We Must Get Along… And More!

(Please read Romans 14:1-15:13 in your Bible.  I used the NIV to prepare these remarks.)

True faith requires us to get along with each other.

From the beginning of my ministry, even in seminary, I have numbered my messages as I wrote them.  I can’t tell you from where the idea came. When I realized last month that my 1600th message would be coming up, I resolved to do something a little different.  Not that there’s anything at all special about this particular number other than its roundness.

So I asked you to submit ideas for a message and then I randomly selected one of the responses and that’s how we ended up here at Romans 14+15.  This is obviously too much material to cover in one 20 minute message, so we’ll split it up over two Sundays, Lord willing.

Now that we know how we got here, let’s read a portion of our passage:

This is actually old news, but as I only heard about it last week, I’ve been interested and eager to share it with you.  Have you heard about the “9/11 Bible?”  When I read the headline I assumed it referred to some new kind of specialty Bible that had been recently published.

Not so!  This is the story of the discovery of an artifact at Ground Zero, the place where the World Trade Center buildings collapsed.  It is a Bible that was fused, by heat and pressure, to a portion of a steel beam that had framed one of the Twin Towers.

A firefighter discovered the artifact in March of 2002, months after the terrorist attack that brought the Towers down.  He recognized immediately what the find represented, he called to a nearby photographer to come and record the discovery.  Eventually the artifact became one of several discoveries that memorialize the events and people of 9/11.

What’s more interesting about the “9/11 Bible” is that the exposed pages of the Bible are open to Matthew’s Gospel and the Sermon on the Mount section.  Part of Jesus’ teaching on view on these pages – plainly legible – is “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for an eye, and tooth for a tooth.’  But I tell you, do not resist an evil person.  If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.”

Jesus is teaching us about the futility of revenge.  Hundreds of years after these words were spoken, in a spot hundreds of miles removed from the mountain on which they were spoken, the words delivered a timely rebuke of calls to avenge the deaths of the lives lost that way.

It is an amazing story and a great illustration of one of the important truths of the Bible; God calls His people to peace.  We are to be peace-makers and nothing else.  Division, conflict, and violence are often the result of sin and selfishness, a product of spiritual immaturity and biblical illiteracy.

  1. The WEAK churched person is a legalist (14:2, 23).

Food serves as an example of legalism (2).  A faith that is WEAK imposes limits and makes laws that everyone must follow.  It is a sign of weakness because that person can’t have convictions of their own; they must have partners or follow the crowd.  (“Misery loves company?”)  It is a sign of weakness because that person’s convictions can’t stand scrutiny; they don’t hold up under opposition.

Eating ONLY VEGETABLES is not a condemnation of vegetarianism (no matter h0w much you may want it to be).  Paul is writing about people who chose to eat vegetables only because of their religious convictions, not because of perceived dietary benefits.  Some people of faith in Paul’s time were so concerned about avoiding meat offered to idols that they ate only vegetables.  Also, Jews couldn’t be sure meat sold in the market was kosher; rather than take the chance it wasn’t, they ate ONLY VEGETABLES.  We might call this a “faith-based lifestyle choice.”

The WEAK person rejects their liberty in Christ, the freedom of grace.  They settle for avoiding evil but don’t attend to doing good. Both of these moral priorities are necessary for a full-featured faith.

God’s standard for moral behavior is simple: EVERYTHING THAT DOES NOT COME FROM FAITH IS SIN (23).  For example, legalism is rooted in self-centeredness, not God-centeredness.  Therefore it is sin.

To put it another way, “If you’re not sure, assume it’s not God.”  Observing this guideline will steer us clear of a lot of trouble.

How do we know whether or not something comes from faith?

Test #1 – It arises from and is confirmed by the plain teaching of the Bible.

Test #2 – It opposes the traditional teaching of the Church only rarely; when the tradition is in conflict with #1.

Test #3 – It is in harmony with the Holy Spirit.

Test #4 – It promotes unity in the Church and enacts love toward maturity.

  1. The STRONG churched person is a realist (14:2, 14 + 15:1).

Food is a place where realism can be exercised (2).  One of the issues in the Corinthian church was eating meat offered to idols.  The WEAK person saw it as spiritually contaminated and made eating it a moral issue.  The STRONG person did not approve of idolatry but saw meat simply as meat.  “Realism” does not deny the supernatural, but affirms it in ways that are consistent with FAITH.

