St Theodore's

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  An Involved Community Gal 6:1-18
  Since we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. That's Paul's summary statement at the end of ch 5. We've spent all this time talking about how our salvation comes through the grace of God alone, how it's faith alone that's needed for us to be right with God, how nothing we can do will make us any more worthy to receive the salvation that Christ has won for us but now he wants to clarify an important issue for all Christians.
  You see there are actually two problems with rules, with obedience to the law. The first is legalism as we've seen over the past few weeks. Seeking righteousness through the law is an exercise in futility. But there's an equally dangerous temptation for those who have learnt that lesson of Galatians. That is that we sit back and do nothing. We rely on God to do everything. This is what in some circles is called quietism. It comes from the mistaken idea that all we have to do is sit back and the Holy Spirit will produce the goods, i.e. the fruit of the Spirit. These people read 5:18, "If you are led by the Spirit you are not subject to the law", and conclude that the spiritual person will automatically do what's right. It's summed up in the slogan, "Let go and let God." But that's not how things work is it? We're not spiritual robots, automatons who simply respond to God's directing. No, we need to follow the Spirit's lead. We need to keep in step with the Spirit as the NIV puts it. That's why in we're told in 6:4 that we're to test our own work. That's why we're told in v9 to not grow weary in doing what is right. Not because this'll make us more worthy of salvation, but because of who we now are. Having received this new life in the Spirit, we're now a new creation. We've now become self-determining human beings who are freely able to offer our service to God. That changes the whole dynamics of how we behave with respect to the law. The legalist or the nomist, you see, struggles in self-reliance and futility, while the Christian works hand in hand with the Spirit. It's still a struggle, but the Spirit equips and empowers us so our struggle is not without hope.
  There's a story in ancient Greek mythology about an island inhabited by legendary creatures, half spirit and half human, called Sirens. These creatures used to sing such haunting music that sailors who passed by the island would be entranced so that their ships would run aground and they'd all be killed. Well, when Odysseus sailed past this island he solved the problem by tying himself to the wheel and filling his ears with wax so he couldn't hear their singing. On the other hand, when Jason and the Argonauts had to pass by the island, Orpheus took along a harp and played such beautiful music that the sailors weren't lured by the sirens' song. Now that's a picture of the 2 approaches to law keeping. One seeks to bind our fallen human nature, to barricade our will with rules and regulations, while the other depends on the work of the Holy Spirit to free us and empower us for doing good. The Spirit leads and we march in step, like soldiers marching in file behind their battalion leader.
  So what sorts of things will mark our lives, if we're keeping in step with the Spirit. This is one of those places where the chapter headings in our Bibles can mislead us. You see, 5:25,26 are actually connected to ch 6. Here's how we'll live if we're being guided by the Spirit: we'll be caring for one another, we'll be caring for our ministers, we'll never weary in doing good, and we'll be keeping our priorities right and our focus clear.
  Caring for one another
  He says "Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another, but rather supporting one another." The church should be a place where we can be open with one another. There's no place for competitiveness in the Church. No place for envy or conceit. All that does is to destroy. As he said back in 5:15, all that will result in is us destroying one another. It reminds me of one of my favourite limericks:
  • There once were 2 cats of Kilkenny,
    each thought there was one cat too many,
    so they fought and they fit
    and they scratched and they bit,
    'til excepting their nails and the tips of their tails,
    instead of 2 cats there weren't any.
  By contrast, if we're walking in step with the Spirit here's what will characterise our lives. We'll be part of a community and that means being involved with one another, being responsible to each other, caring for each other. We'll support one another. We'll bear each other's burdens (v2). He says, "if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness." This is the opposite of the spirit of conceit and envy of 5:26. Now, you do see some Christians who take great delight in restoring those who have fallen into temptation. They're like vultures, hovering around waiting for someone to fall so they can rescue them. But their motives are really self-seeking. They love rescuing weaker Christians because it makes them feel important, even self-righteous. But he says, be careful you're not tempted yourself. Remember the old proverb, pride comes before a fall. That feeling of superiority you get when you show Christian charity to someone is really the work of Satan undermining the work of the Spirit. Rather, we're to restore that person in a Spirit of gentleness. This word restore could be used for setting a fractured bone or repairing a piece of furniture. It was used of the disciples mending their nets. It's a positive, proactive action. Sometimes we see someone who's fallen into sin and we don't know what to do, so we just do nothing, as though it were nothing to do with us and we'd rather not be involved. But that isn't a Christian response. Neither is talking about it behind their back, or telling the minister about it. No the Christian response is to go to them and offer a helping hand to pick them up, to set them back on the right path, to restore them to Christian fellowship.
  And we're to do so in a spirit of gentleness (one of the fruit of the Spirit), knowing full well that the sin into which they've fallen might just as well have been one that we fall into regularly ourselves. We mustn't deceive ourselves into thinking we're something by comparison, just because our sins haven't come out into the open yet.
  How do we avoid such a temptation? By testing ourselves regularly. Not by comparing ourselves with others. It's always easier to compare yourself with someone else isn't it? Particularly if you can choose who you're going to use as a comparison. Have you noticed, by the way, how, when you want to compare yourself to others, you never choose a Mother Teresa, or a Desmond Tutu, or a Martin Luther King? We always seem to choose someone with obvious faults because that way the comparison is always favourable. But if we test ourselves against the law of Christ: that is, against Jesus' new commandment that we love one another the way he loved us, then we'll have a much more realistic view of how we're going.
