Saturday in the Last Week of Ordinary Time

Galatians 6:11-18

Crucified to the World and It to Me

We have reached the end of what might have been Paul’s first letter to any church; and yet, what he taught here about justification by faith was his message from the beginning of his ministry to the end, because it is the central message of the gospel itself.  Our Lord has routed the “elementary principles of the world,” the things that bound us—the law and the devil and his host, which brought us into the bondage of sin and death.

He has spent the last two chapters applying this message to life speaking of the works of the flesh which lead to death, and the works of the Spirit which bear fruit unto eternal life.  In the last words of this letter, the Apostle utters some truly profound words, “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (italics added).  And this is exactly the life that the Christian is to live, a life that is crucified to the world—its lusts, its pleasures, its desires—that draw us away from the love of God.  Christians are people who are preparing for the next world and who desire it with such an intensity that they scorn anything and everything that this world has to offer.  Martin Luther wrote these immortal words in his now famous hymn, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”: “Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also; the body they may kill, God’s truth abideth still; His kingdom is forever.”

Paul adds, “For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.”  And what is the “new creation?”  It is both personal and cosmic.  It encompasses the believer himself and the new age that has dawned.  As to the believer, Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:17: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.”  The Holy Spirit has birthed us anew through faith in Christ Jesus, made us alive unto God, and is transforming us ever so slowly to be just like the Son.  As to the world, it is itself groaning under its subjection to futility awaiting the day of our Lord’s return and its recreation as the new heaven and new earth (Romans 8:19-25; Revelation 21:1, 10).  It is on account of the new creation that we may bid this world goodbye AND our sinful selves as we crucify the flesh.  Of course we are to minister to the world as long as we are in the body, but we do so as lifeguards on the Titanic rescuing a handful of repentant sinners on a sinking ship—for that is what this present world is—a sinking ship towing its cherished elementary principles, and with no hope of salvation.  Paul knew of something better and through faith in Christ, so do we.  So be happily crucified to the world, for the world would happily crucify you.

Friday in the Last Week of Ordinary Time

Galatians 6:6-10

Reaping and Sowing

Reaping and sowing.  It’s a law in this life, and certainly in the Christian life as well: “Whatever one sows, that will he also reap.”  There’s no escaping it, and certainly not for the life to come.  It’s really just common sense: If you are a belligerent person, then you won’t have many friends; if you live an immoral life, then you will wind up with a disease; if you keep a filthy house, then people will not want to be your guests, and probably won’t have you over for dinner, either.  On the other hand, if you are a kind and gentle person, then people will be attracted to you; if you live a respectable life, then people will honor you; if you are fair in your dealings with others, then people will want to do business with you; if you show yourself wise, then people will desire your counsel.  It’s really very simple.  This is not to say that wicked people won’t take advantage of good people; it’s simply to say that as a general principle, people live more fulfilling lives who seek to live conscientious and principled lives.

This is carried to the nth degree in the spiritual world.  There is a reason why the Scriptures tell us that we will be judged according to our works (Matthew 16:27; 1 Peter 1:17), and we must assume the reason is, well…because we will be.  So judgment must begin with the household of God (1 Peter 4:17).  It’s a sobering thought.  Thus, Paul says, “For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.”  And why is this? Because God will not be mocked; He will not allow anyone to spurn His Son or “profane the blood of the covenant” (Hebrews 10:29).  And this is exactly what one does when one sows to the flesh, the believer or the unbeliever.

But let us not fear coming judgment; let us instead be about sowing to the Spirit, then we shall have nothing to fear.  It is God’s good pleasure to give us the kingdom (Luke 12:32).  Let us therefore keep our eye on Him.  What harm can happen to us?  Who can be against us?  What possession do we have that is greater than Him which may be taken away from us?  What greater love can we ever hope to find?  Is He not worth everything?  Is the eternal not worth more than the temporal?  “One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in His temple” (Psalm 27:4).  Let this “beatific (blessed) vision” help you to shun anything that sows not to the Spirit; indeed, let the vision of Christ on the cross fill you with undying love for Him.