Paul’s reference to UNCLEAN things (14) refutes legalists’ claims to be more biblical.  Paul’s personal conviction was that NOTHING IS UNCLEAN IN ITSELF.  To conclude otherwise is to attempt to return to the Old Testament Law and use parts of it to support one’s personal biases (legalism).  Folks, God sorted all this out with Peter in Acts 10+11; what I call Peter’s vision of “meat on a sheet.”  Look it up for yourself!

However, Paul’s conviction was tempered by consideration for the people around him.  Out of respect for them, he would heed what they believed was unclean.  He did not force his view on anyone and expected others to do the same.

The kinds of things on which we typically disagree are DISPUTABLE MATTERS.  Paul may be thinking about moral and theological points that are of lesser importance and/or are more difficult to resolve to everyone’s agreement.  I heard recently there are currently 40,000 different groups calling themselves “Christians.”  Another person predicted more divisions; by 2025 there will be 55,000 Christian sects.  Why do we divide?  Because we’ve not learned to agree to disagree on DISPUTABLE MATTERS.  We are prone to “major on the minors.”

We can think of this phrase in terms of human nature: it is human nature to get mad about trivial things and be more forgiving on more important matters.  We can avoid a lot of division if we would overlook small matters.

Another quality of DISPUTABLE MATTERS is that agreement is not required.  We can agree to disagree without either one of us being untrue to Christ.

People who are STRONG in their faith will be more accepting, even of people who disagree with them.  Even when the WEAK refuse tolerate disagreement, the STRONG are to BEAR with them.  BEAR does NOT mean to growl at one another from our separate caves; it means to forgive and forget; to show patience and acceptance.

The STRONG can BEAR with the weak because they see things from God’s perspective and trust Him to work them out.  The STRONG are not out to please themselves but their neighbors (15:2), just as Jesus commanded.

The key word in this passage is “accept.”  In the NIV it is the first word in the passage: 14:1 = ACCEPT THE ONE WHOSE FAITH IS WEAK.  It comes up again in 15:7; ACCEPT ONE ANOTHER, THEN, JUST AS CHRIST ACCEPTED YOU, IN ORDER TO BRING PRAISE TO GOD.  The idea of mutual acceptance is developed in the rest of the passage.

ACCEPT is the Greek word proslamban, which means “to receive kindly or hospitably” and “to treat with kindness.”  In a general sense, it is to “welcome” each other, receiving each other wholeheartedly.  Specifically, when we “proslamban” one another, we grant each other admission into our heart, looking beyond the merely superficial, striving to build relationships.”

The important phrase for understanding and practicing this command is JUST AS CHRIST ACCEPTED YOU.   How did Christ accept us?   According to Romans 5:8 the Bible says, “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

We don’t follow Jesus’ example in the principle of self-sacrifice.  We must be so in love with God and each other that we are willing to make sacrifices in order for love to flourish.

  • I sacrifice my prejudice and stereotypes to welcome someone different from me.
  • I sacrifice petty things like my comfort, convenience, and choices so I can help someone in need. More than that, I want them to feel included in my family of faith.
  • I sacrifice some of the possessions, my time, my money, to support ministries that open doors to people who genuinely seek God.
  • I sacrifice my ego, pride, or self-centeredness to make my circle of friends a bit larger every day because I have served them, not myself.
  • I sacrifice the need to be right, to be the center of attention, to get my way all the time, in order to really hear the heart cries of people around me.
  • I sacrifice my private ambitions in order to grow our church, one person at a time.
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Shakespeare, Jesus, and Lawyers (Part Two)

Please read Matthew 15:1-20 in your favorite Bible.  I have used the NIV to prepare the following remarks.

Legalism is one of the disguises hypocrisy wears to conceal ungodliness.

Legalism is an attempt to hide behind the law or manipulate its details to force your will on others.  There are some peculiar laws on the books around the country, so pick your hiding spot carefully.  Here are a few humorous examples.

In Huntington, West Virginia, firemen may not whistle or flirt at any woman passing a firehouse.

In the entire state of Georgia it is illegal to use profanity in front of a corpse lying in a funeral home or in a coroner’s office.

In Boston, Massachusetts, no one may take a bath without a prescription.  I wonder who polices that law?

In Norco, CA, all persons wishing to keep a rhinoceros as a pet must first obtain a $100 license.

This one is true too: in Wichita, Kansas, before proceeding through the intersection of Douglas and Broadway, a motorist is to get out of their vehicle and fire three shotgun rounds into the air.  I’m looking for a volunteer to try that one out!

Owners of flamingos in Juneau, Alaska, may not let their pet into barber shops.  How does anybody in Juneau GET a flamingo?

