a word that is understood by different people in different ways. Some understand freedom to be the absence of government oppression. You can visit countries like theSudanwhere religious oppression keeps Christians looking over their shoulder throughout the day and sleeping with one eye open through the watches of the night. You can travel toLibyaand see the consequences of living under the rule of the strong arm dictator Muamar Ghadaffi. In looking at the plights of those in countries such as these you and I can understand why their definition of “freedom” would reflect their heart’s desire to be free from their government’s stranglehold.
For many people in our country “freedom” means the ability to do whatever they wish to do. For these folks freedom is the absence of all constraints and the opportunity to fully express themselves in any way that they want. This desire to be free from all moral constraints is being lived out before our eyes today. I need to mention that this is not simply the mindset of those who run the streets, of swindlers, and scam artists, and crooks. There are many professing Christians who use their freedom in Christ as an excuse to live any way they desire to live. Just this past week I read an article detailing a recent survey by George Barna in which he polled 10,000 Christians about their beliefs and practices. Let me share it with you. Barna says,
While 84% ofU.S.adults interviewed by Barna called themselves Christian, people termed the following actions “morally acceptable”:
· cohabitation (60%)
· adultery (42%)
· sexual relations between homosexuals (30%)
· abortion (45%)
· pornography (38%)
· the use of profanity (36%)
· gambling (61%)
Generation X (people in their 20s to mid30s) is the “the most likely to hold theological views that conflict with the Bible.” Known also as “Busters,” these adults are least likely “to maintain views related to moral behavior that are consistent with the Bible.” They are the least likely to read the Bible, go to church and religious education classes, and pray. They are least likely to serve others, and to tithe to a church. They are the least likely to believe in life after death and most likely to believe we can communicate with dead people. They are far more likely to agree with postmodern lifestyle perspectives. They are the adults most likely to engage in sex without being married. Generation X views are likely to have a tremendous impact on future generations’ beliefs and practices.(“Spiritual Progress Hard to Find in 2003″by George Barna.Barna Update,Dec 22, 2003.)
The way that we are living our lives simply does not reflect what we say we believe. The coldness of our hearts betrays our public display of passion regarding our professed convictions.
There are many of us living our lives like Leonardo DiCaprio in the movie“Catch Me If You Can.” You may not know the true story of the fabulous fake, Frank Abagnale Jr. Frank grew up in New Rochellein the 1960’s, but as a teenager he began to live his life on the run. Frank decided that it wasn’t enough to just be Frank, so he lived for years as an imposter. Once the authorities caught on to Frank, the FBI began to track down the man who played convincing roles as a Pan Am pilot, a pediatrician, assistant attorney general, and a history professor. Frank cashed checks for more than $2.5 million, money that was not his, in 26 countries before he was finally arrested. Many say that Frank was one of the greatest con men who ever lived. He wore a pilot’s uniform, but he was no pilot. He played the part of a pediatrician, but he was no doctor. He stood as an attorney, but he was a criminal.
There are many professing Christians today who, like Frank Abagnale Jr., are simply playing a role. They’ve memorized the lines of being a Christian, but it is only a role they are playing. They waddle onto the set each Sunday morning, but leave their faith at the sanctuary. They sing the songs of faith, but they are empty words of ritual and not the outpouring of a grateful heart. They carry a Bible like Frank carried his history books to class posing as a professor, but like Frank they are imposters through and through.
We are not to use our freedom in Christ as a license to live a lie, as an excuse to live however we desire. We are called to freedom so that we might live our lives in selfless sacrifice to the living God who has claimed us as His own and called us to live for Him.
When Paul sits down to write Galatians 5:13 this is the message flowing from his pen, the encouragement that is resonating from his heart. Let’s take a look at verse 13. Paul writes,
13You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. (Galatians5:13NIV)
When Paul writes,“…do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature…” he uses a unique word, a military word, which was used to describe a base for operations. John MacArthur writes,
Aphorme (opportunity) was often used to indicate a central base from which all operations of a military campaign originated. In this context flesh does not refer to the physical body but to the sinful inclination of fallen mankind, the old self, whose supreme desire is to do its own will and to satisfy its sinful appetites. It is a synonym for sinful self-will. Paul’s declaration is that Christian freedom is not a base of operations from which the flesh is given opportunity to carry on its campaign of sin freely and without consequence.(John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Galatians. pg. 146.)