  Notice, by the way, what an interesting corollary caring for one another has. In v 2 he says bear one another's burdens, but then he says in v 5, for all must carry their own loads. They sound like contradictions don't they? Yet both are necessary. If we're to be members of a caring community, then we'll be seeking to help each other carry those burdens that are too heavy for one person to bear alone. Yet at the same time we'll gladly bear our own responsibility to serve God as best we can. There are actually 2 different words there in the Greek, you see. One means a heavy load and the other was used for a person's backpack, which everyone carries. One we can share and the other we can't. And if we're to have any pride at all, it'll only be in seeing how we've carried our own load of responsibility to follow the Spirit's leading.
  Caring for our ministers
  Secondly, he says, you'll keep in step with the Spirit by seeing that you care for those who minister to you. Now this is a difficult thing to preach on because of course, I have a vested interest in what Paul is saying here. But it's an important principle so we need to hear it. Notice first of all how important it is that we have people who teach us God's word. That's the most important thing I do in case you were wondering. Nothing will help us to follow the Spirit's leading more than knowing and understanding God's Word. So if I should stop doing it you should stop paying me. There's an onus on ministers of the word, to make sure that they sow the seeds of God's word, that they feed God's flock, that they don't slack off, just because they have an ensured incumbency for 10 years.
  But the other side to that is that this is so important that congregations need to ensure that those who teach can concentrate on that teaching and not have to worry about having enough to live on. And notice how he puts it. "Those who are taught the word must share in all good things with their teacher." Not share enough so they won't starve. Not provide them with a spare room in a parishioners house, as I heard suggested by people in one Parish I know of. No, share in all good things. How we value something in our society today is so often shown by what we're willing to pay for it. So for example, if you had been in a job for a number of years and were still being paid the salary you started at, what would you think about the value your employer placed on your services? You'd wonder whether they were valued at all wouldn't you? If one of your friends gives you a birthday present that they bought at the $2 shop and another one gives you a bottle of expensive perfume or after-shave, which one would you think valued your friendship more, assuming they were equally well off? Now we have to be careful about following the values of the world unthinkingly. I heard about one Parish where at the first vestry meeting the Vicar was told that they expected him to be their CEO and that's what they were paying him for. Well, I don't think we should be falling for that sort of thinking. But nevertheless, you need to ask, how much do you value being taught the word of God. Someone from another parish said to me recently that he couldn't see why they paid their minister so much. He obviously didn't value the ministry provided by his Vicar. But if you do, then be prepared to share the material things you have with those who provide spiritual food and nourishment for you.
  Never weary in doing good.
  Thirdly, don't give up. One thing all of us will discover eventually if we follow these injunctions, is that there are times when it all gets too hard. We work and we work, and we don't seem to see much in the way of results. We care for one another, but the number of needy cases never seems to get any less. We minister to others and they don't seem to appreciate what we've done for them. We might even feel like we're working twice as hard as everyone else and others are getting the glory. And what happens then? We feel like giving up. We become cynical about the church, about other Christians, about our Christian leaders, or about the members of our congregation. And that cynicism begins to eat away at us, until we're ready to give up altogether. That's when we need to stop and read vs7-9 again. "God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. {8} If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. {9} So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest-time, if we do not give up." There's a sense in which all we have to do in the Christian life is keep going. The result is settled already. All we have to do is finish the race and we'll reap the rewards. Those of you who have been following the Tour de France this week, will know that Lance Armstrong, the American, virtually had the race won by Tuesday. At that stage all he had to do was keep pedalling and he had it in the bag. As long as he kept in sight of his only close rival, no-one could beat him. And it's like that for us, except we don't have a rival as such. All we have to do is to complete the race and we get the prize. But not if we decide we're too tired to keep going. Not if we give up in mid-race. Not if we decide we'd rather please ourselves than the Spirit. There are some who do that. There are some who get diverted from following the Spirit to serving their own flesh. But God won't be fooled by them. They'll reap what they sow. As for us, if we sow to the Spirit, if we keep working at serving God, at following the Spirits leading, then at harvest time, we'll reap a harvest of eternal life.
  Keeping our priorities right and our focus clear.
  Finally, he says, make sure you focus on the right things. Make sure your priorities are the right ones. Those legalists who are opposing the gospel are more worried about impressing people or avoiding persecution than on following God. But our focus needs to be on one thing: on the cross of Christ, through which the world has been crucified to us and us to the world.
  What matters most is that now, through Jesus' death and resurrection, we are a new creation. What matters is not the external rules and regulations that people think up, but the fact that Jesus offers us and all people, a new life in the Spirit. It's so important, isn't it, that we be able to differentiate between what is essential for the Christian life and what's peripheral. There was a letter in the Melbourne Anglican this month commenting on the fact that the most prevalent problem for Eucharistic assistants was whether to hang on to the chalice when giving communion or to let it go. Well, if that's the sort of thing that people are worried about, all I can say is that we've got our priorities completely upside down. What really matters is whether people understand the grace of God that's represented by the communion service; whether they're turning in faith and thankfulness to God for his gracious provision for us in the death and resurrection of his Son Jesus Christ. Not who holds the cup.
  He finishes his letter with these words: "May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers and sisters. Amen." It's appropriate that he finishes his letter with this little word, grace. It's the grace of God on which everything depends. Our Christian life comes about because the Spirit has worked in our hearts to bring us to faith in Christ. Our life is lived in the power of that same Spirit. And how does that show itself? It shows itself as we care for one another, as we care for our ministers, as we work without wearying at doing good and as we keep our priorities, our focus, on the new creation that God brings about through faith in Jesus Christ.
  Since we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.
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