In San Francisco, California, it is illegal to pile horse manure more than six feet high on a street corner.  Based on what little I know about San Francisco, I’d guess politicians are allowed to stack it as high as they want.

I’m sure there is an interesting story behind all these laws, explaining how they got on the books.  But the point simply is this: man-made laws are vulnerable to misuse.  They are not the ultimate authority in the life of believers.  Our allegiance is primarily to the laws of love that were instituted in the Old Covenant and affirmed by Jesus in the New.

REVIEW from Part One

  1. The Picky (1+2).

The Pharisees and the teachers of the Law (lawyers) were “picky” in the usual sense that they fussed over details, abused the Law to further their own ends and in the unusual sense that they were trying to pick a fight with Jesus.

  1. The Pig in a Poke (3-9).

As per the usual meaning of this expression, the Pharisees and lawyers were attempting to convince Jesus and everyone within earshot they were handling a serious problem.  Jesus exposed their hypocrisy instead of accepting their definition of “serious.”

NEW for Part Two

  1. Prodding the People (10+11).

Sometime in this brief conversation a CROWD had formed. What Jesus intended to be a private rebuke became a “teachable moment” when He turned to address the CROWD as well as the disciples and the religious leaders.

He used the religious professionals’ complaint about hand-washing to teach the people about true discipleship.  For our sake, here’s what the Law of Moses taught.

One, “defilement” was a condition of spiritual and moral impurity (aka “uncleanliness”).  The word literally meant “to make something common.”  That means that something that had previously been sacred (devoted exclusively to God; special), was now just “ordinary.”

Two, the Law penalized the unclean/ defiled sinner by putting the offender out of the temple and sometimes outside the community too.  In the most serious situation, the Law required the offender put out of LIFE.  (Jesus’ quote of Leviticus 21:17 in verse four is an example of the ultimate penalty.)

Three, there were detailed laws about how an unclean/defiled person could become clean again.

The Law made an abstract concept like “sin” concrete & costly by requiring an animal sacrifice to cleanse the guilty party.  This is one appeal of legalism; it’s easier to think concretely than abstractly.

In contrast, here’s what Jesus said: “Food eaten with unwashed hands does not make the eater a sinner.  Instead, the things that come out of the mouth (i.e., our words) are things that make us sinners.”

  1. The Parable (12-14).

The scene changes again between vs. 11+12.  Jesus and His disciples went into a private home where they could question Jesus.

We forget that the Jews of Jesus’ time had a begrudging respect for the Pharisees: they were seen as “super religious” in a culture where religion was still seen as a good thing.  Even so, people didn’t to follow their example: it was just too demanding.

This explains the deference of the disciples in verse twelve, where they asked, “Do you realize what you’re saying is making these guys mad?”  They were also curious about this new, more assertive attitude Jesus showed.  Otherwise, who cares?  After all, you can’t live your life worrying about all the opinions of all the people.  Making decisions to avoid offense is one of the worst bases for making decisions.

Jesus needed to relieve them of the assumption that these people were reliable spiritual guides.  That’s why His reply in vs. 13+14 is so unequivocal.  It is as if Jesus replied, “You think that was offensive?  Check THIS out!”  What followed was a two-part parable (as Peter identified it in verse fifteen).

The PARABLE promised that God will set things right.  In this world, hypocrites may be allowed to prosper, but sooner or later, God Himself will uproot them.  Two chapters earlier, Jesus gave an extended parable about a wheat field where that was later sown with weed seed.  He explained that the wheat represents the true children of God and the weeds the false and evil people who reject God.  Making a point very similar to v. 13, Jesus promised God Himself will separate the wheat from the weeds and make everything right.  As God did not write their TRADITION, anyone guided by it was NOT His planting.

Jesus commanded, “LEAVE THEM.”  He meant, “Don’t be fooled by their legalism.”  Those who followed their teaching were “the blind being lead by the blind.”  This is irony with a sharp point, folks.  These religious authorities would puff themselves up by putting others down, calling themselves “leaders of the blind.”  Jesus turns their egotism against them and says that they blinded themselves to the truth.

  1. Peter in a Pickle (15-20).

He was often the first to ask questions everyone wondered about but didn’t dare ask (as happened in verse fifteen).  Peter wondered how God would “uproot” them and/or how they would fall into a pit.

The problem with being the first to ask is that he bore the brunt of Jesus’ rebuke (16): “ARE YOU [also] STILL SO DULL?”  This sounds harsh, but this kind of language fit Jesus’ role as a rabbi: bringing rebuke/correction was part of their job.