Thursday in the Last Week of Ordinary Time

Galatians 5:25-6:5

Bearing with One Another—and Ourselves

As usual Paul ends this letter with some general exhortations to godly living.  The end of chapter five reminds us that those who claim to live in (have) the Spirit must walk in such a manner that their claim is apparent.  He cautions the Galatians not to become conceited, provoking one another and envying one another.  Instead they are to do the very opposite by bearing one another’s burdens.

And herein lies some wonderful teaching for the church, which if a church were to practice, would find the sweetest fellowship this side of heaven.  We must bear one another’s burdens.  We often think of this as having to do with sorrows such as death or serious health issues.  And certainly this is included; after all, we are commanded to weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15).  But I am intrigued that here Paul has in mind temptations.  In the first place, those “who are spiritual” (and I am thinking here of pastors and elders and some holy women in the church) must hold the individual members of the flock accountable.  This is not an option for any Bible-believing church.  It is the God-given task of those leaders in the local church who have been set aside for such service to…well, fulfill that service, and that service includes admonition.  In the second place, those chosen for this task much do so in utter humility.  This does not mean apologetically; we are never to apologize for what God’s word commands us to do.  But when admonishing one another, we approach one another with the utmost tenderness and with the goal of reconciliation through Scripture and prayer.  And why do we approach one another in such a way?  Because we too are sinners, tempted just like the one we seek to admonish. 

And in such a way, we bear one another’s burdens and our own—by carrying one another.  Hear Martin Luther: “Nothing so demonstrates the spiritual man as his treatment of someone else’s sin, when he plans how to set him free rather than how to deride him, and how to help him rather than how to revile him” (“Lectures on Galatians, 1519,” LW 27:388).  And this: This is what you must do: the virgin must place her wreath upon a prostitute, a virtuous wife must give her veil to an adulteress, and we must let everything we have become a covering for the sinners (Paul Althaus, The Theology of Martin Luther [1966], 310n73). This might be more sacramental than most evangelicals would allow, but not me.

Wednesday in the Last Week of Ordinary Time

Galatians 5:23-24

But the Fruit of the Spirit, Continued

Reading this list of the fruits of the Spirit convicts me almost as much as the previous list of the works of the flesh as I see how little these fruits are produced in me.  And yet we should not use them as a checklist.  No doubt, some Christians excel in gentleness while others in self-control, and some strive harder with patience while others with being gentle.  Still, every believer must work to exhibit each of them as best he or she can even while we still carry about us this stinking sinful nature, and taking comfort that “whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and He knows everything” (1 John 3:20).

Continuing with the fruits of the Holy Spirit, “patience” is listed fourth, though after the first three, I cannot say that they are listed in any particular order.  Oftentimes in Scripture, patience is called “long-suffering,” a term which is much more descriptive.  F. F. Bruce writes that the Greek word includes the quality of being “long-tempered.”  In short, biblical patience includes the qualities of steadfastness and staying-power.  “Kindness,” like love, is a fruit that is expressed outwardly towards others.  It is an expression of love towards all mankind, but especially towards repentant sinners, desiring above all to see the one lost sheep of the hundred return home.  “Goodness,” Bruce writes, is akin to generosity as the cognate of the Greek word used here is also used in Jesus’ parable in which the landowner responds to the envious worker, “Is your eye evil because I am good?” (Matthew 20:15).  “Faithfulness” is not in this place speaking of that saving faith which is the gift of the Holy Spirit whereby the person is enabled to believe in Christ and be saved.  Paul is speaking here of that faith which enables believers to remain steadfast and dependable, stewards of the gifts God has given them to accomplish whatever tasks He has assigned them.  As such, it is the working out of our faith that is highlighted, as we abide steadfast in the faith.  “Gentleness” has nothing to do with being weak but is characterized by mildness.  It is capable of righteous indignation as we see in Christ when he cleansed the Temple or in Moses when he descended the mountain to find the Israelites dancing around a golden calf.  But one who is gentle (meek) does not lose his head in a heat of passion or in “fits of rage.”  He is especially gentle towards repentant sinners and quick to forgive.  “Self-control” is the opposite of self-indulgence in which the passions control one’s life, be they eating, drinking, or illicit sexual activity.  We should not forget the need to control the tongue as well.  Remember, these fruits do not save one; they are the natural fruits of one who is saved (Bruce, NIGTC, 253-55).