The little Greek word that is translated,“indulge,”in the New International Version of the Bible is found in six different places in the New Testament. The word literally means,“a set of circumstances favorable for a particular activity or endeavor, a place from which a movement or attack is made, a base of operations.” Let me share with you a couple of other places in God’s Word where the word is used. In Romans 7:11, Paul writes,
11For sin, seizing theopportunityafforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death.(Romans7:11NIV)
Paul also used the same word when he was encouraging Timothy about the counsel he should offer to young widows. Paul writes,
14So I counsel younger widows to marry, to have children, to manage their homes and to give the enemy noopportunity for slander. 15Some have in fact already turned away to follow Satan.(1 Timothy 5:14-15 NIV)
We are not to use our freedom in Christ as a starting point in launching out into a life of doing whatever we please. We can’t say, “Well, I’m free in Christ and He will forgive me anyway.” We are not to misunderstand our freedom in Christ or the Enemy will use our lack of understanding as an opportunity to lead us into slavery all over again.
I teach a class on Sunday morning and right now we are studying the book of Judges. It is a powerful book, such a relevant study for us today, and in the study we are learning that whenever God’s people turn away and do things their own way they begin the lonely walk into the prison of destruction. There is a phrase that is repeated in the book of Judges that captures the mentality and heart of the people. Let me share it with you. In Judges 17:6 we read,
6In those days there was no king inIsrael. People did whatever they felt like doing.(Judges 17:6 The Message)
They were not just any people. The people of Israelwere the people of God, but they did whatever they felt like doing and it led to the destruction of their cities, the disintegration of their community, and the decline of their freedom.
We are free in Christ, but we are free for a purpose. When we come to accept Christ we are freed from the legalism of the Law, we are freed from the inescapable pull of our sin nature, and we are freed to live life in the purpose of God. Now that we understand what we are to avoid while living in the freedom that only Christ can bring, let’s take a look at the purpose of our freedom. Let’s go back to Galatians 5 and read verses 13-14 once again.
13You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. 14The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Paul writes that instead of using our freedom to indulge the pull of sin, we are to serve one another in love. In this phrase Paul uses another interesting little word. It is even more interesting when we consider that the entire message of Galatians is about freedom. The word that I am referring to is the word,“douleuo.” The word means,“to be a slave, to serve, or to do service.”The word is often used of nations that are in subjection to other nations.
You and I are free to become slaves of God, servants of the Almighty God. We are called by God to do His work, in His world, for His glory and His glory alone. You see my friend we are going to serve somebody. We are either going to serve ourselves, subject ourselves to another person, an ideology or philosophy, a goal or aspiration in life, or we will willingly and humbly bow our knee before the throne of Almighty God and say,“Here I am Lord. Use me.”
The theme of service, of offering our lives to God so that we might be blessing to others, is a theme that runs throughout Scripture. In Philippians we read,
1If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. 3Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.(Philippians 2:1-4 NIV)
After Paul calls the Philippians to consider others as better than themselves, he gives them the precedent for this type of lifestyle. Paul uses the life of Jesus as the model, the benchmark, for the followers of Jesus. Paul says that even though Jesus was God, He willingly took off the robes of royalty and submitted Himself to death on the cross for you and me. What a model! What an inspiration! What a Savior!
While Jesus was still living among the disciples and teaching them the truths of the Kingdom each day, He called them together and taught them about how the world operates and how we, as the people of God, are to live our lives. Turn with me to Mark10:42and let’s begin reading there.
42Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”(Mark 10:42-45 NIV)
The One we honor, the One we adore, the One we worship as the crucified and risen Savior was willing to give His all in service to those who had turned away from Him. With that truth before us, how can we turn away from laying down our lives in service to those around us? How can we turn away from those that the Lord sends into our lives that are hurting, those who are in need, those who are suffering and alone?
I know that, for most of us, we are willing to go the extra mile when someone we know and love is hurting. I have seen over and over again how tragedy strikes in a home or a heart and others rush to the side of the one who is struggling, but most often these folks are close friends or someone we feel is deserving of our time and help. God’s Word does not categorize our service. Jesus didn’t come to give His life for those who loved Him or those who were deserving of His sacrifice. Jesus came to save sinners. He laid down His life for those who were His enemies, those who beat Him unmercifully, and hung Him on a cross.
I believe with all of my heart that we can gauge how we are growing in our walk with the Lord by our willingness to serve those around us who can give nothing in return, those who have hurt us in the past, and those who we think are undeserving of our time and energy. Now, before we have an uprising, let me share with you that I know this is beyond our ability. There are not any among us for whom this type of love and sacrifice comes naturally. When someone hurts us, says bad things about us, or breaks our hearts our automatic reaction is to strike back. When somebody is a taker, a user, and a manipulator our automatic response is to run from them and never give them the time of day. I know all of those things because I have done them countless times.