But these statements contradict our watered-down, wimpy version of Jesus.  The Gentle Shepherd is just one side of His character.  We need to also see Jesus as a radical man who was dangerous, dragging His disciples into all kinds of troubling situations.

In vs. 17-19 Jesus drew an analogy from the obvious function of the human body in regard to eating.  Food and water are introduced to the body by the mouth, are used by the body, and then disposed of by the body.  It was ridiculous to assert this process resulted in an immoral state.

The things that DO have a moral effect are a person’s words and deeds.  For example, MURDER, ADULTERY, SEXUAL IMMORALITY, and THEFT are all sinful acts.  FALSE TESTIMONY and SLANDER are examples of sinful words.

These are the BAD FRUIT of which Jesus spoke in chapter seven.  They identify a “bad tree,” regardless of mere appearances may say.

Jesus’ teaching was that hand-washing is not a moral act.   Anyone who attempts to make their self look good by observing a legalism like hand-washing rituals is a hypocrite.  What makes and marks a person as godly or ungodly is what’s in their heart, not what’s under their fingernails.  Real faith changes us to the core; it does not settle on the skin and it does not allow evil and selfishness to be excused or exercised by something as petty as legalism.

Legalism is one of the disguises hypocrisy wears to conceal ungodliness.

It would be a shame to let this opportunity go by without telling a lawyer joke or two.  Here’s some gleaned from the Reader’s Digest.

First, a bit of actual courtroom dialogue: Attorney: “Doctor, how many autopsies have you performed on dead people?”
Witness: “All of them. The live ones put up too much of a fight.”

Next, a favorite diversion of ours: jury duty.  When an 88-year-old mother was called for jury duty, she had to submit to questioning by the opposing lawyers.

“Have you ever dealt with an attorney?” asked the plaintiff’s lawyer.

“Yes. I had an attorney write my living trust,” she responded.

“And how did that turn out?”

“I don’t know,” she said. “Ask me when I’m dead.”

Finally, do you know who invented copper wire?  Two attorneys fighting over a penny.

<Retrieved from http://www.rd.com/jokes/lawyer/ on 6/29/17.>

We can laugh about these things and should.  Quality of life is diminished when we allow petty people to wind our crank.  Its safer to just laugh at them.

But we need to be deadly serious about legalism.  Legalism is a sin.  It is a disguise that hypocrites wear to mask their true identity.  It is a means to abuse others and/or benefit self.  It is false.  It is not of God.

Let us be done with legalism.  Let us take seriously the condemnation Jesus leveled at hypocrites and avoid being one.  Have this Scripture in mind and take an honest look in the mirror.  It begins there.

 

 

 

Shakespeare, Jesus, and Lawyers (Pt. One)

Please read Matthew 15:1-20 in your Bible.  Then examine the following to see if your spirit agrees.  I have prepared these remarks using the NIV.

Legalism is one of the disguises hypocrisy wears to conceal ungodliness.

“Few people are unfamiliar with the phrase, The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers. Rueful, mocking, it often expresses the ordinary person’s frustration with the arcana and complexity of law. Sometimes it’s known that the saying comes from one of Shakespeare’s plays, but usually there’s little awareness beyond that. This gap in knowledge has inspired a myth of ‘correction,’ where it is ‘explained’ that this line is intended as a praise of lawyers.

“Whoever first came up with this interpretation surely must have been a lawyer.  The line is actually uttered by a character ‘Dick the Butcher.’ While he’s a killer as evil as his name implies, he often makes highly comedic and amusing statements.

“The “kill the lawyers” statement is the ending portion of a comedic relief part of a scene in Henry VI, part 2. Dick and another henchman, Smith are members of the gang of Jack Cade, a pretender to the throne. The build-up is a long portion where Cade makes vain boasts, which are cut down by sarcastic replies from the others. For example:

JACK CADE
I thank you, good people:- there shall be no money; all shall eat and drink on my score; and I will apparel them all in one livery, that they may agree like brothers, and worship me their lord.

DICK.
The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.

“The audience must have doubled over in laughter at this.  Far from being ‘out of context’ the usage is more true to the original than most people know.

“In fact, Shakespeare used lawyers as figures of derision on several occasions.

“As long as there are lawyers, there will be “lawyer jokes”. And lawyers will show how those jokes ring true by trying to explain how such lampooning really constitutes praise for their profession, thus by example justifying the jokes more than ever.”