Tuesday in the Last Week of Ordinary Time

Galatians 5:22, 24

But the Fruit of the Spirit

In contrast to the works of the flesh, Paul now lists the fruit of the Spirit.  These are virtues that Christians should be cultivating on a daily and yearly basis as they grow in the grace of our Lord.  When we are born of the flesh, we have a sinful nature out of which we act.  When we are reborn of the Spirit, we are given a new nature out of which we act.  So as with the rotten fruit of our natural sinful nature, these fruits should be a “natural” production as they derive from that new nature, which are then cultivated through behavior.  For the Christian, new nature and nurture go together; similarly for the unbeliever, old nature and degeneration go together as well.  And so the fruits of the Spirit are precisely that—fruits—born of saving faith.

It is only natural that “love” would be the first fruit Paul mentions, for upon saving faith it is poured out into the hearts of believers (Romans 5:5).  The New Testament defines love according to our Lord’s work on the cross, for no greater love has a man than this (John 15:13).  And those who love the Lord keep his commandments (John 14:15).  Thus, love is not so much a feeling (though that is not excluded) but an action rooted in service to God and neighbor.  “Joy” is love’s expression.  Love rejoices “in hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:2), and in the knowledge of being known by God and resting in his daily presence.  “Peace” is love’s result in our reconciliation with God made possible by grace through justifying faith in Christ Jesus (Romans 5:1).  Peace manifests itself in a life that is the polar opposite of the works of the flesh such as rivalries, dissensions, and divisions.  Peacemakers seek to unite, but even then under the banner of the cross and the truth of the gospel (Bruce, NIGTC, 251-53).

These first three—love, joy, and peace—form the founding triad of the spiritual fruits, which are all grounded in the first—love.  But love itself is grounded in saving faith as we are birthed anew of the Spirit that we may produce these fruits.  None of these fruits are man’s production; they elude the best of men.  But through the indwelling Spirit, even we can produce them.  This is how we “crucify the flesh with its passions and desires,” by focusing not on sin, or works of the flesh, but by setting our minds on those things which are above (Colossians 3:1-4).  So let love, joy, and peace be close to us, and let us make them our constant companions.  For in doing so, we prove that we are not like those of the world tossed about by every favorable or unfavorable wind, but people founded on the Rock who continue to produce fruit unto eternal life.

Monday in the Last Week of Ordinary Time

Galatians 5:20-21

The Works of the Flesh which Destroy Relationships

The last group of the works of the flesh are those that destroy relationships with one another, and then by extension with our Lord and God.  We cannot be at war with God and at peace with our neighbor.  Our hearts will not accommodate love for God and hatred for neighbor.  Indeed, our Lord goes one up saying that we must not only not hate but that we must love our neighbor. 

And so these sins are ever so wicked and disruptive; they destroy fellowship and relationships bringing bitterness in their wake.  They are not to be named among us in our relationships with pagans, much less among the brethren.  And yet, these sins of the flesh are evident among God’s very people.  Paul’s catalog includes: “Enmity” which may be defined as hostile acts against various individuals or groups, and includes intentions as well; “strife” could also be rendered “quarrelsomeness” and suggests a fighting spirit.  The Greek word used here, Eris, was the goddess in Greek mythology who was responsible for planting the seed of the Trojan War.  “Jealousy” includes resentment with the successes of another or the rewards that one has not received.  The Greek word is zelos, from which we get our word “zeal.”  In Scripture one can be jealous or zealous for something good and holy; that is not what we have here.  “Fits of rage” indicates a loss of self-control or uncontrollable anger.  Scripture always counsels prudence and deliberation.  The Greek word behind “rivalries” comes from the world of commerce and can carry the idea of a mercenary spirit and selfish ambition.  “Dissensions” and “divisions” speak to party spirit and the creation of factions.  The Greek word behind “divisions” is haireseis from which we get our word, “heresy,” which literally means “to choose.”  In this context, Paul means those who choose that which is not in accord with the apostolic teaching.  Granted, division can happen as a result of teaching God’s word, and, indeed, often does.  But such cannot be helped.  There will always be those who reject God’s word, even in the Church.  But division over party spirit and non-essentials is an expression of ambition and hurts fellowship.  “Envy” begrudges the successes or possessions of others and thereby expresses discontent with what God has given oneself.  Finally, “drunkenness” and “orgies,” or just plain “drunken orgies” speaks to excess leading to a lack of judgment and moral control thereby bringing censure (F. F. Bruce, NIGTC, 248-50). 

