Striding Edge Christianity
Text: Galatians 5:13-25
Date: 09 Sep 2018
In this second half of Galatians 5 Paul has less of an argument with the Galatian believers by offering much more of a reminder, or gentle persuasion or even encouragement as to how they should live now that they know Christ. He contrasts living in Christ with how they used to live before coming to faith in Him. For me, these verses show Paul at his persuasive best where he carefully contrasts the differences between following the “desires of the flesh” and living “by the Spirit”.
Paul not only offers advice on how they should live but also urges them to avoid infighting within the fellowship as that will only lead to them destroying one another in a spiritual sense.
Part 1 – 5:13-15
In the previous sermon titled “Born Free” we started by thinking about that great verse, 5:1 where Paul makes clear “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free”. Paul returns to that thought in the opening verse of this morning’s passage, 5:13, by reminding us that we “were called to be free”. However, he is then very careful to point out that that doesn’t mean that we have free rein to do what we like simply because we have a guarantee of eternal life; on the contrary we should live our new life in Christ completely differently to our old way of life. Rather, we should “serve one another in love” (5:13b). Paul echoes the words of Jesus when he makes clear that the “entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command” before quoting Jesus’ comment “Love your neighbour as yourself”. That is almost what Jesus had said in Matthew 22:34-40 when He had an encounter with the Sadducees. On that occasion Jesus said: “Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ Jesus replied: 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbour as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." (Matthew 22:34-40). If we don’t love one another, or find it difficult, then Paul is concerned as to how we can possibly regard ourselves as being free and believers in Jesus. There can be no denying that faith in Jesus Christ and loving our neighbour go hand in hand.
In 5:15 I suspect that Paul may be referring to the possible infighting that was taking place within the Galatian community of believers. It is often said in the world of politics that no one votes for a political party that is divided within itself. It is also true that a church that is divided and fighting within itself cannot be serving Jesus Christ in the way that He wants them to serve since slowly but surely “you will be destroyed by each other” (5:15b). Infighting and arguing within a Church serves no one, least of all Jesus Christ. Given what Paul has just said he clearly felt that there was a danger that the Galatians could “devour each other” or “be destroyed by each other” which is why they, and us, are urged to avoid any kind of infighting in Church; we should always remember that command “Love your neighbour as yourself”.
Part 2 – 5:16-18
As we move into the second part of this passage we see Paul offering guidance on how the Galatian believers should now live. Instead of infighting Paul reminds them, and us, in 5:16 that we should “live by the Spirit”, something which is the complete opposite of living to gratify the “desires of the flesh”, an activity that we should endeavour to avoid at all costs. The desires of the flesh and living in the Spirit are mutually exclusive and cannot exist together; we cannot have it both ways. As believers we either live by the Spirit or by the flesh. I said something similar in the Born Free sermon: “For Gentiles it was the Law or Jesus Christ; they couldn’t have it both ways.” Whilst in 5:2 Paul was talking about the Gentiles, the same applies to all believers today regardless of their background. The Galatian Gentiles seemed to think that they could have it both ways; i.e. follow both the Law and Christ; whereas Paul was pointing out that that was impossible. In 5:18 he makes it clear that if you are led by the Spirit then you cannot be under the Law.
It is because of Paul’s comment in 5:18 that I find 5:16, where he says, “... live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh”, to be quite amazing. That verse sounds to me like an imperative; if you live by the Spirit then you most certainly won’t want to follow or gratify the desires of the flesh; the power of the Spirit will prevent you from doing so. What I would say to that is that we must therefore truly live by the Spirit; we can’t do so half-heartedly. If we really want to reap the benefits of living in the Spirit then we must do so whole-heartedly, willingly and faithfully; only then will we truly be able to resist the “desires of the flesh”.
Part 3 – 5:19-21
As we move into Part 3 of the passage we come to these great verses in 5:19-21 where Paul lists what he regards as being the “desires of the flesh”; they make quite a list! Rather interestingly he says that they are obvious although I sometimes wonder if that is true given the behaviour of some members of the community who claim to be “Christians”. Paul lists fifteen activities and adds for good measure the catch-all phrase, “and the like”! Having listed these prohibited activities, Paul issues a warning, something which I take to be stronger than advice, when he says “those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God”. There is the choice: follow the acts of the flesh or inherit the kingdom of God; we can’t have both. Just look back at 5:16; Paul reminds us that if we “live by the Spirit” then we “will not gratify the desires of the flesh”. By living in the Spirit we should lose that desire to indulge in any of the activities that Paul has listed in 5:19-21. Now I would never suggest that any of us here today are guilty of indulging in those “acts of the flesh” although I’m sure that some of us may have succumbed to at least one of them at some stage even since coming to faith in Christ.