(Posted in 1997 by Seth Finkelstein at http://www.spectacle.org/797/finkel.html, retrieved on 06/19/17.)

  1. The Picky (1+2).

The Pharisees & lawyers were “picky” in the usual sense that they fussed over details, abusing the Law to further their own ends. Everyone knew the hand-washing regulations were not part of the Law given to Moses but were only a tradition started by rabbis.  In Jesus’ time these rules were not widely enforced, so these guys were trying too hard to find fault with Jesus.

Here is one example of their tradition regarding hand-washing: “If a man poured water over the one hand with a single rinsing, his hand is clean: but if over both hands with a single rinsing, Rabbi Meir declares them unclean unless he pours over them a quarter-log or more.” (M Yadaim 2:1)

The Pharisees and lawyers were also “picky” in that they were trying to pick a fight with Jesus.  They wanted to make Him look like a bad Jew. Note that these religious professionals were from Jerusalem.   They went all the way up to Galilee to find Jesus and “put Him in His place.”  In spite of their effort, all they could find to confront Him about was the behavior of his disciples at dinner time.

This sounds petty to us and it was petty, but not in the minds of these religious leaders.  When people are being legalistic, petty matters are molehills made to sound like mountains.  This is a word of warning to us about legalism; it is used because it provides a cover for pettiness.  Complaints that may be true in principle but not practicality are being used this way.  Be wary of this practice.

THE TRADITION OF THE ELDERS was a body of rules written by religious leaders over several generations called the “Halakah.”  The Pharisees attached a great deal of importance to this document and attempted to meet its requirements every day.  It was so complicated that a new profession arose to help people navigate its requirements: these are the TEACHERS OF THE LAW mentioned here.  We might call them “temple lawyers.”

Literacy was still not a common skill, so these TRADITIONS were largely maintained orally; the rabbi would train his students in them by having them recite them aloud.  This rote method of teaching was the main way these TRADITIONS were preserved in succeeding generations.

  1. The Pig in a Poke (3-9).

Continuing our earlier connection with English literature, we understand the expression “buying a pig in a poke” to be an old English phrase that refers to buying something without seeing or knowing anything about it first.  A “poke” is another word for sack.  (The word “pocket” is derived from it – a “pokette” is a small sack.) It is not wise to buy without first opening the sack to check the condition of the pig!

The Pharisees attempted to sell Jesus a “pig in a poke” in their criticism of His disciples’ lack of hand washing etiquette.  However, Jesus wasn’t buying it.  He opened the sack and exposed the contents.  Jesus exposed their legalism as hypocrisy – choosing their own traditions over God’s Law

God’s Law was clearly stated: children are to honor (obey) their parents.  Exodus 20:12 is the 5th Commandment; “HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER, SO THAT YOU MAY LIVE LONG IN THE LAND THE LORD YOUR GOD IS GIVING YOU.”  Jesus also quoted Exodus 21:17 which gave the penalty for violating this commandment: death.  Think God takes this seriously?  Yes, He does.

Jesus said this clear command had been nullified by a tradition created by the kind of people who were accusing Him.  Leviticus 27:9+16 allowed for property and real estate to be designated as “Corban,” a state of dedication to the Lord (see Mark 7:11).  This was to last until the next Year of Jubilee.  Perhaps on this basis, they created a rule that a man could dedicate assets to the temple.  If so, when his parents appealed to him for help, he could say to them, “I’d love to help you out, but my property is given over to the temple and I’m strapped for cash.”

With that kind of clear self-interest, the religious leaders created a way to make money and an excuse for the living to refuse all requests for philanthropy.  In our time, it would be a combination tax shelter and charitable trust.  Or it might be “fraud.”  Jesus’ point is simple; hypocrites will attempt to wallpaper their crimes in pages from law books in order to excuse their violations of God’s Law and/or make themselves appear godly when their hearts are nowhere near God.

In case you’re not yet seeing it, let me assure you this is a full-bore rebuke by Jesus.  It is the first time in Matthew’s Gospel Jesus referred to the Pharisees and lawyers – or anyone – as HYPOCRITES.

Jesus quoted from Isaiah 29:13 using the Word of God to expose the true intent of their hearts.  In effect, He rebuked them saying, “You believe you’re preserving traditions, but in reality, you’re guilty of the same hypocrisy the prophet Isaiah exposed.”

They replaced true faith which resides in one’s heart with superficialities.  Instead of enacting the will of God, they misused the Law to force their will on others.  The result: their worship was wasted because the rules they followed were just human notions, not the will of God.