Paul could have added more to his catalog and so he ended it with, “and things like these.”  I suppose no “works of the flesh” list could ever be exhaustive.  But what should grab our attention is, “I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”  These are scary words, for we all can see ourselves in more than a few of those sins.  It’s a good thing Paul preached salvation by faith leading up to this discussion.  Still, those who name the name of Christ must live the name of Christ.  And those who are reborn of the Spirit, though they are still carrying about them the sinful nature, should desire to grow in grace and indeed find such a new God-given desire.  They want more of God and less of themselves.  They agree with John the Baptist, “He must increase and I must decrease.”  And remember what Owen said, “Be killing sin, or it will be killing you.”

The Last Sunday in Ordinary Time

Psalms 2; 72; Luke 1:26-33; Revelation 1:1-20; 19:11-16

Christ the King

In those churches that follow the Church Calendar very closely, this day is called the “Feast of Christ the King.”  It is a feast of very recent origin (1925) and was not followed with regularity until 1970.  I include it because it seems fitting to me that the last Sunday of the Church Year should pay special honor to our Savior who, though he came in humility, shall one day return in majesty as King of kings and Lord of lords.  (I say, “last Sunday of the Church Year,” as next Sunday shall begin the Season of Advent, the beginning of the new Church Year.)

Each one of the passages above deserves consideration on its own terms, but I shall focus on Luke and the “Annunciation.”  It’s a favorite passage of mine because of the profound mystery it unfolds, that our Savior was “born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4).  But even though God ordains that Jesus be born to parents of no reputation in a town with a poor reputation (“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” John 1:46), the angel, Gabriel, makes clear that this baby is royalty: “He shall be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.  And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there shall be no end.”

An unbeliever might wonder if the angel had the wrong house, for we see nothing in the gospels that indicates that Jesus fit the description of the angel at all.  And yet he was all the angel said he was.  Indeed, the believer responds that Jesus did fit the description; after all, whoever spoke such words that have changed the lives of billions over the centuries turning thieves and murderers into saints?  Whoever performed such miraculous signs?  Whoever raised the dead?  And most important, whoever rose from the dead?  The Jews and Romans were right: he is a king, only of a different kingdom.  And he reigns now from heaven over the hearts of his people.  Oh, he rules the world through his unseen providence and care; but one day, what the believer only sees now by faith, everyone shall then see by sight.  In Psalm 89:3-4, God says, “I have sworn to David my servant: ‘I will establish your offspring forever, and build your throne for all generations.’”  This is what the angel announced, this was the prophecy that was fulfilled, this is the One who will one day gather us together into a kingdom which shall have no end, where we shall behold the beauty of the Lord and worship the King in the splendor of holiness (Psalms 27:4; 29:2).

Saturday in the Thirty-Third Week of Ordinary Time

Galatians 5:20a

Idolatry and Sorcery

Continuing with his catalog of the works of the flesh, the next two sins Paul lists are idolatry and sorcery/witchcraft.  Eidololatria is, in its simplest form, “idol worship,” which robs the living and true God of His rightful due from human beings as the One who created them in His very image.  Of course, idolatry takes an infinite number of forms since any and all things can be worshiped.  Paul calls “covetousness” idolatry in Colossians 3:5, tying the ends of the Ten Commandments together quite nicely.  And Paul argues in 1 Corinthians 10:19-21 that behind every false god (idol) is a very real demon.

