January 28, 2007 Series: Galatians
Topic: Gospel Passage: Galatians 4:8–4:20
January 28, 2007
I was going to start my sermon by asking you if you remember the last time you got a letter? But how many times have you heard that? Instead, I started wondering what has replaced letters. Obviously, we have emails and text messages. We have those cool e-vites or strange internet cards that sing to you. Today, relational exchange of information appears to be more about how much how fast, versus actually communicating something of quality. It just seems like that the "age of letters" was perhaps the same time when people really wanted to share their lives with one another. No one has to share anything through an email or a text message other than info. But a letter. A letter takes time. A letter has emotion in it. A letter asked the reader to stop and think about what was written because there was no REPLY button at the bottom.
Letters used to be powerful tools to communicate. It is simply amazing to see how many letters are exchanged in high school. Today, letters are giving way to text messages and emails, but there are still many students involved in letter exchanging. When Caylin and I were in high school, cell phones were the size of large shoe boxes and text messaging was a thought in some computer geeks mind. We had letters, and we wrote a lot of them.
Now, I'm an English teacher. I guess you expect that most English teachers are secretly writers who are just waiting for their novel to be discovered-not me. I don't really care to write for pleasure. In high school, I did not find it pleasurable to write letters to Caylin. But I did. For every letter Caylin wrote me, I wrote one back to her. I could never keep up with the creative ways she folding those crazy things, but I continued to write to her-especially when I was pursuing her. I will read a few.
Looking back, it is really quite humorous to me that I wrote so much. I don't write nearly now as I did then. There are occasional letters we exchange, but this box of letters represents such a moment in our lives. And honestly, I probably meant every word I wrote. I wanted Caylin like a tiger desires its prey! I tried to word things in ways that I knew would lure her in, not in some seedy sort of way, but I spoke to her in her language and wooed her with my words.
It is incredible how much time a young man will put into a letter. With girls, you have to be so careful with your words. If you say or write the wrong word, it can be disastrous. Girls study every word. If you put a word in there that might be misunderstood, misinterpreted, or taken in some way different than you intend...your sunk. Therefore, every word that a young man writes has to carefully chosen; each sentence must be meticulously crafted. Whether you want the girl to love you or you want to tell her that you don't love her-we must weigh each word we select. But there is nothing more rewarding than when those words are understood.
No matter how careful you are, sometimes letters or emails are misunderstood. I'm sure no one here has ever been misunderstood with a letter they wrote. I had such a problem with emails being misunderstood one year that I put an auto-reply on my school email that indicated I would not be answering my email anymore because it was a poor means to communicate. My decision to take such drastic measures resulted from the way several people had received my emails, read into them things that weren't there, then hated me for it. If you have ever been misunderstood in a letter or an email, you understand.
We have been studying this book of Galatians, and it is so easy to dismiss it as some ancient, cold, outdated book that speaks in big BIBLE terms but really has not connection with us right now. I want us to consider viewing Galatians, not as a book, but as a letter-a letter to friends. Paul is not just throwing down some cold terms to people he will never see again. He is carefully, selecting his words in a love letter. He is writing to people he cares about, people he loves. He wants so desperately for them to receive what he is writing but he knows they might misunderstand and turn away.
Formerly, when you lï»¿did not know God, you mï»¿were enslaved to those that by nature nï»¿are not gods. 9 But now that you have come to know God, or rather oï»¿to be known by God, pï»¿how can you turn back again to qï»¿the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? 10 rï»¿You observe days and months and seasons and years!
There is no such thing as an atheist. Sure, there are a lot of people who claim that they don't believe there is a God, but they're just liars. I don't mean that they do believe in the God they claim doesn't exist. I do believe, however, that they simply have failed to recognize and name the god that they do serve. The Bible makes it very clear that before Jesus, we are slaves to this world. We are slaves by nature, in that our natural inclination is away from god and toward some idol-and we are slaves by choice. We choose to follow another God.
There are a lot of gods to choose from. In 1Corinthians, Paul makes it very clear that there are MANY gods that people idolize.
1Corinthians 8.4-6 says
Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that an idol has no real existence, and that there is no God but one. For although there be so-called gods in heaven or on earth, as indeed there are many "gods" and many "lords"-yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things through whom we exist.