Legalism is one of the disguises hypocrisy wears to conceal ungodliness.

We must understand what legalism is.  I offer the reader five views of the subject that will attempt to define this sin and enable us to avoid manifesting it in our daily living.

Legalism is a complicated attempt to create rules that make us look good while relieving us of the hard work of character.

Legalism is an attempt to cloud the condition of the heart by burying the matter in complications.  It is the old “smoke and mirrors” approach to misdirection.

Legalism mimics God’s Law, but is thoroughly man-made.  It is thereby not authoritative for all who believe.

Legalism misuses tradition by asserting that the old ways are the only right ways.

Legalism is selfishly motivated and attempts to please one’s self; where true righteousness is focused on God and desires to please Him.  We humans seem to have an infinite capacity to make excuses and manipulate words to justify self and/or condemn others.  We need a higher authority.

The Jewish religious leaders in this passage are long dead and so are some of their teachings.  But the practice of legalism is alive and well.  It has users in the Church and outside it; the dogmatism of “political correctness” is a modern manifestation of legalism.

Indeed, the practice of legalism is so common (inside and outside the Church) and its consequences are so serious, the Lord has impressed on me the necessity of studying this passage in detail.  Part Two will examine further aspects of Jesus’ condemnation of legalism.

Why’d He Do It? FREEDOM

(Please read GALATIANS 5:1-12 in your preferred version of the Bible.  I have cited the NIV in the article below.)

Jesus surrendered His life on the cross to secure our freedom from slavery to sin and from the Law.

There’s a part of our culture that’s just crazy about inventing new names for things.  To beat them at their own game I call this movement the “irreligious orthodoxy,” aka “political correctness.”

No matter how you feel about the issues, you’ve got to wonder about what folks hope to accomplish with this nimble nomenclature.  For example, in my youth, people had to go to Sweden to get a “sex change.”  A couple years ago, people started talking about “gender reassignment” and I just learned last week that the title du jour is “gender confirmation.”

One of the places where this jargon-swapping seems inappropriate is when “slavery” is referred to as “human trafficking.”  I’m not at all sure what we gain by softening the impact of the practice of slavery by calling it “human trafficking.”

I recently received a mailing from our denominational headquarters about the practice of slavery as it exists in the world today.  So that you understand how really precious your freedom is, I want to share some of these statistics with you.

  • The average cost of a human being is just $90.
  • It is estimated there are 35.9 million slaves in the world today.
  • 750,000 slaves are taken across international borders every year. As many as 17,500 are brought into the U.S. annually.
  • In the U.S., the average age of persons forced into sexual slavery is 12 to 14 years old. Over all kind of forced labor, it is estimated that 26% of them are children.
  • Slavery is the third biggest form of international crime (behind drugs and guns), with annual profits reportedly at $32 billion. (Almost half those profits come from supposedly civilized industrialized nations.)

Clearly, whatever name you slap on it, the buying and selling of human beings is not something that ended with the American Civil War.  It is a world-wide industry that exploits people, treating them as if they were just another natural resource to be torn from the earth.

(Statistics from ijm.org/casework/forced-labor-slavery and do something.org/facts/11-facts-about-human-trafficking.)

The condition of slavery is real and appalling.  We more awareness of the problem and more active opposition to it.  For centuries, the Christian Church has lead the world in respect for human life and loving treatment of slaves.  Persons of our faith have lead the charge against this form of inhumanity.

What is more widespread and even more serious (as it has eternal consequences) is spiritual slavery.  This is a self-inflicted bondage to sin and/or legalism.  Today we learn that Jesus Christ gave up His life as a sacrifice to save us from spiritual slavery.  The spiritual freedom we enjoy because of Him is what we gather to proclaim and celebrate today

  1. The principle (1).

The principle is this: Jesus set us free in order to enjoy freedom.  Do not surrender your freedom!  Verse one is the key verse to the entire book of Galatians.  It shows us that holiness does not come with meticulous rule-keeping, but by grace through faith.  It is God’s gift.  By means of his reference to the CROSS in verse eleven, Paul sets this freedom in Jesus’ sacrificial death.

Paul expressed the principle in two contrasting statements.

– IT IS FOR FREEDOM CHRIST HAS SET YOU FREE. This sounds like one of those obvious statements, doesn’t it?  Or it might be said to be a fine example of circular reasoning.  To put it another way; “Jesus Christ paid for your freedom so you would live as free people.”  Jesus willingly laid down His life so that we can be FREE people.