Although Paul seems to go into more detail here he does talk of these desires of the flesh in some of his other letters. For instance, in the opening verses of Ephesians 5 Paul also talks about such activities and urges the believers in Ephesus “do not be partners with them” (Ephesians 5:7). He goes on to talk of living in the darkness, and by definition I think we can take that as meaning pursuing the desires of the flesh. He tells the Ephesians: “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord.” (Ephesians 5:8-10).
Part 4 – 5:22-25
In the previous three verses we saw Paul list what he regarded as the “acts of the flesh”. Now in 5:22-23 we come to the opposite of those acts, the “fruit of the Spirit”, the characteristics that we show when we live the right way and demonstrate our faith in Jesus Christ. There is an old but true saying that goes, “preach the gospel and if all else fails, use words”! If we do as Paul says and “live by the Spirit” then these are the traits that we will display. Paul lists nine items that demonstrate our faith and to be honest they are worth a sermon on their own. However, for now let’s just consider some of them and see how we match up to them. Paul regards these fruits as being: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (5:23-23). They are all admirable qualities and we should surely all desire to have and display each and every one of them although I suspect that we may not always do that. I will though, comment briefly on just three of these nine fruits. For instance, I have questioned before why it is that so many Christians walk around looking as miserable as can be; if we are living in the Spirit and have faith in Jesus then surely we should be full of joy; just consider what we have and what is to come. After the Jerusalem wall had been rebuilt by Nehemiah and the people, we see Ezra reading God’s Word to the people as a way of praising God. Ezra read from daybreak until noon and as he did so the people were overjoyed and began to weep with joy. However, Nehemiah told them not to weep or mourn but to enjoy the choice food that had been provided and then added the wonderful thought, “This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10). That is the power of the joy that we have as a fruit of the Spirit and we could do worse than to remember Nehemiah’s words if and when we feel a little low.
Similarly, the thought of “love” goes back to that second great command given by Jesus and Paul’s comment in 5:14 that we are to “love your neighbour as yourself”. If we know that we have the love of Christ in us and with us then surely we should demonstrate that fact and share it with others?
The thought of “peace” I believe is referring to the peace that Jesus brings into our hearts when we do accept Him as Lord and Saviour and it is something only He can bring into our lives. Paul has talked of peace elsewhere and he wrote to the believers in Colossae and told them: “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.” (Colossians 3:15). This peace forms a vital part of our Christian make-up and is something that only Christ can bring when we place our faith in Him. It is also the peace that Jesus spoke about when He promised His disciples that He would send the Holy Spirit to be with them. He said to them on that occasion: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27). I would respectfully suggest that the other fruits may need to be worked on!
Having told us what the fruits of the Spirit are, Paul points out that “Against such things there is no law” (5:23b). That may not be too easy to understand but what I suspect Paul is saying is fairly straightforward. God sent the Law and the Spirit and since these nine character traits are the by-product of a Spirit-filled life they are in perfect harmony with God’s law. A person who exhibits the fruits of the Spirit fulfils the Law far better than anyone who merely observes the rituals of the Law but does not have love of any sort in their hearts.
Paul gives us a reminder in 5:24 that if we do have faith then any fleshly desires that we had have been crucified with Christ and we should no longer have those same desires and urges to follow the ways of the flesh. Paul said something similar to the Romans when he wrote: “For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin — because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.” (Romans 6:6-7).
Paul concludes this section and the chapter with that great statement: “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit” (5:25). That thought links back very nicely to 5:16. However, we should not only live by the Spirit but demonstrate that we do.
Towards the end of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus came out with a warning for His disciples, a warning that we would do well to heed, and also a warning that may give us a clue as to the basis of the argument between Paul and the Judaisers. Jesus told His disciples in Matthew 7:15-20, “’Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognise them. Do people pick grapes from thorn-bushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognise them.’” Whilst each and every one of those words is important just think about that final verse, “... by their fruit you will recognise them”. That statement reflects both ways. We can recognise false prophets by the way they behave and the way they speak. Similarly, we can recognise true believers in Christ by the way that they speak and behave. Walk with Christ every day and make sure that you are in the latter category.
Overall I believe that these closing verses of Galatians 5 are absolutely amazing. Previously Paul has been trying to argue with the wavering Galatians and the Judaisers. Now in these verses he moves to a more positive approach by explaining what it means to live “by the Spirit” (5:16) rather than following “the desires of the flesh” (5:16). There is a huge difference as Paul tries to explain; a difference between the evil desires of the flesh and the glorious life that we receive by living by the Spirit. There surely can be no comparison?
The Galatians were caught between the true gospel of forgiveness and freedom in Christ and the yoke of following the Law that was offered by the Judaisers. For them it was a tough choice; for us, it should be a relatively easy choice. Choose life in Christ rather than death under the yoke of bondage to the Law and the world.