I have been convicted of my hesitancy to help only those I deemed unworthy of my help, of serving only those whom I took great pleasure in serving. I have been convicted because the Lord has shown me that I was undeserving of His sacrifice, I am unworthy of the countless blessings He continues to shower upon my life each and every day. My heart has begun to change as the Lord is showing me that everyone else is just like me. I am no different that the addict who is strung out, the alcoholic who is hung over, the gangbanger who is trying to get over, the pornographer who is enslaved in his or her deviant behavior, or the lesbian or gay person who is living out of their emptiness. I am no different than the business person who is grabbing for more, the woman who is living a lie as she breaks the marriage vows she took before the Lord, the hateful person who hurts those around them, or the teenager who is willing to lose themselves just so that they can fit in to whatever those around them want them to be. All of these are simply people who are desperately in need of God’s glorious grace and they don’t even know it. They try everything under the sun to fill the emptiness of their souls and nothing works so they try something else. This should break my heart, not turn me away in disgust. The great preacher Martyn Lloyd-Jones once wrote,
We see them now, no longer as hateful people who are trying to rob us of our rights, or trying to beat us in the race for money, or position or fame; we see them, as we see ourselves, as the victims of sin and of Satan, as the dupes of ‘the god of this world,’ as fellow-creatures who are under the wrath of God and hell-bound. We have an entirely new view of them. We see them to be exactly as we are ourselves, and we are both in a terrible predicament. And we can do nothing; but both of us together must run to Christ and avail ourselves of his wonderful grace. We begin to enjoy it together and we want to share it together. That is how it works. It is the only way whereby we can ever do unto others as we would that they should do unto us. It is when we are really loving our neighbor as ourselves because we have been delivered from the thralldom of self, that we begin to enjoy ‘the glorious liberty of the children of God.(D.M. Lloyd-Jones,Studies in the Sermon on the Mount,Grand Rapids: Erdmans, 1991. 2:214-215.)
Paul wrote in verse 14, 14The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Isn’t that amazing! God had given His people the Ten Commandments back in Exodus 20, but the Ten Commandments lacked definition and detail in the minds of some of the rabbis. The Jewish rabbis decided that they needed to add some explanation so they broke the Ten Commandments down even further…into 613 laws. Paul says that the entire law is summed up in a single command:“Love your neighbor as yourself.”
The Jewish rabbis had what was called, “The Negative Golden Rule.” The saying was attributed to Rabbi Hillel and it goes like this:“What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbors; that is the whole Torah, while the rest is the commentary thereof. Go and learn it.” In Galatians 5, we see this famous phrase of the rabbis, but it is cast in a positive light. Paul didn’t create the phrase; he is merely quoting Jesus. Turn to Mark 12 with me and let’s take a look.
28One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”29“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, OIsrael, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ŁThere is no commandment greater than these.”(Mark 12:28-31 NIV)
Out of the 613 laws which one is the greatest? No problem. Love the Lord and love your neighbor. In Galatians 5, Paul doesn’t quote loving the Lord with all of your heart. He writes that the entire Law is summed up in loving your neighbor. In Timothy George’s wonderful commentary on Galatians he quotes the great theologian John Calvin. Let me read it to you.
Why did Paul call the selfless love of neighbor the fulfilling of the whole law? Not because it is superior to the worship and adoration of God, but rather because it is the proof of it. God is invisible; but he represents himself to us in the brethren and in their persons demands what is due to himself. Love to men springs only from the fear and love of God.(John Calvin,Calvin’s New Testament Commentary. 11:101.)
God represents Himself to us in those around us. We are called to love, to serve, and to sacrifice what we want so that we might be used to do what God wants in the lives of others.
Professing to be a follower of Jesus doesn’t equate to a life of selfless sacrifice. We must die to ourselves and allow the Lord to rule our hearts. Only then will we see His lifestyle of sacrifice lived out in common, ordinary folks like you and me.
I want to ask you this morning, “Who are you serving?” You can hold your answers, your professions of faith, and let’s simply take a look at our lives. Open your checkbook. Does it reflect the commitment you speak about to Christ? Do you lavish more and more upon yourselves or are you allowing the Lord to use the resources He has given to you to bless others and to under gird what He is doing in this world? How about taking a look at where you work. Do you see your job as a way to get ahead? Are you simply seeking another promotion or are you seeking to promote the cause of Christ in the workplace? Do you serve those you work with or are they a burden to you? Let’s take a walk into our homes. Husbands are you serving your wife? Do you spend time thinking of ways that you can bless your wife and lighten her load? Do you go out of your way to serve your kids or do you see them as another burden on your schedule? Wives how about taking a look at your relationship with your family. Do you begrudgingly do the things you do around the house for your family or are you aware that by serving your husband and kids that you are serving the King of glory?
I will assure you that apart from a living and vibrant relationship with Jesus Christ your service and sacrifice and mine will be short-lived. We need to surrender our lives to Jesus, the One who has come to free us so that we can be free from ourselves and give our lives in service to others. Won’t you invite Him in and watch Him begin to transform your life this morning?