Paul describes us as enslaved to gods, but not any true God by nature. In other words, we treat them as if they were gods. It is not too hard to determine what your god is. Strangely, as evidenced by their behavior, the churched and un-churched people agree on one thing, we're broken. We may not call it that, but we are on a lifelong search for purpose, love, meaning, peace, and hope in a world that looks broken-full of broken people, broken dreams, broken everything! We all want a hero, someone or something to save us, to take all the bad away, to give us direction, to tell us we're good, acceptable, and valued. We want something to give us meaning, hope, purpose, so we search and search, and experiment, and search, and fall, and search....it doesn't stop.
So we all find a savior, either Jesus, or something else that is not really a god. But we treat it like a god. What is yours...
- To who or what do you really look for life sustaining stability, security, and acceptance?
- What do you really want and expect out of life?
- What would make you happy?
- What would make you an acceptable person?
- Where do you look for power and success?
If your answer is not Jesus then you have become enslaved, like the Galatians to something that is not a god. Some of these gods include:
- Work: Work becomes the thing you live for, to be productive, useful, successful
- Beauty & Image: Men and women are different here.
- Romance/Relationship: In a person or a relationship
- Family: Children's happiness become the most important thing, parent's expectations Getting married or having the perfect marriage becomes the most important
- Money: Having lots (saving) lots of money may be your security, Having (spending) lots of money may be the main way you feel significant and important.
And although these things can't do anything for us but, perhaps, bring us some sort of temporal satisfaction, we treat them like gods! What does that mean? Well, we worship it. We praise it. We find out ultimate joy in it. We find purpose and meaning in it. We find direction for our decisions in it. We even evangelize to others about it, pointing others searching for meaning toward our idol to save them too! Oh...you just need a job, a makeover, to get married!
We should never forget we always break the 1st commandment for any other sin. What does the first commandment say? YOU SHALL HAVE NO OTHER GODS BESIDES ME! The "god' the Judaizers and the Galatians chose is still the popular "god" of choice for us too-the god of religious perfection: Legalism.
One of the surest signs of a false gospel or a false teacher following a false god is the required observance to specific things-the elemental things. It is not that these things are wrong, but celebrating them adds nothing to our righteousness. As difficult as it is, we do not HAVE to celebrate Christmas or Easter. Coincidentally, isn't amazing how many people show up to Christmas and Easter services? To even ask the question, WHY DO WE, will probably be met with stones. I'm sure the kids are really excited to here this. But we do celebrate them. We celebrate them in all liberty because we want to, we are free to, we are not obligation to. In a small way, I feel like those people who show up solely for those days in church, are no different than a lot of people who show up every Sunday. There "religion" , their "faith", is about a day, it is about something OUTSIDE of themselves. I wonder how many people are truly converted!
This is Paul's big point. The gospel, faith in Jesus, is not about the external observance-it is about the inward experience. It's one thing to make a judgment on what the Bible says is sin, but we fail to make the same judgment on what the Bible says is righteousness! The New Testament makes it clear that Christians are not to legislate religious observances, rituals, or behaviors for each other.
5 qï»¿One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. rï»¿Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since sï»¿he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. 7 For tï»¿none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. 8 If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, uï»¿whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's. 9 For to this end Christ vï»¿died and lived again, that he might be Lord both wï»¿of the dead and of the living.
10 Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For wï»¿we will all stand before xï»¿the judgment seat of God; 11 for it is written, "
As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,
13 aï»¿Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide bï»¿never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. 14 I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus cï»¿that nothing is unclean in itself, dï»¿but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. 15 For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, eï»¿you are no longer walking in love. fï»¿By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. 16 gï»¿So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. 17 hï»¿For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but iï»¿of righteousness and jï»¿peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 Whoever thus serves Christ is kï»¿acceptable to God and approved by men. 19 So then let us lï»¿pursue what makes for peace and for mï»¿mutual upbuilding.
Self-made religion, man-made rules, even well-intentioned piety or asceticism are aï»¿of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. Their faith is still in Jesus to justify-save you. Your faith is still in the Holy Spirit to sanctify-conform you into the image of Christ.
Paul is going to begin shifting his tone here, and you will begin to hear the love in this letter.
Have you ever had that experience where you just want people to get it? I've had that experience as a teacher. I've grown more patient as I got older. You desire for people to understand you...to see what you are doing. I remember when I first began speaking about this church, people didn't understand. Now, don't get me wrong, I don't thing we are doing anything really new here, but we are doing a few things that many churches don't traditionally do. Our decisions are guided by our mission, or more accurately, our desire to be missional and take the gospel into a people group in such a way that they understand it.
Sometimes I wonder if all of our efforts are in vain. I want so much for people to experience the freedom of the gospel...but it seems like very few do. I want people to grasp the beauty of the gospel and the danger of man-made religion. It reminds me of the "weeping prophet" Jeremiah. He prophesized to a people that God says will not believe him...yet he preaches.