By the way, I believe, and as this devotion will indicate, that we are at a distinct disadvantage with regards to idolatry when compared with the ancient world.  In our day, the word, “God,” has become quite meaningless.  Most everyone believes in “God.”  But the question comes, “Which God?” a question which is quite offensive to people.  And you often get the illogical argument that since there is only one God, we must all be worshiping that same God; forget the fact that everyone has their own personal beliefs about who that God is we are all worshiping.  The Christian believes that God tells us Himself who He is and does so in the Bible; that is, we are not at liberty to name or define Him as we choose. 

And so we Christians must learn to say, “The God and Father of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” a mouthful, I know, but we must distinguish the true God from the false gods—which are demons in disguise.  Allow me to bring in the ancient world for help: 1) If you support abortion, there is Molech, the detestable god to whom babies were sacrificed (Leviticus 20:1-5; 2 Kings 23:10); 2) if you prefer sexual perversions of any and all kinds which we discussed yesterday, the leading contender would be Baal, the pagan fertility god who figures prominently throughout the Old Testament; 3) or if you are of the feminist persuasion, there is the ancient goddess who goes under several names such as Ashtoreth and Astarte; or perhaps you would prefer the bloodthirsty Hindu goddess, Kali, truly terrifying to any man.  I don’t recommend them; I would rather you come to saving faith in the true God through His dear Son.  But if we are naming gods, then please go out and get your own and don’t confuse people by suggesting that yours is ours.

Pharmakeia, from which we derive the word, “pharmacy,” originally had simply to do with the use of drugs for healing, but which came to apply to the use of drugs for poisoning, which eventually was associated with sorcery (Fung, NICNT, 256-57).  Acts records the work of the sorcerer Simon Magus (8:9-24) and the 50,000 pieces of silver that the books on sorcery totaled which the people burned in the fire upon learning of the power of the true God (19:11-20).  Indeed, the ancient world was full of sorcery, usually in the persons of the magi (plural form of “magus”).  We see them first in Egypt when Moses went to tell Pharaoh, “Thus says the LORD, ‘Let my people go!’”  But magi peopled every ancient kingdom from Egypt to Babylon to Persia and every kingdom in between.  They were the kings’ counselors and were considered “wise men.”  You will recall that God was gracious enough to allow a few magi to locate the Christchild through this forbidden method (please understand that this is not God’s approval of astrology).

God has His approved methods of hearing Him (the Spirit speaking through His word) and of communicating with Him (prayer, and that as His word prescribes).  Besides this, we may use prudential judgment, though never in contradiction to His word.  Anything beyond this, any method whereby we try to manipulate or conjure up in some manner as to receive some divine message is divination or sorcery.  Today’s rivals are astrology, Ouija, and perhaps most popular, forms of the “New Age Movement” which seek the divine in “mystical” ways.  These are all forbidden throughout both Testaments.

We tend to trivialize these things in our “scientific” age, but do remember what we have said on many occasions: Behind every false god is a very real demon.  So don’t even play with these things—lest you meet a very real demon.

Friday in the Thirty-Third Week of Ordinary Time

Galatians 5:19

The Sensual Sins

Having spoken of the war between the flesh and the Spirit that rages in the soul of the believer (the unbeliever experiences no such war as he has not the Spirit, though he may experience conflicts in his conscience), Paul now lists some of those sins of the flesh (i.e., sinful nature) that must be mortified in the believer through constant vigilance, guarding both mind and body.  The first three sins Paul lists are sexual sins.  Indeed, in other catalogs of vices, he lists sexual sins first (Romans 1:24; 1 Corinthians 6:9; Ephesians 5:3, 5; Colossians 3:5).  Is this because Paul was “hung up” on sex as some contemporary libertines among us suggest?  No.  The fact is that, along with idolatry, sexual sin is the quintessential pagan sin.  This is why idolatry and temple prostitution went hand-in-hand among the Canaanites in the Old Testament and the later Greeks and Romans in the New.  A cursory reading of the Greek historian, Herodotus (writing in the 400’s B.C.), is an education in itself of just how perverted pagan society was.  It was this world that early Christianity addressed and “in nothing did early Christianity so thoroughly revolutionize the ethical standards of the pagan world as in regard to sexual relationships” (Fung, NICNT, 256), and that, of course, being one man and one woman in the context of holy marriage, which is used as an illustration throughout the Bible to describe God’s relationship with His people.