– DO NOT LET YOURSELVES BE BURDENED AGAIN BY A YOKE OF SLAVERY. The Jews of Paul’s time referred to their faith as “taking the yoke of the law upon yourself.”  This must be why Paul referred to the YOKE OF SLAVERY; revealing the nature of legalism.  Jesus turned this image around & invited people to take His YOKE, which, by contrast, was EASY, a LIGHT BURDEN (see Matthew 11:29-30).

In his letters, Paul identified 2 kinds of slavery:

– Slavery to sin. This is our sin nature, manifest in our rebellion and appetites for things we know are toxic to our health and maturity.

– Slavery to the letter of the Law of Moses, or any kind of legalism. This is the issue addressed in Galatians.

  1. Abandonment of the principle: legalism (2-6).

The general issue was the demand by false teachers that non-Jewish converts to Christianity submit to the Law of Moses as part of their conversion. One aspect of this general issue was the specific requirement of the Law of Moses that men be circumcised.  Circumcision was originally intended as a physical symbol of the spiritual relationship between the men of Israel and God.

Using blunt language, Paul disputes the teaching with three warnings.

First, Christ will be of NO VALUE to you (2).  As Paul will point out in v. 6, it is not circumcision that’s at issue; it is surrendering one’s freedom in Christ and submitting to legalism instead.  Whenever someone wants to put a plus sign after Jesus, saying you need “Jesus and something” to be saved, it really amounts to a minus sign in front of Jesus: it no longer amounts to a saving faith.  I can’t imagine a worse consequence than this one; it is a dire warning of being eternally lost.  In 1 Corinthians 7:17-20, Paul advised the Corinthian men to not be circumcised.  It was not necessary to follow Jesus.

Second, every man who submits to this one part of the Law will be required to keep all of it (3).  Logically, an honest person can’t pick and choose which parts of the Law they want to keep or ignore.  EVEN THOUGH that is the very error we see in some people and churches today.  Instead, it’s all or nothing.

Third, the legalists urging this “judaizing” are not in Christ.  Paul states this in two different ways.

– ALIENATED FROM CHRIST refers to the fact that they tried to earn their salvation through “Jesus plus the Law.” That plus sign is false and is actually a minus sign, as Christ is not present in them.

– FALLEN AWAY FROM GRACE does not mean losing one’s salvation. Instead, it means that the person is self-condemned because they have rejected grace and chosen legalism instead.  They “fell away from” grace before they ever took hold of it.

Why do we do it?  Why do we surrender our freedom to legalism?  I can think of three reasons.

One, the law is easier to understand and apply than grace.  Our human nature tends to be lazy and prefer the easy path.  But grace is about granting exceptions, forgiveness, and favors to people that may not, in our opinion, deserve it.  That’s hard work.

Two, it gives us a false sense of control and a false sense that we can earn God’s love.  Pass or fail, heaven or hell, some of us desire control so strongly we embrace the law as something we can manage.  Grace surrenders control to God and resists management.

Three, we’ve been lied to.  Legalism can be a burden transferred from one generation to another.  Traditions are meant to be guidelines not straightjackets, but they can bind us to legalistic, religion-centered approaches to faith rather that receive grace by faith.

What is the truth?  The truth is that FAITH sets our HOPE on the RIGHTEOUSNESS that comes through the HOLY SPIRIT, not the Law (5).  It is BY FAITH, not by works.  In fact, we EAGERLY AWAIT it!  It is made available to us THROUGH THE SPIRIT who is our DEPOSIT that GUARANTEES our faith is reliably placed in God and is trustworthy (see 2 Corinthians 1:22; 5:5 and Ephesians 1:14).  Our HOPE is to be judged righteous, but not by means of our own good works, but by means of the gift of RIGHTEOUSNESS through the cross.  In the Bible, HOPE refers to things that are certain but have not yet come to completion.

One aspect of the FREEDOM Jesus gives us is that circumcision is rendered meaningless (6).  All attempts to keep the Law are equally valueless.  No matter how good the deed, if God is not in it, it has no value regarding salvation.

To followers of Jesus, THE ONLY THING THAT COUNTS IS FAITH EXPRESSING ITSELF THROUGH LOVE (6).  This statement counters the false teaching that, because of grace, works don’t matter at all.  Godly actions continue to be essential, but they are essential expressions of a life of faith that truly exists, not the means to attain a life of faith.  Faith is the first gift of God we accept.  Having truly accepted it, then we live out our days making decisions to accept the LOVE that motivates us to do good deeds.