Jeremiah 2.11-13 (See v.28)
be shocked, be utterly desolate,
declares the Lord,
13 for my people have committed two evils:
and hewed out cisterns for themselves,
broken cisterns that can hold no water.
I have always wanted a brother. I love that Paul uses this term to describe this church. Perhaps I have idealistic views of what having a brother would be like. I am, in many ways, living vicariously through my two sons Landen and Fischer. I love to see them wrestle and battle. I love to see them hug. I have always imagined a brother like that. One that you could smack around a bit, maybe even get in a little bit of a fight, and yet after it is all said and done-it is said and done.
Brothers is such a loving term where he really reveals how much he loves this church. Although this has to be difficult stuff to hear from Paul, it has got to be difficult to write. I think one of the most difficult things to do is to see a friend falling into slavery, or even worse, sin. It breaks my heart to hear, to see, someone traveling down the path to self-destruction. As a man, I just want to fix them. I want to give them the perfect word to bring them back, the book to read, the quick-fix. If its not quick, I want to see them recognize the problem and see them begin to change. I want so much for them to experience what they once had, to enjoy our friendship again filled with joy versus fear for their lives. Here, Paul begins to appeal to their friendship.
Paul does not take their shift personally and he appeals to them to become as I am: Ironically, Paul had left his legalistic world and entered the world of a Gentile who believed by faith alone. In some sort of weird paradox, the Gentiles now have left their world of faith alone, and jumped into the Pharisaical world that Paul had fled. Regardless, Paul begins here to shift from spanking to hugging. This is not about me. In other words, my chastisement is not out of anger or some type of affront. This is less about offending me and much more about me loving you. Like a parent who must temper their discipline with love.
13 You know it was vï»¿because of a bodily ailment that I preached the gospel to you wï»¿at first, 14 and though my condition was a trial to you, you did not scorn or despise me, but received me xï»¿as an angel of God, yï»¿as Christ Jesus.15 What then has become of the blessing you felt? For I testify to you that, if possible, you would have gouged out your eyes and given them to me.
The Bible does not record details of the story that Paul shares here. As a result, scholars disagree a bit on exactly what happened. What is clear is that when Paul first preached the Gospel in Galatia, he had experienced some sort of physical affliction.
7 So fï»¿to keep me from being too elated by the surpassing greatness of the revelations,ï»¿1 gï»¿a thorn was given me in the flesh, hï»¿a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from being too elated. 8 iï»¿Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9 But he said to me, jï»¿ "My grace is sufficient for you, for kï»¿my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that lï»¿the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 mï»¿For the sake of Christ, then, nï»¿I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For oï»¿when I am weak, then I am strong. [i]
Some scholars believe that Paul had some sort of eye condition. Others agree, but believe that what Paul talks about in Galatians here is a case of Malaria that in fact created the condition. Either way, some sort of medical condition forced him to stop in Galatia. Isn't it amazing how God will use the worst of circumstances (EVEN ORCHESTRATE THEM) in order that his mission might be completed.
Paul here asks the Galatians to remember the friendship and fellowship they had experienced in the past. Paul begged the Galatians to remember the happy times they once enjoyed with Paul, when their love saw him through HIS sickness to the truth-because He fears they will not see through His admonishment to the truth. If it was Malaria, he probably looked pretty nasty. Malaria includes symptoms such as sweating, and shivering, but also violent vomiting and jaundice-you know where you turn yellow! He was gross. And yet, they say through his sickness, and dirt, and APPERANCE, and received him as if he was Jesus.
I often pray, because I have often failed, that the truth would be seen through the sickness I might have. That God will work through the pathetic appearance I sometimes put forward and that people would HEAR the truth through the words that I say. Whether it be a misbuttoned shirt, or an offensive word, or a shocking ad, I pray that people will see past the "offensive" part to the beauty behind it.
Occasionally, it happens...
I don't know if you've gotten any grief for your aggressive, funny, and unconventional campaign as you start your mission, but I applaud you, and I for one see behind the fun and edge to the authentic heart of a church that's crazy for lost people. God bless you richly for every risk you take to bring the good news to God's Kingdom to our community which is dying for something REAL.
Paul's experience also reminds me of my weaknesses. I can't help but think that if anyone had an excuse NOT to share the gospel, Paul did here. But he didn't use it. In the midst of his sickness, when he felt like crap, looked disgusting, and probably didn't want to really tell these guys the truth-he did.