“Sexual immorality” comes from the Greek word, porneia (from which we derive our word, “porn”), which is inclusive of every sexual act outside one man and one woman in covenant marriage, including fornication and adultery.  “Uncleanness” or “impurity” comes from the Greek word, akathartos (we derive the word, “catharsis,” meaning to “purge,” but with the Greek “a- acting as our “un-), and refers here to the misuse of sex as in the case of unnatural contact between members of the same sex, taking on the likeness and behavior of a member of the opposite sex, pederasty, and bestiality—and let us not forget an epidemic in our own day, pornography, and another misuse of sex rarely spoken about, masturbation.  Each of these misuse intimacy as designed by God between a man and a woman in holy matrimony as is so graphically and beautifully portrayed in the Garden before the interruption of our sin.  It is the addiction to these sins of the flesh that many believe is fueling human trafficking in our day.  Finally, Aselgeia refers not only to all these sins but to the flagrant show of them without regard to public shame or common decency, so in our own day (Ibid., 253-55). 

Paul indicates in 1 Corinthians 6:18 that sexual sin carries with it an added consequence of being against one’s own body and another’s because of its inherent personal nature; that is, through sexual union one is literally joined to another.  And this is why sexual sin hurts in a way that other sins don’t; and this is why the Church must not stop preaching the truth about it as our increasingly pagan society cons young people into destroying their own lives.

Thursday in the Thirty-Third Week of Ordinary Time

Galatians 5:16-18

No Compromising the Flesh and the Spirit

I’ve quoted him before, but I will do it again.  Speaking of the necessity of Christians to mortify the flesh, John Owen wrote: “Do you mortify; do you make it your daily work; be always at it while you live; cease not a day from this work: Be killing sin or it will be killing you” (emphasis added; J. Owen, WJO 6:9).  John Owen was a seventeenth century English Puritan, those people who took sin seriously—like the Apostle Paul did.  And here, the Apostle, having warned us not to use our freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, informs us why we shouldn’t: “The desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for they are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.”  Remember that the word, “flesh,” in this place means, “sinful nature,” that which we carry about us from our birth as our just reward for the Fall.  And Paul would have us know that the distance between the desires of our fallen and unregenerate nature and the desires of the Holy Spirit who has given us a new and regenerate nature cannot be equivocated, bridged, brought together, or compromised in any way, shape, or form.  To live according to the one is to reject the other, which means that to walk according to the flesh is to reject life in the Spirit—and that’s a horrifying thought!

So Paul tells us, “Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.”  Again he speaks to the mutual exclusivity between the two.  And the good news is that as we walk according to the Spirit that we shall de facto not be walking according to the flesh.  So the secret to mortifying (killing) the flesh (sinful nature) is NOT to focus on the flesh, wondering how we can stop committing certain sins or focusing on addictions and sinful habits that need to be broken.  No.  The way to mortify the flesh is to live according to the Spirit.  It’s the same with the law.  The way the Christian keeps from breaking the law is not by obsessing over the law but by focusing on God’s grace and mercy.  So if we are led by the Spirit we are not under the law and free from the flesh, or at least as free as we can be on this side of eternity. 

The next few days, we shall discuss the works of the flesh, not to obsess over them but to recognize and understand them.  After that we shall discuss what it means to live according to the Spirit.  And we must remember that we walk not alone but that the Spirit lives within us as born again believers being refashioned after the image of God; that is, we have an inner and heavenly desire that reminds us that we are of the Spirit.