  1. Advisers against the principle: legalists (7-12).

Paul warns them that this false teaching…

…will keep them from OBEYING THE TRUTH (7). Using an athletic metaphor (a RACE), Paul is saying that legalists – ironically – disqualify themselves from staying in the race because they don’t obey the simple truth of the Gospel: saved by faith.

…does not come from God, who called them (8). God’s revelation does not contradict itself.  The Old Covenant of works has been revoked in favor of the New Covenant of grace.

…will corrupt the entire church if not checked (9). Paul was fond of this yeast analogy: he also used it in 1 Corinthians 5:6.  It is a word-picture of how false teaching – even something that is mostly true – can work its way into an entire congregation.  This ought to raise their level of alarm and motivate their diligence.

…can be seen in no other light (10). Paul was confident that he was teaching them God’s truth and never wants to be a party in diluting the truth to be a people-pleaser.

…will result in God’s wrath on the false teachers (10). THE ONE means Paul believed that one person had thrown them all into this confusion.  Like Paul, we need to trust God that He is not confused about any of it and will one day dispense justice and vindicate our faith.

…is not what he teaches (11). One thing that distinguishes the false teaching is that it is different from the teaching they received from Paul.  In this case, Paul never taught them that it was necessary for Gentile converts to Christianity be circumcised.

…reduces Jesus’ death to a needless act (11). Theologically speaking, if it were possible for a person to earn standing with God by means of obeying the Law, then there is no purpose in Jesus’ death.  He died to create a New Agreement between God and humanity to eliminate any need for the Law; to give us freedom from its binding rules and all other forms of legalism too.

Paul concludes this section with a strong ridicule of the legalists’ logic: if they followed their own reasoning to its conclusion, they wouldn’t stop at circumcision, but would go all the way and emasculate themselves (12).  This is a startling statement.  It is an exaggeration that is designed to make a point, like some of the things Donald Trump says.  Emasculation was practiced in the ancient world at about the same rate that gelding in practiced in the horse world of our modern times.  So Paul isn’t just pulling this out of the air, it is part of the context of civilized life in his time.

Paul did not write this to be funny or malicious, but to underscore how ridiculous this whole false teaching is.  It is based on bad theology and flawed logic; it should be rejected by people of faith and opposed when encountered in the church.

Legalism is not limited to churches or religions.  Earlier I alluded to the legalism found in our secular culture today.  As we conclude, let me share with you an example of how legalistic worldly people can be.

Whole Foods pulls pre-peeled oranges off shelves after Twitter backlash

BY Nicholas Parco NEW YORK DAILY NEWS Friday, March 4, 2016, 5:40 PM

“Whole Foods listened to the numerous furious Internet users Thursday by removing pre-peeled oranges packed in plastic containers from stores.

“The backlash began after Nathalie Gordon shared a photo of the fruit in a California Whole Foods on her Twitter page with the caption ‘If only nature would find a way to cover these oranges so we didn’t need to waste so much plastic on them.’

Just three hours later, Whole Foods responded: ’Definitely our mistake,’ @WholeFoods tweeted. ‘These have been pulled. We hear you, and we will leave them in their natural packaging: the peel.’

“Gordon’s complaint has nearly 70,000 retweets and likes each.

“This is not the first time Whole Foods has been criticized for and caved to consumer complaints over a product.

“Last year, the store came under fire when they sold asparagus water, H20 with a stick of the vegetable in a bottle, for $6.”

<Retrieved from http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/foods-pulls-pre-peeled-oranges-shelves-article-1.2553475 on 3/5/16.>

It’s amazing, isn’t it?  The American culture most likely to cry “don’t judge me” is so quick to condemn and on such a grand scale, aided by all the social media access they carry in their pockets.  I get razzed about something wrong in the bulletin, but that’s nothing on this scale!  Maybe now that we’re putting sermons on YouTube…?

The Apostle Paul was lead by the Holy Spirit to address the problem of legalism in the church in Galatia.  False teachers were trying to bind non-Jewish Christians to the Law of Moses, or at least part of it.  As Paul refuted that notion, he revealed one of the reasons Jesus went to the cross: to set us free.

When He surrendered His life, Jesus set us free from slavery to sin.  We are no longer bound to our bodily desires – to satisfy their instinctive urges – but are free to pursue spiritual maturity instead.

Jesus went to the cross to set us free from slavery to legalism.  We are not bound by bullies who wield the letter of the law, but are free to live our life of faith as led by the Holy Spirit.

As Jesus said of Himself, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36)  In Christ, you ARE free.  Live a life of freedom!