- Oh, how easily I can come up with different excuses not to share the gospel.
- It is even easier to find an excuse not to admonish a friend.
Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy
Paul asks if they now hate him for telling them the truth. Paul had called them on the carpet for denying Jesus and accepting a different gospel which enslaved them to a god that was not a GOD at all! Paul takes a chance by writing this letter. There is a chance that what he intends as a snowball of truth, will be received as a grenade of offense.
What is harder than seeing a friend fall to sin, is confront them. I have had the experience of having to confront a friend, several times. This is not the kind of confrontation that anyone looks forward to. It is the kind of confrontation that in your heart you know you must do, but everything in your body screams at you not to. It is the kind of confrontation where you expect that you will walk into the room friends and out of the room, potentially, enemies. But that is what Jesus did.
People don't like to hear the truth, out there AND in here. Everyone likes to be friendly with one another, to be involved in a church with one another, until that friend challenges you to get your heart straight. Of course, our first reaction is to get defensive, justify our behavior, or hide. That is why people like CONSUMER churches and not real FAMILIES. You see, families tell the truth to one another because they care for one another. Families, are willing to speak the truth in love that person who is sick in their midst. Very few people will love a stranger. If some kid is at my house and pukes all over me, it is really hard not to just get mad and disgusted. But if my son pukes all over me...no way, I love him through all the crap.
Even in love, it is hard to hear the truth. Jesus experienced the same thing. John 1 says Jesus came to a people that was his own and they rejected him. He told them I am God and they lifted stones to kill him. He told them I am the way and they killed him. Why do we expect anything different? In John 15.18 Jesus said, " If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you." That goes for inside the church too. I am convinced, however, that we cannot make decisions by how much we won't be hated is not they way to truth.
17 They make much of you, but for no good purpose. They want to shut you out, that you may make much of them. 18 It is always good to be made much of for a good purpose, and aï»¿not only when I am present with you9 bï»¿my little children, cï»¿for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ dï»¿is formed in you! 20 I wish I could be present with you now and change my tone, for I am perplexed about you.
In this final passage, Paul compares himself with these men. He is a man who loves them, willing to write them a letter and loving them enough to say the tough things. These men have other motives besides love.
Shepherds are motivated by what can I give; a genuine love for their sheep, a desire to see their sheep grow, even if that growth requires discipline and hard words. True shepherds of the Lord are about Jesus. Everything they do points to Jesus as the answer, the help, and the hope.
False teachers are motivated by "what can I get." They wish to make much of you that you to make much of them. They are not motivated by genuine love. False teachers want to shut out all other voices that might distract from what they are teaching-they're territorial. False teachers point to everything but Jesus. Usually, they point to their own traditions as they attract other men's converts to himself, and not simply to the truth of the Word or to the person of Jesus Christ.
And not only present with you. I can't stand fake people. Fake people reach out to you because they want something. In front of you, they're your friend, but apart from you, they could care less. How easily it would have been for Paul to simply throw up his hands and forget about this church he planted to long ago. But he didn't. He cared enough to write to them.
Paul voluntarily chooses anguish of childbirth again: Do you remember when your wife gave birth? I remember most of the birth of my children (I passed out during one). What I distinctly remember was how painful it appeared to be. It was the last time I ever flippantly dismissed pain that my wife might feel-she had experienced a pain I cannot imagine. She made noises I didn't think possible, pushed a life out in a way that only God could have ordained.
Paul's pastoral heart is revealed in these words. He desires for them to be transformed into the image of Christ and he has an intense desire to visit them so that he could speak to them face to face.
Close: Wouldn't it be wonderful, if just for a moment we could imagine these scriptures as letter from God. It some ways it's a love letter. In other ways, it's a letter of truth that cuts to our very soul.
It seems like we let our negative church experiences, our past disappointments in leadership, or other religious disappointments, color how we read this letter. But, if just for a moment, we could read the core of this letter. If we could filter through all of that crap and see the heart of what God is trying to say to us...we see Jesus.
We see a guy who comes to a people, tells them the truth, then dies for it. And when he proves that he was right, he doesn't say, I TOLD YOU SO...nah nah...he says, I TOLD YOU SO. And a letter that at first might offend, becomes the greatest news you've ever read. You're told that your dirty, that you cannot be good enough for god because nothing within you is worth much more than a dirty rag-even you best stuff. OUCH...that is the hard stuff.
Then you read that God still loves you. That through the horribly beautiful death of Jesus Christ, God made a way; we might be more sinful than we could admit, but we're loved more than we could imagine. Read it.